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August 12, 2004
Meet Bob, a Homer-Inspired Hero
According to USA Today, Disney is counting on [The Incredibles from Pixar] to buoy what has so far been a disappointing year. The Incredibles [an outwardly normal family that just happens to possess superpowers who] have been forced to go civilian because of a series of lawsuits filed by people they've saved. 'It's kind of a recurring theme in the movie: The mundane often affects the fantastic,' writer/director Brad Bird says. 'It's kind of fun to have such a boring thing bring down a superhero.' ... Bird, who directed the acclaimed Iron Giant (1999), was also a writer on the first eight seasons of The Simpsons and was influenced by that TV family. 'As dysfunctional as they are, the Simpsons still love each other,' Bird says. 'A lot of would-be imitators don't get that they actually stand for pretty positive values. I'm trying to bring some of that questioning authority to this movie.' See also this USA Today's sidebar which introduces all the The Incredibles family members.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie
Ellen Fox in The Chicago Tribune, in giving the film based on the popular TV show 1½ stars, says, Sorry, moms and dads, but Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie is hardly poised to join Finding Nemo or the Harry Potter series as one of those children's films that both you and your kids can enjoy. Shallow and repetitive, it might instead be the type of film that your kids love, and that you sit (or fidget or nap) through because you love your kids. ... If you've never understood the appeal of Japanese animation, or anime, this film with its hedgehog-haired hero, angular aesthetics, schlocky mythology and occasional sexy/disturbing female probably isn't going to convert you. ... David DiCerto of The Catholic News Service seemingly concurs, and feels Yu-Gi-Oh! is a dizzying, disjointed mess. The story is nonexistent and the Japanese animation is sketchy at best. Yu-Gi-Oh! makes those annoying Pokemon films seem almost Oscar-worthy. ... A point on which most parents would agree is that, while wedging in a line or two about friendship and loyalty, the film shamelessly markets as entertainment what amounts to little more than a 90-minute commercial for Yu-Gi-Oh! products.
Films to Spark the Imagination
A screening of four films by Hayao Miyazaki, including Laputa: Castle in the Air (pictured), at Melbourne's Cinema Nova was the impetus for this appreciation in The Age by Philippa Hawker, who notes, The hard part [about writing about My Neighbour Totoro] is conveying just how beautifully its elements are combined: how lightness and weight are balanced, how nostalgia, enchantment and exhilaration play off against each other, how the stylised anime figures of the young central characters are utterly convincing representations set against the richly detailed world of the film's rural setting. ... His films are strongly embedded in Japanese culture and traditional beliefs, but they draw on a wide visual tradition, and he has often acknowledged a debt to the work of classic English writers for children. The work of his longtime collaborator, composer Joe Hisaishi, is another distinctive element. ... His fantasy worlds are exhilarating places, but they're always strongly grounded in a sense of reality: they're not places of escape, wishful evocations of a lost golden age, but sites of wonder and challenge for the present and the future, spurs to put the viewer's imagination to work.
Comic Carnival 2004 Held in Beijing
Xinhua reports, The Oriental Animation & Comic Competition 2004 and Animation & Comic Carnival 2004 opened at the National Museum of Military History in Beijing early this month. More than 30 world-renowned cartoonists are showing their works during the six-day festival for animation fans. The comic carnival the biggest of its kind in China has attracted thousands of cartoon lovers, who can enjoy playing live, interactive games and joining or watching stunning cosplay (costume play) shows. Of course, they also have the chance to meet master animators and cartoonists and listen to talks by experts on their favorite subject. ... The great comic carnival will close on August 12 in Beijing and will then move to Guangzhou and Shanghai.
In Brief: Castellaneta Hits Third 'Homer,' Animator Excited,
Tech Award, Digital Meets Dance & Cresbard School
The Associated Press reports, Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, has won this year's award for voiceover performance. It's the third Emmy for Castellaneta, who won back-to-back statuettes in 1992 and 1993 for his work on The Simpsons. Castellaneta took the 2004 award for his roles as Homer, Krusty the Clown, Grampa Simpson, Groundskeeper Willie, Barney Gumble and Mel in The Simpsons episode Today I Am a Clown. ... My Life as a Teenage Robot background stylist Seonna Hong drew the [juried] animation nod. Hong was recognized for the Nickelodeon cartoon's episode The Wonderful World of Wizzley. ... The Knoxville News Sentinel has this story about the revival of Seth MacFarland's Family Guy. 'There's a lot of pressure,' MacFarland says of the show's return. 'We like to think we set a high standard for ourselves so we are trying to match it.' ... 'We always suspected that a following was out there,' MacFarland says, 'but then we also knew that no one thought this was funny but us.' ... ITWeb reports, A former journalist, Isabelle Rorke, who is now an animation producer, has won the [South Africa's] Department of Trade and Industry's Technology Women in Business Award. ... Rorke won the ICT sector award and was also the overall winner. The Technology Women in Business awards were instituted to recognise the impact women have on various sectors of the economy through the application of technology. Her company, Anamazing Workshop, is working on reviving SA Broadcasting Corporation's (SABC's) old children's programme Liewe Heksie and .... Magic Cellar [an original show] based on African folktales. ... The Asheville (North Carolina) Citizen Times has this report on how the Terpiscorps Theatre of Dance production of Alice [based on Alice in Wonderland] uses computer animation to create just one of the digital projections that will be shown behind the dancers. ... South Dakota's Kelo-TV reports, Last fall Cresbard School closed it's doors for good, giving the community of 200 people little hope of a future. But that was when a comic book company [Keenspot Comics] stepped into the picture and bought the school for a home and business. ... [Owner Teri] Crosby is already talking about expanding her business at old Cresbard High School taking one of the old classrooms and making it a studio which will change the book of comics into animated cartoons.
August 11, 2004
Profits Grow at the House of Mouse
CNN/Money reports, The Walt Disney Company ... reported Tuesday solid gains in quarterly profits from growth at its U.S. theme parks and improving advertising sales at its cable television networks. ... Total revenues from Disney's four segments media, movies, theme parks, and consumer products came in at $7.47 billion, or 20 percent higher than the third quarter of 2003. ... CEO Michael Eisner repeated earlier predictions that Disney's income is on track to increase more than 50 percent in the fiscal year ending September. ... Eisner on Tuesday doused speculation that [Disney and Pixar] had returned to the bargaining table. 'We've had no further conversations,' said Eisner. He noted, however, that Disney controls the rights to the Pixar film library and is considering producing sequels and other consumer products based on Pixar characters. See Bloomberg report, which also notes, Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, who resigned last year from Disney's board to wage a campaign against Eisner, in a statement today called Disney's box-office results 'miserable.' ... Today they said Disney's 'rate of growth is over.' The statement by Roy Disney and Stanley Gold can be found here and here.
'Laura' Composer Raksin Dies A Personal Note
The New York Times has this obituary for film composer David Raksin, who composed more than 400 scores for movies and television series but is remembered best as the author of the haunting theme for the 1944 movie, Laura, died on Monday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 92. To most people, Raksin is best known for his work in live action, including his Oscar-nominated scores for Forever Amber and Separate Tables. However, as most obituaries failed to take notice, he also wrote the scores for some of the best UPA cartoons, including The Unicorn in the Garden, Madeline and Giddyap. I have found memories of taking his class in film music he gave to cinema majors at the University of Southern California back in the 1960s, as well as sitting in on his class in composing for film aimed at music majors. He was very proud of the work he did at UPA and I especially recall his introducing a clip from Gallop, taking care to point out to the contribution made by Art Babbitt's animation. He was a wonderful teacher and a really nice guy.
Westerberg Reels In Film Work
According to Billboard, In the year between finishing his new album and its anticipated release next month, Paul Westerberg has shifted his focus to film. He has been working on songs for a Sony Pictures Animation project that he also expects to score. 'I can't talk too much about it,' Westerberg tells Billboard.com. 'It's just a matter of writing songs for this animated feature called Open Season. It's not slated to be out until, oh I don't know, like 2006 or something. It's way in the future.' The story of a domesticated grizzly bear and a mule deer attempting to elude hunters is based on the work of cartoonist Steve Moore, whose one-panel comic The Bleachers is syndicated nationally. ... As he's done with his recent solo projects, Westerberg is writing and recording songs for the film alone in his home basement studio. Although the former Replacements frontman has come to cherish his musical independence of late, he admits that the situation requires a bit more collaboration than he's become accustomed.
Child's Play: Right Here, Right Now
The Calcutta Telegraph notes, The viewing habits of tots hooked to animation while mother serves up dinner or children switching on the set after a rushed return from school, Cartoon Network has witnessed a 30 per cent year-on-year growth in advertising sales in 2003 over 2002. Pogo, launched on January 1, 2004, is already reaching 17 million C&S homes. But the buzz from the junior remote-wielder is loud and clear: dil maange more. The cry is especially loud from our part of the country. According to an AC Nielsen survey, the number of hours spent in front of the small screen is highest in the east zone. The kids genre is the largest untapped market in the countrys media sector, says the survey. ... The biggest news on [Hindu-language programming] is Hungama TV, a UTV initiative that is set for launch by the month-end. 'It will be the first Made in India childrens TV channel,' confirmed Purnendu Bose, COO, speaking from Mumbai. The channel will offer multi-genre content for kids aged 4-14 years. Pictured is Kipper, a show on Pogo.
When Piracy Becomes Promotion
Henry Jenkins in Technology Review argues that, Japanese anime has won worldwide success in part because Japanese media companies were tolerant of the kinds of grassroots activities that American media companies seem so determined to shut down. Much of the risks of entering Western markets and many of the costs of experimentation and promotion were born by dedicated consumers. A symbiotic relationship existed between fans and producers that warrants closer consideration as we watch American media companies take a scorched earth attitude toward their most dedicated followers. Two decades ago, the U.S. market was totally shut to these Japanese imports. Today, the sky is the limit, with many of the most successful childrens series, from Pokemon to Yu-Gi-Oh!, coming directly from Japanese production houses. The shift occurred not through some concerted push by Japanese media companies, but rather in response to the pull of American fans who used every technology at their disposal to expand the community that knew and loved this content. Subsequent commercial efforts built on the infrastructure these fans developed over the intervening years. He notes that after the early success of such shows as Astro Boy, an underground market developed for videotapes taken off the air, which helped lay the groundwork for the current popularity of Japanese animation. Japanese distributors winked at these screenings. They didnt have permission from their mother companies to charge these fans or provide the material but they were interested to see how much interest the shows attracted.
In Brief: Carey's 'Green Screen' & Spidey 2 Faced New F/X
The Newhouse News Service has this story about the WB series Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, which will premiere Sept. 16. ... A merry mixture of improvisation and animation, Carey's WB show will take a high-tech approach to the type of comedy served up on his long-running ABC sketch program Whose Line Is It Anyway? The comic and his company of regulars, ... perform improvisational bits in front of a green screen. The footage is sent to animators who fill in the green-screen background with cartoons, film clips, still photographs and anything else they wish to draw around Carey. ... Sci Fi Wire has this brief story on the challenges that faced visual-effects producers on Spider-Man 2 ... duplicating the face of Alfred Molina's villainous Doctor Octopus in the movie's computer-animated visual-effects sequences.
August 10, 2004
Lingering Troubles May Overshadow Disney's Gains
According to The New York Times, When the Walt Disney Company announces its third-quarter results on Tuesday, investors are expected to receive the good news that the company is on track to deliver on its promise of an increase in earnings of more than 40 percent this year. But summertime optimism could be tempered this fall as Disney faces jockeying over a new board member, a potentially embarrassing trial in a shareholder lawsuit, testy negotiations over its art-house studio and continued questions about its growth prospects. ... Disney's chief executive, Michael D. Eisner ... is sure to come under fire again as two dissident investors and former board members, Stanley Gold and Roy Disney ... are expected to propose a slate of directors to replace Mr. Eisner and others. ... In animation, Disney continues to lag behind in the popular computer-generated film genre, trailing peers like DreamWorks Animation, which announced recently that it would sell shares to the public, and Pixar Animation Studios, which will end its highly profitable joint venture with Disney next year. Disney has two coming computer-generated movies planned, the direct-to-video release Twice Upon a Christmas with Mickey Mouse, which will come out this year, and Chicken Little, which will be released in theaters next year. Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners, said investors would be watching how Disney succeeded in animation on its own without Pixar. See also this analysis in Business Week.
Alias Buys Montreal 3D Graphics Leader
The Toronto Star reports, Toronto-based Alias [Systems Corp.] announced yesterday that the company would purchase Kaydara Inc. of Montreal for an undisclosed amount. Alias makes 3D graphics software that is used by car makers, video game designers and the movie industry. The company won an Oscar last year for its popular 3D animation and effects software called Maya. Kaydara also makes graphics software for the entertainment industry. ... Alias has long focused on the classic animation technique known as key-frame animation, where characters are animated frame by frame, [Alias president Doug] Walker said. Kaydara has developed real-time animation and motion editing software, which uses video of real-life movements to animate characters. ... Kaydara's Canadian office, which currently houses 55 employees, will be renamed Alias Montreal. ... Alias was recently acquired by Accel-KKR and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan from Silicon Graphics Inc. Walker said this is just the beginning of a series of acquisitions Alias hopes to make now that it has the funding. See also Alias' press release on the acquisition.
August 9, 2004
In Brief: Rajkot Boy & It Doesn't Pay
The Times of India reports, [20-year-old] Bhavin Trivedi claims to have two firsts in his kitty youngest film-maker to make an animation film on the life of Mahatma Gandhi and the youngest entrant at the Melbourne Film Festival, to be held in January 2005, and at the Clermont Ferrand short-film festival, to be held in France later. ... a student of SAE Technology College in Bangalore[, he says,] 'Animation films these days are most watched by the children. So far, no one has tried to focus on the achievements of the Mahatma. I decided to make film on the Mahatma only to make the children aware about the man and his greatness. This is a 10-minute film, titled The Power of India. I plan to make a three-hourlong animation film on Gandhiji later,' he said. See also earlier story in The Hindu. ... Webindia123.com, according to a story in The Sun, A bankrupt butcher has been sentenced to four years in jail for setting up fake firms in the names of characters from The Simpsons cartoon show, including H J Simpson's Butcher's and Gumble Meat Products.
August 7-8, 2004
Google Deflates Dreamworks' Blockbuster Flotation
According to Telegraph.co.uk, the summer's Googlemania has meant there has been little public examination of the forthcoming IPO of DreamWorks' animation unit. While many of the details of the flotation have yet to be finalised, its preliminary prospectus suggests a compelling tale of American moguldom with a couple of interesting twists to the plot. One is that [Steven] Spielberg appears to be slowly disentangling himself from his buddies. Another is that a catalyst for the IPO may be Paul Allen, one of the company's founding investors who in spite of being the world's fifth-richest man is sorely in need of a good payday. ... The prospectus notes that [David] Geffen will 'oversee' DreamWorks Studios, the privately held live-action business that will count Spielberg as a principal. Spielberg will only be a 'consultant' to DreamWorks Animation, and won't be on its star-studded board, which is to include Roger Enrico, the former Pepsico chief, as chairman, Starbucks founder George Schultz, Allen and another exalted former Microsofty, Nathan Myhrvold.
'Yu-Gi-Oh!' a Go
The New York Daily News uses the impending release of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie, based on the popular Japanese TV series, to comment on the success of anime in the US. Thus, it notes, 'For kids today, anime has become the norm, along with the computer animation in things like Shrek,'' says Doug Brode, author of From Walt to Woodstock: How Disney Created the Counterculture. 'It began as an alternative in America, and it's hit the mainstream as the internationalization of youth culture has continued.' 'Anime has the look of a world that, on one hand, is more stark than average animation, but which is also removed from reality,' Brode adds. 'Traditional animation may seem passé to kids, but anime, like CGI, is an exaggerated vision. It captures how kids today see the world. The cool look, plus the clarity of how characters view their battles, appeals to them.'
In Brief Hunchback's Music, Spidey's Helping Hand, Film-Maker Starts Again,
The 'Xiaolin' Artist & Donald Duck Gets Star
Andrew Keech in Music From the Movies reviews the soundtrack album for the Disney film. He feels, Alan Menkens music for The Hunchback of Notre Dame is perhaps unusual for a Disney animation, the music is generally spectacular and very serious and a departure from his scores for the likes of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. However, if anything this might mean that the music appeals to a wider audience and many who might dismiss the score cues as for a mere cartoon would be well advised to give it a try. They will be surprised at the intensity of the scoring. And then there are the Disney fans, who will no doubt already own and appreciated this fine album. ... The kids section of The Monterey County (California) Herald has this interview by 14-year-old Danny Stricker with Christy Hui, creator of the Kids' WB series Xiaolin Showdown [who says], 'Having grown up in China and spending most of my adult life in the U.S., I have the benefit of being bicultural. And a big part of my vision for the show is to blend in the two cultures harmoniously. I hope viewers can see that Xiaolin Showdown serves as a good example of what I mean by 'East meets West.' We do our best to create a balance between the Eastern philosophies, and a sense of humor and adventure.' ... The Milton (Pennsylvania) Daily Standard has this profile of Lewisburg Area High School graduate Bill La Barge,a senior technical director at Sony Pictures Imageworks who was part of The Destruction Team on Spider-Man 2. ... The Western Mail notes, Retirement not an option for award-winning film director Geoffrey Llewellyn Jones, which is why he is relaunching his career at the age of 72. At one time, Jones was once director of animation to the Shell Film Unit. ... ABC News Online reports (also here), that Donald Duck [who is 70] will receive his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
August 6, 2004
In Brief: Clash of the 'Toon Titans, Zinging for Her Supper & Nielsen 'Toons In
E! Online notes (also here), DreamWorks isn't blinking this time. After moving up the release of its latest CGI creation, A Shark's Tale, by a month to avoid a potential showdown with rivals Disney and Pixar's latest 'toon, The Incredibles, the studio is looking to a not so jolly green giant for a little payback. DreamWorks has announced that the Shrek 2 DVD will hit stores on Nov. 5. That just happens to be the date when Disney-Pixar's The Incredibles unspools in theaters. Coincidence? We think not. It concludes by adding, With its current theatrical haul at $429 million and climbing, Shrek 2 has now surpassed Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace as the fourth highest grossing film ever. ... Back Stage has this profile of voiceover actress Jodi Carlisle, who has taken on the part of speech-challenged biddy Gertie in David Lindsay-Abaire's bizarre dark comedy Fuddy Meers ... She has worked as a regular in the animated Nickelodeon series The Wild Thornberrys, playing matriarch Marianne Thornberry, wife of Tim Curry's character, since the series premiered in 1998, and he also worked in the 2000 feature film version. She has more than 3,000 voiceovers for cartoon shows and radio and TV spots under her belt. ... The Calgary Sun has this rundown of four shows Teletoon unveiled as part of its fall line-up Aug. 5 in Toronto. The shows include Zeroman (pictured), featuring animated persona of Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen as a postal worker with super powers ... Atomic Betty, about a Saskatchewan girl who becomes an intergalactic rocket jockey; 6Teen, about six 16-year-olds experiencing their first jobs in a mall; and The Tofus explores two siblings tackling pre-teen life in the environment of a back-to-nature lifestyle.
August 5, 2004
Pixar Profit up 92 Pct, No New Deal Yet
Reuters reports (also here), 'Pixar Animation Studios Inc. on Thursday posted a 92 percent rise in second-quarter profit on international sales Finding Nemo DVDs and home videos, handily beating Wall Street estimates. Executives were mum on one of the biggest questions in Hollywood which studio Pixar will pick to distribute its films in 2006 and beyond, after its current deal with Walt Disney Co. ends. ... [Chief Financial Officer Simon] Bax said Pixar still aimed to have a new distribution deal in place about 18 months before the holiday 2006 release. That would mean a new deal by mid-2005, although Bax said there was no deadline. ... Bax, asked whether talks with Disney had resumed, responded, 'There has been no change in the status of our distribution agreement. I just don't have anything to add to that.' The Associated Press story also noted, 'Pixar had expected to sell 40 million home video units of Finding Nemo in the full year but reached that volume in the second quarter, chief financial officer Simon Bax said during a conference call. Ed Catmull, Pixar's president, said chief executive Steve Jobs is recovering well from surgery to treat a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Catmull visited Jobs in hospital and said he was 'cracking jokes' and expected to return to work next month.
JibJabbing for Artists' Rights
Wired News notes that, JibJab, a small animation site, is running an animation that mocks President Bush and his Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry. The wildly popular cartoon may be goofy, but the legal wrangling about it is becoming a serious and important test of artists' fair-use rights in the digital age. The free This Land Flash-animated cartoon is set to the melody of Woody Guthrie's 'This Land Is Your Land.' ... Ludlow Music, which owns Guthrie's copyright to the song, threatened to sue JibJab Media, which created the animation. But attorneys for JibJab struck first, filing a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Northern California that asks a judge to declare that This Land does not violate copyright. It's a clear example of a legal concept called fair use, say the lawyers for JibJab and advocates of liberal copyright laws. If JibJab wins, the case could embolden artists to fend off copyright holders' aggressive lawyers, who increasingly view digital distribution as a threat.
The Venture Brothers
Michael R. Farkash in The Hollywood Reporter (also here), in reviewing the new Cartoon Network series feels, The Simpsons and South Park have a lot to answer for in terms of influencing animation content. And that's a good thing when it comes to The Venture Brothers, which is entertaining, subversive fun for those who enjoy edgy scripting. Fast-paced and taking no prisoners, the new cartoon series spoofs such classics as Jonny Quest and The Hardy Boys, and leaves good taste spinning way back in the dust. The animation artwork here is not groundbreaking, but the sensibilities and scripting prove to be surprising. Traditional family affection is turned on its ear, and there's plenty of sexual ambiguity to keep viewers off balance.
Foreign Animation Studios In Expansion Mode
The Financial Express says, Last summer when American animation company, Prana Studios, set up shop in Mumbai, few took notice. A year down the line, Prana is set to expand its India operations. 'The staff strength would increase from 60 to 100 by December,' Prana president Pankaj Gunsagar tells FE. ... Prana is not the only foreign firm cashing in on the cost advantage that India offers. There are others. For instance, Applied Gravity, a New Zealand-headquartered company, is working 90 per cent for international clients, from its Indian studio. Applied Gravity, which gets back-end support from Nipuna at the Hyderabad office, began its India operations three months ago, with just 25 people. According to the company CEO Satyanarayana Murthy, the staff strength will increase to 200 plus in another eight to 12 weeks. ... a reality check shows that complete outsourcing to the India market for full-length feature films is extremely limited still. [Jadoo Works CEO Ashish] Kulkarni is hopeful that by the end of 2006 or start of 2007, India can expect getting full feature films for animation work. Thats big biz as Hollywood films spend up to half their budgets on animation and special effects alone. Right now, Indians have limitations in the areas of script and voices, he says. Despite that, Indian animation studios are gearing up for big-time projects like Spiderman or Lord of the Rings.
Outing the 'Toons
Columnist Mike Prevatt in The Las Vegas Mercury recalls waiting in the queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland two years ago, and a T-shirt I'm still scouring the Net for caught my eye. I was there for the park's unofficial Gay Day, which takes place in early October and sees droves of homeowners visiting the park, identifiable by their red shirts. And the back of this particular red tee I spotted at Big Thunder boasted about nine or 10 Disney characters, arranged Hollywood Squares style, with some playful text suggesting who the company's 'real family' was. This included Chip and Dale, Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty), Meeko (Pocahontas) and Dopey. I am remembering this shirt right now because of a recent news item involving The Simpsons, that other billion-dollar animation entity. Two weeks ago, the creators and writers of the beloved show announced at San Diego's Comic-Con (think Comdex for the comic/sci-fi/fantasy/geek culture scene) that its upcoming 16th season would feature a gay marriage episode and the outing of a longtime character. ... All this gossip makes me wonder, who else in Cartoon Land needs to come out? Among those he then lists includes: Bugs Bunny, Peppermint Patty and Marcie and The Smurfs, among others.
In Brief: Power & Speed, Slamming the Simpsons
The Washington Post has this story about the extreme driving seen in a new TV commercial for the Volvo S40 sedan, a car previously noted for its concern for safety. What's interesting is the note that, Volvo asked the makers of the Xbox game RalliSport Challenge 2 for permission to use game footage in its commercial. The entire ad is computer-animated, a fact that Maloney said gives it license to be more outrageous. A few viewers have complained about the reckless driving, he said, but most have understood that it represents video game play and not the real world. ... According to Ireland Online, The actor behind The Simpsons' evil millionaire Mr Burns and Homer's annoying neighbour Ned Flanders has slammed the comedy, claiming the last three seasons of the hit animation have been the 'worst.' Voiceover star Harry Shearer believes the 15-year-old show is beginning to run out of ideas and he is getting bored providing the speech for Flanders, Burns and his assistant Waylon Smithers, Reverend Lovejoy and Principal Skinner.
August 4, 2004
Hot or Not? Pixar
With Pixar about to announce its second quarter earnings report, the financial press is taking a closer look at the studio, especially in light of the forthcoming IPO from DreamWorks Animation. For instance, CNN/Money provides this analysis of Pixar's future, noting that, even though its winning formula of heartwarming characters who tackle adversity with spunk and humor has led to numerous hits, Pixar has yet to face any major challenges of its own. That could soon change. Pixar's runaway success has lured competitors, most notably the soon-to- be-public DreamWorks Animation, which produced both Shrek films, into the field. ... Investors have rewarded Pixar handsomely for its success, steadily driving up the company's share price in the years since its 1995 initial public offering. But dependency on a single formula can be risky. Coming off a triumphant 2003, Pixar's revenues are expected to fall 27 percent this year and earnings per share are estimated to drop 32 percent, according to earnings tracker Thomson/First Call. ... Pixar plans to accelerate its production schedule in order to meet Wall Street's bullish forecasts. And even one flop would be hard for investors to swallow. However, it concludes that Pixar investors should do well. ... Another look is provided by Business Week, whose article concludes, [Cowen & Co. analyst Lowell] Singer does raise one troubling prospect: If Pixar doesn't strike a deal with Disney and decides to take a larger stake in producing its own films, 'one or two disappointing films could severely hamper the company's economic position.' If that were to happen, 'a new set of risks could emerge,' he adds. In that case, the company that made Toy Story could have to tell a whole new story to investors.
SA Set for Own 'Shrek' Style Flick
According to IAfrica South African News, Philip Boltt ... a local animator, editor and sometime director believes that within three years this country will be producing its own feature-length 3D animated movies. One of these is Feedback, the project hes been working on for the past two years. Its a recreation of the acclaimed play by Andrew Buckland, a quirky murder mystery about a downtrodden detective helping two brothers discover who murdered their mother. ... A collaboration between Boltt and six students from the Digital Arts Postgraduate Program at Wits University, it had both commercial and educational aims. The commercial: to create a pilot that could be used to raise funding for the completion of the project. The educational intention: to set up a studio-style production environment in which the students would work and to pioneer a feasible method for making an animated film in South Africa. ... [However] fundraising is one of the major obstacles to creating a South African animated film. ... [Boltt says,] 'Its difficult to sell the concept because we first need to convince people that it is possible to do this in South Africa that we have the skills, the talent and the equipment.' Incidentally, Boltt's company is Sickpixie Animation.
Animation, Next BPO Break
The Hindu Business Line has this survey of activity in the Indian animation industry, which begins, Going by the contracts that Indian companies have been getting in recent months, India looks set to grab the next opportunity in outsourcing, to wit, 3D animation. ... The immense success of animation movies like Shrek and Finding Nemo, combined with the low cost production capabilities of Indian companies, appears to have touched off a new outsourcing trend. 'India is increasingly becoming an attractive destination for outsourced animation content, especially 3D animation content,' says Mr Srini Raghavan, Co-founder and President of the Bangalore-based Paprikaas Animation Studios. 'We are seeing a spurt in growth and increasing interest to outsource production to India, especially 3D work by some US studios,' he said. ... The 'increasing interest' is evident. Pentamedia Graphics has just completed the production of Buddha [pictured], a $6-m 3D feature film, partly funded by the Singapore Government. Toonz Animation of Thiruvananthapuram says it recently bagged a feature film from an Italian production company. 'This prestigious project will be a blend of 2D and 3D animation,' says Mr P. Jayakumar, CEO of Toonz. Paprikaas has said it has received a job for making a 3D feature film for European audience.
Recent Incline High Grad Achieving Her Dreams
The North Lake Tahoe (Nevada) Bonanza has this profile of character designer Katie Rice, who has recently joined Disney TV Animation, but is also developing her own shows. It reports that, Rice was 9 when Ren and Stimpy came on television in 1990. 'I made it my goal to get in contact with him and try to learn everything he knew,' she wrote. 'I collected animation magazines and anything else I could find about him and his studio, Spumco.' At age 13, Katie got on the Internet and looked up her artistic hero. 'I e-mailed him and asked for drawing advice, and we've been friends since,' she said. She eventually got a job at Spumco as a layout artist and character designer. 'One of the things that was more fulfilling about my Spumco job is that there is a lot of creative freedom, and the work is much more challenging,' she said. 'Also, everyone else is as obsessed with cartoons as you are.'
From Len Lye to Gollum
TVNZ has this look (also here) at the new TV documentary From Len Lye to Gollum that largely focuses on the success of Weta and Shrek co-director Andrew Adamson. It notes, Joe Letteri, the visual effects supervisor for Weta digital, says: 'One of the first things we found out when we started putting Gollum into scenes with Frodo and Sam was that the Gollum we had couldn't act. He was designed as a creature before Andy Serkis was ever cast. So we had to redesign Gollum around Andy so Gollum could perform the things that Andy could perform.' And that's at the heart of all animated stories. If you don't believe in the character, then no amount of software will save it. Just ask any New Zealand animator how they feel about their characters. Andrew Adamson, the creator of Shrek, admits: 'I became very defensive of the characters. I'd be saying 'You can't do that to Shrek, and Fiona would never do that!'
In Brief: Russian Cartoonists Mad, Aussie Classic & Oscar
According to MosNews, 40 of Russias renowned animation artists have signed an open letter to Russias Olympic Committee demanding an apology be made to artist Leonid Shvartsman, the creator of the Cheburashka cartoon character that has been picked as the Russian Olympic teams official mascot, Russian Internet news agency Lenta.ru reports. Writer Eduard Uspensky, who had penned the story that served as the basis for the cartoon and holds the copyright, has given the Olympic Committee the right to use the character. However, the actual image ... was created by Shvartsman. ... The Australian reports, Five years after the deal-making began, the producers of a 26-part television version of the Australian children's book classic Animalia have reached the final stages of negotiations with the BBC. Author and illustrator Graeme Base is expected to work closely with the producer of the series, the Melbourne-based production company Burberry Productions, which holds the rights to the richly illustrated alphabet book. ... the company's website lists Sydney animation studio Animal Logic as a co-producer of the series for the BBC and the Ten Network. ... The Bendigo Advertiser has this brief interview with Adam Elliot, which notes Six months after winning an Oscar, the animator is still coming to terms with his celebrity status. During a visit to Bendigo yesterday, the Oscar winner responsible for Harvie Krumpet revealed that while he can no longer walk the streets of Melbourne as a stranger, he wants to stay true to his upbringing. ... Mr Elliot estimated yesterday's chat with The Advertiser was the 450th since he won the Best Animated Short Oscar.
August 3, 2004
Lucas Toons to Singapore
Variety reports, Lucasfilm is moving forward with plans to develop its own slate of computer-animated projects, announcing today the formation of an animation facility in Singapore. Lucasfilm Animation Singapore becomes George Lucas' second such facility, having formed Lucasfilm Animation in California last year. New studio, which will open by spring, will produce digitally animated films, television and games. Lucasfilm Animation VP-general manager Gail Currey will oversee the company and its creative staff. As expected the news gets a bigger play in The Straits Times, which boasts that, A slice of Hollywood glamour landed in Singapore yesterday, as the film company behind blockbusters Star Wars and Indiana Jones announced plans to set up a production studio here, its first foray outside the US. The new studio aims to create an animation style that blends East and West, says. By early next year, Lucasfilm headed by the iconic director George Lucas will set up a digital animation studio producing films, television shows and games in Singapore. It aims to create a new style of animation here by blending East and West. The firm plans to eventually hire up to 300 content producers, directors, artists, designers and story writers here, who will work closely with their counterparts at its California headquarters. ... [It] will be a joint venture between Lucasfilm, the Economic Development Board (EDB) and Singapore entrepreneur Sim Wong Hoo. See also Lucasfilm press release. Pictured from left to right is is Micheline Chau, president and CEO, Lucasfilm Ltd., George Lucas and Teo Ming Kian, Chairman, Singapore Economic Development Board. (Photo: Dean Bentley.)
Expect a Smash from Pixar
Business Week provides this analysis of Pixar Animation Studios' stock, asking, What lies ahead for the company behind Nemo and Buzz Lightyear? We at Standard & Poor's Equity Research Services think long-term growth prospects are bright for Pixar Animation Studios. We believe it will continue its successful track record producing popular movies, including The Incredibles, due out in the fall, and Cars, expected to be released in November, 2005. We also think that the announcement, expected soon, of a new distribution agreement will allow the company to keep a larger share of the profits we expect its movies and their related products will generate beginning in 2006. ... We anticipate the company will have announced a new distribution partnership around the release date of The Incredibles. ... Moreover, with results dependent on relatively few products, we believe Pixar's quarterly performance can be relatively inconsistent or hard to predict. It also feels The Incredibles will only take in about $500 million compared to Nemo's $850 million.
Made in Japan
Stories on the widespread popularity of anime continues unabated. The latest is this piece in The Springfield (Illinois) State Journal Register, which says, Anime and its comic-book counterpart, mangas, have a devoted fan base that transcends age and nationality. There are movies, television shows, fan-created music videos, novels and video games based on anime. In 2002, the full-length anime movie Spirited Away earned $250 million internationally and won an Oscar for best animated film. ... or some fans, anime transcends TV shows and comic books. Lauren Schermerhorn, a junior at Athens High School, draws anime-style art, usually while watching an anime film. 'Whenever the basement is vacant, or the house itself is quiet or momentarily empty, I would be sitting in front of a TV, watching an anime DVD, drawing until I am one pencil short,' Lauren said. Some anime fans enjoy the fan-produced fiction, art, music videos and comics more than the series these supplements are based on. Leah [Jenner, a freshman at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago] said she watches fan-produced anime music videos online.
August 2, 2004
Steve Jobs Undergoes Cancer Surgery
The New York Times reports, Steven P. Jobs, co-founder and chief executive of Apple Computer, underwent emergency cancer surgery on Saturday. In an e-mail message sent Sunday to Apple employees, he said that the surgery had gone well and that he would return to work in September. ... Mr. Jobs is also chairman of Pixar Animation Studios, a company he bought in 1986. A CNN/Money article on the significance of Jobs' illness asks the predictable question in its headline, What's Next for Apple? However, it does quote Rod Bare, an equity analyst with Morningstar, that, Apple investors should always be prepared for life without Jobs and not just for health reasons. For one, Jobs is also the CEO and chairman of ... Pixar. Plus, Jobs did leave Apple before to start a new company. What's to stop him from doing so again? 'Apple's board must always have in the back of its mind, 'Will Steve Jobs get bored with this and do something else or will Pixar require more of his time?'' said Bare. 'Jobs is a guy who could call it a day on short notice.'
Indian Animation Industry: $500 Mn and Raring to Go
According to Sify, A report by Anderson Consulting pegs the Indian animation industry at $550 MN It also estimates a growth rate of 30 per cent annually in the next three years resulting in a $15 bn industry by 2008. The study also reports that India will receive more than $2 bn worth of animation business in the next three years. Meanwhile, Nasscom estimates the current global animation market to be worth around $45 bn and expects it to jump to between $50 bn and $70 bn by next year. It also states that India could use 300,000 professionals in content development and animation by 2008, up from 27,000 three years ago. ... Bollywood honchos are certainly waking up to the advantages of animation and visual effects. Indeed, director Farhan Akhtar's latest offering at the box-office, Lakshya includes 38 minutes of VFX shots which help augment the visual impact of the film. Even Yash Chopra's Hum Tum wouldn't quite be the same without the cartoon characters. ... 'Animation is in the same position as IT was in India ten years ago. We can take it even beyond IT. Average monthly salaries have also risen to about Rs 30,000 [$650] for an animator, which means it's a good option as a career,' says [Rajesh Turakhia, CEO, Maya Entertainment Ltd.]
PC Power Blurs Film Reality and Fiction
According to BBC News, The film King Arthur may be giving a boost to Cornish, Welsh and Cumbrian tourism. But enthusiasts intent on following the movie's trail to Ireland, where many of the scenes were shot, will be in for a surprise. As computing power continues to grow year on year, scene-seekers are often finding many of the stunning places they see on the big screen exist largely on a hard drive. ... In the forthcoming I, Robot, the effects are both special and visual, to create not only the shiny creatures, but also the Chicago skyline of 2035. Entire beings are generated for the movie in a futuristic scenario, so evidently the need for technology's helping hand is paramount. ... [Wyck Godfrey, I, Robot executive producer says,] 'Not only are we creating a photo-real CG character, but that character is set against a CG background.' ... Ultimately, better technology means faster turn-around times, and so more shots and artists working on several sequences at any one time. Scenes from scratch on King Arthur took six to eight weeks to create. I, Robot's visual effects team completed 700 shots in eight weeks.
From Sidekick to Superheroine: Women in Pop Culture Are Getting More Respect
The Kansas City Star has this story about how times are changing [in terms of female heroes]. More and more it's the girls who are saving the day. ... whether it's a superheroine such as the groundbreaking Wonder Woman or an everyday girl such as Dora the Explorer, the rise of female leads is proof that women are finally getting their proper respect. In the past, women were often created as counterpoints, love interests or foes for stronger, leading male characters, says Maggie Thompson, editor of The Comics Buyer's Guide ... The few females to exude extreme girl power a half century or more ago included Wonder Woman and Little Lulu. But now and in the future, Thompson says it's safe to say there will continue to be more superheroines. ... The biggest boost in leading ladies has come in the form of animated characters, including Disney's Kim Possible, Cartoon Network's The Powerpuff Girls and Nickelodeon's Jenny in My Life as a Teenage Robot. But Cartoon Network has the largest stack of shows centered on or featuring extremely gallant girls with Totally Spies!, Teen Titans, Justice League and Code Lyoko. They also have new shows such as The Life and Times of Juniper Lee and Atomic Betty [pictured] on the way. ... 'I don't think this new movement of leading female heroines will phase out,' [Joe Quesada, editor in chief at Marvel Comics] says. 'The characters have to reflect the world we live in, not just here at Marvel, but everywhere.'
Return of McCartney's Frog Chorus
According to BBC News, Paul McCartney's infamous children's song accompanied by the singing Frog Chorus is being re-released to mark 20 years since it was first a hit. We All Stand Together, which reached number three in 1984, is included on his forthcoming single Tropic Island Hum from a new children's cartoon. Sir Paul is introducing a new animated character, Wirral The Squirrel, as part of a DVD collection out in September. The Sunday Mirror adds, And even though it hasn't yet been released, he's already working on a full-length movie and book of the cheeky Scouse character. Macca who had a huge hit and won a BAFTA award with his cartoon Rupert And The Frog Song in 1984 is putting out a DVD in September featuring both that story and the first Wirral tale. See also NME.com report, which notes the new cartoon is a surreal adaptation of the David Weisner book in which frogs flying on lilypads take twilight flight into a small town somewhere in America.
That's My Boy
The Guardian has this profile of Nancy Cartwright, the ubiquitous voice of Bart Simpsons, which notes, That Cartwright has made her name playing a cynical and satirical character like Bart is surprising, given her wholesome Ohio background and her acceptance some 14 years ago into the church of Scientology; her bookshelves are filled with the works of L Ron Hubbard, including Learning How to Learn and Death Quest; it isn't hard to imagine what Bart would make of those. She is also the chairman of her own production company, Cartwright Entertainment, the management structure of which is outlined on a wall chart in her office and includes the job titles 'director of success' and 'goal maker'. Bart, she says, beaming, is essentially a nice kid. ... Before The Simpsons, Cartwright's most famous role had been the voice of the Dipped Shoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a tough job requiring her to empathise with a cartoon loafer in the moments before it was dropped into a vat of acid.
Bill Plympton's The Tune
John Sinnott in DVD Talk has this review of the classic Plympton film, and feels Though this is longer than the work that he'd previoulsy done, The Tune is chocked full of Plymptons surrealistic humor and skewed look at life. ... This movie is really a series of music videos that are strung together. Bill Plymptons original idea was to animate a song, release it as a short, then use funds generated from that to animate the next one. Luckily he was hired to do a series of TV commercials, and the money he made from those paid for the entire feature. Even so, this movie feels like separate parts strung together by a linking device rather than a single movie. ... Some of the scenes in this movie are laugh out loud funny, and others are just amusingly odd, but the entire film is visually entertaining. Plympton is one of the most creative and funny people working in animation today, and this is a great example of his eminently enjoyable work.
Short Films' 'Girl Power' Message Still Resonates
The Portland Oregonian has this story about Girl Power, and the accompanying public service announcement Fight Girl Poisoning ... two short animated films made by 10 Portland teenage girls in the summer of 1996. The girls were volunteers from Project Chrysalis, a locally founded, federally funded counseling program for middle- and high-school-aged girls who had been sexually, physically or emotionally abused. The Northwest Film Center debuted the shorts, which speak to abuse, peer pressure and body image, at the 1996 Young People's Film and Video Festival, and has since been offering both on one video for sale or preview. And though 8 years old and less than 5 minutes in length, the combined video has become something of a quiet hit. ... And it's still played at film festivals, especially student festivals, a special achievement for one written, drawn and voiced by 10 young people with no previous film experience, animators who had been academically labeled 'at-risk.' Rose Bond and Sharon Niemczyk, animators-in-residence at the film center then, guided the girls' efforts through the two-week production course. 'It was one of the most incredible experiences,' Bond recalls. 'I thought that it might have legs,' she says. 'We just thought, 'We'll make it as well as we can.' And the message is still relevant.'
Playing with Pictures
The Australian notes, It's not a vision one would expect when going to see Ed Kuepper perform. As the Brisbane-based guitarist and songwriter rocks back and forth on stage, it appears that he and percussionist Alex Compton are about to be swallowed up into a vast cave with teeth. That's just one of the juxtapositions thrown up by Kuepper's latest project, Music For Len Lye, which marries Kuepper's music, performed live, to a series of short films by artists from Australia and overseas. ... The MFLL project had its birth last year, when Kuepper was asked by Brisbane art curator David Pestorius to write and perform a score for the short film Tusalava (1928), by experimental New Zealand film-maker Len Lye. The original score for the film had been lost. ... The Tusalava score led to Kuepper performing his music to several of Lye's films at venues around Australia last year. That work sparked the idea of a series of performances using some of Kuepper's instrumental music from his late 1990s albums such as Starstruck and The Blue House in union with film. Film-makers were commissioned to come up with a piece to complement Kuepper's music.
In Brief: JibJab Asks for Help, Asia Growing, Beryl the Peril, Setting
up Shop in Crestline, Troll for Wizardry
Wired News reports, JibJab Media ... on Thursday asked a California district court to declare that it did not violate the copyrights of Ludlow Music, the owner of Woody Guthrie's song 'This Land Is Your Land,' which is the basis of a satirical JibJab cartoon [entitled This Land] lampooning the presidential candidates. Ludlow Music has been threatening to sue JibJab for infringing its copyright, saying JibJab never asked for permission to use the song. JibJab's creators have said they believe they have a right to use the song since it was used in a parody and as such is protected speech. ... Indian Television reports, Latest research from the organisation Research & Markets states that 90 per cent of all American television animation is produced in Asia. The report has been titled Asian Animation Industry: Strategies, Trends and Opportunities. This report contains detailed analysis of the trends in animation outsourcing in India, Korea, among other Asian nations. It has also examined the nature of co-production work being done in the region. ... The Western Mail reports, A larger than life middle-aged Oscar-nominated heroine is returning to Welsh television in a new eight-minute film. Beryl, a frustrated yet optimistic mother and wife, who is re-evaluating her life, will star in her third animation on S4C on Christmas Day 2005. The film will be hand-drawn by Joanna Quinn and produced by her animation company, Beryl Productions of Cardiff. Work on the new production will begin immediately. ... The Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal has this short profile of Robert Kurtzman, who directed Wishmaster and did special effects for Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2, is [now] working in Crestline at Precinct 13 Entertainment. ... Beside Zombie's Rejects [music video], Kurtzman is working on visual effects for 2,001 Maniacs, which will star Robert Englund ... He said Precinct 13 will be looking at doing local commercial work, too, but interested clients should be prepared to expect more than your typical local ad. 'I don't want to do commercials that are just, Hey, come to my store,' he said. 'I want to do commercials that will be creative, humorous and have some animation.' ... The Boston Globe has this story about The Museum of Science's new exhibit about the making of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy pulls back the curtain to expose the realities of director Peter Jackson's fantasy filmmaking. But it was the fans' fantasies that reigned at the exhibit's midnight opening yesterday where many of the hundreds of dedicated Rings followers many who had come from across the United States and from other countries were dressed as hobbits and elves, displaying their affection for wizardry of all kinds.
August 1, 2004
Cartoon Ventures to Be Campy
John Crook of Tribune Media Services has this review of Cartoon Network's The Venture Boys. He says, Take the Hardy Boys, subtract several IQ points, drop them into Jonny Quest and give the whole thing an ironic, decidedly contemporary slant. That, in a nutshell, is The Venture Boys, although that brief summary doesn't do justice to this wickedly funny new animated series that joins Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim lineup on Saturday. ... I was reading these old Tom Swift books, which were sort of contemporaries of The Hardy Boys, only more science-y, and I realized that Jonny Quest was kind of a rip-off of Tom Swift,' creator Jackson Publick says of his show's origins. 'Then I thought it would be fun to take that kind of naive Golly, gee, go get 'em' attitude and move it to modern times. ... With a quirky voice cast that includes Patrick Warburton as Brock, The Venture Brothers also is blessed with lively supporting characters including the Monarch's girlfriend, Dr. Girlfriend, who looks like Jackie Kennedy in her prime and sounds like Harvey Fierstein. No, really. Just go with it.
Plunging in to Adult Swim'
Speaking of Adult Swim, see this Corvallis (Oregon) Gazette Times story, which gives an overview of the programming block as well as taking a look at two new DVDs of two of its shows. It begins, Go ahead, I dare you. Just try to explain the appeal of Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's late-night procession of animated strangeness aimed at mature viewers mature viewers who still love cartoons. ... Adult Swim is a vacation destination for those who've grown bored with the recycled formulas of most television, and simply want to immerse themselves in cleverness for its own sake. Last week, Cartoon Network released their newest DVD collections of Adult Swim offerings in the form of Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume Two, and Sealab 2021: Season One. In short, they're both superb if your idea of superb is quarter-hour bursts of nonsensical musings about the mundane, repetitive nature of everyday life on the bottom of the ocean.
Animation Consultants International