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July 31, 2004
Yes, Marilyn May Fall in Love With Viggo
Stuart Klawans, film critic for The Nation, has this essay in The New York Times spurred on by “reports on how computer technology has resurrected Sir Laurence Olivier, who died in 1989. A combination of manipulated archival film footage and fresh soundtrack dialogue will give Olivier a role — speaking lines he never spoke and making gestures he never made — in a new movie, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, scheduled for release in September. .... This is not the first time that a dead actor has been exhumed. ... The dead stars [in these films] were essentially cutouts, limited to a repertoire of existing filmed gestures. In the meantime, digital technology was evolving toward the creation of wholly digital actors, who could do anything they were told and would never demand a roomier trailer. So far, digital characters have not fared well. The 2001 thriller Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, with an all-digital cast, and Andrew Niccol's satire Simone (2002), about the first virtual actor to become a celebrity, were box office disappointments. But what if the technologies for reanimating dead stars and for creating digital actors could be merged?”

Plympton Film a Dream Come True
Hair HighThe Portland Oregonian has yet another story about Bill Plympton's new film, noting, “Although Hair High is, by many accounts, the most narratively cohesive cartoon Bill Plympton has ever made, the idea came to him more unconsciously than any movie idea that ever thwacked him on the noggin. Specifically, he dreamed it. 'I'd never based my story ideas on dreams before,' Plympton said. 'But then I had one about a car on the bottom of a lake, with decomposing skeletons inside. Then the lights came on, and the corpses drove the car onto a classic old Main Street — like the one in Oregon City, where I grew up.' The dream sent Plympton into a reverie about his days at Oregon City High — which led to Hair High, described by one online critic as 'a goofy, gothic re-imagining of Grease (without the music) meets Carrie (with more zombies).'”

July 30, 2004
Animator Draws on Oregon City
Hair HighThe Portland Oregonian has this story about “Bill Plympton's newest feature-length animated film takes a nostalgic look at high school jocks, nerds, cheerleaders — and decomposing skeleton prom-crashers. 'It's definitely based on Oregon City High School,' said the 58-year-old Oscar-nominated animator, who was born in Portland and graduated from OCHS in 1964. A rough cut of Hair High will make its Northwest premiere Sunday at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. ... He said Oregon City alumni of a certain era are sure to recognize their alma mater in his film. 'I got a lot of my ideas from the school, and I had a lot of fun remembering the old characters,' Plympton said. They include the class tramp and 'a biology teacher who smoked all the time and had a terrible cough. In the film, he literally coughs up his guts — it's that kind of humor.' See also story in The Portland Tribune, which notes, “It’s classic Bill Plympton to take the stylized, conservative 1950s and peel back its metaphorical fingernails, just to see what happens. Actually, one character does get a nail removed in the animator’s new feature, Hair High. There are also tragic teen skeletons coming back to life, a science teacher who coughs his guts up and has the kids pack them back in, and a football mascot chicken humping everything in sight. Business as usual then for the twisted mind that brought us 25 Ways to Quit Smoking (1989), Nosehair (1994) and Can’t Drag Race With Jesus (2000).”

Animation Niche's Overdrawn
The Motley Fool's Rick Munarriz, in commenting on the recently announced IPO for DreamWorks Animation, cautions, “My biggest concern is the one that no one sees yet. The same thing that all but killed traditional hand-drawn animation — Disney's reckless disregard of the standards of excellence — is threatening to nip computer-rendered features short as well. There are some who argue that the days of ink and paint just sauntered toward extinction, but I firmly believe that it was Disney's decision to fill up the distribution channels with substandard direct-to-video releases that sullied the Disney brand as well as the medium. Computer-generated features would have been unlikely to create this kind of buzz if Pixar had never existed — or if Pixar had chosen to color by hand instead of by microchip. Pixar puts out a great product. Period. Delivered on an Etch-a-Sketch, it would still blow the public away. But now that Disney is in John Derek mode — by teaming up with smaller studios to replace the computer animation void that will be left behind when Pixar moves out come 2006 — and DreamWorks Animation is bent on pumping out two new features annually, you're going to see quite a bit of junk being put out. It will be a lot like Jessica Simpson. Breathtakingly gorgeous on the outside. Disappointingly hollow on the inside.”

Cheap Tricks
The Moscow Times has this profile of Timur Bekmambetov who is, “Enjoying the runaway success of his film Night Watch, which continues to break all records for the Russian cinema business. ... it was the development of computer-generated special effects technology that enabled Bekmambetov to give Night Watch its special style, allowing him to combine a depiction of a realistic contemporary Moscow setting with the fantasy touches of the novels by Sergei Lukanenko, on which the work is based. That experience certainly wasn't a conventional one, either — at least by comparison with the developed special-effects industry in the West. 'There is not one studio in Russia anywhere near the equivalent of, say, Pixar in California,' Bekmambetov said. 'There isn't the demand for it yet, and the costs of doing the work abroad would have been prohibitive. So we worked with around 20 smaller studios, in Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, and each had their own specialities – one had a good modeler, but no animator; another had a good animator, but no modeler.' Splitting up the work between so many different facilities was a risky process, he admitted. Over more than six months, daily work from the various partners was transmitted to a central server to be assessed, and then sent on for further development or completion to another studio.”

Resourceful Responses to War and Error
God Bless AmericaThe Korea Times has this report on a recent show at the POSCO Museum of Art, which explains how “Korean artist Jeon Joon-ho deals with South Korea’s historic relationship with the United States and Japan in his work. [The show includes] a moving image animation [by Jeon] using a $2 banknote of the United States. The animation took President Thomas Jefferson out of the picture, replacing it with a Korean man dictating Korea’s own declaration of independence. By replacing the U.S. Declaration Independence with a reading of the document that requested independence to the Japanese in 1918, the 'Gi-mi Dok-nip-sun-un–mun' sends a retrospective message encasing the artist’s desire to reassert Korea’s independence from the control or influence of a dominating nation. ... Japanese artist Tadasu Takamine, also influenced by the U.S., created a work which was a hit at the Venice Biennale last year with many people who feel the need to vent their frustration over the war in Iraq. Takamine’s work, titled God Bless America [pictured], commented on America after 9/11 with a claymation (an animation made of clay models) of a head resembling George W. Bush. A high-pitched rendition of 'God Bless America' blared in the background while Takemine, shown in his living room where he and his girlfriend ate, drank and entertained over a few days, remolded the clay figure that comically dominated the central space in their home.”

Kids Glean Magic, Morality from Disney's Animated Tales
Columnist David Crumm in The Detroit Free Press has this brief interview with Mark Pinsky's about his new book, The Gospel According to Disney, the message of which he feels is summed up by its subtitle, Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust. “'There are two central beliefs that form the core of the Disney gospel,' Pinsky told me. 'First, you need to have faith in yourself, and you also need to have faith in something greater than yourself.' Much has been written about Walt Disney's aversion to making specific religious references in his films. One theory is that his father, Elias Disney, was such a zealot that Walt developed a distaste for dogma. But, Pinsky doesn't buy that. He points out in his book that Walt had a healthy religious life and even wrote about his Christian faith for the inspirational magazine Guideposts. Pinsky's conclusion is that, just as Walt had a pioneer's vision for the possibilities of cartoons, he also had an instinct that a global audience would pay more attention to his movies if he limited his lessons to universal principles. After all, fairy tales already had endured for centuries.”

In Brief: Jackson Beck Dies at 92, Never Able to Let Go, Voice of Bart Simpson & Limit Beer Promotions
Hamilton Mattress coverThe Associated Press has this obituary of Jackson Beck, “a master of voice-over who bellowed the phrase 'It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!' to introduce the Superman radio show and used his versatile voice to promote everything from Aqua Fresh toothpaste to Combat roach killer. ... He also portrayed of the bully Bluto in more than 300 Popeye cartoons ... Beck's strong, deep voice was heard on television commercials for Sugar Frosted Flakes, Pepsi, Brawny paper towels, Hasbro-Bradley's GI Joe figures and dozens of other products, as well as football and boxing promotions for NBC.” ... The Financial Times has this story about John Webster, who created “some of Britain's best-loved commercials such as the Smash Martians and the Hofmeister Bear,” who now devotes himself to painting; it also notes, “he [also] created an ugly aardvark called Hamilton Mattress, his canny caterpillar buddy, Feldwick, and other characters including a ruthless parrot named Balustrade. After much effort, their adventures were animated and broadcast by the BBC on Christmas Day 2001. This won many top animation awards: great success, by anybody's standards. 'A really lovely piece of animation,' Webster agrees.”... BBC News has this interview with Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, who is putting on her “one-woman show, My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy, at the Edinburgh Festival from 6 August.” ... Itar-Tass reports, Russia’s State Duma is considering a “bill limiting promotion of beer in radio and television programs ... The new law will [prohibit] the imaging of people and animals, as well as the use of animations in beer ads.”

July 29, 2004
Sue You: This Song Is Our Song
This LandWired News reports that, while about 25 million viewers have been clogging JibJab to chuckle at [Evan and Gregg Spiridellis' This Land's] South Park-like Flash animation and juvenile insults (Bush labels Kerry a 'liberal sissy,' and Kerry responds by calling Bush a 'right-wing nut job'), the Spiridellises aren't exactly laughing their way back to the drawing board. In the wake of their short's popularity, which began soon after its July 9 Web release and has been punctuated by appearances and mentions on almost every major U.S. news show, the brothers found themselves in a legal skirmish with Ludlow Music, which, Ludlow attorney Paul LiCalsi said, owns the copyright to [Woody] Guthrie's famous tune. ... JibJab Media, the proper name of the Spiridellises' company, never got permission to use Guthrie's song in This Land, and Ludlow Music is telling them to pull down the short.” The Spiridellises plead fair use, however, “According to various Internet sources, including the website of the Museum of Musical Instruments in Santa Cruz, California, Guthrie allegedly wrote, 'This song is copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.'”

Creative Executives … Oxymoron or Larger Metaphor
This Movie City News story focuses on the public persona of Disney CEO Michael Eisner, comparing him with the movie moguls of yesteryear. It notes, “During his two decade tenure at Disney, Eisner — television chores [hosting TV's The Wonderful World of Disney] aside — has been content to keep his public profile to a bare minimum. His heart attack back in the early 1990s, the dismissal of Jeff Katzenberg, the hiring and firing of Mike Ovitz and the merger with ABC have elevated that stance from time to time. But of late he's been front and center no thanks to conspicuous theatrical failure (The Alamo, Home on the Range), the abysmal performance of the network, Disney stock holder revolt, an unfriendly takeover bid and clashes with Pixar and Harvey Weinstein over the distribution of Fahrenheit 9/11. ... In the present environment it is business as usual and therein lays the not so subtle change from colorful studio bosses to largely anonymous media honchos. The bygone overlords of Hollywood were no less obsessed with making money than their contemporary equivalents. But they also wanted other things. They had a need to make films that mattered and dealt with social and political issues. Some sought out political alliances and even harbored desires to hold office or be granted a high profile ambassadorial post.”

Padmalaya Q1 Net Profit down 14.4%
Indian Television reports, “The board of Padmalaya Telefilms has announced its financial results for the first quarter results ended 30 June 2004. The company has posted a net revenue of Rs 22.8 billion [US$491 million] as compared to Rs 26.6 billion [$ 26.6 million] in the corresponding period last year, which shows a decline of 14.4 per cent. ... Animation seems to have spruced up the company by almost an 80 per cent jump in profits. The last year saw an addition of the animation education division (from April 2004 onwards) and visual effects division for the existing animation division. The re-establishment of the brand name of ZICA , worked wonders for the lost stand ZICA had in the market. The expansion of the business to Mumbai, Kolkatta and Hyderabad also played a vital factor. Sarasuram adds, 'The company is eyeing to enter into other major cities also and apart from ZICA, the company has started media training center with the association of Apple Computers Inc. The Apple authorised training center is first time in India.' The company has also increased the 3D animation department capacity to 200 per cent and thus the contribution from 3D animation is also more.”

A Taste of Things to Come
Crest CommunicationsThe Hindu Business Line has this profile of Crest Communication, noting, “Crest Communication and Indian advertising go a long way together. The company started its operations as a commercial advertising production house (including post-production work ). Today, it is recognised as a creative and technologically savvy production house. Apart from being a regular entrant at most creative and technical awards in advertising, it has also branched into computer-generated images (CGI or 3D animation) and is currently exploring the home video and home theatre markets. Their [CGI] co-production series, Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks, was nominated for the prestigious Annie Award. ... Although Indian animation is still in its infancy, there are signs that the scenario is changing for the better. 'We have recently executed a 13-episode TV series as a co-production venture with MediaCorp TV12 of Singapore. This is being enjoyed tremendously in Singapore and we will syndicate it to Indian channels soon. With the industry maturing, the players becoming financially stronger and the number of children's channels increasing, things will improve sooner than later,' [Crest's A.K. Madhavan] says.”

Lightborne Puts City on Video-Design Map
According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, “It would probably be easier for graphic design company Lightborne Inc. to be based on the East Coast. Or the West Coast. Most of its big-ticket clients are. 'When you are looking at clients in Los Angeles or New York or even Nashville, they say, “My God, Cincinnati?”' says president and chief operating officer Fred Hecht. 'You have to disprove that to them.' Lightborne, a post-production company that creates spots for retail, advertising and the music industry, appears to be doing just that. Its stop-motion animation music video for punk band Bad Religion's single Los Angeles is Burning has topped the charts in Germany and recently started airing in the United States on MTV. That success appears to be just what the 20-year-old company, which started out producing workplace safety training videos, was overhauled in the mid-1990s to achieve.”

Batman: The Animated Series — Volume One
Matt Peterson in digitallyOBSESSED has this review of the DVD release of the first season of the groundbreaking TV series. He note, Visuals were extremely important. Merging 1940s art deco design with the computer technology of today, [Bruce Timm and Eric Rodamski] give the blood-red-tinted Gotham city a timeless, modern feel. Among the spires prowled the Bat, drawn in a style unseen since the aforementioned decade. Character designs took on a simple, linear, somewhat angular motif, harkening back to the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. With backgrounds painted onto black paper, an unheard of idea at the time, the show looked dark. Very dark. This was a bold, risky style that faced the threat of network censors with every frame. Timm and Rodamski set out to not only to bring an entirely new Batman to the screen, but to fill the cels with real stories and characters that had lives, desires and motivations beyond ruthless destruction or simply 'doing good.' They aimed to bring a complexity to the franchise that adults would enjoy, along with the action and simple lessons kids would eat up. It was certainly a fine line that some may have felt they crossed (by using a common gangster motif, with tommy guns blazing), but the level of violence was necessary, and thankfully not excessive.”

In Brief: Law Flew & Change of Heart on Ad for Fat Kids
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow posterSci Fi Wire has this brief interview with Jude Law at Comic-Con about his role in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, “in which the actors performed in front of blue screens and all of the environments and action were inserted via computer animation later. ... 'The visuals that were sort of fed to me constantly by [director Kerry Conran] and by [production designer and Kerry's brother] Kevin [Conran] and the animatics [moving storyboards] that we were able to watch and refer to throughout the filming of it, which was almost a kind of partially finished sort of version of a sort of stick man version of what was going to happen, meant that I, to be honest, felt always like I was in that world,' Law said.” ... The Sydney Morning Herald has this story about how “An industry-backed advertising campaign aimed at tackling childhood obesity has been derailed by inter-departmental politics in Canberra. The Healthy Lifestyle Awareness campaign, made by McCann-Erickson at the behest of the Australian Association of National Advertisers, is either to be sent back to the drawing board or ditched altogether after the government department assigned the ad opted for a new strategy. Backed by an $11 million media budget, the ad was to have played a key role in Prime Minister John Howard's $116 million campaign to tackle obesity among Australian children, announced a month ago. The McCann television commercial features an animated character called Jo Lively and combines the two key planks of Mr Howard's campaign — healthy eating and physical activity — in one message.”

July 28, 2004
Something for Your Head
Mind GameMark Schilling in The Japan Times has this review of Masaaki Yuasa's Mind Game, in which he points out, “Japanese animated films for the schoolage masses are more often adventure fantasies than gobs in the face of conventional realism, however. Nobita and Doraemon encounter dangers of various sorts in their travels through time and space, but dream no unquiet dreams, take no mental journeys into the Great Unknown. Animation, though, is the ideal medium for such dreams and journeys, as Masaaki Yuasa's "Mind Game" so radically proves. Not intended for the multiplexes ... it is also not the usual sci-fi entertainment for otaku. ... [It] is by turns silly, frantic and aggressively strange, but it's also funny, sexy and energizing in a primal way that sweeps critical quibbles aside. Instead of the pounding headache I was dreading, I left the theater with an "I can't believe I saw that" grin, as though I had just watched someone run a marathon in five minutes, leaping tall buildings along the way. Wrung out, in other words, but flat-out astonished as well. What's the old hippie phrase? My mind was blown.”

Disney Experience Drives Katzenberg.
The Los Angeles Times has this analysis of the new DreamWorks Animation IPO, which notes, “Last week, [Jeffrey] Katzenberg and his DreamWorks Studios partners disclosed that they were preparing this fall to take public one piece of their enterprise — the computer-animation factory that is home to the biggest animated U.S. box-office hit of all time: Shrek 2. Yet for all of Katzenberg's determination, the gambit may well be the diciest of his career. DreamWorks is angling to become the next Pixar Animation Studios, which enjoys an impressive $3.7-billion value on Wall Street, thanks to its flawless record in theaters. But while Pixar boasts a string of five straight hits — among them Toy Story and Finding Nemo — DreamWorks' record outside the Shrek franchise has been mediocre. 'Jeffrey has very good judgment, he's a master communicator and relationship builder and is too smart to make rookie mistakes,' said one Wall Street source who knows Katzenberg well. 'But a pure-play movie company is a high-risk proposition.' ... Even Pixar's stock has been on a roller coaster ride, in part because of the long fallow periods of more than a year between its movies, when the company must rely on DVD releases and its shallow library for revenue.”

In Brief: Oguz Aral, SZ Animation Association, Girl Power, Korean Comics, LOGO & 'Simpsons' Gay
Waylon Smithers in The SimpsonsThe Anadolu Agency reports, “ Famous Turkish cartoonist Oguz Aral (68) passed away in Bodrum town of western Mugla province on Monday. ... His most famous caricature character is 'Avanak Avni' (Fool Avni),” he was also involved in animated cartoons. ... Shenzhen Daily notes, “The Shenzhen Animation Association was officially established Tuesday when members held their first conference. It is the first association of its kind to be approved by State authorities, said Chen Wei, director general of the municipal cultural bureau.” ... The Boston Globe has this article on how female readers are “the driving force” behind the hottest trends in Japanese comics. While it largely deals with manga, it does deal with the influence of anime on the phenomenon, noting, “Japan's version of animation powered such television hits as Pokemon and Sailor Moon in the 1990s and brought female fans to the threshold of Japan's vibrant comics and animation scene.” ... According to The Korea Times, “Global comic books and the anime industry have found great value in Korean comic book characters and stories as more than a million dollar’s worth of copyright deals was made related to them in one of North America’s biggest and most influential character fairs, San Diego Comic-Con 2004.” ... PlanetOut, in this story on LOGO, “American TV's first-ever gay network,” says it “will venture into animation with a series based on the popular comic strip Chelsea Boys, which follows a group of gay friends living in the big city.” ... Reporting from San Diego Comic-Con, E! Online notes Simpsons producer Al Jean announced, “We have a show where, to raise money, Springfield legalizes gay marriage. Homer becomes a minister by going on the Internet and filling out a form. A longtime character comes out of the closet, but I'm not saying who.”

July 27, 2004
Victor Banerjee's Daughter Walks a Different Road
Indo-Asian News Service has this profile (also here and here) of Keya Banerjee, who “hasn't followed [her actor] father Victor Banerjee's footsteps even if, as FX (visual-effects) supervisor, she inhabits the same world of cinema. Says the youngster who has gone into an area of cinema that's relatively unexplored in Bollywood and has just got rave reviews for her first major assignment Laskhya: 'I knew very early in life that I wasn't cut out for acting when I played the lead role in a school play, and I never got another role. ... Did Dad help with Keya's chosen career? 'Not really. I was working at UTV and Lakshya came to me through the company. Earlier, I had done visual effects for films including Tumko Na Bhool Payenge and NA Tum Jano NA Hum. But Lakshya was my big break as an FX supervisor. I couldn't have hoped for a better break. It was an incredible experience,' says the Mumbai girl who has been here since 1995.”

King Arthur and his Bytes of the Round Table
King ArthurThe Register has this tech-oriented story on the Cinesite's special effects for King Arthur. It notes, “Digital video means that the film industry now consumes storage at a rate that even the largest business might find daunting, and it keeps on growing as directors demand bigger and better effects. As the cost of workstations and render-farms has come down, the goalposts have moved — they get more for their money,' says Peter Robertshaw, Cinesite's technical services manager. 'We realised last year that the game had changed, and that where we had 40 artists we'd need 120.' The problem was the back-end, he says, and was actually two different problems: 'The 2D artists require lots of different files quickly, whereas the 3D artists need lots of similar files repetitively, such as surface textures.'”

Before Steven Spielberg, There Was Michelangelo
The Vatican to Vegas: A History of Special Effects coverChristopher Andreae in The Christian Science Monitor has this review of Norman Klein's new book, The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects, saying it “is not for those who prefer easily digestible sound bites. He writes a thick, stringy, multilayered, surging broth of relentless prose that demands much chewing before swallowing. And he has a remarkably wide, sometimes inventive vocabulary that he enjoys overusing. If Klein's stylistic pyrotechnics are maddening, they're also strangely appropriate to his subject. He's not just writing about the familiar use of special effects in modern cinema, although he is fascinating on this subject, showing how such visions were engineered decades before computers entered the picture. For him 'special effects' extend throughout time and space. He pursues this idea until he convinces himself and his somewhat exhausted readers that we are victims of 'global illusion.' ... This is a more serious-minded book than its title might suggest. Special effects turn out to be far more than exhaustively clever trickery. They may have a corrosively misleading 'effect' on our imagination. 'They are clues,' says Klein inarguably, 'to a state of mind.'”

July 26, 2004
Bill Plympton
Bill PlymptonWild Violet has this interview with Plympton, which was conducted after a screening of Hair High at the Philadelphia Film Festival in May, in which he notes, “it's more difficult being independent because I have to take care of all the legal stuff: have to take care of the contracts, the distribution, the marketing, the advertising, the promotion. It's really a full-time job. And it's not pleasant work to do, but it has to be done. In a perfect world, I would prefer just to draw all day and make these cartoons. But the problem is, if I work for a big studio, then I would lose a lot of my creative ideas, of course. And I would be under pressure to finish it at a certain time. So there's certain drawbacks to both sides of the filmmaking process.”

Can Little-Known Heroes Be Hollywood Hits?
The New York Times' has this story (also here) on the San Diego Comic-Con International, which notes, “Even the Walt Disney Company, which has rarely had such a strong presence at the convention, was promoting its television shows and comic books, as well as showing a scene from The Incredibles, an original movie from Pixar Animation Studios about a superhero family, which will be released in November. Such exposure is even more important now, as many of the most well-known comic book characters have been exploited and Hollywood is tapping lesser-known stories. 'This is the linchpin to the marketing of these movies,' said Robert Friedman, chief operating officer of Paramount Pictures who first attended Comic-Con in the 1970's to promote Superman for Warner Brothers. 'It is important and critical for movies of this nature, and the people who star in them, to be embraced by this crowd.'”

Dad and Son Take on the Might of Glyndwr
The Daily Post has this story about the new eight-part BBC series, Battlefield Britain, in which Peter Snow “and his historian son Dan enlighten viewers about a string of battles that shaped our history from Queen Boudicca to Owain Glyndær to the Battle of Britain. They do it with the aid of state-of-the-art special effects that are more sophisticated and spectacular than anything previously seen on TV, designed to bring Lord Of The Rings-style scale at a fraction of the cost. A typical scene sees Peter open up his travelling map-case to reveal a 3D image of the terrain of a battle long lost or won. Then with a wave of his hand, shoals of miniature soldiers swarm across the terrain.”

July 25, 2004
We're Gonna Party Like It's 1986
Don't Go (Girls and Boys)Jeffrey Rotter in The New York Times has this review of “Don't Go (Girls and Boys), the latest video from the Canadian singer-songwriter Fefe Dobson.” The video ... was directed by Rainbows & Vampires, a trio of Los Angeles video artists who received recognition for creating Yoko Ono's inventive Walking on Thin Ice last year — a surprisingly moving black-and-white cartoon about a girl and a rabbit. The threesome's visual style balances live action with animated text and floating collage elements. As the directors toggle between cartoon and reality in Don't Go, Rainbows & Vampires gives a contemporary spin to the punk, new wave and early hip-hop aesthetics of the 80's. ... The directors' cartoon world insinuates itself subtly into the gritty urban scene as the video's momentum builds: a butterfly discreetly flaps its wings on a poster in Ms. Dobson's apartment; a fang-toothed Pac-Man pursues the villains down a subway stairwell so quickly you may mistake it for a shadow. Midway through the video, the little outbursts of animation give way to a cartoon eruption, and the impact is jarring and effervescent — the visual equivalent of Pop Rocks.”

A Guilt-Edged Opportunity
Tin-Tin and IThe Age has this story about Danish filmmaker Anders Oestergaard's Tin-Tin And I, his documentary about Herge screening at the the Melbourne Film Festival. It notes, “There are plenty of men, says Danish filmmaker Anders Oestergaard, who never grew out of Tin-Tin. Like himself. Even at 39, he is still fascinated by Belgian cartoonist Herge's whimsical stories of Tin-Tin the boy scout do-gooder, Snowy the dog, the irascible Captain Haddock and the idiotic Thomson Twins, all set in faraway places. ... Oestergaard had his core material even before he had begun. What he did not have was pictures. So he used Herge's drawings, and archival footage of Herge at the unveiling of a Tin-Tin statue, and current interviews with his second wife, colleagues and Sadoul. His masterstroke, however, was his animation of Herge himself. By piecing together footage of TV interviews, Oestergaard was able to create a Herge who laughed at the right moments and spoke words that conceivably could be the ones we hear. Then he just dropped the tones out, so that the moving image looks like an animated line drawing.”

In Brief: Pop Culture Gala, The Corpse Bride, Favourite 'Droid
Comic-Con logoAccording to The San Diego Union Tribune, “From Super Heroes to The Simpsons, there was something special for everyone to fawn over at yesterday's Comic-Con International. ... The four-day celebration of comics, animation and pop culture, which concludes today, is certain to exceed last year's attendance of 75,000, said spokesman David Glanzer. 'The demographic for this stuff is same as the demographic for television,' said Larry Young, one of the leading-edge publishers of comic books and graphic novels.” .... Box Office Prophets previews the story of The Corpse Bride, the new stop motion film by Tim Burton, which grew out of 19th century Russian “word-of-mouth legend ... about the story of a young [Jewish] man who is on his way to be wed.” ... BBC News reports, Star Wars robot R2D2 has won a poll to find the world's favourite robot. The diminutive 'droid, who starred in all five of the Star Wars films so far, beat the kleptomaniac, alcoholic robot Bender from animation Futurama. ... The top ten of the poll — which was voted for by more than 8,000 people — also included The Iron Giant (seven).”

July 24, 2004
Big Draw
The Tale Of Despereaux book coverAccording to The Sunday Herald, “Edinburgh has long been a mecca for all sorts of artforms, but its tiny community of animation producers could never claim to be at the centre of anything big — until now. The unexpected arrival this summer of Sylvain Chomet, Oscar-nominated director of Belleville Rendez-vous, has set the industry alight. With Chomet come three new animation productions, just as local company Red Kite nets one feature-length co-production and pursues several more. “There’s really something happening in Scotland now,” says Chomet, in the New Town flat he rents with his English producer wife, Sally. Downstairs in a makeshift studio, art director Evgeni Tomov is hard at work, designing characters for Chomet’s new projects. 'Edinburgh is probably going to be the place in Europe where there are the most animation productions,” he says. ... The couple are currently developing no fewer than three films: two of them will be made in Edinburgh and one — an unusual foray into 3D — will be made by a US team under Chomet’s direction.'” One film, The Illusionist, is based on an unfilmed script by Jacques Tati, the great French screen comedian. A second 2D film will be “Barbacoa ... a dark and violent tale of a group of animals who take part in the Paris Commune.” The CGI project, The Tale Of Despereaux, being made for Universal and based on a children's book, will be “'like going back to old Grimm Fairy Tales,' says Sally. 'It’s quite sinister and dark in places, like the original stories, before Disney got in and made them cute.'”

Discovery Channel Relives 'History' a New Series Puts CGI Masks of Historical Figures on Living Actors to Re-create Events
The Oregonian asks, “It worked with dinosaurs, so why not human beings? The CGI animation process that created extremely realistic dinos in several Discovery Channel specials is being utilized to bring historical figures to life in scenes that have only been documented through verbal and written accounts, artifacts and still photographs. Virtual History, a fall Discovery special unveiled in mesmerizing clips Thursday ... is a complicated process that involves placing the faces of historical figures on modern actors. Skilled impersonators then provide the voices. The eerie footage seen ... was of Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill in a program that examines one day — July 20, 1944 — that saw the major players of World War II in turmoil. ... [David Abraham, general manager of Discovery Networks in Europe] is confident that there will be no confusion about reality and re-enactment. 'We're going to make it very clear before the broadcasting of this program that virtual history is a technique that combines re-enactments with archives that still exist.'”

July 23, 2004
Cartoon Condoms Battle AIDS
The Three AmigosThe Toronto Star has this story about how “a trio of animated characters ... have achieved cult status in South Africa, thanks to a series of comic public service announcements (PSAs) on HIV/AIDS prevention co-produced by Ottawa filmmaker Firdaus Kharas. In an open letter, [Archbishop Desmond] Tutu called the PSAs 'a powerful communicating tool to encourage people to change their behaviour,' adding that the animation makes the message non-authoritarian and easily understood by people of different languages and culture. Karas, dashing between screenings of the TV spots at the 15th International AIDS Conference here, agreed with the Nobel laureate. 'Humour is non-threatening and creates something people remember.' And The Three Amigos, as Kharas dubbed the trio, are memorably funny — and stereotypically horny — young guys. ... The 20 PSAs starring The Three Amigos vary in length from 15 to 60 seconds. ... The product of an international cast of 80 volunteers, the spots were conceived and written in South Africa and the backgrounds and animation were done in India. Canadians were responsible for the rest of the endeavour including the characters, layouts, voice recording and music. ... So far ... the scripts have been adapted and translated into 40 languages using two teams of translators and the help of recent immigrants, mostly young people, to ensure the humour comes across.”

'Puffy' Animates Japanese Pop
The International Herald Tribune reports, “Back in 1980, the Japanese female pop-music duo Pink Lady had its own prime-time series in the United States. Generally agreed to have been one of the worst shows ever seen on American television — which is saying a lot —
Pink Lady and Jeff was axed after just six weeks. Now another female pop duo from Japan is hoping to succeed where Pink Lady failed. But instead of a live-action variety show, Puffy AmiYumi are going to be the 'stars' of a weekly show on Cartoon Network. Titled Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, the show is set to debut on Cartoon Network in late November. It's the latest example of how an increasing number of Japanese pop artists are using young Americans' fascination with 'anime' (Japanese animation) as a way of cracking the U.S. market. ... [Sam Register, senior vice president in charge of original animation at Cartoon Network] says Cartoon Network wants Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi to score high on the coolness index. 'It's got to be more Yellow Submarine than Josie and the Pussycats, he said. 'We have to take Japanese culture and adapt it for our audience,' he said. 'Let's bring Japanese culture onto the TV screen. The whole thing is to keep the balance between the U.S. and Japan.'”

Hamm's Signs Still Bear Watching
The Arizona Republic has this story on the history of the Hamm's Bear, which was widely seen in one of the most important of the early American TV commercials. It notes, “For many baby boomers, the phrase 'From the Land of Sky Blue Waters' evokes fond memories of Hamm's beer. At mid-20th century, Hamm's was one of the most recognized beers in the country, buoyed in great measure by those words and the Hamm's beer bear. The catch phrase 'From the Land of Sky Blue Waters' was created in the years after World War II by Campbell-Mithun, the ad agency for Hamm's. Hamm's recognized the new technology of television as a perfect medium for delivering its message. So in the early 1950s, Campbell-Mithun began looking for an image to add to the beer's established tag line. Enter the Hamm's bear. In an unusual move, Hamm's decided to have an animated cartoon bear sell its product. The first black-and-white commercial aired in 1953. The bear became an instant success. And even through a series of ownership changes, the bear continued to represent the brand for nearly half a century.”

In Brief: Corus Posts Loss & Frantic Berry
CatwomanCanadian Press reports (also here), “Radio and TV broadcaster Corus reported a $52-million quarterly loss Thursday after the company wrote down the value of its film and television library by $85 million. ... Corus' television products includes children's series Babar, Franklin and Beyblade, produced by subsidiary Nelvana. ... '[Nelvana] continues to produce positive cash flow from operations as we build the library and is executing well on its strategic priorities,' [CEO John] Cassaday said. The company also has stakes in Teletoon and Discovery Kids cable channels. ... The Winnipeg Sun has this brief item on “local visual effects and production house [Frantic Films, which] has tweaked scenes to enhance three [Halle] Berry movies —Catwoman, X-2 and Swordfish — in as many years although, apparently, Berry herself needs no improvement. Frantic vice-president Ken Zorniak says the company played a comparatively small role in Catwoman, working on pre-visualization shots to help map out the look of the production between March 2003 and February this year and completing work on the last of 65 post-production shots within the past two weeks.”

July 22, 2004
DreamWorks' IPO, Disney's Nightmare
Business Week has this analysis of DreamWorks' filing for a public offering for its animation unit, which opines, “The hits just keep on coming for Michael Eisner — and not necessarily the good kind. The Disney chief executive, under fire for apparently driving away Steve Jobs's Pixar Animation unit, now has to watch his one-time studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg take dead aim at Disney's animation stronghold. Katzenberg, who in 1994 left Disney to form DreamWorks SKG with fellow moguls David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, will head DreamWorks soon-to-be spun-off animation unit, which filed its initial public offering on July 21. The announcement ... is just DreamWorks' latest shot across Disney's — and Eisner's — bow. DreamWorks' Shrek 2, released in late May, has grossed more than $410 million at the U.S. box office, pretty much trampling prospects for Disney's animated Home on the Range, which has grossed a dismal $49 million. ... Disney has said that it's gearing up its own animated-film unit to make computer-generated flicks, having determined that the market for traditionally hand-drawn films has begun to wane, but DreamWorks clearly has a headstart.”

DVD Set Puts 'Thunderbirds' World on a String
ThunderbirdsThe release of the new Thunderbirds movie prompted this article in The Houston Chronicle, which notes, “Kids today may not know Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds from a Ford Thunderbird, but once upon a time, his rocket-powered puppet show was a pop-cultural titan. In his 1960s low-tech, sci-fi series Thunderbirds, creator Gerry Anderson's rockets had wild designs that seemed to lack aerodynamics. Those days are gone, but Anderson's creations live on. His '60s TV series has been preserved on DVD, and two Thunderbirds films from that era will be released on DVD this week. Anderson also is busy remaking Captain Scarlet, another of his innocent '60s sci-fi action fests, this time using computer animation instead of marionettes. ... 'I have absolutely nothing to do with that film, and it honestly bothers me,' Anderson says. 'In fact, it's heartbreaking for me. 'We had a very quick meeting, and then I got a letter saying basically, 'Sorry, Gerry, but there's no room for you in this production.'”

A Tsunami of Japanese Pop Culture
Articles on the booming international popularity of Japanese culture, including animation, continue to proliferate. The latest example is this piece in Business Week, which notes, “Pokemon, Power Rangers, Hello Kitty, Yu-Gi-Oh!. It's hard to leave home — let alone watch TV on a Saturday morning — without getting bombarded by some new Japanese entertainment import. As Japan's star rises as a cultural trendsetter, it has been greatly aided by technologies that help it spread the word. 'With the Internet and e-mail, there's way more of a global culture now,' notes Ken Miller, editor of Tokion, an eight-year-old magazine devoted to U.S.-Japanese culture that's published in New York City. 'When we started out, we were telling kids in the U.S. what was cool in Japan. Now it's a global dialogue. Stuff is just bouncing around the world really quickly.' ... [There] are groups of high schoolers, college kids, or other fans who either tape Japanese cartoons (anime) off the TV in Japan or work from imported DVDs in the U.S. In either case, they add English subtitles just for the fun of it, often using translation software. Within 24 to 48 hours of airing in Japan, the newly translated shows are available on the Web for free through various file-sharing programs. ... So far the Japanese owners have tolerated the infringement in light of the market it has created: Last year Japanese anime and related character exports outstripped the value of steel exports from Japan. With fans like these, it's no wonder Japanese entertainment products are so ubiquitous now.”

July 21, 2004
DreamWorks Animation Files for $650 Million IPO & Shrek 2 #1
Bloomberg reports, “Jeffrey Katzenberg plans to take the animation unit of DreamWorks SKG public in a $650 million share sale that will allow the studio to double its film production and increase its challenge to Walt Disney Co. ... The share sale, the biggest initial public offering of an entertainment company in the last nine years, increases pressure on Disney, which may lose its film distribution agreement with Pixar Animation Studios and has stumbled with animated films such as Treasure Planet and Home on the Range. 'DreamWorks has proven they can outthink, outfox and outsmart all of the major players,' said Richard Steinberg, chief investment officer, Steinberg Global Asset Management in Boca Raton, Florida. ... The company will use $175 million from the sale to invest in possible acquisitions and joint ventures, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. It will also repay the debt it's assuming by separating from DreamWorks SKG, the movie studio founded by filmmaker Steven Spielberg, music executive David Geffen and Katzenberg.” See also Reuters story. ... Speaking of DreamWorks, Bloomberg has this item which notes, Shrek 2 leads the list of top-grossing animated films at the box office, taking in $425 million since its May 19 opening,” and provides a listing of “10 top-grossing animated films,” which includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the number 10 slot.

'Steamboy' Bubbles over with Moments Both Good and Bad
SteamboyAndrez Bergen in The Daily Yomiuri has this review, which proclaims, “Katsuhiro Otomo is back, and this time it's his intent to lay waste to great swathes of 19th-century London — which isn't really great shakes for this man. In his last full-length outing, he opened proceedings by completely annihilating Tokyo. ... Otomo's strengths, as in Akira, are in the beautifully rendered designs, the devotion to the smallest details, and the wildly thrown together action sequences. Where he loses ground, however, is in the loose narrative structure (again, think Akira), along with the ambiguous nature of its central adult characters, the verbally effusive interludes, and the somewhat twee relationship between Ray and Scarlett, who just don't really click. In the plus column are the moments of delectable black humor — even if these are too few and far between. ... But Akira it's not, and maybe that's something we shouldn't get all steamed-up about.”

Pay Up or the Duck Gets It, Disney Warned
The Pretoria News notes, “Moviemaker Disney has until August 12 to notify the Pretoria High Court whether it intends defending a R15-million [US$1.6 million] claim for damages for allegedly infringing the copyright on the song 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight.' Disney Enterprises, Nu Metro Home Entertainment, the David Gresham Entertainment Group and David Gresham Records all received summonses and the particulars of the claim last week, South African lawyer Owen Dean said on Tuesday. The estate of the late songwriter Solomon Linda is seeking an interdict restraining the four companies from continuing to use the song, and damages totalling R15-million. ... A version of the song was used in the Disney smash hit The Lion King. Dean said Disney had until August 12 to give notice of its intention to defend the proceedings or not.” An Associated Press story reports that Dean also said, “If any of the parties fail to give notice of their intention to defend the action by the respective due dates, judgment will be entered against such party by default.”

In Brief: Dis and Make Up & Pixar Expansion
According to The New York Post, “Hollywood is gearing up for an unlikely reunion. Steve Jobs' Pixar Animation Studios is likely to renew a lucrative movie-making partnership with Disney, according to sources familiar with the matter. Despite publicly backing out of talks with Disney in January and making the rounds of other Hollywood studios looking for a partner, Jobs has come to believe that the best home for Pixar is at Disney after all, sources said. A reunion would mark a significant victory for Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who has long had an acrimonious relationship with Jobs.” ... The Oakland Tribune reports, “The Emeryville City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to let voters decide [next year] whether Pixar's campus expansion should go forward after a community group opposed to the animation studio's plans gathered more than enough signatures to qualify the issue for the ballot. ... If the ballot measures are passed they will overturn the City Council's June 1 approval of development and May 25 approval of the general plan amendments and send the project back to the drawing board. When completed in 20 years, the animation giant's campus across from Emeryville City Hall is supposed to contain three new buildings and a seven-level parking garage. The number of Pixar employees would triple, to almost 2,000.”

July 20, 2004
Toon Tale of Love, Made in Bollywood
Bhagmati — The Queen of FortunesAccording to The Calcutta Telegraph, “Bollywood’s first serious toon movie, not merely for kids but for the mainstream Hindi film audience, is ready to see the light of the day. Based on a love story that is part folklore and part history and titled Bhagmati — The Queen of Fortunes, the film has been produced by Zee TV and has more than half of its reel hours in animated form. ... 'I wanted to introduce animation to Hindi feature films,' says Ashok Kaul, the director of the film. 'This is the first time that about one-and-a-half hours of a mainstream Hindi film will be animated. It is something like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, except that it is a fully swadeshi venture,' adds Kaul, who collaborated closely with Raj Kapoor on several projects and directed the film Param Vir Chakra. ... 'The toons are in 2D and the backgrounds are a combination of 2D and 3D,' says Rajiv Sangari, director, animation division, Padmalaya Telefilms, which is owned by Zee ... Indian audiences have started to get fillips of animation as Bollywood masala. In the recently released Hum Tum, animated characters of Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee are used to show the passage of time.” See also this earlier Mid-Day Mumbai story.

In Brief: 'This Land Is My Land...'
This LandThis Land, the satirical political web cartoon by Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, continues to create a sensation in the US, including coverage on major network newscasts. Thus, CBS News has this report on the film and its makers. “Gregg Spiridellis is the writer. Brother Evan is the artist. They have done political cartoons before — a rapping Gore during the 2000 campaign, Arnold muscling his way into the California governor's mansion. ... But the fact that millions have seen it doesn't mean that they're getting rich — yet. They're hoping the cartoon attracts attention to their Jib Jab toy line, and their children's books, which bring them some income, unlike the cartoon, which users access for free. Gregg Spiridellis notes, 'We're in a lot of creative businesses, but little animated shorts on the Internet are not a good business to get into.'”

July 19, 2004
How Disney Bypassed God to Preach the Gospel of Dreams Coming True
The Gospel According to Disney  coverStephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent for The Guardian, takes a look at “The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust, by Mark Pinsky, an American journalist and best-selling author of a similar book about The Simpsons, [who] shows that the film industry's most family-orientated entertainer has rarely mentioned God, and that such religious figures as there are in its animated films are almost entirely bad. Pinsky, the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, argues: 'In the more than 35 animated features Disney has released since 1937, there is scarcely a mention of God as conceived in the Christian and Jewish faiths shared by most people in the western world and many beyond.' ... 'The Gospel of Disney is all about me,' Pinsky writes. 'My dreams. My will. 'When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.' The Disney bible has but one verse and that's it. 'Walt's religion was built on the unfailing American belief that virtue and hard work will make all your dreams come true.'”

In Brief: Cartoon Lampoon & Church of SpongeBob
This LandThis Land, the cartoon on www.JibJab.com lampooning both major presidential candidates continues to draw press attention, as in this story in The Seattle Times. It notes the film is “Set to the Woody Guthrie classic 'This Land is Your Land,' the song and cartoon — written and produced by brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis — lampoon the degraded political dialogue of this campaign season, which has been exacerbated by its sheer length, tens of millions of dollars in advertising money and the never-ending 24-hour news cycle. ... The bit works so well because it skewers both President Bush and his challenger, Sen. John Kerry, taking on Bush's perceived lack of intelligence and Kerry's highfalutin mien.” ... BBC News reports, “US fans of the flamboyant cartoon character SpongeBob Squarepants have set up a church in his name. ... The church's manifesto says it wants to push 'simple things like having fun and using your imagination', and offers study courses on the cartoon.”

July 18, 2004
'Troopers 2' DVD Director Learned from 'Star Wars'
The Palm Beach Post has this interview with special effects master Phil Tippett regarding his directing debut on “Starship Troopers 2 — a direct-to-DVD sequel to one of the movies' great guilty pleasures, 'the Citizen Kane of giant bug movies' as someone said. ... The overall trend of computer-generated spectacle leaves Tippett uneasy. 'Nothing is more boring than spectacle,' he says. 'There is a tendency with technology to be stupid. Making things look real is about as far as the mechanism goes. Computers don't understand 'imaginary' and 'pretend.' Art doesn't have to be real; it has to be exciting and imaginative.' Along those lines, and from the vantage point of a veteran of Lucasfilm: What has gone wrong with the second batch of Star Wars movies, which everybody has seen and nobody has liked? 'George has been developing a lot of stuff,' says Tippett. 'He got Pixar launched; he got the whole Dolby thing going with THX; he really pushed electronic editing. Part of his interest in cinema is to go completely artificial, and he's doing it. And I think one suffers in certain levels making that kind of film.'”

Fort Wayne Grad Helps Pay the Way for ‘Delgo'
DelgoAccording to The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, “A former Fort Wayne resident — South Side graduate Jason Maurer — is in Georgia making what might well be the first independently financed, feature-length, computer-animated, action extravaganza. It is called Delgo. ... [It] began about eight years ago when Maurer and Marc Adler, Maurer’s boss at the Atlanta e-business firm where he works, started discussing the feasibility of producing a largely in-house computer-animated feature. ... 'We developed a 90-second proof-of-concept piece that showcased the general story concept and provided an early glimpse of the worlds, characters and creatures,' Maurer says. 'We presented this to several private investors across various business sectors around the country and ultimately secured funding.' Maurer and Adler hired animators from Disney and DreamWorks and now, eight arduous years later, Delgo is nearing completion.”

This Scene's Full of Life
The Hindu Business Line has this story about the current explosion in digital animation and special effects, which begins, “We all know that moviemakers use graphics for `special effects', to bring a dramatic bearing to a film — a villian's ugly face splitting into two by a swish of the hero's sword, or a famous building being blown into smithereens. But now what is catching on in the film world, albeit very slowly, is the use of graphics even in taking normal shots, for cost reduction. 'The savings in costs could be enormous. In one project we did, the producer had to spend one-thirtieth of what he would otherwise have had to spend,' says N.S. Riyaz Babu, General Manager, Animation Production, at Pentamedia Graphics Ltd.” A companion story entitled “The Making of an Animated Movie” does just that, though it focuses on the computer animation.

In Brief: Spinning Spidey's Web, Jolly Green Ogre
Spider-Man 2The Los Angeles Daily News has this brief story on Spider-Man 2's special effects director which begins, “John Dykstra, visual effects designer for Spider-Man 2, said the title hero exceeds 200 mph when he's swinging through the concrete canyons of Manhattan in pursuit of bad guys. That seems to have been one of the easier tasks on Dykstra's plate as he and some 200 computer wizards created dazzling visual tricks.” ... DreamWorks' publicity blitz regarding the big name voice actors in their films seems to extend even to Japan as seen in this story in Japan Today. Besides gawking at the big Hollywood names used, it adds, “Shrek 2 will have two versions for Japan — the original English and a Japanese one at selected theaters. For Japanese voice actors Masatoshi Hamada, 41, and Norika Fujiwara, 33, it is a double challenge. They were encouraged to make the characters their own and to add their own distinctive touch, but at the same time, they had to be in sync.”

July 17, 2004
Marvel Sues Disney Over Cartoon Series Profits
X-Men: The Phoenix Saga DVD coverReuters reports, “Marvel Enterprises sued Walt Disney Co. on Friday for about $55 million, accusing Disney's ABC Family group of channels of shortchanging it on payments for cartoon series of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk and X-Men. A Disney spokesman said the company had not seen the suit and declined to comment. Marvel Enterprises, which owns the superhero series distributed by Family channels before and after Disney acquired Family, said Disney claimed they did not make money. See also the BBC News story, which notes, “Marvel also said Disney did not market the programmes aggressively enough, given the renewed interest in the three titles since they have been made into blockbuster films by other studios. ... Marvel did however acknowledge that Disney did pay some disputed royalties when asked.”

The Brave New World of E-Showbiz
Back Stage has this lengthy story which tells of how “cutting-edge technologies create a host of new opportunities” for actors. It notes, “Dancers are required by animators to help create movement via motion-capture systems. And somebody has to furnish the voices, movements, and facial expressions for all those gangsters, androids, and space aliens that populate the world of video games. ... Speaking of motion capture, Peter DePietro of Quinnipiac University explains: 'Actors are probably going to be less in demand than someone who has interesting movement skills -- like dancers. And the secretary behind the desk is not going to be able to do the arabesque like someone who has training.' DePietro is pointing to a stumbling block often faced by trained performers who seek work in e-media: the fact that companies will hire nonprofessionals to record the voices or create the images for an e-project. Calling on 'the secretary behind the desk' to put on the motion-capture suit, or tapping a friend or relative who'd enjoy dabbling in voice-over, is something that is all too common with many e-media companies.”

Time to Give Credit to a True Master
Vertigo poster by Saul BassTelegraph.co.uk has this appreciation of the work of Saul Bass by James Rutledge on the occasion of an exhibit devoted to his work at London's Design Museum. “Often called the master of the film title sequence, American designer Saul Bass created an incredible array of titles over a career that spanned 50 years. Bass's best-known work was with directors such as Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese, but he created instantly recognisable images for many others. The daubed graffiti credits that open West Side Story, the crumbling statues in Spartacus, the scratchy modernist posters and sleek corporate logos of his later work all carry his measured approach to expressing a story in, as he put it, 'some metaphorical way'. ... Although Bass died in 1996, his mantle is unchallenged. His work has endured because of his ability to integrate it with the movies he worked on. His sequences are dazzling, but never seem merely tacked on.”

The Mouse in the House of Mirrors
The Perfect American book coverRon Charles in The Christian Science Monitor has this review of The Perfect American, a fictionalized biography by Peter Jungk, which he feels is “a perfect example of this unsettling genre. ... The story purports to be a confession, written in prison, by Wilhelm Dantine, a fictional Austrian-born cartoonist who worked for several years with Walt Disney, the real filmmaker who sought to create the future in California with fantasies of his past in the Midwest. Every detail in the book is true, except for those which are made up. ... The story opens in Marceline, Missouri, in 1966, during the final months of Disney's life. The filmmaker has returned to his boyhood hometown to dedicate a new park. In the audience of well-wishers lurks Dantine, who tells us this was the sixth time he'd planned to confront Mr. Disney. In fact, since he was summarily dismissed from the Burbank Studios in 1954, Dantine has abandoned his career and family to study his great idol and enemy, the father of Mickey Mouse. ... Proceed with caution into Jungkland. There are some wonderful rides here, and it's often impossible to distinguish the factual from the fantastic, but the insights are true, and troubling.”

In Brief: The FX Guy & Emmy Nominees
The Davao Sun Star has this profile of Dodge Ledesma, a local boy who has gone on to a career in special effects by his best friend in high school. Dodge currently works as “Visual Effects Supervisor at RoadRunner Network, a subsidiary of ABS-CBN. This is the company that creates post-production work for TV commercials and Feature Films. ... In the 2003 Metro Manila Film Festival he earned a nomination for best Visual Effects in Captain Barbell. Dodge added more feathers to his cap by winning Best Visual Effects in the 2003 Metro Manila Filmfest and 2004 Golden Screen Awards for the movie Malikmata. This year, it is the movie Volta that got him another trophy for the Best Visual Effects in the 2004 Metro Manila Film Festival. ... Here's a listing of the animation nominees for this year's Primetime Emmy Awards, which includes, in the one hour or less category, Futurama, Samurai Jack, The Simpsons, South Park and SpongeBob SquarePants; in the category for programming of one hour or more, the two nominees are The Powerpuff Girls: Twas The Fight Before Christmas and Star Wars: Clone Wars

July 16, 2004
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Vol. 1)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone ComplexJohn Sinnott in DVD Talk has this review of the American DVD of the 2002 Japanese TV series based on the movie. He says, “The thing I really like about this show is that it can be viewed on several levels, and it works well in each. As a straight adventure show, this program really rocks, with explosions and car chases and lots of guns. But it is also deeper than that, examining what a soul is, and what makes someone human or alive. For example in one show a person's religion forbids him from accepting prosthetic devices, even if they will save his life. But what about after he dies? Can his brain be implanted into an artificial body? And if it is, is the person really alive? Great animation, good stories and an effective soundtrack make this a DVD that all anime fans should try out.

Special Effects: Bollywood's Prime Focus
This Rediff story proclaims, It's boom time for the Mumbai-based special effects company, Prime Focus. It grabbed three major film projects this year, including the contract for creating the invisible hero in Ram Gopal Varma's Gayab that released on Friday. Besides, it bagged the special effects project for two other major films to be released shortly: David Dhawan's Mujhse Shaadi Karogi and Rajiv Rai's Asambhav. The new business bonanza at Prime Focus also includes setting up a part of the back-end operations for The Times of India publisher, Bennett, Coleman & Co's,  proposed television channel Zoom. It is creating a couple a computer graphics stations as well as installing six edit machines. It will also provide skilled manpower to operate the machines. Clearly, the company that began in 1995 with a small editing studio and an investment of Rs 900,000, has many reasons to smile: one of them being its turnover that's touching Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million).

Wanted: Home-Made Cartoon Blockbusters
According to Xinhua, “China plans to establish several film animation conglomerates within five to 10 years to stimulate the burgeoning and profitable industry, a senior film official said Thursday, according to Friday's China Daily. Beijing, Shanghai, Hunan Province and the Central TV Station have all been designated as the four largest animated film production bases expected to become animation leviathans, said Jin Delong, an of th”e State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). The government of Changsha in Hunan Province, for example, has outlined 200-hectares of land for an Animation Science Park to turn animation films into a local pillar industry, said Jinn. 'These giant producers will lead the nation's animated film industry, making it strong enough to compete with its overseas counterparts within years,' he said.”

Animation Center Ready for Launch
The Shanghai Daily reports, “The National Center of Animation and Computer Games will be established on July 27 at East China Normal University in the city. It's the first animation center on Chinese mainland. The university, the Cultural Research Center of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Shanghai Broadband Television Corporation invested 10 million yuan (US$1.2 million) in the center to encourage creativity and produce more homegrown titles.  'As the birthplace of the Chinese film and cartoon industry, Shanghai has won the right to have the center from cities like Beijing, Shenzhen and Chengdu'  said Tong Zuguang, vice president of East China Normal.

Beijing Designer Sues Nike over Copyright
Zhu Zhiqiang 's stickman
Xinhua reports, “Claiming copyright infringement, a Beijing designer is suing Nike over an television ad broadcast around the world, according to Friday's China Daily. 'The stickman in a recent advertisement of Nike pirated a logo of my serial Flash works,' 28-year-old Zhu Zhiqiang said. Zhu, who is widely known as Xiaoxiao on Internet, asked for 2 million yuan (US$240,000) in compensation from Nike as well as public apologies. ... The Beijing No 1 Intermediate People's Court held the first hearing Thursday. Sources with the famous sports wear company denied the charge.'  A report by AFP also notes,  'Nike also maintains Stickman cannot come under copyright protection because it lacks originality. 'From mural and stone paintings in ancient times to Sherlock Holmes stories, the logo has been used repeatedly,'  [Zhang Zaiping, a lawyer representing Nike] said, adding it was a 'logo usually used in the public domain.”

In Brief: I, Robot & Animated Film of Yue Opera
TechNewsWorld has this tech-oriented story about the use of motion capture in the movie based on the Isaac Asimov story, focusing on the motion capture work of Motion Analysis Studios.  The author notes, “Once inside the studio, I could see that their operation was purely practical. No Hollywood glam here, just a small staff of involved naturalists. I call them that because the analysis of motion that they are recording started out in the field of medicine. This is because Motion Analysis had developed the cameras and software to help doctors of medicine analyze the general balance of patients suffering from spine and bone disorders, be it gait analysis or prosthetics." ... According to Xinhuanet, "The first animated film of Yue opera has premiered in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province, reported CRIENGLISH.com.”

July 15, 2004
The Soldier's Tale on DVD
R.O. BlechmanGlenn Erickson in DVD Talk, in reviewing the R.O. Blechman TV movie, says, “The Soldier's Tale is a darn good animated film; it compliments the music so well, it's easy to see Stravinsky's piece as a specially composed score. The frequently sinister story is the tale of a nice-guy veteran who just wants to live, but wastes his years fighting and following a devil-inspired quest for material wealth. It's a moral fable that doesn't have an obvious solution for the hero's problems and is thus a kind of downer. ... The saving grace of The Soldier's Tale is a prevailing feeling of grace and beauty.” Mark Zimmer in digitallyOBSESSED is less enthusiastic; he feels, “[Blechman's] tremulous line work provides a nice resonance to the insecurities that are outlined in the story. The animation does suffer a bit from cheapness, with frequent repetition of animation and shooting single cels for 2 or 3 frames instead of one apiece, which results in a certain jerkiness. Silent film techniques are often adopted to good effect (and appropriate for the period setting). There are affecting photos of war carnage that set the scene but are somewhat at odds with the fairy tale aspect of the story itself.”

Cartoonwork Helps Stir Pupils' Creativity
Cineteg logoAccording to ic Wales, “A Welsh animation company is helping disadvantaged young people stir their imaginations by creating cartoons. The award-winning company Cinetig has been working with schools for the past six years helping pupils, particularly those in deprived areas, to learn new artistic skills. Its community work is being threatened by less funding from the Arts Council for Wales. Cinetig was established after funding was provided by the council and it is that money, rather than its commercial operations, that supports its community work.”

In Brief: Sony MGM Complications, Big Idea's Move, Flint Riverquarium Commercial, Political Cartoons,
Reuters reports (also here), “ Nobuyuki Idei, the chief executive of Japan's Sony Corp. said on Thursday a deal to take over film and TV studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was facing some complications. ... Sources close to the negotiation have said that Time Warner Inc. plans to put together a deal aimed at matching Sony's offer to buy MGM and its coveted 4,000-title film library that includes the Pink Panther and Rocky movies.” ... Further details of the move of Big Idea, producer of the popular Veggie Tales videos, from the Chicago suburb of Lombard to the Nashville area are provided in this The Nashville City Paper story. It concludes by noting, “The company has been streamlined from one that once employed about 200 people. Now 20 to 30 people will be working from the Franklin headquarters, Junk said. As a result, Tennessee companies will benefit from the great amount of outsourcing Big Idea is expected to do here, Fleming noted.” ... Albany, Georgia station WALB-TV has this story on the production of the animated commercials for the Flint Riverquarium made by “Atlanta-based children's multimedia company, CYKE. ... story board artist and director Ted Boone Thanakit ... created all the animated characters. He says they are all based on aquatic life native to the Flint, even though they may remind you of another popular animated fish named Nemo. ... In addition to the 30-second commercial, 11 billboards for the Riverquarium were designed and placed around the county. ... Boise, Idaho TV station KBCI 2 has this brief report on an animated political cartoon “called This Land, from the website www.jibjab.com The animated political cartoon is set to the music melody 'This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land' [which] takes jabs at both the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

July 14, 2004
Remembering the Good Old Future
Steamboy posterMark Schilling in The Japan Times, in reviewing Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, notes, “Several recent Japanese films view the future through the eyes of the past, including Kazuaki Kirya's Casshern ... and Mamoru Oshii's Innocence ... The latest is Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, an animation set in the London of 1866, when Verne was at the height of his powers, the Machine Age was well under way, and, to the era's optimists, mankind's horizons looked unlimited. ... The film, though, is less a Verne tribute than a new twist on the dystopian themes Otomo developed in his seminal Akira manga and 1988 animated film, which were instrumental in launching the worldwide boom in Japanese comics and animation. In contrast to Innocence, with its otaku-y meditations on the destiny of humanity in a digitalized world, Steamboy is more of a mainstream, all-ages entertainment. Rightly so, since it took 10 years and 2.4 billion yen [US$22 million] to make. To recoup that budget — the largest ever for a Japanese animated feature — distributor Toho will have to attract more than anime geeks. ... The combination of nonstop action, imaginative sweep and period authenticity — the sense of watching photos of 19th-century cityscapes spring to animated life — hit me right where the 12-year-old Jules Verne fan still lives. I didn't watch this film so much as escape into it.”

Lion Eyes
Father of the Pride The New Orleans Times Picayune has this preview of Father of the Pride, the new primetime CGI show from DreamWorks based on rough-cuts of episodes screened for the press this past weekend. “The big news is that it's not the train wreck you'd expect. The animation is gorgeous. [John Goodman, Cheryl Hines and Carl Reiner], among others in the voice cast, are predictably excellent. The premise and storytelling show glimpses of Shrek wit, though not nearly as much heart. Actually, there's a wide mean streak running through Pride, a mean streak and unclever sexual humor and clumsy product placement, including a plug for the casino at which [Siegfried] Fischbacher and [Roy] Horn still display their flock (the show has been dark since Horn's horrible accident). In another episode screened for critics, key action occurs in the franchise of a well-known convenience store chain. A nearly naughty comedy in an era of heightened alert status by censors, Pride aspires to All in the Family edginess.”

Production Company's Move to the Factory Draws Governor Today
Big Idea logoWilliamson County (Tennessee) Review Appeal reports, “Gov. Phil Bredesen this afternoon will officially announce the relocation of Big Idea Co. from Chicago to Franklin, complete with the production company’s VeggieTales characters Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber at The Factory at Franklin. 'We’re going to be talking about the relocation of the Big Idea Co., an animation company, from Chicago to Franklin,' said David Bennett, executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, a resident of Brentwood who noted 'an incredible migration of Christian music to Franklin.' ... Big Idea, a Christian-oriented media production company, has subleased 12,000 square feet from EMI Christian Music, which moved to Brentwood apparently in anticipation of Big Idea’s transfer of its headquarters from Chicago to Franklin, said Calvin LeHew, owner of The Factory. ... 'A number of Christian labels and music organizations already call Franklin their home, but this is the first production company to locate here,' [Mayor Tom Miller] said.”

In Brief: Ratings Body More ‘Lenient,' Pixar Live & Queen Meets Bob
According to CBS News, “Violence, sex, and profanity in American movies increased significantly between 1992 and 2003, while ratings became more lenient, according to a new Harvard University study. ... The study also found more violence in animated films rated G — for family viewing — than in non-animated films with the same rating and emphasized that animation doesn't guarantee appropriate content.” See also story in The New York Times. ... Popular Mechanics has this brief report on a visit to Pixar, which notes, “Pixar uses a RenderFarm that consists of 1000 Intel processors running Linux with a total of 2 terabytes (1 terabyte is approximately a thousand billion bytes) of RAM and 60 terabytes of disc space.” ... BBC News has this report noting that, The Queen shook hands with Bob the Builder in a visit to the firm which creates the hit children's BBC show. She joined Prince Philip at HIT Entertainment in London to honour it as one of the winners in the Queen's Awards for Enterprise.”

July 13, 2004
Fox Kids Europe CEO Shown the Door
According to Reuters, “The supervisory board of Fox Kids Europe has asked Chief Executive Bruce Steinberg to leave his post after 18 months on the job, senior executives of the Disney-controlled children's entertainment group said Monday. Newly appointed interim Chief Executive Paul Taylor, a managing director at the company, and Chief Financial Officer Martin Weigold told Reuters they were surprised by the news from the supervisory board at the end of last week. ... The Amsterdam-based company has said it will change its name to Jetix Europe NV for its new block of Jetix-branded programming and tie-in consumer products.”

Film-makers on Film: Jeffrey Katzenberg
Telegraph.co.uk has this interview with DreamWorks' animation chief who was in London to promote Shrek 2. It notes, “At DreamWorks, Katzenberg has invented a new kind of animated movie — one which seems, given Disney's recent announcement that it is cutting back on films in favour of theme parks, to be beating the competition. And Katzenberg's innovative ideas owe a great deal to a film by which he was 'blown away' at the age of 12 — David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. ...'The first movie I picked to do [at DreamWorks] was Prince of Egypt, which was an attempt to do an inherently dramatic story — in this case the Moses story — in animation. And my inspiration was Lawrence of Arabia.' ... it was Lean's very juxtaposition of the intimate and the grand that Katzenberg so admired: 'his genius in taking such large epic landscapes and finding such a wealth of detail, nuance and character in them.'”

Court Orders Shrek 2 Hebrew Version to Be Removed
Shrek 2The Jerusalem Post asks, “How should a joking reference to castration be translated into Hebrew? For the translators of the newly released Shrek 2 , making a reference to high-pitched singer David D'Or got the point across — a little too sharply, for D'Or's taste. The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday ruled to remove the box-office hit from screens across the country, owing to an insulting reference to D'Or, Israel's representative in the last Eurovision song contest. The movie was returned to screens later in the day, after the offending remark was removed. Ha'aretz points out, “The translators rendered 'let's Bobbitt him' — a reference to the American whose penis was cut off by his wife, as 'let's David Da'or him.' ... the movie's distributors promptly changed the sentence to 'let's take a sword and castrate him.'”

Batman: The Animated Series — Volume One
Batman: The Animated Series, volume 1 DVD coverScott Chitwood at Comingsoon.net has this review of the DVD release of the landmark TV series. He recalls, “When Batman — The Animated Series first debuted in 1992, my college roommates and I would drop everything and watch it each day. It was simply incredible. The animation, story, and style were landmark and every episode felt like a mini Batman movie. It took all the best parts of the movies, comics, and TV shows, mixed them up, and then gave it a retro look while throwing in their own unique touches. It's a formula that still works to this day and has rarely been repeated since. In fact, the Animated Series made the movies look bad years later. For example, while Two Face and Mr. Freeze were reduced to lame bad guys by Tommy Lee Jones and Arnold Schwarzenegger, this show turned them into compelling, interesting, and dramatic characters. They ended up being the definitive versions of the characters, and that ended up being the case across the board with the other characters.”

'Ghost in the Shell' Series Lives up to Hype
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" vol. 1 DVD coverEric Henrickson in The Detroit News has this review in video of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex vol. 1 and Big O II: Aggressive Negotiations vol. 4. He feels, “Fans of the groundbreaking anime film Ghost in the Shell shouldn't be disappointed with this high-class, high-action TV series based loosely on it (and a manga series). If you've never seen Ghost in the Shell, don't worry about it. The show takes its Standalone subtitle seriously. This series has been highly anticipated in my household [and] neither of us found anything to dislike.” As for Big O II, he says, “One of the coolest series out there comes to a mind-numbing conclusion with this disc of three episodes. ... The ending will leave you puzzling for days, but the action, voice work and brilliant mecha designs (though the animation quality itself is somewhat lacking) are enough to make it worth the frustration.”

Splash From Pentamedia Bets on Indianised Content
Agencyfaqs.com has this story about the continued roll out of the new Splash kids channel “into the northern and western parts” of India. “Compared to other kids’ channels in the country which mostly air international content, Splash is betting on Indian content. As [Udeep B Reddy, head, Broadcasting, Pentamedia] claims, 40-50 per cent of the content on the channel is Indian programmes, mainly produced by Pentamedia or some local production companies. ... Some of the popular cartoon shows being aired on the channel currently are 2-D animation series such as Indian Folk Tales, Panchatantra, Miaao, Fact Daisy. While most of the cartoons shown on Indian television are 2-D animations, Splash’s USP lies in the telecast of 3-D animations such as Pandavas — The Five Warriors and Sinbad series. Some more popular animated characters that will make an entry on the channel are Hanuman, Gulliver and Tarzan. These animated series has been produced by Pentamedia, which assures the Indian touch in these programmes.”

July 12, 2004
Animation Fest Turns Into Asia's Biggest
Raining Cats and FrogsThe Korea Times notes, “An opportunity for local and international animation directors to show off their wares, the Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival (SICAF) began back in 1997 as a fairly modest event in both size and scope. Then last year, the Seoul metropolitan government began sponsoring the festival to boost the local animation industry, and now SICAF has been transformed into Asia’s biggest animation event. ... The festival will hold its eighth edition from Aug. 4 to 10 at COEX center in Samsong-dong, southern Seoul, with a wealth of programs for animated film screenings, exhibitions and the industrial market. ... In all, the event will show 117 animations from 41 countries in its competition section along with 200 works from 36 countries in its non-competition sections.” Pictured is Jacque-Remy Girard's Raining Cats & Frogs, the French feature film which will open the festival.

NBC's Risky Ready-for-Prime-Time Lair
The New York Daily News says, The network executives and program creators behind NBC's Father of the Pride, a new CGI-animated sitcom about a magic-act lion and his family, insist the show is neither intended for, nor likely to reach, young viewers. They're lion. Oh, it's clear from the two programs screened for TV writers over the weekend that Father of the Pride has a mature edge. ... Yet the signals are bound to be mixed, at least when it comes to younger viewers. Father of the Pride has the same look, and is generated by the same process, as the Shrek movies, which are hugely popular with young children and preteens as well as young adults. The Toronto Star feels “getting viewers to realize the show is for adults [is problematic]. Heavy, albeit hilariously so, on innuendo and entendre, [DreamWorks's Jeffrey] Katzenberg is confident the show's grown-up tone will be sufficiently reflected by its designated timeslot, Tuesday at 9 p.m., starting Aug. 1. 'There is no better signal to give the world about what its intention is and who it is intended for. I think that, in the context of a 9 o'clock show that's made by adults for adults, you know, we think we're in the right boundaries,' Katzenberg said. 'This is a show that was created and designed and in every respect made for an 18-to-49-year-old audience,' Katzenberg said.”

Animation Industry Revenues To Reach $15 B By ' 08 : Survey
The Financial Express has yet another story about the anticipated growth of the Indian animation industry. However, it does provide a somewhat contrary view when it notes, “the corporate view is a little different. 'There is not much work happening on the 3D animation front in India. Mostly it is on 2D. One of the major hurdles that we are experiencing in India is shortage of required skills for this industry,” says SS Dahiya, chairman and managing director, Compudyne Winfosystems Ltd. 'Today, adoption of animation in Indian cinemas is very low. Usually the West looks for previous works in animation in Indian cinema before giving us any work. In India, the budget for each movie is a few crores of rupees. But if you need to make a good movie like Spider Man or Independence Day, you require around Rs 100 crores (US$22.8 million), which is not possible in the Indian film industry,' adds Mr Dahiya. He feels that the quality of animation from India needs improvement. 'There are no animation studios in India, which can compete with Walt Disneys of the world. You need huge investments to set up such studios. The government needs to look into the requirements of this industry and support it,' he adds.”


In Brief: 'Right to Roam,' Lance Cheats & Successful Journey
Countryside CodeBBC News reports, “Ramblers in England and Wales are being urged to take on board a new Countryside Code as 'right to roam' laws give access to open land. ... The new guidelines are to be promoted using Creature Comforts animals created by Aardman animators. ... The animated animal characters will appear on television and cinema screens to prepare the public for their new responsibility to safeguard the countryside. ... BikeBiz.com has this article on the production of the “Nike Magnet ad” featuring Lance Armstrong, which it called ““the best TV bike ad ever,” focusing on “the clever visual effects ... created by A52 of West Hollywood, California.” ... Screen India has this profile of producer-director-writer Krishna Shah, which mentions “The Prince of Light, a 12 million-dollar animation film that he co-wrote and produced [which] is scheduled for a US release with 300 prints.”

July 10-11, 2004
'The Soldier's Tale'
The Soldier's Tale DVD coverAmidst all the hullabaloo about the video release of various animated TV series, such as The Spider-Man, one should not overlook R.O. Blechman's delightful feature-length TV movie version of The Soldier's Tale, based on Igor Stravinsky theater-dance piece, which gets reviewed among new classical music recordings in The New York Times by Allan Kozinnin. He notes, “This animated version of Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale, directed by the cartoonist and illustrator R. O. Blechman and first shown on PBS in 1984, holds up remarkably well. Mr. Blechman's trademark squiggly line drawings ideally suit the characters that populate the acidic drama, and his deadpan revision and update of C. F. Ramuz's 1918 libretto is clever, amusing and, in some details, visionary. ... Mr. Blechman's drawings have an appealing minimalist quality. There are also stretches of 1960's-vintage pop art, notably in geometric fantasy sequences drawn by Fred Mogubgub. ... A short feature about Stravinsky's score and a collection of Mr. Blechman's commercials and animated shorts are also included.”

Sony Launches Hindi Animation Channel
Animax adThe launch of the all-anime Animax channel in India has spurred this Mid-Day Mumbai story which explores the popularity of Japanese animation and its local appeal. It notes, “Among the hot favourites in Animax Asia already are Astroboy (a repackaged cult TV series) and Cyborg Kurochan, a robotic cat that foils the attempts of an evil, but inept inventor Dr Goal.” One of the more interesting critiques of anime is provided by Indian animation pioneer Ram Mohan who feels, “'It’s a cultivated taste. For those brought up on Disney, anime’s a bit difficult to get used to. ... I have doubts about it being accepted, at least short-term, in India.' Mohan should know. He collaborated with Japanese animators to create the Ramayana series in 1992-94. 'It did have a slight influence of anime. I had to redraw all the initial characters so that they would look more acceptable to us.'”

July 9, 2004
Actor Behind Nuts and Bolts in 'I, Robot'
I, RobotThe New York Times has this story on the new film based on the IsaacAsimov's I, Robot stories, which notes, “Following in the virtual footsteps of Andy Serkis, a.k.a. Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, Alan Tudyk plays a computer-generated character in the new movie I, Robot. But Tudyk's role is a good bit more prominent: In fact, he portrays the title character. 'It's probably the best role I've gotten to tackle in films,' Tudyk says, 'even though I'm not seen. But what the character deals with and what he goes through, throughout the story, was very exciting to me.' ... The process by which Tudyk created his performance as Sonny was very similar to that by which Serkis became Gollum. It involved green screens, a Kelly-green unitard, motion-capture sensors and long days with and also away from the live-action actors.

In Brief: LEGO Spider-Man, Humanitas Honors & Lessons
Spiderman: The Peril of Doc OckBrian Linder in FilmForce has this brief review of the LEGO-animated “Spiderman: The Peril of Doc Ock, [Spite Your Face Productions'] take on the climactic battle scenes in Spider-Man 2. And don't worry about having anything spoiled if you haven't seen the movie, their take is a reimagining of the battle.” ... The Associated Press reports that, among this year's Humanitas Prize winners, “Chris Nee, [was the] recipient of a $10,000 prize for children's animation for an episode of Nickelodeon's Little Bill about a child overcoming his fear of a hearing-impaired store clerk by learning some sign language.” ... The Calcutta Telegraph has this story about The Academy of Animation Arts & Technology (AAAT), which began classes in animation for kids in November. It says,“By 2005, AAAT plans to be ready with a studio. “There are about 15 studios in the south and the west, but none here. The awareness is low though there is so much talent here,” says Ranjini Mukherjee, AAAT business head.”

July 8, 2004
Brother Bear on DVD & On the Front Lines
Brother Bear DVD coverWhile Disney's Brother Bear received less than stellar reviews when it first came out, its home video release has been received with a lot more affection. For instance, Doug Pratt in The Hollywood Reporter says, “It seems that every great Walt Disney cartoon feature has to be unique to really succeed, and Brother Bear, about a young North American Ice Age tribesman whose soul and intellect are transferred to a bear, isn't quite unique enough. There is too much Tarzan, Lion King and Pocahontas guiding its choices. But it is a very lovely failure.” And Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times notes, “When the Disney film Brother Bear came out last year, some critics complained that it was short on the savvy humor that has worked so well in the company's most popular animated hits. The DVD version, which has become an unexpectedly big seller, seems intent on making up for that with a vengeance: lurking on it is a surprisingly subversive special feature in which two guys who sound a lot like the beer-loving McKenzie brothers dissect the movie, the art of animation, even Disney itself. The two guys are Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas [who] provide the McKenzie-ish voices of two moose named Rutt and Tuke.” ... Speaking of DVDs, also check out Doug Pratt's extended reviews in The Hollywood Reporter of two Disney video releases, Walt Disney On the Front Lines, featuring wartime films from the 1940s and the “four 50-minute episodes from Walt Disney's television show are collected with some other odds and ends on the two-platter Walt Disney Treasures release from Disney DVD, Tomorrow Land Disney in Space and Beyond” from the 1950s.

Anime in the U.S., Luring Little Savers & A Fairy Tale Story
NPR's Day to Day radio magazine has this audio report from Charles Solomon on the growing popularity in the United States of anime; in it, he talks with executives of various anime-related companies and fans involved in cosplay at this year's Anime Expo in Anaheim, California. ... The Sydney Morning Herald reports, “The Commonwealth Bank has come under fire for further blurring the lines between advertising and editorial with its sponsorship of a children's program that uses cartoons to promote the virtues of banking to children. The innovative sponsorship package involves devoting one of two commercial breaks in Channel Ten's ttn program entirely to a cartoon that features children learning the lessons of saving with a bank. No branding or products feature in the cartoons, which begin on July 20, but the style of the animation is the same as that used in ttn.” ... The Grand Island (Nebraska) Independent has this profile of DreamWorks animator Don Venhaus, who was a graduate of Grand Island Central Catholic. “'I was very technical in high school,' said Venhaus, now of Sunnydale, Calif. 'I was building computers. I couldn't be bothered with art.' These days, the one-time computer nerd finds himself transformed into a bit of a Renaissance man. As an animator for Antz, Shrek and Shrek 2, he's become part actor and part artist — a computer programmer with a dash of comedian.”

July 7, 2004
The Young Guy of 'Family Guy'
Seth McFarlaneThe New York Times has this lengthy story about Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and the forthcoming American Dad. It details the trials and tribulations of Family Guy on the Fox Network and how it was brought back to life through reruns on the Cartoon Network and DVD. It notes, “Current plans are for Family Guy to return to Fox in the spring or early summer of 2005. It will be preceded on the air by American Dad, another animated show created by Mr. MacFarlane, who now employs a staff of about 100, most in their 20's. This new series involves a conservative agent with the Central Intelligence Agency; his ultra-liberal daughter; a sarcastic, campy space alien with a voice like that of the comic actor Paul Lynde; and a lascivious, German-speaking goldfish, the result of a C.I.A. experiment gone wrong. Mr. MacFarlane said that the idea for American Dad, which is to make its debut after the Super Bowl next February, emerged from political discussions with his associates.”

Arthur' Battle Scene Kept Cool with Effects

King ArthurThe Hollywood Reporter, while noting some critics have praised King Arthur director Antoine Fuqua for keeping special effects to a minimum in the “11-minute ice-battle sequence that unfolds midway through the movie,” it claims that, “In reality ... Arthur contains nearly 500 visual effects shots all rendered by Cinesite London under visual effects supervisor Matt Johnson's watch. The ice-battle sequence alone contains more than half the movie's digital effects, racking up 275 shots in the space of a reel. A heavy reliance on postproduction became a part of the picture when the principals realized that nothing quite like the French Alps exists in the middle of England. Shooting the scene in Greenland was discussed, but it quickly became clear that an entire environment would need to be created digitally.”

Exporting Animation a Huge Japanese Success Story
According to The Japan Times, “Recognizing the potential of the animation industry, the government has started to provide some support for cash-strapped creators who just might bring out another Pokemon. The average amount of exported TV animation reached hours in 2001, up from 13,000 hours in 1992 and 2,600 hours in 1980, according to the latest 10-year survey by NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute and some academics. The number of animation series aired in the United States increased from 23 in the 1980s to 42 in the 1990s and has already reached 40 during the four years through 2003, according to a separate survey by the government-affiliated Japan External Trade Organization.”

Hollywood News In Brief: Miramax-Pixar Rumor, Lion Song Dispute & Brando
The Hollywood Reporter in a story (also here) about tensions between Miramax's Harvey Weinstein and Disney's Michael Eisner, says, “A rumored bid by Harvey Weinstein and Pixar head Steve Jobs to enter the bidding derby for MGM seems unlikely. Although the concept has been kicked around, according to a well-placed source, such a play for MGM would be 'a stretch,' given the others lined up to court the studio — including Sony and Time Warner — and the mathematics involved.” ... Reuters reports, “U.S. entertainment giant Walt Disney Co said on Tuesday it was not liable in a dispute with South African lawyers over the copyright to 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' — one of Africa's most famous tunes. Lawyers for the family of the song's original composer, Zulu migrant worker Solomon Linda, are suing Walt Disney in South Africa for infringement of copyright to the song, which has earned an estimated $15 million since it was written in 1939” and was featured in both the film and stage versions of The Lion King. ... RTE Interactive reports, “It has emerged that Marlon Brando recorded a supporting role [as Mrs. Sour, owner of the Mrs Sour Candy Company] for animated film Big Bug Man before his death last week.”

Asia News In Brief: 'Jungle Tales,' Animax Aims at Adults, Singaporean in Iraq
Jungle TalesThe children's section of The Hindustan Times has this story about the Panchatantra-based “Jungle Tales, a 3D animation series ... under production at Moving Pictures studio in Noida's Film City, and the producers believe the series will have even adults hooked to it. This is one of the few studios in Noida that seem to be doing well, and the only one in Film City currently making animation films.” The series will be broadcast on Cartoon Network India. ... Agencyfaqs.com has this report on the adult-oriented strategy for the Sony's Animax all-anime channel, noting the service could also introduce “100 per cent Indian cartoon characters, instead of the current lot of Japanese ones — speaking Hindi and English.” ... Today has this story about 28-year-old Gabriel Teo, “a familiar name in the broadcast animation industry in Singapore,” who “set up an advertising agency, Blankcreative LLC, in Baghdad late last year.”

July 6, 2004
Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation DVD coverScott Chitwood in Comingsoon.net has this review of special effects wizard Phil Tippett's directorial debut, being a direct-to-video sequel to 1997's Starship Troopers. He says, I was a big fan of the first Starship Troopers film. I'm also a big fan of Phil Tippett and his work in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Willow, Robocop, Dragonslayer, etc etc etc. ... Unfortunately, the film was a major disappointment for me. The things that made the first film so entertaining were the political satire, the cool special effects, the biting sense of humor, and the shocking gore. About the only thing this sequel successfully captures to any degree is the gore. The special effects are a bit of a mixed bag. The alien creatures that are shown in the film are pretty cool. The new bug aliens are realized with disgustingly amazing special effects. The warrior bug aliens also return in impressive numbers, but they only appear at the beginning and end of the film. They are also mainly shown in the dark and dust. While this helps cover up the lower budget on effects, they don't compare to what was shown in the first film. (And oddly, clips of effects from the first film are inserted into this sequel.) Still, Tippett makes the movie look pretty good with a limited budget and schedule.”

Animation Is No More Kids ' Stuff
The Calcutta Telegraph has this story on Mumbai-based Maya Entertainment Limited (MEL), and its recent rapid growth. It notes that, “MEL, which has recently bagged animation projects worth Rs 2.5 crore [US$546,000], has work to the tune of Rs 10-12 crore [$2.2-2.6] next year. The company is also on a massive recruitment spree. 'We are going to recruit 150 animators for different projects,' said [CEO Rajesh] Turakhia. Most of these will be sourced from its education wing — Advanced Multimedia Training Division, MAAC. The third wing of the company is into visual effects for television software and films. Incidentally, there will be a lot of special effects for the [live-action] period film, The Rising [which is being made by Maya's founder Ketan Mehta].” It concludes by pointing out that, “The money as an animation professional can be lucrative. However, professional animation courses do not come cheap. A one-year course costs over Rs 1 lakh [$2,185].”

In Brief: Riddick Titles, Malaysian Animator, Sony Unveils Amimax, Ay Caramba!
Hollywood Industry has this brief interview with Luellen Renn about how digital effects house yU + co did the titles for The Chronicles of Riddick the recently released sci-fi action adventure film starring Vin Diesel.” She notes, “The civilization portrayed in the film is possessed of advanced technology, but it is not the bright, shiny technology people typically visualize. It is degraded, rough. The typography that we created looks like it is a product of that technology. It appears rusted and looks as if it were produced by brute force.” ... Utusan Malaysia Online provides some more details on the deal between Side FX Sdn Bhd and the Saudi Ella Animation to make an animated feature, which it notes “would be centred around Malaysian history and the influence of Islam during the reigns of the first Moslem ruler of Malacca, Iskandar Shah.” ... The Business Standard reports, “Sony Pictures Television International yesterday launched its youth entertainment channel Animax. The channel will be the first and only 24-hour channel dedicated to Japanese animation genre, 'anime'. Todd Miller, managing director of Sony Pictures Television International, Asia, said that, from April 1, 2005, Animax will have two dedicated 24-hour feeds — one each in English and Hindi. The present feed is dubbed in English.” See also The Financial Express story. ... The storyline of a forthcoming episode of The Simpsons has garnered interest in the British Isles. As reported by The Independent, “The Cornish independence movement has realised possibly its best publicity coup to date with the news that the eight-year-old pointy-haired schoolgirl Lisa Simpson has become enamoured with their cause. 'Rydhsys rag Kernow lemmyn!' shouts Lisa, as she charges round the Simpsons' family home in Springfield, waving the St Piran's cross. 'Kernow bys vykken!' The slogans ('Freedom for Cornwall, now!' and 'Cornwall forever!') ... Paul Hodge, a Cornish poet and fan of The Simpsons, said: 'It's fantastic that Cornwall and its language is being recognised by a global phenomenon like The Simpsons.'” See also, of course, the story in The Cornish Guardian.

July 5, 2004
Marvel May Need heHelp
Spider-Man 2The Baltimore Sun has this analysis of the financial health of Marvel Enterprises, which owns the rights to such classic comic book franchises as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, X-Men and the Fantastic Four in light of the expected box office bonanza from Spider-Man 2. It says, “Like Spider-Man scampering up the sides of tall buildings, Marvel Enterprises Inc.'s bottom line has staged a remarkable rise. Now, some on Wall Street wonder if Marvel's management is as sure-footed as its comic-book hero. With last week's opening of the Spider-Man 2 movie last week, Marvel should be in the catbird seat. The company ... has seen its stock soar 55 percent in the past year. Marvel, based in New York, is expected to record about $450 million in sales this year, up from $348 million last year, and it has a market value of more than $2 billion — all just five years after emerging from bankruptcy-court protection. But despite all the buzz about Spider-Man 2, some are concerned, in part due to recent insider selling by senior executives. Others worry that the stock is expensive and the company has milked the best gains from its most prominent characters. And Marvel has used up the last of its tax write-offs, making it harder to rack up big earnings.”

The Next Big Draw for India
 Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley WinksTime Asia Magazine has this report on the growth of overseas studios in India, which begins by spotlighting the computer animation process at Crest Communication on the PBS series Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks. It notes, “Animators like [28-year-old Sachin] Garud typically earn salaries ranging from $3,500 to $30,000 a year, much less than the $40,000 to $100,000 they'd pocket if they worked in the U.S. But no one at Crest is complaining. India's animators have never had it so good. In what could be the country's next outsourcing boom, a growing number of American companies are looking to India as a place where they can get high-quality computer-generated animation done on the cheap. Orders for cartoon serials, computer games, direct-to-home DVDs and demonstration videos are pouring into India; at least nine cartoon serials aimed at the American and European markets are in production. 'The amount of work coming into India is phenomenal,' says Rajiv Sangari, director of the animation unit at Padmalaya Telefilms, which recently signed a $14 million deal with Mondo TV, an Italian company, to produce more than a hundred episodes of an animated TV series.” It notes the big stumbling block for further growth is the severe shortage of trained animators.

Every IT Director?s Fantasy
MIS New Zealand has this story on the use of IT in the production of special effects for The Lord of the Rings trilogy at Weta Digital, which begins, “Here’s a problem: Your organisation is set to grow from 20 people to 420. You have 35 people on your IT team. You have to support the shooting of three motion pictures concurrently in 274 days at over 100 locations, using many untried technologies. You need to create one of the world’s biggest supercomputing sites, implement an interactive control room and the world’s fastest network so your ‘CEO’ can work in three countries simultaneously. And then there’s the intercontinental, digital delivery of the final product in time for premiere night. By the way, most of this has never been done before. The upside is, your ‘CEO’ [i.e., Peter Jackson] is a man of singular vision. He won’t let processes get in the way of a job done well; infrastructure purchases are green-lighted based on business need, so in order to meet the deadline, you may sometimes have to start a project before formal approval is in place. But this is no fast-and-loose operation. Governance is rigorous and every cent will have to be accounted for. IT expenditure has to be visible in the final product. You’ll be working with the confidence that a prompt but flawed decision made today will be seen by your ‘CEO’ and his ‘executive committee’ as preferable to a perfect decision made in three months time.”

Who's That Voice?
Spurred by DreamWorks' publicity about the big name star voices in Shrek 2, the BBC News provides this look at the trend. It says, “'The quality (of animated features) has improved so much that the actors are more readily available — and they also get good deals,' says Stuart Kemp, the UK bureau chief for the Hollywood Reporter. ... And although there were celebrities in the late 1960s and early 70s who voiced the characters in animated features — think Louis Prima and Phil Harris in The Jungle Book — the gold rush began when Robin Williams took over the role as the big blue genie in Disney's Aladdin. That was in 1992, the year after Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and when the modern golden age of cartoons began.”

‘Shrek 2' Writer Gets His Happy Ending
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has this profile of scriptwriter David Weiss, who says he originally was sent to Hollywood by his church elders as a missionary. “The idea,” he says, “was to write projects that glorify God.” Instead, he became an orthodox Jew and a much sought after writer, whose other credits include The Rugrats Movie(s) and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. It notes, “he has veered somewhat from the mission he came to Hollywood for. Weiss doesn’t feel he has to make movies that glorify God anymore. Now he’s concerned with creating family-friendly films, that, among the jokes and gags, contain universal truths — and if they are Jewish universal truths then so much the better. He is proudest of his credits on 1991’s A Rugrats Chanukah because it tells the Festival of Lights story to a wide audience. This summer he is going to be a senior fellow at Jewish Impact Films, a new program to teach novice filmmakers how to make short films about Israel and Judaism.”

In Brief: Malaysian, Saudi Feature, Mike Walker & Under One Roof
The Edge Daily reports, “Local animation house Side FX Sdn Bhd is teaming up with Jeddah-based Ella Animation to jointly produce an animated movie at a cost of RM3 million [US$790,000]. ... The [90-minute] movie will depict Malaysia’s rich history on the silver screen,” said Side FX managing director Syed Abdul Razak Syed Abdullah. ... Scotland on Sunday has this obituary of New Zealand filmmaker Mike Walker, which notes, “In 1951 he joined Bob Morrow, a film animation artist from Britain’s Rank Organisation to set up private film-making company Morrow Productions. The firm, which moved to the New Zealand town of Levin in 1952 where it still operates, made animated documentaries and, with the arrival of television, live action dramas.” ... The Richmond (Virginia) Times Dispatch has this story about Superior Production Exchange, a building [that] is home to 22 small businesses, all tied to advertising, marketing and the production of sound and video,” including ShaveFX, “an animation and visual-effects firm.”

July 4, 2004
Me and My Troll
Prince of EgyptThe Observer has this lengthy interview with DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg who is in Britain touting Shrek 2. In it, he discusses his dismissal from Disney, the formation of DreamWorks and his philosophy towards animation and producing. It also notes, “Katzenberg is fond of using religious imagery. He calls Shrek his 'Holy Grail', convinced that he has now found the formula for taking on his former employers and beating them. ... If the acrimony dragged on, so too did his dream of matching Disney's success in animation. 'We did a lot of experimenting, taking a long time. This is not something we had an epiphany about,' he recalls. 'If I look back with hindsight, we were a little lost and I wasn't sure we'd find our path.'” He also talks about his Judaism and the making of Prince of Egypt. At one point, Katzenberg leans forward. 'A lot happened for me when I made Prince of Egypt. I became scholarly about it, I got so involved. It's an amazing story, so crucial to the three largest faith groups on the planet. I read the Koran and saw how Moses is an such an important prophet there. He's like top three.' Prophets or profits, moguls just love their league tables.”

In Brief: Marrero Native Is 'Garfield' Animator & Narnia Beasts
Garfield: The MovieThe New Orleans Times Picayune has this profile of David M. Breaux Jr., “the 1990 John Ehret High School graduate [who] animated video games and left his mark on local landmarks as a sculptor” before heading to Hollywood. “Breaux was among the 10 original animators to work on the Garfield movie for Rhythm & Hues Studios. ... The cat character was animated by more than 400 shots, about 24 created by Breaux, he said. ... Breaux and other animators are taking a break before heading back to Rhythm & Hues in August to work on an animated adaptation of the C.S. Lewis tale The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The movie, which Breaux described as a 'kids' version of Lord of the Rings,' is scheduled for a December 2005 release.” ... Speaking of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Stuff.co.nz reports, “Makers of [the film][ have been told they can't bring into New Zealand the 12 reindeer needed to pull the Ice Queen's sled. ... The animals, which also pull Santa's sled in one scene, are now likely to be created by Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop special effects department.”

July 3, 2004
In Brief: 'Made in Japan' & ESC Cuts Workers
Mainichi Shimbun reports, “An animated cartoon and video game contents industry body is poised to introduce a 'Made in Japan' trademark in a bid to allow law enforcers to crack down on pirates infringing on the copyright, officials said. Animated cartoon and video game producers will affix a 'Made in Japan' trademark, which will be set by the Organization for Promotion of Overseas Distribution of Contents, to their packages.” ... According to The San Mateo County Times, ESC Entertainment, which created dazzling visual effects for the Matrix sequels, planned to lay off 159 employees Friday, according to a state agency that tracks mass layoffs. Alameda's ESC is wrapping up work on two more Warner Bros. movies — Catwoman (July 23 release) and Constantine (February). It could be just a matter of time before ESC ramps up again — the company is rumored to have been hired to do visual effects on the next Superman film.”

July 2, 2004
Disney Sued Over 'Lion King' Song
Reuters reports, “South African lawyers are suing entertainment conglomerate Walt Disney Co. for infringement of copyright on 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight,' lawyers said Friday. The lilting song, initially called 'Mbube,' earned an estimated $15 million in royalties since it was written by Zulu migrant worker Solomon Linda in 1939, and featured in Walt Disney's Lion King movies. However, Linda's impoverished family has only received about $15,000, the lawyers said. ... 'We are claiming ten million rand ($1.6 million) in damages from Disney at the moment,' [copyright lawyer Owen] Dean told reporters. 'The court attached use of Disney trademarks in South Africa to the case last week. We believe our legal position is very sound.'” See also the Agence France-Presse story, which quotes Dean as claiming, “They [Disney] are using his music in the Lion King musical, which is running to full houses all over the world while Linda's daughters work as domestic servants, living in shacks and struggle to feed their families.”

Shrek 2
Shrek 2The critical acclaim that greeted Shrek 2 in the North America and Australia has continued upon its UK opening. For example, Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian writes, “though it doesn't have that gobsmacking shock-of-the-new effect, Shrek 2 is really just a handful of pixellated stardust-points short of the original magic. Only sequel-prejudice could blind you to how enjoyable it is, delivering a gigabyte blast of entertainment with sledgehammer one-liners, beautifully turned visual touches, great voice-work from a stellar Anglo-American cast and animation that is simply breathtaking in its effects of light and detail. It puts Finding Nemo in its rather twee place.” After some minor quibbles, he concludes, “for the moment the question is: why can't all animation be a quarter as good as this?”

Shrek's Mark on Movie History
In the wake of Shrek 2's opening across the UK, BBC News has this “look at the changing face of the animated feature film.” In so doing, it covers the usual territory of the Pixar-Disney split and the emergence of other studios, such as Sony. It concludes that, “Even if Shrek 2 does further signal the demise of 2-D animation, fans of the genre must at least welcome its contribution to animated storytelling. The film's anarchic humour and willingness to avoid sentimentality are novel for a mainstream animated film. Even Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc., which had sassy scripts and wide adult appeal, still resorted to sentimentality. Shrek has proved that an ugly, cantankerous anti-hero can still win audiences over, and that young viewers will go for a movie that has a cynical edge. ... It is hard to imagine a day when Disney's classics no longer appeal or when followers of 2-D animation concede its demise. But what is certain, is that digitally-created features will be a priority for an increasing number of Hollywood studios in coming years.” ... Meanwhile, according to The Los Angeles Daily News, “Shrek 2 became the fastest movie in history to cross the $400 million mark at the domestic box office, DreamWorks Pictures said Thursday.

Japanese Animation Goes Global
Spirited Away posterJapan Today says, “The Japanese animation industry's impressive growth is raising hopes for a renaissance in the nation's content business. For decades, Japanese publishers of comic books and producers of TV cartoons have been hard at work entertaining the nation, but in recent years the industry has gained additional momentum and the market for animation has expanded significantly. According to the Media Development Research Institute, domestic sales surged from 133 billion yen [US$1.2 billion] in 1992 to 214 billion yen [$2 billion] in 2002. Though most Japanese industries suffered through a prolonged period of stagnation after the bubble economy's collapse early in the 1990s, animation managed to secure a place among the few growth industries. The products of animation can be broadly divided between those for television and those for movie theaters. Productions for TV claimed the lion's share of the total in the past, but feature-length films for theaters have been enjoying expanding sales in recent years. Of special note are the monumental fantasy films released by Studio Ghibli, such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.”

July 1, 2004
Big Dreams on a Small Budget
Kaze, Ghost Warrior posterThe Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner has this story about Tim Albee, which begins, “A magazine writer describing Tim Albee's decision to move to Goldstream Valley suggested the former Disney animator was having a Walden Pond moment. 'Pretty much,' Albee agreed. 'There's a beauty there, even though it's a swamp.' Albee does draw on nature outside the door of his cabin for inspiration to follow his two passions: mushing dogs and creating feature animation. Working on two home computers, Albee has put together a 22-minute animated feature short he hopes will change the animation industry. Over a six-month period this past year, Albee created Kaze, Ghost Warrior to prove a point: Animators using computer graphics programs on personal computers can approximate the quality of big budget productions. Albee spent $5,000 on the project.” The film, which has been on the festival circuit, is having its local premiere on July 10 and is available on DVD.

Richard Linklater On A Scanner Darkly
Comingsoon.net has this brief interview with Richard Linklater on his new animated effort, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly and stars Keanu Reeves, which is currently in production; and it uses the same rotoscope technique he used in his first animated effort, Waking Life (2001). He says, “A Scanner Darkly is one of my favorites of [Dick's], because it seemed the most personal. I was lucky enough to get an option on it a few years ago, so I just wrote an adaptation of it and thought it would be an interesting animated movie. It’s not really that science fiction either. To me, it has one science fiction element, but beyond that, it’s pretty realistic. I love that about Dick’s stuff: paranoia plus a generation equal reality. It’s like we’re living in his science fiction as we speak, so it seemed really timely to me.”

Channel Burst for Kids to Toast Pester Power
Hungama  TV logoThe Calcutta Telegraph notes, “Suddenly, children will have too much to see. There is a bouquet of television channels for them in the pipeline. Disney will launch three channels next year; STAR India will launch Hungama TV with UTV shortly, Zee is priming one up for its DTH platform and Pentamedia Graphics, which beams Splash in the southern states, is looking for a bigger presence in northern and western markets. Disney, which has been eyeing the Indian market for long, showed it is ready to take the plunge by appointing the head of its India operations this week. Of its three channels, one will be for kids up to the age of 4, the other for 4-14 and the third for general entertainment.” These are, of course, all in addition to Cartoon Network, which is considered the market leader in India.

Get an Eyeful of Them
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingNews Today has this interview with Madhu, a special effects producer who “had put in his efforts for 56 Tamil films starting with Alexander till Baba,” and worked at Mumbai-based Applause Entertainment on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Asked, “What are the qualifications of a visual effects producer?,” he says,“ One has to possess extraordinary creative skills and need to understand that computer or softwares will not teach them creativity as they are only tools. We are totally dependent on software and equipment. That should not be the case any more. Creativity and passion are the keys for any producer. The visual effects producer should have an urge to achieve great things. For it, tolerance, patience and passion are necessary. Apart from these, a sound knowledge of film-making is essential. No qualification such as a graduate degree is needed. Even a higher secondary qualification would do if the person has the creative juices.”

Poirot, Miss Marple & Mr. Men, Enid Blyton
The Daily Yomiuri reports, “NHK has developed an animation series built around Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, the two world-famous detectives created by mystery novelist Agatha Christie (1890-1976). The creation of the new series [Agasa Kurisuti no Meitantei Powaro to Mapuru] is part of the launch of a special department the network has created to develop original animation to add to its core lineup. ... According to Kazuko Asano, director of the section, it is the first time ever for Poirot to appear in an animated format. 'We wanted a classic figure who had never been depicted in a cartoon anywhere in the world,' she said. 'Poirot is pretty well known in Japan, so we hope the series will be accessible to a broad audience.'” Asano talks about his negotiations with Christie's heirs, noting “They did make detailed requests about Poirot's hairstyle and clothing, but in the end, we'd built a relationship of trust with each other.” ... Meanwhile, The Guardian also reports, “Chorion, owner of the Poirot and Noddy characters, will boost the struggling animation industry today by offering producers the chance to make a new series based on the Mr Men and Enid Blyton books. ... Chorion has researched a new Mr Men series and is inviting animation companies to pitch for the show. The Mr Men are best known in book form, with more than 100m copies of their adventures sold worldwide. ... Chorion has also invited bids to make a new series based on Enid Blyton characters including Noddy and the Famous Five.”

In Brief: WGA Animation Deal
According to Big News Network.com, The Writers Guild of America West has struck a deal with producers to notify animation writers when their work is WGA-covered [or under the jurisdiction of The Animation Guild], Daily Variety said Wednesday. ... Both unions have some jurisdiction over animation writing, but the WGA maintains its coverage offers better terms for residuals and producer contributions to the pension and health plans.” ... The Korea Herald reports, “The government said yesterday that it would scrap its recommendation system for movie and music imports on Jan. 1, 2006. The removal, decided at a weekly meeting of economy-related ministers, will coincide with Korea's liberalized import of Japanese animation.” The restrictions hark back to Japan imperial role in Korea that ended after World War II.

© 2004 Harvey Deneroff

 

Animation Consultants International
News on the Web — July 2004