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October 31, 2004

All Aboard 'The Polar Express'

The Polar ExpressChicago Sun-Times Columnist Bill Zwecker has this joint interview with Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis, who were “in town to chat about their latest project — the animated big-screen version of Chris Van Allsburg's holiday classic, The Polar Express. ... Van Allsburg only laid down one firm condition [for the movie]. 'He was very particular about the appearance of the [Hero] boy,' says Hanks, who also served as executive producer on the film. 'He didn't want him to be too precious or too cute. He wanted him to be just as normal as we could make him.' Of course that stab at 'normalcy' fell to Hanks himself, who gave the Hero Boy his voice. 'There's no chance anyone could call me precious or cute — especially since I'm only doing his voice. We used real kids for the motion-capture part of the process.'” ... More interesting, though, is this interview with Van Allsburg in The Grand Rapids Press. It notes, “The film version of his Caldecott Medal-winning book gets its world premiere in Grand Rapids Friday. Van Allsburg and his wife, Lisa, are behind the gala, a fund-raiser for Hospice of Michigan's Pediatric Program. Van Allsburg watches with some bemusement as Polar Express mania picks up steam, rumbling through West Michigan with black tie glitz, library sleepovers, train exhibits and book signings that'll have kids lined up for hours. It all started here, in Rhode Island, as Van Allsburg wrote an almost spiritual story with a pencil on lined paper. By the end of the afternoon interview, he'll reveal why the train exists, we'll find out the story behind that funny bull terrier that shows up in every book, and we'll see the quirky studio space where his creativity hatches.”

'Toons in a Tussle
The SpongeBob SquarePants MovieThe New York Daily News has this story contrasting the styles and techniques of The Incredibles and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. It says, “A cinematic battle is being waged, and it's happening in several dimensions at once. Both the computer graphics (CG) and traditional animated works that make up the majority of Hollywood's family films are forging new ground, in completely different ways — and the results are as unique as the heroes of two new movies. The Incredibles, which opens Friday, is the latest sleekly computerized 3-D wonder from Pixar Studios, while The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Nov. 19) is the first comedy starring the hand-drawn 2-D star of the Nickelodeon TV series. Though CG dipped into hand-drawn animation 15 years ago, there is now a giant fork in the road dividing high-tech from low-tech styles. 'My friends in hand-drawn animation were like, “Oh, man, you're selling out to CG!” says Incredibles director Brad Bird .... 'They said, 'Hey, I thought you loved hand-drawn stuff.' And I do love it, but I love all kinds of animation, and I felt this story would be taken care of at Pixar. Plus, there are things we can do in CG now that we would've had trouble doing in 2-D.' ... 'The idea of non-computer hand-drawn work hasn't completely gone, but it is endangered, no question,' says film historian Leonard Maltin .... 'And most of the best recent animated features have been CG. But Shrek would have been a hit if it had been animated with matchsticks; it wasn't the beauty of the visuals that made people watch, as Jay Ward proved with Rocky & Bullwinkle, and as South Park and The Simpsons have recently illustrated.”

MoshColumnist Richard Leiby in The Washington Post in looking at Eminem's political future, notes that, “Clad in a suit and tie and pink furry slippers, Eminem ... looked much like the animated character that represents him in the video for the song Mosh, an Internet sensation and instant MTV favorite since its release early last week. Its heavy political message is a departure from most booty-and-bling video offerings. Even techno musician Moby, who has been needled by Em over the years, called it 'the best thing that I've seen all year.' In his online journal, Moby declared, 'It's an amazing song and an even more amazing video. Please go watch.'” ... A more extensive view of the video is given in this review by Helen A.S. Popkin at MSNBC. She notes, “Mosh, the second release from Eminem’s new album, Encore, is an anti-Bush call to arms. ... a stunning combination of animation/live action, [it] is both a visual and thematic departure from previous work.”

October 30, 2004
Cult of the 'Nightmare'
The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe Portland Oregonian has this piece on the enduring popularity of the Tim Burton-Henry Selick The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was undoubtedly inspired by the recent move of Selick to Portland-based Vinton Studios. It note, “Nightmare was originally considered something of a commercial failure. Made for a modest $18 million, it brought in just over $50 million during its original release, according to the film-revenue tracking site boxofficemojo.com. Those numbers weren't bad, but expectations had been high for Nightmare because of Burton's string of live-action hits ....Soon after its Halloween-timed October '93 opening, Nightmare started to run out of steam. The heavily hyped licensed merchandise in stores got marked down well before Christmas, and the film left theaters, seemingly destined for the vault. But, like any good horror-movie corpse, Nightmare refused to die. A few years later, Japanese fans glommed onto it, leading a company called Jun Planning to start producing Nightmare tchotchkes again. Theatrical revivals, a 2000 reissue, videos and DVDs fueled a new wave of interest. Kids grew up watching it at home, and adults ... spent thousands of dollars on action figures, snow globes, posters, bobble heads and the like. The National Entertainment Collectibles Association, a dominant player in the licensed-merchandise biz, brings out new Nightmare products each year.”

October 29, 2004
The Incredibles

The IncrediblesKirk Honeycutt in The Hollywood Reporter proclaims, “Pixar Animation Studios boldly moves into new cartoon territory with The Incredibles, a red-hot and very funny action adventure that involves an entire family of superheroes. It's Spy Kids, James Bond and Spider-Man all rolled into one under the sage and savvy direction of Brad Bird, the man behind the terrific 1999 animated feature Iron Giant. What Bird and Pixar have essentially done is make a superhero movie that could just as easily have been live action. So this is not only Pixar's first PG-rated film but, at 115 minutes, its longest. A cut here and there actually might have helped. Nevertheless, The Incredibles is as imaginative and astute as any general audience entertainment has been for a long while. By pushing computer animation in a new direction, the sky's the limit for worldwide boxoffice. Domestically, the film should easily top $200 million. ... At the very end, two old guys are voiced by Ollie Johnston and the late Frank Thomas, animators who worked with Walt Disney himself. This link to the past is apt because their pioneering work in cel animation is mirrored in Pixar's envelope-pushing in CG animation. Story and technique keep getting stronger with each feature. The Incredibles is, incredibly enough, Pixar's best work yet.”

DreamWorks Draws a Crowd
The Motley Fool comments that, “Slaying dragons and sharks has been kid's play for the company behind the popular Shrek and Shark Tale movies. Now DreamWorks Animation is slaying the market as well. After pricing its IPO at $28 a share — well above the initial range that priced the deal between $23 and $25 a stub — the company took off in a hurry yesterday. The shares opened at $39.50 and closed out their first publicly traded day at $38.75. Raising $700 million will serve the company well as it has set up an aggressive release schedule to produce two animated feature films a year. But do investors know what they are getting themselves into at this point?” ... The New York Daily News was more enthusiastic, noting, “Wall Street's gone gaga over Shrek Star-struck investors sent shares of DreamWorks Animation through the roof yesterday on the show biz company's first day of trading as a public company. ... It was the second hottest IPO of the year, with twice the percentage gain of Google. 'There's been nothing as explosive as this in media in a very long time,' said Lehman entertainment analyst Anthony DiClemente. 'This is a very lucrative, trendy part of the film business.'”

Hollywood Whistles a High-Tech 'Toon
CNET News.com has this tech-oriented story (also here) on the current CGI movie boom. It notes, “The [recent DreamWorks Animation] IPO highlights the growing sway of technology in the animation business, where breakthroughs in software, processing power and data storage can be as important as raw artistic ability. 'No matter how much faster computers get, it takes the same amount of time to render computer animated movies, because the effects keep getting more sophisticated,' said Scott Owen, a professor of computer science at the University of Georgia .... Animators and visual effects experts agree that the Holy Grail of computer graphics is bringing realistic human characters to life on the big screen. 'At some point in the future, we will have true human characters — that's something people are striving for — but it will take a few years,' Owen said. 'We need a lot more understanding of how humans move, how humans act, and more understanding of our perception — to figure out what we do when we take in information. It's important to creating these effects.' Still, computer graphics professionals walk a fine line. Japanese scientist Masahiro Mori has described people's emotional response to humanlike robots as the 'uncanny valley,' because fondness for the robots often falls off a cliff when they become too real.”

In Brief ...
Raju & IIndustry Celebrates International Animation Day: ASIFA chapters around the world have been celebrating International Animation Day on a day of their choosing this year. ASIFA-India's celebration, which centered on the presentation of their animation awards for 2003, is covered in this Indiantelevision.com story. It notes,“Amongst the many nominees shortlisted, the ASEEMA produced, Animagic India created Raju & I [pictured] yet again emerged the winner. The sensitively directed and scripted film is so effective that after a while the viewers aren't aware that they are watching an animated film. The animation and illustration too is beautiful. It is no surprise that Raju & I has been constantly bagging awards wherever it is screened. NID's Rajesh Chakrabarty also received an award for his short Dhak.” ... The Fantastic Mr. Anderson!: Empire Online reports that Wes Anderson, the director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and the forthcoming The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is “switching tack again, to his first full-length animated movie — an adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. But we’re not talking any old animation here — no CG or hand-drawn cels for The Fantastic Mr. Wes. Instead, he’ll be relying on old-fashioned stop-motion animation to bring to life Dahl’s twisted and funny tale .... Anderson was probably inspired to go down this route after working with Henry Selick ... on the stop-motion animation sequences in The Life Aquatic.”

October 28, 2004
The Animation Flood: Too Much Shrek?

CNN/Money speculates that, “Weeks or months from now, there is a good chance that DreamWorks Animation's decision to go public Thursday will look not only smart, but pure genius. That's because movie studios big and small are racing to cash in on what has become a sizzling hot genre: animated films, particularly ones based on computer-generated images. A dozen or more such films are in the works through 2006. But box office analysts say the deluge risks turning off the movie-going masses. Given the exorbitant costs of making and marketing an animated movie, more than a few studios could soon take a bath.” It ends by saying, “The quality of CGI films may not matter now, but it will. Once moviegoers have more choices, studios may need even heftier marketing campaigns to gain an edge.”

October 27, 2004
In Brief ...
'Drawn Together':
Andrew Wallenstein on NPR's Day to Day radio magazine “reviews Comedy Central's new animated series Drawn Together. He says the crass humor of the show is effective at satirizing both today's rash of reality TV and saccharine cartoons of yesteryear. ... Recent Films Depend on CGI: Jack Koehler in The Eastern Michigan University Echo complains that, The new Star Wars films are only the most visible examples of movies that rely too heavily on computer-generated image technology. More and more films are using CGI technology to such lengths as to have whole characters made out of computer imagery (Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars) or even entire films except for the actors (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Is the ability to create things that would otherwise have been impossible to present on the screen worth the amount of crap that comes out as result of it?”

October 26, 2004
'Drawn Together' Reviews
Drawn Together
Michael R. Farkash in The Hollywood Reporter says, “So it's come to this — an animated, sexually explicit 'reality series' in which cartoon characters hang out in a lavish mansion, each plotting to vote one another off the show. The funny, crass debut episode will have many viewers blinking in astonishment.” ... Robert Bianco in USA Today feels, “It's bad enough that the ratings for the genre in general are in the toilet. Now along comes Comedy Central's almost alarmingly crude cartoon Drawn Together to give reality shows a good, swift, satirical kick while they're down. Actually, Drawn is two satires in one. By putting eight cartoon 'stars' into a Real World setting, the show manages to spoof reality and cartoon conventions at the same time — while slipping a little social commentary in as a bonus.” ... However, Kevin D. Thompson in The Palm Beach Post takes a more negative point of view. He starts with a “Thud! That thunderous sound you heard was reality TV hitting a new all-time low. Just when you thought this never-ending genre had sunk to the lowest depths imaginable, here comes Drawn Together, a crass, juvenile and mostly witless Real World-like reality show. ... Just because animated characters give writers an unbridled freedom live actors can't, that doesn't mean those writers should find unimaginative ways to push, no, shove, the envelope of taste. Drawn Together is one animated show Comedy Central should want to erase.” ... See also this USA Today story (also here) on the show.”

In Brief ...
Jaguar X-ing Over webisodeJaguar Movies Pounce on Animation Trend:
MotorTrend Magazine reports, “Jaguar has launched the first in a series of Webisodes to promote three new models of its X-Type premium compact range. The Webisodes are part of an innovative campaign, entitled X-ing Over (pronounced Crossing Over), designed and implemented by interactive marketing communications group, Global Beach. The creative for the five X-ing Over combines original footage with animation from Peter Chung, the animator behind MTV's Aeon Flux and Animatrix. See also press release. ... Need for Govt. Support to Animation Stressed at Seminar: According to Indiantelevision.com, “The animation industry in India would receive a fillup if the government took steps to supports it. One of the steps could be that it mandates that animation channels carry at least 10 per cent of local content. This was a suggestion made by Padmalaya, Zica's Rajiv Sangari at the Broadcast India 2004 Technical Symposium. He noted that France has six animation channels. The French government's rule is that 60 per cent of content come from Europe. Out of that 40 per cent should be from France. 'In India, on the other hand, there is zero consumption of local content. Doordarshan has never bothered about local content.'”

October 25, 2004
The Polar Express

The Polar ExpressDuane Byrge in The Hollywood Reporter enthusiastically notes, “Unwrapped as the closing-night film at the Chicago International Film Festival, The Polar Express was a resounding hit with a Middle American family audience and a fitting coming-home celebration for Chicagoan Robert Zemeckis. A technical landmark for Zemeckis and hundreds of visual effects specialists at Sony Imageworks, this computer-generated family film has, to boot, five Tom Hanks stuffed into its storytelling stocking. The breakthrough presentation, set for domestic release on Nov. 10, should be a runaway worldwide success. ... the film is not sheer wizardry; it also has heart. Zemeckis and co-writer William Broyles Jr. have etched an honorable transposition of the popular story of Hero Boy, who is roused one Christmas Eve to board a train that will take him to the North Pole on a journey of self-discovery. While seeing is believing, Hero Boy learns that the things that are most real in the world are those we cannot see. ... While projected here in 2-D, Warner Bros. Pictures will release a 3-D Imax version of Polar Express that should be an eye-popper.”

Brad Bird on Creating The Incredibles!
Comingsoon.net has this interview where Bird, in commenting on going from 2D to 3D animation, says, ”I think people focus too much on the technique of animation and I think what's the most important areas to a film's success are the same as a live action film. Do we understand the characters? Do we empathize with them? Do we follow them? Is the plot surprising and logical? If we don't do those jobs, we won't have a good film no matter what the technology is. I think what makes a good animated film is what makes a good live action film; I think it's all film. ... With hand-drawn, I think they said, if you laid each drawing end to end and it would go to Mars and back, three times. And it was like, yeah, but that's not the point. You could have a million drawings that don't make you feel anything or you could have 20 drawings that capture feelings beautifully. But people get obsessed with the numbers of things. ... I think a lot of CG films are going to come out because Hollywood loves to overdo anything that succeeds. I think that some of them will be good and a lot of them won't. And when a lot of them start to fail, the inevitable headline will be, 'Audience losing interest in CG films.' No, they won't be because they weren't interested in the technology. They are interested in characters, premise and they are interested in being taken somewhere. And if a film takes them somewhere they want to go, no matter if it's Pixels or drawings or puppets or clay.”

Online Political Clips Get Nasty
Wired News reports, “During the 2004 election cycle, there's been an explosion in the number of online political videos and animated cartoons, said Carl Goodman, curator of digital media at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. The museum archives TV political ads going back to 1952 and is now collecting online political videos from campaigns, political parties and individuals. So far, the museum has 100 online political videos, 40 of which can be viewed in its online Desktop Candidate collection. Goodman said online political videos have proliferated this year because digital production software, such as Flash, is relatively inexpensive; there's greater access to broadband connections; and there's heightened partisanship this election. 'There's tremendous passion that people feel in this election cycle,' he said. 'People are far more polarized.' Although JibJab's humorous animated cartoon This Land is hugely popular — and its latest animated video, Good to Be in DC, premiered on The Tonight Show — the online videos that may have the most influence on the nation's political discourse are those that are overtly opinionated and extremely angry, said Carol Darr, director of the IPDI. 'Most of these videos are very partisan and polarizing, and they are meant to appeal to people with strong political views,' she said. 'They're making politics, which (is) already partisan, more partisan.'”

Cuddly Cartoons Bleed for Money
Happy Tree FriendsAccording to The San Francisco Chronicle, “The San Francisco company Mondo Media, one of the pioneers of Web animation, bet its business on Happy Tree Friends, and in typically unconventional fashion, that bet is now paying off. Mondo, like other companies, once imagined that the Web would be a place to develop animation that it could sell to television or film studios. While that hasn't worked out, it has come up with a new business that has. Happy Tree Friends brings money to Mondo in many ways: The short features air in Europe and Latin America via MTV International; their Web site, where you can check out the characters, brings in an increasing amount of advertising revenue; and DVDs and plush toys (if you can imagine plush toys with the ears bitten off, or with hand mixers stuck in their eyes) sell in stores and online. 'I really want to prove that this model works,' said John Evershed, Mondo's chief executive, who founded the company with his wife 16 years ago, and steered it through the rise and fall of the dot-com era. 'We haven't yet pushed the thing over the edge, but it's on its final ascent.'”

Animation Illustrates How Ideas Evolve
DripEvan Gillespie in The South Bend (Indiana) Tribune feels, “Mark Hosford is as much a social critic as he is a visual artist. His drawings, prints and animations are visually arresting, but they are more than simply an exercise in picture making. Such is the case with Drip. Hosford's animated film is on display at the South Bend Regional Museum of Art through Jan. 9. Watch the film only once, and you'll probably miss the point. 'We are all part of a large production called Society, Hosford explains. 'Society shapes who we are, what we experience, and how we function from day to day.' ... Hosford cites as influences the 19th-century Belgian Expressionist painter James Ensor and the 18th-century Spanish Romantic Francisco Goya. Hosford's drawings, with their odd creatures and scary situations, certainly combine the unsettling activity of Ensor's work with the haunting subject matter of Goya's painting, but an animation like Drip goes a step further to add the contemporary influence of animators such as the Brothers Quay. These twin brothers, themselves profoundly influenced by Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, have gained modest fame for their gritty animated films.”

In Brief ...
Gungrave: The SweeperGungrave: The Sweeper: Andy Patrizio in IGN Insider, in reviewing the American DVD release, exclaims, “Gungrave, an anime based on a console shooter game with no real plot, is proving to be the most entertaining gangster story I've seen in ages. Rage on, Sopranos fanbois, I'm not diminishing the show, just you have your favorite and I have mine. ... Moving Picture Co Moving On: Telegraph.co.uk reports, “ITV is to sell The Moving Picture Company, a provider of special effects for films such as Troy and the Harry Potter series, to Thomson, the French technology group, for more than £50m [£US$91.9m]. The deal has been agreed in principle, but the two sides are still thought to be haggling over an exact price.” ... Scooby's Years of Snacks and Scares: In providing a quick historical overview of the ubiquitous canine, BBC News reports, “Children's cartoon Scooby-Doo has officially become the most prolific TV animation in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

October 24, 2004
Pixar's Mr. Incredible May Yet Rewrite the Apple Story
The New York Times has this story about Pixar's Steve Jobs, which notes, “Even his biggest fans might see Steven P. Jobs, Apple Computer's chief executive, as a brilliant dunce. He has the absolutely best software to run a personal computer but can't figure out how to convert technical superiority into the industry standard. He has the absolutely best portable player for tunes but can't figure out how to convert market dominance on the music side into increased market share on the computer side. He's capable of better, much better. His record as CEO of Pixar Animation Studios — he somehow serves as the boss of two publicly traded companies — suggests that, at Apple, he may yet pass from erratically great to best of the best. In the early years at Pixar, he had incredible technology and no idea what to do with it. But once the strategic vision came into focus, he started on a roll that is unlike any other and continues to this day.”

Where's Mr Spark?
According to The Hindu Business Line, “Sensing sunny days ahead for the animation industry as a whole, a number of institutes have sprung up to provide training in the use of software tools such as Maya and 3D Studio Max. But the key question is: do they deliver the goods? According to Rajeev Choudhry who runs a recruitment company called `iSearch', there are some 10,000 animation professionals, but by next year, the demand will grow to as much as 40,000. Quoting Nasscom, he says that around 3 lakh skilled professionals will be needed in the country by 2008. While training institutes have sprung up, the industry is clearly not satisfied with the quality of training provided. The gap is well recognised: most training providers teach the use of software tools, but the industry wants that and creative skills. Elaborating on this, Srini R. Raghavan, Co-founder and President, Paprikaas, observes that the training offered 'is of very poor quality because there are not many `trainers' available in India.' The 'trainee becomes the trainer' soon after finishing his or her programme. The curriculum does not cover the most important aspects of animation training — 'the art of story telling and film making.'”

October 23, 2004
A 'Toon Take on Reality TV
Drawn TogetherE! Online asks, “What happens when eight strange cartoon characters, picked to live in a house and have their lives taped, stop being polite and start getting real? That's what Comedy Central purports to find out with Drawn Together. Plugged as television's 'first animated reality show,' the series' irreverent debut episode, Black Chick's Tongue in My Mouth, premieres next Wednesday. Although the show is completely animated, creators Dave Jeser and Matt Silverstein claim that their show is just as much 'reality' as any other reality show. 'We manipulate our characters in the same way,' says Silverstein. Okay, so technically Drawn Together is a parody of the Real World-Big Brother variety of reality TV, right down to the communal hot tub. But calling it 'the first animated reality show' makes for more interesting marketing copy.”

Cartoon Makers Cut Up by RTE Snub
TutensteinThe London Times notes that, “They may win Emmys and get Oscar nominations, but Ireland’s animators can’t get RTE to commission their work — even though the station is the second-biggest buyer of children’s cartoons in Europe. Now Irish animation companies are demanding that RTE, which gets half its revenue from the licence fee, invest in home-produced cartoons instead of spending all its money on American and Japanese-made rivals. RTE has just bought Tutenstein, an Emmy-winning cartoon co-produced by Telegael in Galway, from a foreign distributor. The station was asked to invest in the project at a time when the co-producers were struggling to raise finance. But Telegael had to sell Irish rights to the series to Buena Vista International Television in order to get the cartoon financed. ... RTE defended its animation output. 'It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to be major investors in animation as it is extremely expensive,' the station said. 'It also wouldn’t be appropriate for RTE to get involved in industry development as we are broadcasters.'”

Polar Expedition
The Polar ExpressThe publicity machines are starting to grind on Robert Zemeckis' foray into motion capture, The Polar Express, with much ado about its technology and how it has transformed Tom Hanks; many of the stories also seem oblivious to the fact that what is now being called “performance capture” was used on fully human characters before in the ill-fated Final Fantasy. Thus, Newsweek notes, “Almost every new Hollywood blockbuster now arrives with the promise of showing audiences something they've never seen before. Usually, it's baloney. Quantum leaps like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park are rare in visual effects; just as often, big breakthroughs come in lousy packages and quickly vanish, like Sony's 2001 atomic bomb Final Fantasy. Audiences will decide the fate of The Polar Express, but inside the visual-effects industry, there is keen interest in the film. And it's not because of any single magic trick. It's the whole package. Gollum in The Lord of the Rings was created with an early version of performance capture, and the Matrix sequels achieved a high degree of digital realism. But no one's ever mounted an entirely CG film based on the acting of an entirely human cast. 'What they've done,' says John Gaeta, the Oscar-winning visual-effects supervisor of the Matrix trilogy, 'is absolutely landmark.' Along the same lines, The New York Times says, “Whatever critics and audiences make of this movie, from a technical perspective it could mark a turning point in the gradual transition from an analog to a digital cinema. And though the transition may not be as dramatic as the shift from silent to sound prompted by The Jazz Singer in 1927, it may have equally significant consequences.” And see also a similar story in The London Times.

John Hardwick
Trumptonshire TrilogyThe London Times has this obituary of Hardwick who helped create the Trumptonshire Trilogy of children's programs. It notes, “One of the most innovative animators of his generation, John Hardwick, with his partner, Bob Bura, helped to bring to life a trilogy of tales that have entertained children and parents alike for more than 30 years. All three first appeared under the banner of the BBC’s Watch With Mother series. Now regarded as classics of their genre, Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley were originally transmitted between 1966 and 1968. Gordon Murray, the creator and producer, provided puppets and scripts, save on Trumpton .... It was the responsibility of Bura and Hardwick to film the series meticulously, using stop-frame animation. ... Other children’s programmes the partnership filmed included John Ryan’s Captain Pugwash, Mary, Mungo and Midge and Sir Prancelot, all screened on the BBC; the highly respected puppet film of the Stravinsky and Benois ballet, Pétrouchka; and Larry the Lamb for Thames Television, first shown between 1972-74.”

In Brief: VeggieTales Top Tomato & Lemony Snicket
The Intelligencer has this story about what happened to Phil Vischer, who through Big Idea Productions, produced the popular VeggieTales videos and feature film. It notes that he is now free to pursue other creative ideas “because Big Idea Productions went bankrupt last year after losing an $11 million lawsuit about a verbal contract with a distributor, only 10 years after releasing the first Veggie video called Where is God When I'm S-Scared? ... At its peak, Big Idea was a 210-person animation studio in suburban Chicago. The reorganized Big Idea, Inc., has downsized and moved to Franklin, Tenn., just outside Nashville.” ... celebritynews.about.com has this brief preview of the special effects for the movie version of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the series of popular children's books.

October 22, 2004
Ivor Wood
Postman PatTelegraph.co.uk reports, “Ivor Wood, the animator who has died aged 72, worked on some of the best-loved children's television programmes of the last four decades, including The Magic Roundabout, The Wombles, Paddington and Postman Pat [pictured]. In 1963 Wood, who was half-French, was employed as an animator for an advertising company in Paris. There he met Serge Danot, who had come up with the idea for a small-scale animated series, Le Manege Enchante (which became, for British viewers, The Magic Roundabout). ... He was a canny investor ... and became a producer, designer and director of the hugely successful Postman Pat. Woodland productions also included Gran (1982), Bertha (1985) and Charlie Chalk (1987). Wood never expressed an interest in working on adult films and thought that his work would not translate well on to the big screen. Nevertheless, a £14 million [US$25.6 million] feature film version of The Magic Roundabout is due to be released next year.”

Anime Rising
 Ghost in the Shell 2 InnocenceIn anticipation of a local Japanese animation festival in Melbourne next month, The Age has this story by Deborah Cameron about anime, focusing on Production IG producer Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and director Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2 Innocence. She notes, “Conventional filmmakers have found anime impossible to ignore. A long animated sequence was included by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill and the groundbreaking film, The Matrix, was anime-inspired, as was James Cameron's Dark Angel. Not surprising then that major Hollywood studios, including Disney, Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks and Pixar are involved with investments, collaborative deals and distribution arrangements. And for serious cultural endorsement it is hard to go past the Booker Prize-winner, Peter Carey, who writes about anime in his new book, in Wrong About Japan, A Father's Journey With His Son. Carey's encounter with anime is part of the subtext of a meditation on his relationship with his 12-year-old son, Charley.”

October 21, 2004
Product Placement Moves to Cartoons
Shorties Watchin' ShortiesThe New York Times reports, “No joke. A new cartoon series on Comedy Central will incorporate the names and products of sponsors into the animated action. The first episode of the series, an adult cartoon called Shorties Watchin' Shorties, is scheduled for next Thursday night on the Comedy Central cable network, which is owned by Viacom. Viewers will see animated product placements, ranging from subtle to blatant, in three of the seven 30-minute episodes, for three advertisers: Domino's Pizza, Red Bull energy drink and Vans sneakers. A fourth advertiser, Activision, will not have its video games placed in the episodes, but will use the characters — two babies who behave like the rambunctious young adults at whom the shows are aimed — to introduce commercials for a video game featuring the skateboarder Tony Hawk. Comedy Central and the advertisers decline to discuss the financial terms other than to describe the arrangement as a sort of bonus — added value, in industry parlance — for agreeing to buy a certain amount of commercials on a variety of shows on the network. Such packages can run into seven figures.”

Cartoon Revival
Neznaika and BarrabassWith seven children's films being released in Russia on Thursday, The Moscow Times notes that, “standing out from the pack are two full-length Russian features, posing formidable competition, at least locally, to the Hollywood products. In a sign that the local animation industry is returning to form after a prolonged falling-off throughout the 1990s, both Russian films are slated for wide release. Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Shchelkunchik i Myshiny Korol) goes out on 190 prints from the prominent international distributor Gemini Film .... Its local rival for attention over the holiday period is Neznaika and Barrabass (Neznaika i Barrabass) [pictured], which appears around the country on 100 copies. Also remarkable by recent standards is the scale of their budgets. While Nutcracker cost production company Argus International $4 million, Neznaika, a follow-up to the successful Neznaika on the Moon of four years ago, has drawn a quarter of its $3.5 million budget from private studio sources, half from federal funding, and the final quarter from national broadcaster Channel One. Neznaika also set local precedent by screening the film to focus groups of children ahead of time, a Western practice that, directors Svetlana Grossu and Vladimir Gagurin admit, corrected the final edit, particularly in terms of the film's rhythm.”

DVD Reviews: Neo-Tokyo & Postman Pat — Magic
Neo-TokyoAdam Tierney at IGN Insider reviews the American DVD release the anthology film, Neo-Tokyo [pictured]. He notes, “In the 1980s, anthologies and collaborations grew in popularity among Japan's animation directors, but films like Robot Carnival were a real mixed bag when it came to quality of the individual segments. Neo-Tokyo, formerly known as Manie Manie or Tales of the Labyrinth, is one of the few anthologies to retain a certain level of consistency across all three of the shorts it collects. Although each of the directors [Rintaro, Yoshiaki Kawajiri and Katsuhiro Otomo] and has since gone on to more impressive projects, Neo-Tokyo is a wonderful glimpse into their early careers. ... Richard Schuchardt in DVDAnswers has this review of the Postman Pat — Magic Christmas DVD. He points out that, “In a recent survey Postman Pat was recognised by an amazing 95% of parents in the UK. This fact clearly shows that Postman Pat is one of the most popular children’s programmes ever.” He concludes that it “is a fun collection of Pat stories which should keep kids happy this Christmas. ... I have no hesitation in recommending this disc.”

In Brief: Viacom & Disney Settle & Arrival of 'The Polar Express'
According to Reuters, “Children's cable TV channels owned by Viacom Inc. and Disney Corp. have agreed to settle allegations they violated federal advertising restrictions for children's programming, U.S. regulators said on Thursday. Viacom's Nickelodeon Channel will pay $1 million and the Disney's ABC Family Channel will turn over $500,000 to resolve 'potential violations' found during Federal Communications Commission audits conducted in the last quarter of 2003.” ... A few days ago, The Grand Rapids Press had this report on preparations for the local premiere of “The Polar Express, based on the wildly popular children's bestseller by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg.” However, now the same paper reports that a glitch in the gala celebrations has occurred, i.e., “The Pere Marquette steam engine No. 1225 that was the model for the Warner Bros. film, scheduled for a Nov. 5 world premiere at Celebration Cinema, no longer is headed to town as promoters expected.”

October 20, 2004
Can Polar Express Make the Grade?
The Polar ExpressBusinessWeek has this story about John Zemeckis' The Polar Express, which features the talents of Tom Hanks. It says, “In Zemeckis, Warner [Bros.] and Sony [Imageworks] have a true pioneer. He's the director who defied conventional wisdom — and traditional movie-making — with his 1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which spectacularly combined animation and live action in a single frame. Six years later, Zemeckis collaborated with Tom Hanks in the blockbuster Forrest Gump. One of the most memorable moments: Hanks shaking President John F. Kennedy's hand, accomplished by combining old footage with current action in a single frame. If anyone can pull off a performance-capture movie, it would be someone with Zemeckis' verve and imagination. Of course, not everyone in Hollywood is convinced that this marks an evolution in moviemaking Special-effects genius Jim Rygiel, who won three Oscars for his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has his doubts about trying to bring live people to life through animation. 'A computer can't create the soul of a Humphrey Bogart, and the audiences will see that,' he told me recently. And there are plenty of folks buzzing that The Polar Express is Zemeckis' folly.”

Point, Click and Mock on the Wild, Wild Web
tvdance.comAccording to The New York Times, “Beyond the tangle of political blogs, you will find on the Internet assorted bits of political animation. One kind in particular has been gaining ground since Sept. 11, 2001. It's a mutant form born of the marriage of video games and Dada photomontage. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, an animated cartoon of Osama bin Laden, called Nowhere to Run and set to the tune of 'The Banana Boat Song,' appeared on the Internet, circulating widely for months in e-mail messages. ... A little later, Saddam Hussein became the online target, seamlessly slipped in as a replacement villain. ... Now that the election is looming, the online whipping boy isn't Mr. Hussein and it isn't Mr. bin Laden. It is George W. Bush. (Some sites mock John Kerry, but not many.) The substitution is shocking. ... So what does it mean when the same sort of animation is used regardless of whether the target is Mr. Bin Laden, Mr. Hussein, Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry? It means that it doesn't matter. The point is that you can punish someone famous to your heart's content. It is equal opportunity venting. Then there's the question of the punishment itself. The key is repetition. It doesn't matter whether the punishment is spanking, shooting or bombing. The point is to do it and do it again. It is punishment as slapstick. Repetition is always funny. Repetition is always funny.” (Pictured is an image from a tvdance.com animation.)

Animated Feature Seeks to Dispel Muslim Stereotypes
The Orlando Sentinel has this story about the pending American release next month of Muhammad: The Last Prophet. “Distributors of the children's film are taking their cue from Christian filmmakers, although no one connected with the 90-minute cartoon expects the limited run to duplicate the half-billion dollar success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. 'It's not about what the box office generates, but about how much interest and benefit the people can get out of it,' says Oussama Jammal, whose animation production company owns the North American distribution rights to Muhammad. Because of resistance by theater chains, which question whether there is an audience for the film, Jammal's company, Fine Media Group, has had to rent the theaters and sell tickets on its Web site: finemediagroup.com. 'For us, it is about calming down the anxiety about Islam and Muslims in this country,' he says. Many Muslims also hope Muhammad will increase understanding of their faith among the larger American community.”

Top-Earning Fictional Characters
Mickey MouseForbes says, “ According to our calculations, the top ten fictional characters grossed more than $25 billion in 2003. Media giants like The Walt Disney Co. and Viacom took home most of that revenue, but videogame makers, publishing companies and toymakers like Mattel and Hasbro cashed in too. ... Some notable characters didn't quite make the list, including The Simpsons and the Power Rangers.” The top-ranked character is “Mickey Mouse and Friends” (Minnie, Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, Daisy Duck), with an income of $5.8 billion. Other animated characters included in the list include Winnie the Pooh, which is also controlled by Disney, which came in second with $5.6 billion, Finding Nemo's Nemo in fifth place at $2 billion, Yu-Gi-Oh! in sixth at $1.6 billion, SpongeBob SquarePants in seventh at $1.5 billion, and Pokémon's Pikachu tenth at $825 million.”

In Brief: Steamboy & Disney Stores
SteamboyPhilippa Hawker in The Age has this brief review which says, “Set in England in the middle of the 19th century, apocalyptic in its vision of mankind's future, spectacular in its attention to detail, Steamboy is the exciting new anime from Katsuhiro Otomo. Like his earlier film, the remarkable Akira (1988), which was set in neo-Tokyo in 2019 after World War III, the new one is cast in the shadow of the arms race that has ruled the world over the past century, and in particular of the A-bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. ... Mixing 2-D and 3-D animation, Otomo's film is a breathtaking adventure about a young boy grappling with the legacy of his forefathers and a world spiralling out of control.” ... Reuters reports, “Children's Place Retail Stores Inc. said on Wednesday it will buy 313 retail stores from Walt Disney Co., and its stock rose more than 15 percent in late-morning trade. The deal will allow Disney to unload its North American retail chain, which has consistently been a drag on earnings.

October 19, 2004
Truth, Justice and the Middle-American Way
The IncrediblesThe New York Times has this interview with Brad Bird about The Incredibles. Bird “said his aim with The Incredibles was to provoke thought, not to communicate specific values, much less a political agenda. 'When you make a film, people interpret it a lot of different ways,' he said. 'My goal is to create something that works on more than one level. If they want to dig deeper, there's stuff there that can be had.' In some respects, that 'stuff' is likely to resonate more in conservative-leaning 'red' states than in liberal-leaning 'blue' ones. An intact nuclear family, the Incredibles are mired in a boring suburban life, until they dare again to be great in the face of a society suspicious of the outsized and protective of underachievers. Evil trial lawyers are the least of their problems, and Mr. Bird demurs when asked if the unflattering portrayal of them is a conscious tweaking of a lobby that provides large sums to the Democratic Party. 'I just always wondered when a superhero broke through a wall, who was going to pay for that wall?' he said with a smile. 'In the small-minded world we live in, that deed is not going to go unpunished.'”

The Short Story
Not Long Now The Guardian's Pascal Wyse, one of the newspapers two cartoonists who collaborated on an entry, Not Long Now, for the Nokia Shorts filmmaking competition. He says, “Fifteen seconds, that's what the Nokia Shorts competition gives you: 15 seconds to move, amuse, upset, be memorable. Then roll credits — if you've got time — and get the hell out. If you start at the top of this piece and read aloud at a leisurely pace, 15 seconds will probably get you to around ... here. And 15 seconds isn't the only limit placed by the competition. They also want movies that will play on a mobile phone. So far so tight. We have got form for this sort of thing. In the past, my colleague Joe Berger and I have made films lasting three minutes, two minutes, and 45 seconds; so surely we could tighten our belt once more. We could also draw on the experience of writing our comic strip, The Pitchers ... Four-panel comic strips, like micro-short films, force you to get your idea across 'as the crow flies' — by the most direct route.”

Backstage at ILM
Van Helsing JoBlo.com has this article on the collaboration between director Stephen Sommers and ILM on the special effects for Van Helsing. It notes, “Sommers had so much respect for the talent at ILM he even allowed their creations to affect his development of the film. 'On this piece, for instance,' says [Visual Effects Art Designer Christian] Alzmann, holding up a sketch of Hyde and Van Helsing fighting, 'Brian O’Connell, one of our designers, he’s like “Well I’m going to put him on the roof of Notre Dame…and we’ll see all of Paris.” And Stephen saw it and was like, “What was I thinking? I was going to have them inside.”' ... Through numerous iterations of the werewolves, Sommers explained he wanted them, as well as Dracula, to be like the rock stars of their day, correction badass rock stars. The creative team at ILM then added longer, more flowing hair and adding more and more muscle or 'Schwarzeneggering' him as Alzmann puts it. It was at that point when Sommers approved the design and said, 'Yeah! That guy looks like he can crack a telephone poll over his knee!'”

In Brief: Shark Tale UK, Pixar's Quest
CBBC reports, “Shark Tale has stormed to the top of the UK and Ireland box office taking £7.5m [US$1.37m] in its opening first three days.” ... The San Francisco Chronicle has this update on controversy over Pixar's expansion plans which will be decided at the ballot box on November 2. It begins by noting that, “To city leaders in Emeryville, movie animation giant Pixar is the perfect corporate citizen: It creates jobs, pays taxes, supports the local food bank and the arts, and sends some of its money and employees into the local schools. But many Emeryville residents are unaware of Pixar's largesse. What they see is an 8-foot metal fence and a guard shack separating Pixar's corporate headquarters at Park and Hollis streets from the community. Residents describe the company and its 20-acre campus as insular, secluded — even snobby.”

October 18, 2004
All Too Superhuman
The IncrediblesRichard Corliss in Time has this background story on Brad Bird's The Incredibles, which wonders, “This is a Pixar cartoon? Instead of toys, bugs, monsters or funny fish, we get a midlife crisis and, in the first half-hour, enough domestic strife to fill a Mike Leigh film. But yes, this is Pixar, the studio that pretty much invented and perfected computer-animation entertainment, with such spectacular success that it wiped out the traditional approach that its distribution partner, Disney, had virtually patented. ... Pixar, though, is also the studio whose previous two blockbusters, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, were about fathers or father substitutes fretting over their young charges. And it's the place that routinely achieves the unexpected and finds a huge audience to devour it. 'Oftentimes people call animation a genre, and that's completely wrong,' Bird says. 'It's a medium that can express any genre. I often think people stress the technology too much. The heart of the matter is still characters.'”

'Shark Tale' Chews Up 'Team America' at Box Office
Reuters reports, “ In a surprise at the North American weekend box office, the fishy gangsters of reigning champion Shark Tale easily dispatched the frisky marionettes of the much-hyped satire Team America: World Police. According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, DreamWorks' Shark Tale came top for a third consecutive weekend with $22.1 million for the three days beginning Oct. 15. The total for the $70 million-budgeted cartoon rose to $118.8 million. Team America, which many observers had predicted could take the crown, opened at No. 3 with a disappointing $12.3 million.” ... In regards to the performance of Shark Tale, Box Office Prophets feels, “ The film is performing well, but won’t be a home run; it's already passed the box office totals of other DreamWorks animated fare like The Prince of Egypt ($101.2m) Antz ($90.7m) and Chicken Run ($106.8m). While admirable, Shark Tale won’t end up in the realm of the first Shrek movie, which grossed $267.7 million in 2001. The film is now improving on the Ice Age box office pattern, as the Fox film dropped 40% in its third frame [versus 30% for Shark Tale], grossing $18.1 million. After three weekends, Ice Age had $116.9 million on its way to $176 million. Shark Tale should be able to improve on that number — Pixar’s The Incredibles doesn’t open until November 5th, so the DreamWorks kid-pic has the market to itself until then.”

And They Call it Puppet Love
StringsHannah McGil in The Herald has this essay on the endurance of puppetry in the age of the computer, beginning by noting, “There's a running joke in Spike Jonze's film Being John Malkovich about the validity and relevance of puppetry as an art form. 'Nobody's looking for a puppeteer in today's wintry economic climate,' laments the hapless Craig (John Cusack). ... Five years after Being John Malkovich came out, marionettes are also loping and wobbling to the fore. Sean Penn would probably be thrilled to see them employed to satirical effect in Team America: World Police, a controversial satire on the war against terror, created by the team who created South Park and recently released to predictable rumbles of dismay in the US. Next month, the London Film Festival will play host to the UK premiere of Strings [pictured], a Danish fantasy epic entirely peopled by puppets. Even the Royal Shakespeare Company is getting in on the act, having joined with some of Europe's top puppeteers to create its current marionette masque version of Venus and Adonis.

Disney Jet Set Lands in Georgetown
In regards to the forthcoming trial of the shareholder suit regarding Disney's massive exit payment to Michael Ovitz, The Wilmington News Journal reports, “William B. Chandler III, chief judge of Delaware's Court of Chancery, has lived all his life in an area so removed from Hollywood that the only movie theater in town shut down about the time Walt Disney Studios released Sleeping Beauty in 1959. But Chandler's decision to hold a world-class corporate battle involving the Walt Disney Co. in historic Georgetown shows he has the instincts of a screenwriter. By choosing Georgetown as the backdrop for the trial that begins Wednesday, Chandler is dropping some of Tinseltown's outsized egos into a small town so archetypal it could be a set for It's a Wonderful Life. 'For people from Manhattan or Los Angeles, it's going to be culture shock,' said James A. Fuqua Jr., a lawyer with offices on Georgetown's scenic village green known today as The Circle. ... Former board members Roy E. Disney, the nephew of the company's founder, and actor Sidney Poitier — both named as defendants — are expected to be called to the witness stand. Add to this mix the teams of corporate lawyers from New York, Los Angeles and Wilmington. 'They'll see how the other half lives,' said Chandler, head of what many consider the most powerful business court in the country. 'Main Street is not Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. We've got hardworking people with good common sense,' he said.”

In Brief: Montreal Rides Wave & Ollie the Otter,
Ollie the Otter book coverCanWest News Service has this story about how, “In places like the computer graphics lab of the University of Montreal are born the inspirations for the dancing lights and shadows of Finding Nemo and hyper real disembowelments of Doom. The lab's 15 master's and PhD students are on the front lines of the computer graphics explosion created by the boom in computer-animated films and video games. ... Montreal is riding that wave [of computer animated movies], playing host to several gaming manufacturers, animation software companies and training programs. The master's and doctoral theses on display, however, more closely resemble clunky art projects adrift in space than Disney productions. Cows clad in orange fur stand rigid in fields of nothingness. Outlines of what are supposed to be tigers sit like blotches on computer screens. ... Comingsoon.net notes, “Regency has signed a deal to develop its first CG-animated feature film, based on best-selling children's book Ollie the Otter by Kelly Alan Williamson, reports Variety. ... Regency will spearhead creative development on the picture in partnership with Williamson's CritterPix Studios.”

October 17, 2004
Great; Kids' Moral Authority Is Wise-guy Fish Cartoon Films like 'Shark Tale' and 'Shrek 2' Are Teaching Dubious Values to Youngsters
Gabrielle Glaser in The Portland Oregonian recalls, “starting about a decade ago, I swarmed outside the multiplex with my 2-year-old for Pocahontas tickets, paid $4 for popcorn and got a glimpse of the world according to Burbank. What a weird place that has turned out to be. Disney, and its spawn at Pixar and DreamWorks, seem to have a thing against mothers. It's not just Bambi (mother deer dies in opening moments). The tradition of dead mothers persists from remakes of fairy tales such as Cinderella to 2003's Finding Nemo (Mother Clownfish, and all but one of her eggs, are eaten in the first three minutes). Sometimes, the parents are just plain absent. Did anyone else wonder why no one raises the alarm when the adorable little girl in Monsters, Inc. crosses into the fifth dimension? Then, of course, there are the stereotypes. .... But the racial, ethnic and sexual-orientation jokes that get crammed into these movies is downright annoying.”

What Hath the Great Pumpkin Wrought?
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown DVD coverTV Barn has this appreciation of It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which claims that, “Along with [Charles M.] Schulz and musician Vince Guaraldi, who wrote the irresistibly catchy scores to the Peanuts cartoons, veteran animator Bill Melendez is at least partially responsible for turning Halloween into a month-long multi-media event, for children of all ages. Before the debut of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 38 years ago on CBS, Halloween entertainment was pretty much limited to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Bobby 'Boris' Pickett’s Monster Mash and the annual blitz of classic horror movies at the local Bijou. Campuses didn’t routinely erupt in violence, as October gradually morphed into November; Devil’s Night revelers had yet to turn Detroit into the world’s largest ashtray; and The Munsters, The Addams Family and Bewitched were still decades away from being considered classics, worthy of marathon repeats on cable TV.”

October 16, 2004
Eisner vs Ovitz: This Time in Court
Michael Eisner and Michael OvitzCNN/Money has this background story of one of the most anticipated trials in the entertainment industry this year. It notes, “On Wednesday a nasty and grueling battle between Disney shareholders and the company over its ill-fated hiring of former star Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz is set to kick off in a Delaware courtroom. At issue: a pay package valued at $140 million that Disney's board of directors handed Ovitz eight years ago for about 15 months of work. Given all the mudslinging, including charges of cronyism, greed and ineptitude by Disney overseers, the trial and its parade of high-profile witnesses — featuring Ovitz, CEO Michael Eisner and Disney directors — promises to be the blockbuster that has eluded the company this year. Aside from the airing of dirty laundry, the trial is worth watching in part because the charges of gross mismanagement come at an awkward time for Disney's board [when they] are searching for a successor to embattled CEO Eisner.”

October 15, 2004
Company Soars With Dragon Tales
Dragon BoosterThe Vancouver Sun has this story on the recent success of Nerd Corps Entertainment, where “all hands are busy working on the 39-episode computer-animated series Dragon Booster, which launches Oct. 23 on Disney's ABC Family in the U.S., and Oct. 26 on CBC in Canada .... And while no one in the film and television business likes to give out production or revenue numbers -- the show has been rumoured to be worth more than $20 million to the Vancouver studio — both Nerd Corps and Alliance Atlantis, Dragon Booster's international distributor, confirm that the series is on the high-end of the industry scale of $500,000 per episode.” The show, created by The Story Hat, is “set in a world where there are no gas-powered vehicles, and people race around on speeding dragons.” Asaph “Ace” Fipke, Nerd Corps president, “thinks of Dragon Booster as writing a new chapter in computer animation. 'Computer animation on television isn't very good-looking, because there's not enough time to do really good facial animation on characters who look hyper-real,' says Fipke. 'Our approach was to use 3D to show dragons racing at 200 mph, but we wanted it to look like a Saturday cartoon. From that, we were able to piece together an infrastructure of IT and of people that could create that new look.'”

Shrek: The Musical is Broadway Bound
Following on the heels of Disney success in adapting animated movies into hit stage musicals,
Broadway World reports, “Shrek — The Musical, a new musical planned for Broadway, will be directed by Jason Moore with a book by David Lindsay-Abaire. Jason Moore is the director of the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, Avenue Q, and the upcoming revival of Steel Magnolias on Broadway. David Lindsay-Abaire is the author of numerous acclaimed plays, including Kimberly Akimbo, Fuddy Meers and Wonder of the World. Produced by DreamWorks Animation and SCAMP Film & Theatre, Ltd. (Sam Mendes, Director), additional members of the creative team will be confirmed in the coming months with developmental readings of the new musical expected in 2005. ... Sam Mendes will serve as creative producer ... a role he is familiar with having overseen more than 70 productions during his tenure as Artistic Director of London’s Donmar Warehouse Theatre between 1992 - 2002. ... Bill Damaschke, Head of Creative Production for DreamWorks Animation, and producer of its most recent release Shark Tale, will be supervising the production on the studio side.” See also story in The New York Times, which points out that DreamWorks is “placing its most successful franchise in the hands of two young theater talents [i.e. Moore and Lindsay-Abaire] with relatively short track records.”

In Brief: Boo, Zino and The Snurks, 'A Vue,' Warner Bros. China Venture, Steve Jobs is Back, Lucas to Receive AFI Award & 'Hef' as Himself
Boo, Zino and The Snurks (Back to Gaya)Ic Coventry has this brief review of Boo, Zino and The Snurks (originally Back to Gaya) (pictured), “another computer-generated animation that’s worth a look while it’s on the big screen [in the UK]. And that’s despite the 91-minute film having a reworked Toy Story-style plot from roots in Germany — not a land known for its subtle humour. ... as a whole, it is more lively than any of the recent Disney hand-drawn animations of late, not forgetting Titan AE, 20th Century Fox’s expensive and ill-fated hand drawn/computerised cross-breed.” ... According to Margaret Hawkins in The Chicago Sun Times, “'Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.' So said Sigmund Freud, and in [A Vue] a short video at Donald Young Gallery, Joshua Mosley manages to explore this balancing act in a fairly nuanced way, especially considering that he uses stop-motion puppets to enact a drama of love left behind in service to professional duty.”... China Daily reports, “US film giant Warner Bros said it will set up its first movie production joint venture in China with state-owned China Film Group and the privately run Hengdian Group. The new company, Warner China Film, will produce, market and distribute Chinese-language feature films, TV movies and animation, under new rules issued in December that permit foreigners to invest in film and television production companies, a joint statement said. ... The Associated Press notes, “ Steve Jobs, the charismatic chief executive of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios, is back in the swing of things. Jobs attended a news conference Thursday ... his first public appearance since he underwent cancer surgery on his pancreas in late July.” ... According to Comingsoon.net, “George Lucas has been selected by the American Film Institute's (AFI) Board of Trustees to receive the 33rd AFI Life Achievement Award, the highest honor for a career in film, it was announced today by Sir Howard Stringer, chair of the AFI Board of Trustees.” ... In a story about Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Enterprises, Business Week notes “ The 77-year-old is ... working on a screenplay for an animated TV show pilot for MTV. The cartoon, which is to be produced by Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man comics, will star Hef as himself. 'It's a cartoon parody that reveals, for the first time, how people assume that, at midnight, I'm at the Grotto with playmates, whereas I'm really out there fighting crime and evil-doers,' says Hefner.” Maybe they'll call it Son of Striperella?

October 14, 2004
The Animated Journey
40 Million PeopleThe Pittsburgh Tribune-Review art critic Kurt Shaw has this appreciation of the animated cartoons of James Duessing, a professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, four of which are on display at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. He notes that, “While watching [Tender Bodies (2003)], most viewers will more than likely be tugged between gut reactions of amusement, disgust, pleasure and a more critical objectivity with respect to the bizarre narrative direction in which Duesing takes his brand of experimental animation. The bottom line: This ain't no Disney cartoon. 'I'm really interested in the idea of taking animation to a place where you might not expect it to go and to deal with issues you might not expect,' Duessing says. 'It's not what Disney is about. If I wanted to do that kind of work, I'd be working for them. I want it to be art. I want it to transcend the medium. I want to take the medium into a different direction.' ... Duesing says, 'I'm interested in telling a story that explains how life is experienced, not how Hollywood constructs it.'” (Pictured: 40 Million People.)

Prop. 64 Foes Turn to Animated E-mails
Animated political ads have become very much the thing this election year, as is further attested in this Associated Press story which reports, “Financially outgunned opponents of [California's] Proposition 64 have launched a cheap, unconventional weapon — an animated cartoon — to combat a multimillion dollar television campaign waged by businesses that want new limits on lawsuits against them. Interest groups, outspent nearly 16-1 and aiming to defeat the corporate-backed measure, e-mailed a cartoon mocking Proposition 64 to more than 200,000 Californians yesterday, hoping they'll forward it to others and create an online stir. The cartoon parody of the 1970s children's television show, School House Rock, imitates animations by California's JibJab Media, Inc., that have found big online audiences in this year's U.S. presidential race and pioneering Web cartoons launched during last year's recall campaign against Gov. Gray Davis.” See also press release about the film and view the cartoon at www.noonprop64.com.

In Brief: Prophet Mohammed Movie & Actress With Neosho Ties
Mohammed: The Last ProphetAgence France Presse reports (also here), “The first animated movie depicting the life of the Prophet Muhammad will be screened in North America after delays due to 9/11. Muhammad: The Last Prophet will premiere in cinemas in 37 US and Canadian cities for one week from 14 November on Eid al-Fitr — a Muslim holiday marking the end of fasting in the month of Ramadan. Usama Jamal, president of the film's distributing company Fine Media Group, said it was an irony that Americans would be able to watch the US-produced movie after much of the world had already seen it.” ... The Neosho (Missouri) Daily News has this profile of “ten-year-old Chantel Valdivieso, originally of southwest Missouri, is coming-out-of-her skin excited right now as her feature film debut is coming on Nov. 10 with the release of The Polar Express in theaters everywhere.

October 13, 2004
More 'Team America: World Police' Reviews
Team America: World PoliceThe film has generally earned positive, even estatic reviews. For instance, Christy Lemire of The Associated Press says, “nothing can prepare you for the hilarity of hot sex between a couple of marionettes — which almost earned the film an NC-17 rating and will make you laugh so hard, you'll cry — or for the surprising levelheadedness that emerges from what seems, at least superficially, like wild, wacky satire.” ... Christopher Null at Filmcritic.com concurs, noting “Using England’s Thunderbirds TV series as a jumping off point, ... Trey Parker and Matt Stone return with a hilariously bawdy no-holds-barred satire, using marionettes to string together a tale of WMDs, rogue states, the War on Terror, and Alec Baldwin. And while the all-puppet cast may sound like a one-note gimmick, Team America: World Police actually delivers an irreverent overview of the current geopolitical mess.” ... Brian Doherty of Reason, the conservative political journal, points out, “America's role as the world's policeman is the hottest and most contentious topic this election season. Given Parker and Stone's characteristic not-at-all delicate demolitions of the pretensions of officious busybodies, political shibboleths and authorities of all varieties — with a special focus on the inanities of our gods in the world of entertainment — you might have expected the filmmakers to deliver hilariously inappropriate entertainment edged with that potential comedy killer, An Important Point. They delivered.”

Strings Attached
Team America: World Police Lawrence Ferber of 365Gay.com exuberantly proclaims, “Trey Parker and Matt Stone are super, thanks for asking! Creators of Comedy Central’s deliciously un-PC South Park, the duo has brought the world wonderfully queer creations like Big Gay Al — whose uber-pink utterance of 'super, thanks for asking' has become a big gay catchphrase. On South Park and its outrageous 1999 musical feature film, South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, we also saw puppet-wielding teacher Mr. Garrison, gay canine Sparky The Dog, gigantic Barbra Streisand robot Mecha-Barbra, and a flamingly gay Devil sharing a tortured love relationship with his snarky, obnoxious, and kinky lover, Saddam Hussein. ... The controversies — and some pink winks — will certainly keep coming with Parker and Stone’s raucous R-rated marionette ... action film, Team America. ... Stone says they scrapped a gay-themed subplot from Team America involving 'an actor and his big hang-up with his father, who was convinced his son was gay because he was in theater. Maybe he was, maybe not.' Yet their overall embracing of gayness in their work has sparked quite a few rumors to the effect that the pair is actually gay — which is plain ol’ super with them. “When South Park first started there were all these rumors that Trey and I were gay — we don’t care if people want to think that.'”

DreamWorks Animation IPO Could Raise $725 Mln
Reuters reports, “ DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., whose Shark Tale film snagged the No. 1 U.S. box office spot for the second straight weekend, on Tuesday announced plans for an initial public stock offering that could raise up to $725 million. DreamWorks Animation ... set an estimated offering price of $23 to $25 per share for the sale of 29 million Class A shares, it said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Proceeds would be used to fund more movies and to repay early investors in the animation unit of the DreamWorks movie studio formed 10 years ago by Hollywood moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. ... DreamWorks Animation faces challenges. Its television show Father of the Pride has lost viewership since an August debut on U.S. TV network NBC, and it plans to launch two computer animated movies a year which is something no studio has done, not even rival Pixar Animation Studios Inc .” ... See also E-Commerce Times story, which notes, “'The key is that they have to produce content that I want to see,' David Baker, a Boston-based fund manager at North American Management, said in an interview. 'Historically, these types of companies have not been run well. I don't know if that's going to be the case at DreamWorks, but that certainly is the issue at hand.'”

Can a Dream Duo Be Saved?
In the hope springs eternal department, The Los Angeles Times notes (also here), “In The Incredibles, next month's computer-animated offering from Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Co., a bored superhero with a bulging waistline springs back from retirement to save the world. For the two companies, rescuing a planet seems a snap compared with saving a relationship that began imploding in January when talks over renewing their partnership collapsed. But with that deal nearing doomsday, there are flickers of optimism that one of Hollywood's most successful collaborations may be salvaged. ... The personal animus between [Pixar's Steve] Jobs and [Disney's Michael] Eisner is widely believed to have played a central role in the dissolution of the partnership. Last month the Disney chief of 20 years announced that he would leave the company when his contract expired in September 2006. Disney's board is expected to identify a successor by June. People close to Jobs say he would be open to resuming talks with Eisner's successor. In an interview, Jobs declined to answer questions about the Disney-Pixar disagreements. He said the companies were focused for now on making The Incredibles a success. He did, however, note that another Pixar hit would open up more opportunities for the Emeryville, Calif.-based company.”

Dem Video For Youth Gets Howls From GOP
The Forward, the Jewish newspaper, reports, “In an unprecedented effort to boost young Jewish voter turnout, a Jewish Democratic group is circulating an edgy, animated Internet video that relies on biting humor and, critics say, unfair anti-Republican stereotypes. Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, says his group commissioned the satirical cartoon, Bubbie Versus the GOP, in order to reach the 'Generation Y' crowd that tunes into politics through such humor-laden vehicles as Jon Stewart's cable-news satire The Daily Show and the Web site JibJab, which shows animated political parodies set to folksongs. However, the video, which features a Jewish grandmother cartoon 'superhero' wielding an oversized purse, socking it to a council of nefarious-looking caricatures of GOP figures wearing monk-like garb, is provoking howls from Republicans and others, who claim that it crosses the line separating legitimate parody and hateful stereotyping.” See also JTA story.“

Two Minutes with 'Megas XLR'
TechTV has this short interview with Jody Schaeffer and George Krstic, creators of Cartoon Network's Megas XLR. Asked “How did you guys come up with the concept for the show?,” Schaeffer recalls, “We were sitting around playing video games, oddly enough, and we boiled down what we wanted to watch on TV and it just amounted to a big, fat, screaming idiot driving a giant robot.” To which, Krstic adds, “One of the big inspirations for me for this show was — I don’t know if you guys ever watched Robotech or Macross, but like in the very first episode Rick Hunter gets into a robot and instead of being a hero, he wrecks buildings and almost kills Minay. And I was like, 'That’s what I would do, man — I would wreck chicks’ houses just to look at them in a giant robot.' That’s why our hero does what he does — he’s a good guy, but along the way he causes a lot of collateral damage.”

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (Vynález zkázy)
Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person in Locus Online review the DVD release of Karel Zeman's legendary 1958 live-action/animated feature based on several novels by Jules Verne. They note, “Zeman lets out all the stops. This is a live-action black and white movie — but it uses every camera trick and every form of animation known in 1958 .... Methods include stop-motion, paper cutout, drawing and painting animation, drawn foregrounds and backdrops, dissolves, miniatures and models, double exposure (probably in-camera and superimposition), still images, traveling and stationary mattes — they're all here. ... What impresses most about the film is the sheer fanatical devotion to detail, of the meticulous composition of so many diverse elements in a single shot that occasionally puts even such painstaking stop-motion giants as Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen and Nick Park to shame. In terms of black and white trick photography, you'd have to reach back to films like Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. to find anything even remotely comparable, and this is easily an order of magnitude more sophisticated.”

Life Imitates Bart
The SimpsonsThe Age has this interview with Al Jean, executive producer on The Simpsons, which largely focuses on the way the show is produced. It does notes, “The global landscape has changed since [the show debuted 15 years ago]. The Simpsons' incisive social commentary has kept up with the times; the key to its longevity, says ... Al Jean, is making sure nothing else does. 'We have the huge advantage that the characters never age,' Jean says when we meet in his office, an unremarkable weatherboard building on the 20th Century Fox studio back lot in Los Angeles. 'My goal at the end of each year is to return to square one, to have the status quo prevail, so that an episode that is good from season 15 isn't much different from one from season three.' It's a goal he has pretty much achieved, although diehard fans continue to debate when the show hit its stride (about the third and fourth season is the consensus) or which season was its best (the jury is still out). And then there is the ever-present fear that as the show ages it risks 'jumping the shark', that over-used TV term for the point at which a show declines (it refers to an episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie jumps a tank full of sharks on water skis).”

A Whole New World
Back Stage has this profile of Peter Schneider, the former head of Disney Feature Animation who has returned to his theatrical roots and is now directing a “revival of the Tony-winning 1989 Broadway musical Grand Hotel. ... “'Most of my career has been about some aspect of the creation of art,' Schneider says. 'Whether producing it, directing it, or managing it, I have been involved in the creation of very theatrical events, you might say. I was very lucky when I was hired at Disney by Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy Disney. They were looking for someone who knew something about animation, a little about film, and could do 'this and that' rather well. The recommendation given to them about me from a friend of mine was that I didn't know anything about animation and not much about film, but could do 'this and that' very well. So they hired me. This was at a time when animation was not that important to them — certainly not a mainstay for the company. They had just released The Black Cauldron [he chuckles, communicating volumes in the process]. They were doing animated films sparingly and not very successfully.'”

In Brief: IDT Forms New Arc, Tartakovsky Criticizes U.S., Norman Baker's Legacy
Samurai JackIDT seems to be continuing its almost non-stop expansion into animation. Thus, Comingsoon.net reports, “IDT Entertainment today announced the launch of New Arc Entertainment, a film production company producing live action feature films and animated movies in the supernatural/thriller/action genre. New Arc is committed to producing multiple live action features, several animated films and one animated series within its first 15 months of operation.” For more details, see IDT's press release. ... According to Mosnews, “In his interview to the Russian Information Agency Novosti, [Russian-born] Genndy Tartakovsky [the creator of Samurai Jack] said there is too much commerce for creative work in the United States. He added that it is often forgotten in contemporary computer animation that the plot and the characters are no less important than how the cartoon is drawn. 'I want to draw myself, I do everything as they did it in the 1940s,' the agency quoted Tartakovsky as saying.” ... The New York Times has this story which notes that, Norman Baker, whose name might not “readily to mind when thinking of popular American composers. But in a sense, Mr. Baker, known to friends and admirers as Buddy, was for many years one of the most popular composers in the country: at one point, almost 90 percent of the music played at Disney theme parks was composed by him. Two years after Mr. Baker's death at 84, a complete collection of his scores and other papers — including film and television scores for The Mickey Mouse Club and Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, as well as for rides like It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion — is being donated to New York University.”

October 12, 2004
The Ren & Stimpy Show Uncut: The First and Second Seasons ... Or is It?
The Ren & Stimpy Show Uncut: The First and Second Seasons DVD coverMark Zimmer in digitallyOBSESSED reviews the new DVD. He says, “One wonders whether Paramount really understands The Ren & Stimpy Show. The back cover of this package warns that this program 'is recommended for mature audiences only.' But mature audiences will have no interest whatsoever in the goings-on contained in this three-disc set. Immature audiences, such as most dOc reviewers, however, will bust a gut laughing at the first two seasons of this renegade Nickelodeon animated series created by John Kricfalusi. ... The style is a unique combination of the simple lines of the UPA cartoons of the 1950s, melded with the extreme distortions and rapid gag comedy of Tex Avery. The result works incredibly well, using the simplicity of the line work as a means for making the distortions come forth without any restraint at all. And lack of restraint is certainly a watchword for Ren & Stimpy. The program went through legendary censorship battles with Nickelodeon, resulting in significant cuts to many episodes, but happily all of them, including the oft-scissored adventures of Powdered Toast Man, are restored here (though in some cases with video time codes still on screen, where the film version doesn't appear to survive).” ... However, Coury Turczyn at TechTV angrily points out that there are “unfortunately, several cuts. It’s enough to make an angry Chihuahua cry out: 'You fat, bloated eeeediots!'”

IDT Set on Finishing Reeve Movie Project
Christopher Reeve directing Yankee IrvingAccording to The Newark Star-Ledger, “Christopher Reeve's last legacy to film will be an animated children's feature by IDT that is expected to hit theaters in 2006. Reeve, the Superman star who became a quadriplegic after a horse-riding accident in 1995, died this weekend of complications from an infection. The 52-year-old actor was in the midst of directing a film tentatively called Yankee Irving about a poor boy in the Depression who befriends Babe Ruth and delivers a game-winning hit for the Yankees. Reeve had put in enough work during the past 18 months that the project can move forward without him, officials of Newark-based IDT said. ... Animation was a perfect fit for Reeve because there was no need to go on location. IDT rigged up two large computer screens in Reeve's home in Connecticut so he could monitor work done in the company's studios in Newark, Canada and Israel.”

In Brief: DreamWorks IPO Sets Price Range, Pension Funds and Disney, Ovitz Case on Net
CBS MarketWatch notes, “DreamWorks Animation SKG said in a filing with regulators that it plans to offer 29 million shares at $23 to $25 each with expected proceeds of about $700 million in its initial public offering. The filing signals that DreamWorks will soon start its IPO road show and go public within a few weeks.” See also Reuters story. ... Another Reuters story reports, “Four of the biggest U.S. public pension funds said on Tuesday they would press for the right to have shareholders nominate directors to Walt Disney Co.'s board of directors. The funds, including the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the New York State Common Retirement Fund, plan to vote for shareholders to be able to nominate up to two directors at Disney's 2005 annual meeting.” See also CalPERS press release. ... The Los Angeles Daily News reports, “The shareholder lawsuit over the $140 million severance package that the Walt Disney Co. paid to Michael S. Ovitz, its former president, is sure to be one of the most watched trials in recent Hollywood history. For those who cannot afford to spend a month in Georgetown, Del., where the trial is set to begin Oct. 18, Chancellor William B. Chandler III of Delaware Chancery Court has agreed that the proceedings can be shown live on the Internet at www.courtroomconnect.com.”

October 11, 2004
Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui
Bionicle 2 DVD coverScott Chitwood at Comingsoon.net reviews this direct-to-video feature, which is a prequel to Bionicle: Mask Of Light. He notes, “Since I saw the first Bionicle movie, I figured I would be well prepared to follow this sequel. However, since it is a prequel to that first film, I ended up being just as lost with the story as I was on the previous film. Unless your bedroom is lined with Bionicle figures, you're going to have a really hard time following this plot as well. It makes very little sense and, like on the first movie, the only parts that are easy to follow are the chase sequences. Good Guy vs. Bad Guy – that I can understand. The best thing about Bionicle 2 is the production design. The environments are stunning and imaginative. The cities all have different designs which are quite creative.”

In Brief: 'Taps,' Marvel Studios CEO, Hollywood Post for Pat?
TapsThe Western Mail has this interview with animator Matthew Gravelle about Taps [pictured], a three-minute film about two taps creating a rhythm with dripping drops of water [which] has been selected at 18 film festivals worldwide, including the Cannes Film Festival and British Animation Awards. ... Gravelle [who has been working with Joanna Quinn at Beryl Productions in Cardiff for the past five years] claims the reason for his success is his ability to entertain. 'I get a real buzz from making people laugh, it has been my drive since I played around with SuperTed as a four year old,' he says.” ... The Philippine Daily Inquirer interviews Avi Arad, president and chief executive officer of Marvel Studios, which focuses mainly on various properties, such as The Punisher, which are in the process of being adapted to the big screen and on how their comic books are developing. ... The Manchester Evening News reports, “Postman Pat could soon be a star of the big screen if Hollywood bosses get their way. A number of leading American film studios, including Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures, are understood to be among those seeking to acquire the film rights to a string of British television favourites, including Postman Pat.

October 10, 2004
Team America: World Police
Team America: World Police
Kirk Honeycutt in reviewing the film for The Hollywood Reporter (also here) says, “Team America: World Police is to political commentary what lap dancing is to ballet. There is no room for subtlety. Aiming a rude, foul-mouthed political satire everywhere — left, right and center — Trey Parker and Matt Stone blow up a good deal of the world, not to mention the egos of many Hollywood personalities in Team America. Unlike their South Park TV series and one hilarious movie, which used crudely animated kids to deliver comical punch, Team America tackles a world of terrorists, pacifist actors and WMDs with marionettes. ... But some of us who delight in South Park, where the humor was more social than political, may wonder if the lads have strayed into territory where they are less at home. The film is only intermittently funny and truly does raise a question of how often can one resort to the same foul words for laughs without becoming tiresome.” ... Meanwhile, The New York Daily News has this story about the film's politics, specifically its rumored anti-Bush sentiments. It concludes, by noting that, “Jerry Beck, author of "Looney Tunes: The Ultimate Visual Companion," says it's clear that Stone and Parker know their animation history. More important, they're funny. 'A puppet of Kim Jong Il smacking Hans Blix, that just makes me laugh,' he says.”

With IPO in Works, DreamWorks Savors 'Shark' Success
Shark TaleUSA Today notes, “ Executives at DreamWorks Animation had to have breathed a sigh of relief this past weekend. With a $650 million IPO in the works, the company demonstrated that it isn't a one-Shrek pony. DreamWorks' computer-animated feature Shark Tale emerged as a solid hit, despite mixed reviews, remaining at No. 1 with $31.7 million at the box office. The 33% drop from the surprisingly strong $47.6 million it generated when it opened last week suggests that the film .... has, well, legs. 'Anything under 40% is a moderate drop, and less than 30% is noteworthy,' says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. ... Now that Shark looks like a hit, DreamWorks will be able to make a stronger case to investors that the animation studio has a distinctive identity — blending family-friendly stories with a sophisticated visual style — and strong relationships with Hollywood stars.” However, Box Office Prophets continues to point out the film is “likening itself to the pattern of Ice Age, which grossed $176.4 million domestically.”

Web Wizardry
The Malaysia Star has this profile of “Ipoh-born Foo Sing-Choong, 34, senior technical director for Sony Pictures Imageworks” where his credits include Spider-Man 2. “While fellow Malaysians Tan Suan Ching and Tan Ka Yaw were involved in the lighting of digital scenes in the latest Spider-Man movie, Foo has the distinction of being with the show from the start. Whether it was Spidey battling it out with super villain Doc Ock on the face of a building hundreds of metres high, or the Green Goblin zooming around on his glider, Foo was the one responsible for making the characters look as real as possible. Although not directly involved in the animation side of things, his team had the important task of making sure the characters’ visual effects blended as naturally into the background as possible through the power of computer graphics.” In terms of future plans, he says, “I’m hoping to be able to do the visual effects for an Asian animated feature, perhaps even a blockbuster for China or Hong Kong. When I was in Beijing and Taiwan, I was also exploring opportunities there. I would also be quite happy to work on a Malaysian animated feature. I’d love to do a production of my own someday. It would be something adventurous and suitable for all ages.”

October 9, 2004
Puppet Masters

Team America: World PoliceThe Boston Globe has this interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone about the making of their newest movie, Team America: World Police. It notes, “To bring the puppets to life, they turned to the Chiodo brothers (Elf, Pee Wee's Big Adventure), whose eponymous firm says its goal is to 'bring fantastic characters to life.' But they'd never encountered anything like Team America. Edward Chiodo called it unparalleled among puppet movies. Each puppet had at least 10 strings. Motors in their heads controlled facial expressions. All told, they used 95 mechanical heads with changeable faces and 160 bodies to create more than 300 characters. And Parker didn't want them to move like marionettes typically move, with play-to-the-rafters gestures. He wanted them to move like humans. 'There are some very subtle performances,' Chiodo said. Only a week ago, they were still tinkering with Team America, noting that every week South Park was in production, they made the noon Wednesday deadline by minutes. ('We didn't write our term papers the night of; we did it the morning of,' Stone said. 'Now we're still doing it, proving that you can do it and be successful.')”

The Cosy Nostra
Shark TaleThe Sunday Herald has this interview with Adriano Vincentelli, who tutors a class at the University of Wales on the Mafia, on Shark Tale and other cinematic depictions of the Cosa Nostra. It begins by asking, “What has happened to the Mafia? Or, at least, to our fictional representations of the Mob? Where once upon a time Italian gangsters addressed their grievances by putting a horse’s head in your bed (the iconic Godfather act rumoured to have been how Frank Sinatra clinched his role in From Here To Eternity), nowadays we’re more likely to find them in a therapist’s office, like sitcom anti-hero Tony Soprano talking about his 'muddah.' Where we used to thrill in fascinated horror to real-life stories of the 'Dapper Don' John Gotti taking a chainsaw to some guy who’d pissed him off, now we smile indulgently at wiseguy fish. A marine Cosa Nostra is the premise of the new DreamWorks animation Shark Tale, which is set to do for sharp-toothed cartileginous sea creatures what A Bug’s Life did for insects. ... It could be argued that the Godfather trilogy represented a golden age of Mafia films; the story may have been told from the inside but we all knew these were the bad guys in a black-and-white moral world. So have we pushed on through the silver age of Married To The Mob in 1988 and GoodFellas in 1990 (made just after some of the most celebrated Mafia prosecutions in America), and more lately the equally comic Sopranos, to a new age of cinematic lead, where the smiles of Analyze This, its sequel Analyze That (2002) and the forthcoming Shark Tale are just an uncomfortable cover for the recognition that the Mafia carries on pretty much undisturbed?”

Hey, Buster, Let Me Tell You Something
Postcards From BusterThe New York Times has this story about the new PBS series, Cookie Jar Entertainment's Postcards From Buster, a spinoff of the network's popular Arthur show. “In the series, Buster's father, a pilot, flies a band, Los Viajeros (The Travelers), to concerts around the United States, as well as in Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. Buster, a bunny of divorce, accompanies his father to these new places, relaying his adventures to Arthur and pals via video postcards depicting the children he meets along the way. 'We wanted to cover as much of the United States as we could the first year,' said Marc Brown, an executive producer of the series and the author and illustrator of more than 100 Arthur books. ... The show is careful never to mix animation and reality. When Buster is on camera, the show is animated. During the live-action scenes, Buster is off-camera, asking questions like any good documentarian. Children reply to what Mr. Brown calls the Buster-cam.”

Online Game ‘Ragnarok' Now a TV Series
The Manila Bulletin reports, “To capitalize on its popularity, ABS-CBN and Level-Up formed a tandem to bring Ragnarok on television for its young fan base. It is also targeted for adults who have enjoyed the game since its onset. The Ragnarok TV series is dubbed in Filipino for a wider market reach. And from ABS-CBN’s past experience of dubbing animations, having a series in Tagalog is a surefire formula for the animé’s success. ... When you watch the animation, a lot of the personality of the game has been adopted into the series, like very Filipino things were adopted. I think that is what links the two together. The fact that, I just heard about it and I think it is true. For the first time in Philippine animation, a character has even a provincial accent, from Marinduque,' said Ben Colayco, manager of Level-Up. 'What is also good is that they are very open to what we want to do that we can tie in a lot of ingame events. We are working on the total experience and not just a TV show, games and merchandize. All of it comes full circle and I think the only group that could do it is ABS-CBN.'”

October 8, 2004
This Land' Spoofers Return With 'Good to Be in DC'
Good to Be in DCRichmond Times Dispatch columnist Ray McAllister notes, “The JibJab boys have done it again. A few hours ago, on The Tonight Show, Gregg and Evan Spiridellis unveiled another Internet parody to follow up their nuclear blast of a hit, This Land Is Your Land. ... 'In late July when we were on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno asked us if we'd like to make something for the show,' Gregg Spiridellis said yesterday morning in a phone interview from his California office. ... '[The popularity of This Land] talks to the power of the Internet as a populist medium,' Gregg said. 'We don't have expensive equipment. We have desktop equipment, $300 software, Web-hosting equipment available to anyone.' DC may bring in a little more money, including a share of Internet advertising and DVD sales. There were fees from The Tonight Show, 'but we worked nonstop for five weeks; if you figured out the hourly wage, we'd be better off working at McDonalds,' Gregg said. ... The computer-oriented ZDNet points out that, “JibJab's seemingly overnight catapult to Internet stardom underscores the Web's ability to reward creative professionals who are able to craft something that appeals to a wide audience. In this year of a hotly contended presidential race, Spiridellis has turned a side project that he and his brother Evan launched for their own entertainment into a catalyst for his company's business.”

When Moats Collapse
Columnist Rick Aristotle Munarriz of The Motley Fool reflects on the future of Pixar after going to see Shark Tale with his family. He begins by noting that, “before the movie even started I had come to some worrisome conclusions. I enjoyed catching the trailer to Pixar's latest flick. Next month's release of The Incredibles is promising. It's the next-to-last feature under its contract with Disney; it's important to see Pixar finish strong on the way to its potentially lucrative independence. Yet right after that cinematic glimpse came a trailer for Robots. It's another computer-rendered animation film from the makers of Ice Age. The springtime release looked sharp and loaded with Robin Williams and his high-octane humor that served Disney so well on Aladdin. It looks like Fox has a winner here and that Blue Sky Studios' first hit was no fluke. The trailer after that? It was DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar [which] got a great response from the crowd .... It was at this point that my wife leaned over and whispered that it seems as though Pixar is being outPixared.”

A Touch of the Old Magic

The Magic RoundaboutThe Guardian has this interview with Martine Danot, widow of Serge Danot, creator of “The Magic Roundabout, one of the most successful British children's programmes of all time,” which is now being made into a feature film. It notes, “The Magic Roundabout was not British but French. It began life in the early 1960s as Le Manège Enchanté and was created by Serge Danot, a former decorator whose only previous claim to fame was that he had once helped paint the Eiffel Tower. His pink, red, blue and orange merry-go-round was set in a garden where the colour green, which he hated, was strangely absent. ... He also teamed up with the British animator Ivor Wood, who went on to create Paddington Bear, the Wombles and Postman Pat. Each five-minute episode took up to two weeks to produce. ... France's state broadcaster originally commissioned 13 programmes, the first of which went out in black and white in October 1964. It was an instant hit, and a further 50 episodes were ordered. In the end Danot made around 700 and The Magic Roundabout was translated into 28 languages worldwide, including Iranian and Japanese.”

Legal Briefs: Peter Pan Rights, Ovitz Trial and Copyright and the Mouse
Peter and the Starcatchers cover
The Associated Press reports, “A trial challenging the $140 million severance package awarded to former Disney president Michael Ovitz may be delayed until February because of new documents produced just weeks before the trial's scheduled start.” ... According to Telegraph.co.uk, “The cartoon characters of Disney have kept children amused for generations. Less funny, they may find, is a dispute between the film empire and London's Great Ormond Street Hospital over money which might otherwise be used to treat sick children. The hospital is to consult lawyers next week to investigate whether a children's adventure book published by Disney in America [Peter and the Starcatchers] infringes the hospital's long-held ownership of the copyright of J M Barrie's Peter Pan.” ... Digital Journal has this story (also here) which discusses the impact of the copyright extension bills passed in 1988, sometimes known as “the Mickey Mouse Copyright Act,” and how it not only impacted film but also digital technology.

October 6 - 7, 2004
More on Drew Carey's Green Screen Show

Drew Carey's Green Screen ShowDrew Carey's new TV series combining improv with animation has gotten a mixed reception' On the positive side, David Bianculli in The New York Daily News notes, “Most of the Whose Line [Is It?] gang is back, and when the added animated gags don't grab you, the comics' quick wit will' In the opening 'Boot Camp' sketch next week, Carey orders the players to restrict their dialogue to one-syllable words' The green-screen background changes to a military barracks, the actors' clothes change to uniforms, and Colin Mochrie as the drill sergeant yells to Brad Sherwood as the private, 'Give me 10 — twice!' Like a lot of things in Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, that made me laugh' Expect no less tonight, and any other night you happen to tune in to watch'” However, Robert Bianco in USA Today says, “No doubt the idea seemed like a natural' But as it turns out, adding animation to improvisation does a disservice to both formats' The animation is hemmed in by the actors, and the improvisation is made too literal by the animation'”

Duo Probes Body-Tech Links
Speaking of improv, Georgia Straight has this story about “Portrait of Buddha and Endangered Species, the multimedia performances that Pierre Hébert and Bob Ostertag will present at the Western Front [in Vancouver] on Thursday (October 14), as part of the New Forms Festival. ... Both artists are pioneering figures in the world of sampling and looping, the Bay Area-based Ostertag as an electronic musician and sound designer, Montreal's Hébert as an animator and film-maker. Ostertag was also one of the first performers to use synthesizers and laptops in improvised music; Hébert's scratch-animation techniques build on the National Film Board's long history of experimental cinema. And both continue to expand on their earlier work, refining their innovative techniques while inventing new ways of using digital media, always with an eye and an ear towards the relationship between the human body and technology. ... Animation and computer music are generally thought of as laboratory- or studio-based arts, but Hébert and Ostertag have each found ways of injecting physical drama into their work. The filmmaker's scratch-animation techniques find him frenziedly creating and overdubbing images in real time; his gestures become a kind of dance that corresponds to what's being shown on-screen. Ostertag isn't quite as demonstrative, but likes to use the human voice as the starting place for his electronic compositions.”

October 5, 2004
Drew Carey's Green Screen Show
Drew Carey's Green Screen
Barry Garron in The Hollywood Reporter (also here) has this review of the new TV comedy which combines improvisation with embellishments provided by a wide range of independent animators under the aegis of Acme Filmworks. He says, “The latest thing in comedy, it turns out, is enhanced improv, a mixture of spur-of-the-moment comedy and meticulously considered animation. That still may not make improv anyone's favorite TV viewing genre, but it moves the ad-lib form of comedy a giant step closer to that direction. Drew Carey, who previously demonstrated his improv acumen with ABC's Whose Line Is It Anyway? is back at it with Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, a dull but accurately descriptive handle. In it, Carey and his troupe play improv games while standing before a green screen that would be the envy of any TV weatherman. The games are taped and then given to animators, who suggest possible ways to inflate the humor through cartoon backgrounds and other animated business. ... Does it work? Yes, and sometimes the animation is even funnier than the improv.... In the end, the WB Network and Carey are not expecting a monster hit, particularly against formidable Thursday night competition. It will be enough if Green Screen maintains the audience level of Blue Collar TV, which precedes it.”

Final Disney-Pixar Pairings: the Buzz: 2 'Toy Story' Sequels
New York Newsday reports (also here), “Walt Disney Co. is working on not just one but two new sequels in the Toy Story series at the same time, Disney chief executive Michael Eisner said yesterday. ... 'We're doing two Toy Stories at once,' Eisner said in listing some of Disney's film plans at a Goldman Sachs investment conference in Manhattan. A spokeswoman in Los Angeles for Disney studios later elaborated, saying, 'They're working on different story ideas with the hopes there will be a Toy Story 3 and another after that.' ... Disney is trying to rev up its own computer animation department because traditional animation has fared poorly in recent years. Among its computer animation plans, Disney is producing Chicken Little, which Eisner said will cost half as much as competitors spend on such films. Still, the question remains whether on its own, Disney can come close to Pixar's unbroken streak of huge triumphs with computer-animated films.

October 5, 2004
Disney Studio Climbs Ladder
The Motley Fool, in commenting on the dismissal box office record of Disney movies of late, notes, “One project on the horizon that will no doubt have audiences lining up is The Incredibles, by Pixar; we're nearing the release date of that film, which now has a lot of pressure on it in light of Dreamworks SKG's recent success in the computer-animation field. Steve Jobs thinks he doesn't need Disney, right? Probably doesn't. Yet Pixar, to me, is no longer the monopolist that lords over films generated by software algorithms. Shark Tale was the big fish that swam past [John] Travolta and his firefighting brethren [in Disney's Ladder 49] to earn more than $47 million; when one couples that with the Shrek 2 home run this past summer, it's easy to see why Pixar's moat of advantage may not last forever (as well as why Dreamworks may have a little IPO in the offing, one meant to float the burgeoning value of its animation section).”

Puppet Sex Ratings Row Settled
Team America: World Police  posterReuters reports, “Team America: World Police received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America after producers made several changes to the film to avoid the more restrictive NC-17 label, officials from the MPAA and distributor Paramount Pictures confirmed. Agreement on a rating for the film from Matt Stone and Trey Parker — creators of the animated cable TV series South Park — came just four days before the movie is slated to open for 'sneak previews' in 800 theaters nationwide. ... according to the Los Angeles Times, the MPAA board and the film's producers were at odds over a scene that depicts simulated sex between the wooden marionettes. Producer Scott Rudin told the Times that at least nine variations of the scene in question were submitted, each one progressively less explicit, before the MPAA ultimately relented and approved with an R-rating.”

'Healthy' Advert for High-Sugar Cereal Receives Frosty Response
Tony the Tiger Frosties TV commercialThe Scotsman notes, “Food giant Kellogg’s has been ordered to change the advertising for its top-selling Frosties breakfast cereal after the product was branded 'high in sugar'. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched an investigation after a complaint about a football-themed commercial for Frosties that included the slogan 'train hard, eat right and earn your stripes'. ... The complaint, from a member of the public, centred on a cinema commercial for Frosties that showed young boys dribbling a football through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The animated character Tony the Tiger appears in the next scene carrying a packet of Frosties and says: 'Not bad ... but we can do better than that.' A voice-over then adds: 'Train hard, eat right and earn your stripes.'”

John Hardwick
TrumptonAccording to Telegraph.co.uk, “John Hardwick, who died while out cycling on September 24 aged 67, was with Bob Bura the animator of the classic children's television programmes, Camberwick Green, Trumpton [pictured] and Chigley. The Trumptonshire trilogy, part of the Watch with Mother series, was devised by the puppeteer Gordon Murray, who created the characters and storylines and made the original puppets. Bura and Hardwick, partners since Hardwick left school, then adapted the figures by adding wire frameworks and painstakingly filmed the three series as stop-motion animation. By suggesting colour filming, they helped make programmes that would be successfully repeated for years to come. ... Bura and Hardwick later did the animation for Captain Pugwash, and made an acclaimed puppet film of Stravinsky and Benois' ballet Petrouchka (1968). In the early 1970s they made the 13 episodes of the television series of Toytown.

October 4, 2004
'The Movie Will Either Kill the Show or Completely Reinvigorate It'
The Guardian has this interview with Matt Groening about The Simpsons, which notes, “The 50-year-old, who embodies the same mix of cynicism and naïve enthusiasm that make his characters globally famous, insists that as the show enters its 16th season in US, his passion for it remains undimmed. 'A few years ago I thought, well, we've got to run out of steam soon and that we'd be done by now. We're not, in fact we're going full steam ahead.' While he admits that for a time he felt that the iconic show was winding down, he now believes it will run and run, perhaps to the end of the decade. And beyond that plans for a Simpsons movie are well under way: 'We're trying to tell a story that we wouldn't do on television and take advantage of a longer process and a more ambitious process for animation,' says Groening, who looks uncannily like a live version of a character from Springfield, the fictional town where the show is set. 'Everyone on the show this year seems really re-energised and we're starting to throw out ideas for the movie and I think that will either kill the show or completely re-invigorate it,' adds Groening .... The bad news for its millions of fans around the world is that it looks like the end is in sight. The overall impression from a day spent with some of the sprawling team of producers, writers, animators and voice talent that make the show is that the goal is to reach 20 seasons, which would take it to 2009 in the States.” The interview was widely reported elsewhere, including this story in The New York Post.

Alice: Her Past Is The Future
Alice: Her Past Is The FutureRandy Miller III in DVD Talk reviews the American DVD release of Kenichi Maejima and Masahiro Yoshimoto's Alice: Her Past is the Future (1999), which he feels “is a movie that hasn't aged very well, and that's rare for a film that's just celebrated its fifth birthday. As Japan's first feature-length CGI motion picture, Alice shares the same problems as the visually superior 2001 release Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: it's more eye candy than anything else. The real problem, though, is that the eye candy just doesn't look that good anymore. Over the past five years, CGI technology has really made some great leaps forward, to the point where most any video came cut-scene is more refined than the bulk of Alice. ... Still, there's a certain charm here, and the notion that it was one of the first major steps toward a fully-rendered CGI film gives it a slight handicap.”

October 3, 2004
Shark Bites Into October
Shark Tale DreamWorks' Shark Tale took in $47.6 million for its opening weekend, shy of the October record set last year by Scary Movie 3 at $48.1 million, but still impressive; however, it was shy of the $49.1 million the studio first projected. Box Office Prophets reports, “ Much was riding on the DreamWorks’ release of Shark Tale, as more than the usual tens of millions were at stake over the course of a normal box office weekend. DreamWorks is set to spin off its animation unit, so many investing eyes were anxious to see how the animated feature Shark Tale would perform at the box office. DreamWorks’ animation unit has had a string of hits and misses, so a strong performance here would go a long way to solidifying a high IPO price, and build on the huge success of Shrek 2. The box office was primed for a breakout performer; business has been dreadfully slow through September, with the youth market considerably under-served. ... The opening is eerily reminiscent of Fox’s Ice Age, which found $46.3 million over its opening frame in March 2002. That film went on to make $176 million domestically for 20th Century Fox and an awesome $206.3 million overseas. If Shark Tale can repeat that success or even build on it, that IPO should have no problem unloading.” See also Bloomberg and Reuters stories.

Incredible Strides Made in Animation
The IncrediblesJohn Canemaker in The New York Times has this essay on the challenge faced by the people at Pixar in rendering human characters in CGI in Brad Bird's new movie, The Incredibles. He notes, “Pixar, the phenomenally successful pioneer of 3-D computer-animated feature films, avoided the issue. Toys, dolls, insects, monsters and fish have been the heroes of Pixar's hits. When people appear in Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc. or Finding Nemo, they are supporting players, from the dentist in Nemo to the children in Toy Story. The emotional weight of these films rests with their non-human characters. That's a good thing: Although they look persuasively three-dimensional, computer-generated animated figures tend toward a cold, metallic sheen that works for fish, toys and bugs but defeats any resemblance to living, breathing people. On-screen, computer-generated humans often have seemed stiff and plastic; one animator described it as a marionette-made-out-of-glass quality. ... With no monsters or animals to distract from the human characters, Bird had to lift the 3-D animation of people to unseen levels of sophistication and expressiveness. [The human characters] would have to look better and move more convincingly than any of their computer-generated forebears; most important, they would have to convey emotion believably.” On a more business-oriented note, USA Today has this report on the marketing of the film, noting, “ A tenuous relationship between Disney and animation studio Pixar has not stopped marketers from teaming on promotional tie-ins for the partnership's latest potential blockbuster release, The Incredibles.

Cartoon Shorts Become Popular TV, Film Spinoffs
The Animatrix
This Associated Press story points out that, “The movies Van Helsing, The Chronicles of Riddick, and the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer ... have tried to expand their reach through animation — from short stand-alone films to TV shows. Short cartoons, like music soundtracks in the 1980s, are becoming popular movie and TV spinoffs that have an artistic legitimacy beyond simple merchandising. And with 3-D computer animation such as Shrek 2 and Finding Nemo taking over the feature film market, these shorts may be among the few places fans can see traditional hand-drawn animation. ... The live-action cartoon trend started with The Animatrix [pictured], a series of animated shorts that ranged from realistic computer graphics to moody Japanese anime. They told side stories from The Matrix and added to the plot of the Matrix sequels by detailing supporting characters and providing background history of how the Earth became dominated by machines. 'With animation, it costs just the same if you portray something mundane and ordinary, like a guy running down the street, or if you show a battle between robots and people,' said Peter Chung, who directed the segment Matriculated and made the animated shorts Aeon Flux for MTV in the 1990s. 'It becomes less expensive (comparatively) the more fantastical the imagery is.'”

October 2, 2004
Disney Shareholder Suit Going to Trial
The Associated Press has this rundown of what's at stake in the ongoing Disney shareholder suit regarding the failed presidency of Michael Ovitz. “Shareholders are objecting to Ovitz's severance package, valued at about $140 million. The lawsuit charges that Disney's board at the time was negligent in not consulting an expert before approving Ovitz's contract and that Eisner let Ovitz collect the money to avoid personal embarrassment. The trial is set to begin Oct. 18 in Delaware, where, like so many companies, Disney is incorporated. Although Eisner and then board members including Ovitz are defendants, shareholders brought the suit on behalf of the company, which would benefit from any judgment. ... Ovitz recently succeeded in dismissing part of the case against him, but must still defend his role in approving his severance package.”

Pixar Plans Spur Animated Fight
The Oakland Tribune, in an update on a ongoing battle, notes, “ It would be hard to find anyone in Emeryville who hates Pixar, and more than a few people are mighty proud to share the famous animation company's zip code. Yet in a classic Toy Story battle, hundreds of small-time Emeryville residents are trying to block the well-armed studio's massive expansion plans unless the company agrees to ante up for job training, child care and affordable housing, and hire more local residents. Those same residents gathered enough signatures to place the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot in the form of Measures T and U. Both measures seek to overturn the city's approval of the Pixar expansion and development agreement [approved earlier this year by the City Council], ostensibly so the city will go back and ask more from the company. In addition to their other demands, they want an environmental impact analysis for the vast project, which would add 533,000 square feet of office space and a six-story parking garage ....”

The First Feminist Cartoon: Betty Boop
Betty BoopPhoenix Morric in this article on Useless-Knowledge.com has this appreciation of Betty and the Fleischer Studios, which makes a case for her adult appeal. He notes, “'Boop-Oop-A-Doop,' are words that don’t make sense until you’re exposed to the worldwide phenomena of Fleischer Studio’s Betty Boop. She was not a counterpart meant to be put down by a male, but instead represented a type of feminism in the early 1930’s. Her wide-eyed innocence, mixed with a cartoonish sensuality, she is the animation world’s first Leading Lady. ... Her creators lived in Times Square, New York, and by studying the women on the street practicing the 'oldest profession in the world,' she achieved a realism of femme motion through careful observation by her creators. Detailed silhouettes of her femme form as they had her pass in front of an animated light form, revealed her creator’s in-depth knowledge of the female form.”


Animation Consultants International
News on the Web — October 2004