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November 30, 2004
China Hurries to Animate Its Film Industry
Through the Moebius Strip
According to The New York Times, “Early next year, Global Digital Creations Holdings, a fledgling animation studio that has mostly labored in anonymity, is aiming for the big time with the worldwide release of its first 3-D feature film, Thru the Moebius Strip, a science-fiction adventure about a determined boy's time travel to another galaxy to rescue his stranded father. France's most famous comics artist, Jean Giraud, whose nom de plume is Moebius, came up with the story, which draws on elements of Jack and the Beanstalk and the breadth of science-fiction history from Jules Verne to The Matrix, and joined with G.D.C. to develop it. Moebius, who broke new ground in comics art in the 70's with his magazine Métal Hurlant, the precursor [to] Heavy Metal, had worked on effects-heavy films like Tron, Alien, The Abyss and The Fifth Element. Frank Foster, former vice president for multimedia at Sony Pictures Imageworks, is also on board as one of the producers, and Glenn Chaika, who was an effects animator on The Little Mermaid and directed Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, is the director. ... Now, with the sophisticated images coming out of this studio, China seems to be serving notice to the Disneys and Pixars of the world that its day is arriving in the lucrative business of 3-D computer animation.” However, Temple University's John Lent, a leading expert on Asian animation warns that, “One of the problems I hear coming out of China and many other places in the Far East is the storytelling. Zhang Yimou, the director of Hero said himself that when they have a good story they want to make a motion picture out of it, not an animated film.”

Kids' Choice — TV, Press, Net, Radio
Media Week reports, “The Childwise Monitor, a market research group specialising in children, has found the amount of time children watch TV has fallen over the past couple of years. But,much to parents’ irritation, the new number-one distraction is still screen based — the game console. Cinema attendance among this group is up, bolstered by big blockbusters, such as the Spiderman films and Shrek 2, while comics and magazines remain favourites, especially among pre-schoolers. ... Pre-school children (and their parents) particularly like the BBC channel, Cbeebies, making it the most-watched children’s channel at 7.4% of share according to Barb. The under-11s are unequally shared between the animation heavy channels such as Cartoon Network and Boomerang and the live action ones, such as Fox Kids and CBBC. The Beeb tops this age, as well, grabbing 6.1% of share, followed by Boomerang at 5.7%. ”

So What Is the Missing Piece?
Jesh Krishnamurthy at Indiantelevision.com, who says he has “been away from India for 11 years working in visual effects and animation on various projects for the Hollywood market” provides some thoughts on the current state of the Indian animation industry. He says, “On a recent visit I had the privilege of seeing some of the top studios in India and I was quite amazed by the investment made in pure infrastructure by many of these companies. A lot of these studios would rival places in the west known for their quality and artistic vision. This was quite heart warming and a big eye-opener and everywhere I went outsourcing animation was the buzz word. It seems that so many companies believe they are so close to achieving digital paradise and yet to me a few seem so far. So what is the missing piece? ... So while you [as an animator] cannot take your computer with a ton of software home with you, the art form exists in your head and that is where you do your work, in the deepest core of your creativity. So it is this mad breed of humans suffering from OCD and every known social disorder that really makes a studio special — or not. And to me, this is what the studios in India need to find if they are to play with the big boys. .. While I would not expect most studios in India to have a wealth of experience it would be extremely prudent to nurture their talent and allow them to grow and attain their full potential. As the industry evolves and starts to take on more and more complex projects this talent will be more than capable of taking on the biggest possible jobs and giving anyone a run for their money. Nurturing talent and preventing mass exodus is a huge topic that is not within the scope of this piece, but it is a problem faced by many companies the world over.”

Harry Hargreaves
The Times of London notes the death of the prolific cartoonist “who created The Bird for Punch and a Hayseeds strip for the London Evening News, both of which were widely syndicated. ... He [also] illustrated books, drew advertisements and greetings cards, designed toys and worked as an animator in films and television. ... From 1946 he worked as a cartoon animator for J. Arthur Rank’s Gaumont British Animation business [where he met his wife]. ... While working as a cartoonist for the Toonder Film Studios in Amsterdam in 1953, he created Little Panda, which was so popular that it was syndicated in 150 newspapers across Europe and kept going until 1961. ... His success with animal characters led to Hargreaves developing for ITV an animated fox, called Gogo, who appeared in a pop music programme between 1961 and 1965.

William E. Harty; Marketing Exec Helped Create Keebler Elves
The Chicago Sun Times says, “when [Harty was] asked to spearhead an advertising campaign for the Keebler Company's 'Uncommonly Good' snacks in the late 1960s, Mr. Harty never strayed from his philosophy to think small -- and helped create fictional mascots who barely weighed 4.5 ounces. These tiny animated bakers, Ernie and the Keebler Elves, became a pop cultural phenomenon. The hollow tree residents also gained a soft-spot in one of their creators' hearts. 'He would watch cartoons with us on Saturday morning, and we would watch the commercials together,' said daughter Elizabeth Keating. “Sometimes he would tell us, 'I just came back from visiting the elves.”' .. The Keebler Elves campaign, which was concocted with the help of Leo Burnett advertising agency, was his most famous venture.”

In Brief ...
American DadNintendo's Game to Produce Own Pix:
According to Variety, “Japanese vidgame giant Nintendo is preparing to get into the film biz, likely by creating an inhouse unit to develop animated features based on the numerous properties owned by the company behind the GameCube and Game Boy systems. According to reports in the Japanese press, plan calls for Nintendo to create a pic based on one of its own franchises for theatrical release in 2006.” ... Fox Makes Room for More 'Dad': Zap2it.com notes, “Seth MacFarlane's American Dad [pictured] doesn't premiere until February, but Fox already wants more of it. The network has ordered six additional episode of the animated series from Family Guy creator MacFarlane, bringing the show's total to 19. Fox has also asked for eight scripts beyond the episode order.” ... Vintage 'Aviator' FX Lift Biopic to Another Plane: The Hollywood Reporter has this story about the special effects in The Aviator, the new Martin Scorsese film. It notes that “the movie allowed [visual effects supervisor Rob Legato at Sony Imageworks] to mine a century's worth of in-camera visual effects techniques that have little to do with computers, which he feels have the cumulative effect of desensitizing audiences to the wonders of onscreen movie magic.” The resulting effects were also less expensive than their digital equivalents.

November 29, 2004
'Incredibles' Soars at International Box Office

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The Incredibles has delivered Disney's biggest single weekend ever at the international box office, taking in $45.5 million, according to data issued Sunday. The haul outshone that of 2003's Finding Nemo .... The suburban superheroes smashed records in the United Kingdom for animated pictures with a booty of $18.6 million, compared to Nemo's $12.3 million, impressive even when taking the depreciation of the U.S. dollar into account. Close behind was France, where The Incredibles soared to a weekend total of $9 million. In Italy the Pixar production amassed $5.8 million, making it the biggest animation release there ever.” ... In regards to the UK market, Scotland on Sunday adds, “Many cinemas were sold out for all shows, supporting critics’ claims that the film would be popular with all ages.” ... Meanwhile, back in the US, MTV.com reports, A group of animated superheroes performed an incredible feat this week, rising up a notch on the top 10. Pixar's The Incredibles ... climbed up a notch from #3 to #2 with more than $33.2 million in ticket sales. ... Tom Hanks' The Polar Express is stuck in the #4 station where it stopped last week [taking] n more than $27.1 million in its third week .... The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, however, began to sink under the weight of the Christmas films, falling from #2 to #5 with $23.4 million. Still, the cartoon feature fared better than the much-hyped Alexander, which debuted low at #6.”

Digital Human Creation Advances
Back Stage says, “Venice, Calif.-based Digital Domain recently revealed a clip of a shockingly realistic CG actor that the company developed over the past few months as part of an R&D effort for future commercial and feature work. The clip was screened [by Digital Domain chairman/CEO Scott Ross] earlier this month during a presentation at The Digital Studio Summit, co-located with the American Film Market in Santa Monica. ... Culver City, Calif.-based Sony Pictures Imageworks also announced refinements in its digital human R&D. During the same panel, Sony Pictures Imageworks president Tim Sarnoff reported that the company's work in this area is 'so far advanced beyond Spider-Man 2, which is now two-year-old technology.' He said that moviegoers will see far more complex digital actors in future superhero movies, including a third Spider-Man film and Superman. ... 'The creation of a computer-generated digital person has been the Holy Grail of the digital effects industry,' Ross said.” ... Knight-Ridder Newspapers has a related story noting that “two information-technology experts are predicting that the use of digital forensics — what they call 'counterfeit reality' — will soon join DNA science as a growth industry. A coming explosion of counterfeit reality — the use of computers and digitally based media to produce fake images, video, documents or sounds — will drive a multibillion-dollar business of detecting what is real and what is not.”

J.P. Miller, Children's Book Illustrator, Dies at 91
The New York Times reports, “John Parr Miller, an early animator for Walt Disney whose later art adorned best-selling children's books, including those in the popular Little Golden Books series, died on Oct. 29 on Long Island. ... At the time of his death, J. P. Miller, the name he used in print, had about two score books for young children in circulation, including Follow Me (1998) and a version of The Little Red Hen, which he first illustrated half a century ago. ... A native New Yorker, John Parr Miller found himself in Hollywood during the Depression, with a widowed mother, need of a job and a portfolio from Grand Central Art School, which he had attended for a little more than two years. He found work in the story department at Disney Studio in 1934 .... In 1937 he was one of only three artists asked to start the studio's character model department. According to studio archives, he helped create the animated screen characters for Disney stalwarts like Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo. He left Disney for military service in World War II, when he made training films for the Navy. After the war, Golden Books recruited him and several other Disney veterans to enliven children's books for a mass market, to go beyond the bland Dick and Jane primers of yore.”

In Brief ...
J Bole Toh JadooNew Characters Introduced in Nick's 'Jadoo' Show
: Indiantelevision.com has this story on how the character of Jadoo created for the big screen by Rakesh Roshan has been adapted for Nickelodeon India's J Bole Toh Jadoo, an“animation-cum-live action” series. ... Children Vote Shrek 2 Best Film: BBC News reports, “Young UK film fans voted animated Hollywood hit Shrek 2 best film at the children's Bafta awards on Sunday. ... South American-themed cartoon Joko! Jakamoko! Toto! won the honour for pre-school animation and its writer Tony Collingwood for original writer.” ... Classic Films Top the Charts: DeHavilland, in reporting on the British Film Institute's review of ticket sales in the UK put Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in third place “with 28 million admissions.” Gone With the Wind and The Sound of Music took the top two places. ... 'Caillou' Death Accidental: According to The New York Post, “A Montreal coroner says the minivan crash that killed [Jaclyn Linetsky,] the 17-year-old actor who was the voice of popular children's cartoon character Caillou was likely an accident.”

November 28, 2004
And So the Story Goes
This Los Angeles Daily News story has the subtitle, “As impressive as CGI animation is, it can't make skeptical audiences care more,” and features quotes from Frank Terry, “who heads the character animation program at California Institute of the Arts .... Terry, whose CalArts animation program produced Incredibles director Brad Bird, said viewers can more easily relate to stylized caricatures of people in the Pixar cartoon, while life-like recreations of real actors — such as those made with 'performance capture' technology in Polar Express — seem jarring. 'It doesn't carry the same impact to the viewer's eyes,' he said. 'We can sense the actor inside there that we're not looking at. It's like the Wizard of Oz thing — there's someone behind the curtain. 'As much as we enjoyed Tom Hanks as an (digitalized) actor (in Polar Express), we're still looking at Tom Hanks, whether we like it or not. With (Incredibles protagonist) Bob Parr, somehow, more people can react to that than the reprocessed signals of a live-action actor.' ... It's the strength of storytelling, not technology, that will make or break a digital extravaganza, [animation historian Jerry] Beck said. 'There have been (computer-generated) characters people can relate to — they're in Pixar films, they're in DreamWorks films, they're Scooby Doo and Casper,' Beck said. 'But it comes down to all the elements. It comes down to filmmaking.'”

Inner Turmoil of Post-apartheid South Africans on Display
William Kentridge Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit posterDan Bischoff in The Newark Star Ledger notes, “Through Jan. 27, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has mounted a small show of [South African William] Kentridge's work, including linocuts, collages, charcoal drawings, 'shadow-puppet' cut-outs and one of his animated movies, Tide Table, made by drawing in charcoal on a big sheet of paper, erasing the drawing, adding more drawing and photographing the process. Relentlessly black-and-white, and closer to the jaundiced German genius of Max Beckmann than the commercial frivolities of American or Japanese animation, Kentridge's movies are fascinating and deadening, wonders of moral shrivening aimed at the prosperous modern soul. An hour spent in this small windowless gallery in the American wing is an amazing tonic — there is a power in the human conscience that will not let it go unheard, no matter the temptations of greed or levels of brute force used to silence it.”

Hong Kong `Silicon Valley' Struggling
The San Jose Mercury News notes, “Too bad John Chu, this city's king of movie special effects, can't actually clone himself and his company. If he could make his digital magic work in the real world, perhaps he could turn a high-profile development called Cyberport into a huge hit. Chu is chairman and CEO of Centro Digital Pictures. His company is precisely the kind of tenant this city's political leaders want in Cyberport, a place once envisioned as a hub for information technology development and commerce, almost a miniature version of Silicon Valley. The often-maligned project isn't the abject failure some had predicted. But it's clearly not matching its backers' early visions, either, at least not so far. ... North American moviegoers who have watched Quentin Tarintino's Kill Bill films or this year's Shaolin Soccer by Stephen Chow, a mega-star here, have seen Centro's work. Here in Hong Kong, a number of filmmakers have used the company for spectacular visual effects. Chow's upcoming Kung Fu Hustle is widely expected to be a hit. The bread and butter of Centro's business is advertising, but the movies have given the company an increasingly high profile. Chu said he wants to move into new kinds of creative endeavors, including producing feature films entirely in-house rather than just working for others.”

In Brief ...
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'Rudolph' Enters Middle Age
: Zap2it.com has this story about the 40th anniversary of the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. “Popularized by Gene Autry, composer Johnny Marks' song about Rudolph would have been famous anyway. The Rankin-Bass production made it even more so .... 'My math tells me this is actually (the special's) 41st anniversary, but for the sake of round numbers, I'm willing to concede," Rankin muses. "The generation that saw the show when it was first on introduces it to their children, then to their grandchildren. It's been very rewarding to know your work has entertained so many people, not only in America but also abroad.'” ... Doh! ‘The Simpsons' Characters Come to Life at Local Library: The Monroe (Michigan) Evening News has this report on a talk aimed at children given by Bill Morrison, an artist for The Simpsons who grew up in Lincoln Park, gave at the Monroe County Library System's Ellis Information and Reference Center.

November 27, 2004
Kingdom Kong
King Kong art work
Newsweek has this story about the new version of King Kong being done by Peter Jackson. “Jackson has wanted to remake King Kong since he was 13 — the 1933 original, with the luminous Fay Wray, is so close to his heart that it couldn't be removed without life-threatening surgery. In 2003 Universal Pictures' Stacey Snider offered him, [Fran] Walsh and [Philippa] Boyens an extraordinary $20 million advance to write, direct and produce. ... His remake takes place in the '30s and is being shot in New Zealand — Weta Digital is building old New York on computer with a fanatical accuracy, using original blueprints and historical records. ... The original King Kong is many times greater than the sum of its parts, and whether or not Jackson's remake ever achieves anything like its permanence, it can certainly improve on some things — the animation of Kong, for starters. ... [Jackson] plays an 'animatic' — an animated version of a scene made for planning purposes—of the last nine minutes of his movie. In other words: Kong's final stand atop the Empire State, and his fall. The animation is no-frills. The score is a patchwork. And yet the sequence, far different from the original in its choreography and emotional depth, is stunning. Even the sound of biplanes sputtering toward the gorilla is heartbreaking, because you know that Kong is not a villain—and you know what's coming. After the sequence ends, nobody talks. Then Walsh, ordinarily that funny, bleak voice in the head, speaks up. 'People always ask Pete, 'Why do you want to remake King Kong?' she says. 'That's why.'”

Rudolph Still Guides the Way
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed ReindeerThe 40th anniversary of the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the occasion for this Washington Post story. It notes, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became the first of several holiday songs [Johnny] Marks would write, many of which eventually became incorporated into television specials by [Arthur] Rankin and his partner, Jules Bass. ... When Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired in 1964, it turned out to be a blockbuster. 'Right away,' says Rankin, 'every other song we wanted was available to us.'' Rankin and Bass bought the rights to most of the holiday songs of the time. Using stop-motion and traditional animation, Rankin-Bass went on to make about three dozen television specials (including Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy and Peter Cottontail), a dozen series (including ThunderCats) and another dozen feature films. ... The story's moral — that a child can overcome being different — always has been the basis for Rudolph, even in his first incarnation, as a small book [by Robert L. May in 1939] offered free by Montgomery Ward. ... Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer also was printed commercially as a book and became a nine-minute cartoon. But the little reindeer didn't fly into history until songwriter Marks, who happened to be May's brother-in-law, developed the lyrics and melody.” (Incidentally, the nine-minute cartoon was the last theatrical film produced by Max Fleischer.)

November 26, 2004
This Isn't Child's Play
Rediff has this in-depth story about the “Mumbai-based 15-year-old digital animation and special effects major Crest Communications [which was] rechristened Crest Animation Studios last month. 'This was done to reiterate our identity and focus,' reveals [A K] Madhavan, chief executive officer of Crest. Adds Seema Ramanna, Crest's chain-smoking managing director, 'With 98 per cent of our revenues coming from animation, it fits in with our work.' The change comes at a time when Crest, which went public in 1995, finally appears to have jumped into the black after three years of losses. ... 'We were in transition. We were into everything, from advertising to post-production work and television serials, where anybody and everybody was our client,' says Ramanna As a result, while putting together a half hour of animation work cost Crest Rs 2 crore (Rs 20 million) [$445,000], television channels wanted to shell out only Rs 50,000 [$1,100] per episode . 'It just wasn't economically viable,' she adds. Besides, the domestic space was getting overcrowded with nearly 250 production houses ready to offer everything under the sun. ... So Crest rejigged its business strategy. It acquired American production house Rich Animation in 2000 and flagged off a subsidiary in Singapore. This year, it exited the 30-second ad film world to concentrate on large format content. By 2006, it will wrap up its first full-length feature Automation for Columbia Tristar. The focus now is the US market. The logic is simple: sell a product to a major studio or a distribution house in the US, and it will be seen the world over.”

Halting Reality in its Tracks?
The Polar Express
Stephen Applebaum in The Scotsman has this essay which notes, “At London’s Science Museum digital faces on display are ... challenging our notions of identity. A recent 'documentary' on Discovery UK, Virtual History, went a stage further, using digital masks to transform actors into Second World War figures including Hitler, Churchill and Stalin — and unintentionally suggesting in the process that history itself could be under threat. The closer technology comes to emulating 'reality', it seems, the more unreal the world becomes. ... Before they were prematurely thrust into the spotlight by Final Fantasy, photorealistic digital humans, or synthespians, were already making their mark on movies in supporting roles (and scaring the hell out of actors, stuntmen and make-up people, who feared for their jobs). ... Now two extraordinary animated films, The Incredibles and The Polar Express, have put digital humans at the centre of the action once again. And this time they really are ready for their close-up. Brad Bird and Robert Zemeckis’s films have blasted humanimation into a new realm of believability and possibility. As Final Fantasy demonstrated, this is a tough trick to pull off.”

Losing America
Lynn Hirschberg in The Australian, reflecting on films shown at this year's Cannes Film Festival, compares American entries unfavorably with those from other countries. One exception being the independently made Sideways. However, “As far as the big studios go, Sideways is essentially a foreign film made in the US. But Shrek 2 is not. ... As charming as Shrek 2 is, I found it an unsettling example of how big studios represent the US to the world. While other countries have interpreted globalism as a chance to reveal their national psyches and circumstances through film, the US is more interested in attracting the biggest possible international audience. ... Wandering through Cannes and fighting my way into screenings, I felt a growing frustration that what I loved about American movies (and, by extension, about America) was in short supply, and when I mentioned this to Walter F. Parkes, head of motion pictures at DreamWorks SKG, he said: 'I know what you're talking about.' Parkes, like most of the big studio heads, is in a bind: corporate finances dictate that they cast the widest net possible. That has become the mandate of the studio president. DreamWorks, for instance, made Shrek 2 and is trying to parlay the $US436 million ($555 million) success of the film into a profitable initial public offering for its animation division.”

In Brief ...
TroyThe Lens That Launched a Thousand Ships: Process & Control Today has this story about Oxford-based Vicon Motion Systems, which specializes in motion capture cameras. “While the company carries out extraordinary work for the medical and life sciences industries, for the movie-going man in the street Vicon will perhaps be most easily recognized for its amazing animation in productions like Polar Express, Lord of the Rings and Troy [pictured] as well as music videos for the likes of Shania Twain.” ... Taiwan Animation Should Learn from Japan, Korea: Official: Central News Agency has this brief item reporting that, “Taiwan's animation industry could learn from Japan and South Korea — some of whose animation products tell profound and dramatic stories — to sharpen its competitiveness in the world market, a Taiwan official said Friday.” ... Animated Film from Local Cartoonist to Premier at First Cathedral: The Bloomfield (Connecticut) Journal has this report on the forthcoming premiere of Bloomfield native Joe Young's half hour TV special, It's Christmas, Dr. Joe, featuring his Scruples comic strip characters at the First Cathedral in Bloomfield on December 2. He said the 22 minute program took one year to make at a cost of $100,000. ... Different Paths Led Locally Linked Men to Computer Animation: The Santa Cruz Sentinel profiles two local men who worked on The Incredibles: “Animator Arik Ehle is the son of Capitola police chief Richard Ehle. Doug Nichols, the manager of lighting and effects on the film, is an Aptos High grad (Class of ’77).” See also, The Santa Cruz Sentinel's related story on the two. ... It's Been an Incredible Journey for Andy: ic Birmingham.co.uk has this story on Birmingham native Andy Whittock, who was a technical director on The Incredibles. “Andy, who is the son of Evening Mail cartoonist Colin Whittock, is one of only ten Brits among Pixar's 900 cosmopolitan staff.

November 25, 2004
Darkness at the Edge of Toon Town
The Polar ExpressJason Anderson in Toronto Eye Weekly has this look at the latest batch of animated features which begins, “Sometimes, cartoons are about utility. Animated features function less as entertainment for many people than as a semi-controlled setting for a family outing, a respite from seasonal shopping chaos or a way to get everyone to shut the hell up for 90 minutes. ... But toons are serious business, too. In fact, they may be the whole business, commanding all the resources of the American film industry. Their success or failure affects everything from a studio's stock price to the rate of technological innovation. The cost to make and market this season's three major cartoon pics — The Incredibles, The Polar Express and The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie — is in the region of US$500 million. What with the financial pressure being placed on Hollywood's animated flagships, fundamental aspects are crucial. If these films are going to enjoy any resonance within the culture — and, more importantly, are going to be repurchased with every DVD special edition — they have to work as stories.”

‘CG' Animation Opens New Avenues for Filmmakers
According to KRT News Service's Roger Moore, “The Incredibles and The Polar Express are dissimilar in every way but one: that look, those dizzying precision camera swoops, that hyper-realistic sheen that says 3-D 'computer animation' to modern moviegoers. 'CG' — computer-generated imagery — has become almost a brand-name to movie consumers, like 'Disney' or 'Pixar.' 'People get this starry-eyed, Buck Rogers notion about this technology,' says Mark Cotta Vaz, an animation expert and author of companion books on the making of both Polar Express and The Incredibles. 'But both films are just using computers as a means to an end, as a tool.' It may still be, as filmmakers say, 'all about the story.' But this tool, this new and fast-changing technology, is allowing filmmakers to tell stories they never could have thought of — or never could have afforded to tell — just a few years ago.”

November 24, 2004
Animations Heat Up Local Screens

Phantom Master — Dark Hero From Ruined EmpireThe Korea Times notes that, “A battle among a string of blockbuster animations slated for release is expected to heat up in local theaters this winter. Local moviegoers will have a variety of interesting films to choose from this winter, including a local animation opening this weekend, which is set to go against some strong competition from Hollywood and Japan. Sinamhaengosa (Phantom Master — Dark Hero From Ruined Empire), co-produced by local and Japanese animation companies, will greet audiences on Nov. 26. ... Joji Shimura from Japan directed the animation, and about 70 percent of the entire work was done by Japanese studios. Despite this, the scenery and music behind the story still seem to remain Korean and capture the original comic's style. The success of Phantom Master is difficult to predict since domestic moviegoers often neglect local animations, even with savvy marketing strategies and techniques. Such animations as Oseam, My Beautiful Girl, Mari and the 2003 blockbuster animation Wonderful Days failed to break even when released in local theaters, although they were well received later internationally.”

DPSi Slashes Israeli Activity, Will Fire 100 Employees
Globes Online reports, “Sources inform 'Globes' that digital animation company Digital Production Solutions Israel (DPSi), a subsidiary of Digital Production Solutions (DPS) of the US, is about to slash its activity in Israel. DPSi has 160 employees at the Hartuv A industrial park adjacent to Beit Shemesh. Beit Shemesh municipality spokesman Yehuda Gur Arie said DPSI representatives had already notified the municipality personnel department that the company would lay off 100 employees, including 15 Beit Shemesh residents. DPSi told the Beit Shemesh municipality that cutbacks were because DPS had stopping giving work to DPSi. ” DPS is a subsidiary of IDT Corp., which has recently been on a buying spree acquiring controlling interests in a number of animation companies, including DPS Film Roman and Mainframe Entertainment. Canadian animator Mark Mayerson sent this link to a CGCHAR posting, where an anonymous ex-DPSi employee complains, “IDT ... pulled the plug, with out any warning that the outcome would be so grim. They released a little under 170 artist[s] in to a market that supports at best something around 30....(30 for the country as a whole).”

Leaving 'Disney On The Potomac'
TV writer Lloyd Garver at CBS News muses, “The other day, while reading about the big Disney trial, I learned that Michael Eisner had offered the Number Two job to Colin Powell before he gave it to Michael Ovitz. So, if Powell had accepted, he never would have become George Bush's Secretary of State. Instead of worrying about Afghanistan and Iraq, he might have been in charge of Monsters, Inc. and Extreme Makeover. I started wondering how different Colin Powell's life would have been if he had gone to Hollywood instead of to Washington. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wouldn't have been very different at all. How do the working conditions in the boardroom of Disney compare to those in the war room of the White House? The Eisner-Ovitz trial portrays Disney as a place run by a secretive leader who expects absolute loyalty from those below him, and who bristles at any answers to questions other than yes, sir. It's a place where a bunch of Scrooge McDuck-like rich men work with other rich men who are out of touch with the reality of people not in their financial bracket.”

In Brief ...
Tag-team on 'Robots'
: Variety reports, “Imax and 20th Century Fox have pacted to simultaneously release the animated CGI feature Robots in both Imax and conventional theaters March 11.” (See also the Imax press release.) ... Animated Children: The New Britain (Connecticut) Herald has this story about the “two New Britain residents [Robert Hales Jr. and Evelyn Black] and one Plainville resident [Greg Donato], [who were] part of a cast of nine that supplied the voices of characters for the Hartford Animation Institute’s inaugural [half hour] cartoon show [It’s Christmas, Dr. Joe based on the Scruples cartoon characters created by Hartford animator Joe Young], which premieres on television in December.”

November 23, 2004
The Majesty of 2-D

Howl's Moving CastleMark Schilling in The Japan Times says, “Hollywood has buried 2-D feature animation, with the incredible success of Pixar's The Incredibles ... putting a seal on the tomb, so to speak. In Japan, however, Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli animators are still loyal to the 2-D cause. Why not, given the equally incredible numbers for Miyazaki's 2-D Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away), which grossed 30.8 billion yen [$30 million] in Japan alone in 2001 — a box-office record for any film here, Hollywood or Japanese. Miyazaki and Ghibli had other reasons for celebration, including an Academy Award for best feature animation .... They may well get a second for Howl no Ugoku Shiro (Howl's Moving Castle), Miyazaki's first shojo manga-esque love story, complete with a faux European setting, mousy-but-spunky teenage heroine and androgynously handsome hero, voiced by superstar Takuya Kimura. Based on a novel of the same title by the British children's author Diana Wynne Jones, Howl is less Miyazaki's attempt to wow shojo manga fans (though wowed they will be) than further proof of why his status as the world's greatest living animator is still secure. It is also a powerful counterargument to the '2-D is dead' crowd”

Territory Report: Taiwan
The Monkey KingAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, “The Taiwanese government earlier this year introduced a range of policies designed to change the face of the country's film industry by focusing on developing market-oriented films instead of art house fare, trying to steer away from a stereotyped image of Taiwanese films and making local films profitable rather than just raising the country's profile in international film events. ... So far, the government reforms have seen some initial success. New filmmaking trends to emerge from the new policies are an increase in the number and scope of animated features, larger co-production projects and light-hearted teen romance dramas. ... Two Wang Film Prods. animated features, Monkey King [pictured] and The Story of Grandpa Lin Wang, have received backing because of their use of digital technology. Wang Film had been a contracted manufacturer for supplying animation for the Walt Disney Co. on such films as Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid and Mulan. The company says it is now seeking to create its own projects. Monkey King, which received $500,000 from the government fund, is adapted from classic Chinese fantasy novel Journey to the West. The film is scheduled for release in February. Grandpa Lin Wang is about the life and adventures of an old elephant and is based on an African elephant in Taipei Zoo. The film received $300,000 in funding.”

A Disney Year After All
The Los Angeles Daily News reports, “Incredibly, the resurgent movie division of The Walt Disney Co. is poised to hit the $1 billion mark in domestic box office grosses over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, despite enduring a string of flops during the first seven months of the year. ... Disney has managed to salvage what had been a dismal year with its release of The Incredibles, the computer-animated smash from Pixar Animation Studios that has grossed $177.5 million in three weeks. Incredibles was bumped from the No. 1 spot by another Disney release, National Treasure, which opened with a surprisingly strong $35.1 million. ... the real turnaround came with the Nov. 5 release of The Incredibles, which enjoyed universally positive reviews and has been a major hit among several demographics of the moviegoing audience. The film is sure to cross the $200 million mark over the Thanksgiving holiday and looks to add handsomely to its total in the weeks to come.”

Special Effects Wizards Set up Shop Far Away from Hollywood
The Associated Press has this story about how 31-year-old computer animator Kai Bovaird abandoned Hollywood, where he worked on the special effects of The Matrix, along with “Paul Almer-Ryan set up Cause & F(X) Pictures, a local special-effects house that does everything from computer-generated movie effects to the cinematic sequences that appear in video games. ... Bovaird now wants to position himself for what he expects will be a growing industry for computer-generated imagery, or CGI, in Hawaii. Some might question his timing. Two years ago, Square USA studios, the producers of the computer-animated film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, collapsed under losses of more than $100 million. This summer, local effects house Sprite Entertainment, which had employed about a dozen people, packed up and left for Los Angeles to be nearer to the action. But like Bovaird, other experienced special-effects artists are making a go of it in the islands. Several of them are former members of the Final Fantasy team and all are turned off by the L.A. scene.”

November 22, 2004
Action, Not Animation, is 'National Treasure'
USA Today reports, “This weekend was to be one of Hollywood's fiercest showdowns between animated films. Then Jerry Bruckheimer blew the weekend to bits. The producer's action film National Treasure ... stunned analysts and studio executives by nabbing $35.3 million and the top spot at theaters this weekend .... Treasure's haul was $12 million more than expected and made it a surprise winner over The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which soaked up a strong $33.5 million but couldn't overcome Bruckheimer's knack for turning critically panned movies into gold. ... Animated fare took three of the top four spots. The Incredibles dropped 46% its third week in theaters to take in $26.8 million and third place, while The Polar Express fell 35% for $15.2 million and No. 4. ... Box Office Prophets deems the results for SpongeBob as “excellent .... With the success over opening weekend for SpongeBob, the studio may have a new franchise to work with, despite being made with the dreaded traditional 2-D animation. According to sources, SpongeBob cost only $30 million to make, so even if SpongeBob’s audience is limited to its TV audience, this is going to be a huge hit for both Nickelodeon and Paramount. ... Logic would tell us that The Incredibles should finish well ahead of Monsters’ $255.9 million and somewhat short of Nemo’s $339.7 million.”

'Howl's Moving Castle' Sets 2-Day Box-Office Record in Japan
While animation continues to dominate the American box office, the same seems to be happening in Japan. Thus, according to Kyodo, “Famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's latest animated film Howl's Moving Castle chalked up 1.48 billion yen [$14.4 million] in box-office revenue and attracted an audience of 1.1 million people during its first two days of release, a record for a domestic film, Toho Co. said Monday. For its first two days, the movie surpassed the record of Miyazaki's previous work and smash hit, Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) by 40 percent, the film distributor said. The movie also broke the previous record set by Bayside Shakedown 2, Save the Rainbow Bridge, a popular police drama movie sequel shown in 2003.” ... Variety also points out that the film's take accounted “for 72% of the territory's B.O.”

Animation Needs Make Studios Hot Customers
Peanut PeteThe Seattle Times reports, “One engine behind [DreamWorks'] bonanza is [its] use of a novel technology concept in which the company rents computing power from [Hewlett Packard]. The two companies worked together on the original Shrek movie in 2001 and they expanded their partnership in the making of Shrek 2. HP hopes such deals will help it make a stand against its larger rival IBM, which doesn't have a consumer business of its own and is in many ways an underdog when it comes to Hollywood connections. HP wants to be the king of entertainment technology, with both its digital consumer products such as portable music players, as well as Hollywood computing services.” ... In a somewhat related story, BBC News says, “Pay-as-you-go computer power could soon be helping animation companies and students finish their projects more quickly. A prototype of a utility rendering service is being tested by researchers at computer giant Hewlett Packard's labs in Bristol. The rendering service would create virtual server pools that could be used to process the complex images created by modern computer animators. ... Already the HP Labs pay-as-you-go processing power system is being used by British animators to create animated 3D short films that showcase how the system works. In all seven short films have been created using the on-tap processing system for an animation showcase called SE3D.”

From 'Polar Express' to UT Biomechanics Technology Used by Film Industry for Animation
The Toledo Blade has this story about the University of Toledo's research into motion capture animation. ““It’s a very, very powerful technology,” said [Chuck Armstrong, chairman of UT’s department of kinesiology], who uses it for a different purpose [than feature film animation].In UT’s motion analysis lab, researchers use it to study issues of biomechanics — the physics of the human body — especially as related to sports performance and injury and how diseases affect human motion. One student is exploring the differences between power hitters in softball and those who hit for average. Ms. Gulgin is studying hip rotation in golfers and how that may relate to injuries. Others use the technology to predict how cerebral palsy patients will fare if a muscle is surgically moved to serve a new function.” It also briefly touches on a similar program at Bowling Green State University.

In Brief ...
Israel's Animation Superhero
: According to The Jerusalem Post, “There's a reason the new heroes of The Incredibles don't have capes. And Ra'anana resident Alex Orrelle could explain the intricacies to those interested. Orrelle was an animator on the Pixar team that created the film — and the capes scene was just one of the episodes he worked on.” ... Oak Grove Native Has 'Incredible' Success: The Hattiesburg (Mississippi) American has this story about “Oak Grove native Lance Thornton [who] has three credits [on The Incredibles]: character development on the part of Syndrome, articulation artist on Syndrome and another character, Huph — defining how they are going to move and stimulation-working on clothing and hair.” ... New Sexual Health Campaign Launched: Stuff.co.nz reports, “'No Rubba no Hubba Hubba' is the message being pushed in a campaign launched at Parliament today to try and stem the high rate of sexually transmitted infections. The campaign, launched by Health Minister Annette King, includes a new, partially animated television commercial using the slogan and has been widely praised by doctors and health groups.”

November 21, 2004
When Every Child Is Good Enough
The Incredibles continues to spark discussion in the press about its philosophy. One of the more interesting is this story in The New York Times which notes, “The Incredibles is not just an animated adventure for children, at least not to the parents and teachers who have been passionately deconstructing the story of a family of superheroes trapped in suburbia. The movie has reignited one of the oldest debates about child-rearing and society: competition versus coddling, excellence versus egalitarianism. Is Dash, the supersonic third-grader forbidden from racing on the track team, a gifted child held back by the educational philosophy that 'everybody is special'? Or is he an overprivileged elitist being forced to take into account the feelings of others? ... the basic issue is the same one raised four decades ago by Kurt Vonnegut in Harrison Bergeron, a short story set in the America of 2081, about a 14-year-old genius and star athlete. To keep others from feeling inferior, the Handicapper General weighs him down with 300-pound weights and makes him wear earphones that blast noise, so he cannot take 'unfair advantage' of his brain.”

Animators Draw up Oscar Plans
The Los Angeles Times speculates, “ In a year when no single live-action movie has emerged to overshadow the competition, some animated films may have a shot at best picture nominations. Their prospects would be considered unlikely, except for the perception among academy members, if not the public, that there is a dearth of Oscar-worthy live-action films this year. Contenders, including Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ; Collateral, starring Tom Cruise; Ray, starring Jamie Foxx; Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson; and Sideways, an independent film, will certainly make a run for a nomination, but their success remains uncertain. ... 'How can you keep avoiding it when it's like the elephant in the room?' asked [Julie] Andrews, who supplies the voice of Queen Lillian in Shrek 2 .... 'There are so many great animated movies these days. . . . The technology is incredible. They are doing things that never could have been done before.' As the genre continues to push its creative boundaries and deliver blockbuster box office receipts, it is increasingly difficult for academy voters to discount animated movies. Indeed, the lines between live-action and animation films continue to blur, thanks to technological advances in computer graphics, stronger scripts and Oscar-winning stars and directors willing to lend their names and talents to a genre once dismissed as cartoons.”

November 20, 2004
Local Man Helps Animate Hit Movie
The Lake City (Florida) Reporter has this local-boy-makes-good story about “Bill and Linda Poplin's son Christopher [who] spent the last two years working as layout lead on [The Polar Express]. ... While performance capture provides another tool for animators, Poplin doesn't think moviegoers will have to worry about computer chips taking the place of their favorite actors. 'There are definitely varying thoughts on how it will affect movies,' Poplin said. 'I personally believe it will become just another genre of movie. Anytime a new technology comes out, there are people who think it will take over the world. The filmmakers who made Toy Story did a wonderful job with their craft, but that didn't mean people don't want to see the stars' faces in the next romantic comedy.'”

November 19, 2004
Not All It's 'Puffed' Up to Be

An unnamed critic in The New York Daily News feels, “The new series Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, about the animated adventures of a female Japanese singing duo, is a baffling concoction. I like the music, as well as the brief appearances by the real-life singers, but the animation itself does nothing for me — and I enjoy Japanese pop culture as much as the next guy. ...Vocal actresses provide the voices of the animated Ami and Yumi, so the only time you hear them for real is when they're singing, or in the entertaining interstitial segments. But that's the real show here, and it makes you wonder why someone doesn't just import reruns of Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Puffy. Cartoon Network's effort, though it may indeed spark some sort of AmiYumi Fever, is Pa-Pa-Pa-Pa-Pathetic.”

In Brief ...
Chand Utheche Phool PhutecheSrishti's Creative Venture:
Screen India reports that, “Kuntal Basu and Rajib Bhattacharya of Srishti Animation and Creative, Dum Dum, Kolkata have sought to explore an area of joy through animation technology. They have embarked on a novel method of cartooning small poetries — Chhodas through an animated VCD called Chand Utheche Phool Phuteche - Chotoder Mojar Chhoda that weaves a collection of popular children’s rhymes with the story of a little girl Paulami. The project boosts up the Bengali culture that seems to be fading and brings about a nostalgic feeling for the adults.” ... 'Boundin'': Pixar's Nod to Disney's Golden Age: Hear Charles Solomon on NPR's Day to Day on Boudin', the Pixar short playing with The Incredibles. ...Proposal Seeks to Keep a Disney Heir on Board: Bloomberg News reports (also here) that “Frank Wierenga, a Pennsylvania investor who has owned Disney stock since 1979,” has submitted a proposal guaranteeing representation on the Disney board of Walt and Roy O. Disney. “Their name is on everything Disney touches, and for them to have some kind of say over how their name is presented and how their legacy is presented, I think is very important.' Wierenga said in an interview.”. The last Disney heir on the board was Roy Disney, who is fighting to regain control of the company from Michael Eisner.

November 18, 2004
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
The big screen version of the popular Nickelodeon series has been getting mixed reviews so far. Typical is Christy Lemire of The Associated Press, who says, “Absorbent and yellow and porous is he, but SpongeBob SquarePants proves there’s a limit even to what he can achieve. Sorry, boys and girls, I hate to break it to you, but I did not love The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. And I really wanted to, because I’m a fan of the series. ... part of the program’s charm is its quickness and quirkiness. You get two episodes in a half-hour, each of which is what, about 10 or 12 minutes? ... By extending the premise to a 90-minute feature, The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie feels dragged out and slowed down. It feels strained, a phenomenon that has never plagued the TV show.” ... Scott Chitwood at Comingsoon.net concurs, lamenting, “Unfortunately this movie just isn't that funny. I desperately wanted to love it but nothing ever got me laughing out loud like on the TV show. ... Everything that makes the TV show great just isn't here.”... David Sterritt in The Christian Science Monitor is considerably more positive. He admits, “I had a great time at The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Why? ... The picture put me in touch with my inner child. In a nutshell, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie recognizes that my inner child is about 95 percent crazy and at least half out of control — and that's on the good days. The other days are even more fun, but let's not go there. SpongeBob goes there for us.” See also Comingsoon.net's interview with the film's starring voice talent, Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke.

Digital-Age Artist
A City of FlimjeesThe Burke (Virginia) Connection has this profile of “Burke artist Mike Fisher [who] has published and won awards for his cartoons and digitally animated short films. ... Fisher got his big break when his first short film, They Ruled the World, won a Rosebud Award at the annual Rosebud Film and Video Festival in Washington, D.C. ... The film ... was six minutes long and created entirely on the computer. It concerned a group of aliens who land on Earth, albeit in a bathroom. It was a light-hearted film, as most of his films usually are, which included aliens. That’s a common theme for Fisher, who said most of his films 'usually have a spaceship, alien or robot in them.' He grew up adoring the Marvel series of comic heroes, like Spider-Man and The Hulk. In addition to his films, Fisher has a successful career as a cartoonist, publishing in Starlog, Modeler’s Resource and Animation magazines with his character 3-D Pete. His films, A City of Flimjees [pictured] and Far Away Eyes, were also exhibited at this year’s San Diego Comic Convention. 'I like to think of myself as a cartoonist and an animator,' said Fisher, who admitted, 'The computer is wiping out a lot of other ways of creating things because it’s so versatile.'”

Entrepreneur Seeks to Make Region a Digital Animation Center on Par with Pixar
ArtoonicAccording to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Srini Raghavan wants to build 'the next-generation Pixar,' and he wants to do it in the Pittsburgh region. ... So when Raghavan, 35, talks about his Coraopolis company, Paprikaas Animation Studios, becoming the next-generation Pixar, he's setting the bar pretty high. Paprikaas, which Raghavan describes as an 'animation and digital content company,' appears to be off to a good start. In two years, the firm — which employs about 130, almost all in India — has delivered more than 65 hours of animation for clients ....It also has designed a number of computer games, and by this time next year, anticipates the theatrical release of a full-length 3D feature for an Italian studio. The man behind this flurry of activity, which has propelled Paprikaas to a finalist in the Pittsburgh Technology Council's Tech 50 Rising Star category, is a soft-spoken engineer who works out of his Coraopolis home and has only recently begun to unleash the artist within. ... Raghavan hopes to grow the company to 350 to 400 employees worldwide within two years, and in a reversal of offshoring — 'Onshoring,' he suggests with a chuckle — to have 10 percent to 15 percent work in the United States. 'I want to create Pittsburgh as an entertainment technology hub,' he said. 'Pittsburgh is close to my heart.'” (Pictured: Artoonic, a series produced by Srini Raghavan.)

In Brief ...
Hoity Toity girlDisney's Eisner: TV Interview with Ovitz Was Dumb:
Reuters reports, “Michael Eisner, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Co., on Thursday said it was 'stupid' to appear on [The Larry King Show] in 1996 to show his support for Michael Ovitz and conceded he was less than candid with the public during the interview. ... 'The statement that I gave ... was the better of the two options for our shareholders,' Eisner told the Delaware Court of Chancery. 'It's a fine line ... as to how much to reveal to the public before you have actually concluded your decision making process.'” Also, listen to NPR's Morning Edition story on Eisner's testimony. ... Disney Profit Up, TV Outshines Studio: Reuters reports, “Walt Disney Co. posted a 24 percent rise in profit on Thursday as advertising gains at ESPN and ABC television networks more than made up for a sharp slowdown at Disney's movie studio. ... Profits in consumer products, which licenses Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh brands, rose 43 percent to $146 million.” ... 'The Incredibles' Entertains While it Subverts Liberal Values: The Decatur (Alabama) Daily columnist Franklin Harris notes, “Without really trying to be, The Incredibles is one of the most subversive films to come out of Hollywood in years. Not that it is subversive in the traditional Hollywood sense. There is no liberal message here. Instead, the movie subverts several decades of liberalism gone awry.” ... Fragrance Advertising Gets Animated: Marketing Web has this story about the creation, by Bester Burke, of a delightful South African-made commercial for Lentheric's new fragrance. “The result is the Hoity Toity girl [pictured], named after the fragrance, and created by local artist Riccardo Capecchi. She’s French-inspired, flirtatious, feminine, somewhat posh and irresistibly playful – and she’s a cartoon.” ... Top 10 Cartoons For Guys: For what it's worth, Dennis O'Connell of AskMen, provides this listing of animated TV series, ranging from The Oblongs (number 10) to The Family Guy (number 1).

November 17, 2004
Disney's Eisner Called Ovitz a 'Psychopath'

I have largely avoided daily coverage of the shareholders suit regarding Michael Ovitz's golden parachute after his friend Michael Eisner fired him as president of Disney. However, I just couldn't resist Eisner's current testimony, which is beginning to harken back to Jeffrey Katzenberg's suit against Disney for back pay, when it was revealed that Eisner called Katzenberg, “I think I hate the little midget.” As Reuters reports, “Walt Disney Co.'s chief executive Michael Eisner on Wednesday was confronted with notes in which he called Michael Ovitz 'dangerous' and 'a caged animal' as he desperately tried to fire his one-time friend from the entertainment giant. He also was pressed about an internal memo in which he called Ovitz a 'psychopath' who repeatedly lied to other top executives at the company. ... 'I don't want to start off here in an argumentative way,' Eisner said in the first minutes of cross-examination by shareholders' lawyer Steven Schulman.” For an audio report on the proceedings, check out this story from NPR's Morning Edition. And if you need a bit more color, The New York Times has this story about how the big city attorneys are managing to cope in Georgetown, Delaware, where the trial is being held.

Miyazaki Provides Another Howling Good Time
Howl's Moving CastleMary Kennard in The Daily Yomiuri says, “In Howl's Moving Castle, the newest movie by animation master Hayao Miyazaki, the elements of a Miyazaki hit are all there — the luscious animation, the great soundtrack by Jo Hisaishi, the quirky characters and the engrossing story with a message. And yet ... and yet ... Adapted from a young adult fantasy novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones, Howl is the story of Sophie, a young girl working in a hat shop. ... [Cursed by a witch,] Sophie packs up her bag and sets out for someplace far away ... The someplace she finds to hide out is the freakish contraption known as Howl's moving castle, a hodgepodge of bits of buildings on top of legs. ... Although I enjoyed the movie immensely, it didn't move me the way Miyazaki films usually do. And I wonder if that could be because his best works are the ones that are based on the fantastic stories and characters that spring from his own fervid imagination.” ... The Daily Yomiuri also has this interview with Studio Ghibli's “president and producer, Toshio Suzuki — right-hand man of animation titan Hayao Miyazaki — says Ghibli has never made a movie intended for foreign audiences. It's the people living in the studio's neighborhood who they make their movies for, he says.”

'Incredibles' launch heroic for Disney, Pixar
Columnist Martin A. Grove in The Hollywood Reporter has this interview with Buena Vista Pictures distribution president Chuck Viane and marketing president Oren Aviv about the how and why The Incredibles is doing so well. Grove, for his part, fairly gushes over the film and its marketing. He begins by claiming, “Hollywood's boxoffice equivalent of Mother Nature's 'perfect storm' comes when outstanding filmmaking and first-class marketing and distribution combine as they just have with Disney and Pixar's The Incredibles. ... Incredibles' broad playability will clearly help it in getting through the long holiday season. A good sign of its wide appeal came opening weekend when Disney's exit research found that 38 percent of the audience was non-families, meaning teenagers or adults who came without bringing children. 'Typically, you open a movie like this and your core audience, your anticipated audience, is that family unit and they come in extremely big numbers,' Viane explained. 'It takes a movie two or three weeks to catch up with the general public. We started from the advantage of having 38 percent of the audience non-families. (As a result the film became a topic of) conversation in offices where people said, 'You've got to go see this.' It's been extremely good for word of mouth.'

In Brief ...
The Iron GiantBeijing to Ease Rules for Investing in TV Firms:
Asia Pacific Media Network reports, “International media groups will be allowed to invest in Chinese television production joint ventures from the end of the month, under long-awaited rules to be announced this week by the Beijing authorities. ... Under the new rules, which will take effect on Nov 28, foreign companies can hold up to 49 per cent stakes in production ventures, which must have initial capital of at least US$2 million (S$3.3 million), or US$1 million in the case of animation companies. Local partners can be private, but must be existing holders of a production licence.” ... Diesel's 'Giant' Voice Blows 'Riddick' Away: Bruce Westrbrook in The Houston Chronicle notes, “'I've always wanted to be a part of the animation world,' Vin Diesel says on a special-edition Iron Giant DVD due in stores Nov. 17. 'And the only way I could do it was by lending my voice as an actor.' That may have been true for 1999's Iron Giant, when he gave guttural voice to a space robot who befriends a small boy, E.T.-style, in America of the 1950s. But animation no longer is foreign to Diesel, whose latest film [The Chronicles of Riddick], also new on DVD, is so heavily animated it topples under its special-effects weight.”

November 16, 2004
Life Is Funny. And Mundane. Just Like in a Cartoon by Lev

LevThe San Francisco Chronicle has this story about “the cartoonist known as Lev” who has become “an underground sensation for his kinky/quirky Tales of Mere Existence animated series, which was conceived and produced in his Richmond District bedroom. Even now, stacks of the cartoon's print version clutter his bachelor pad. ... Despite his being out and about at cultural events in the city, he says he's not a scenester. 'No, but much of what I do artistically is about trying to be a scenester. I like to go out and get demented, but I'm also a loner and somewhat reclusive. To be honest, I've never been sure where I fit in.' Maybe the new Comedy Central series will convince him of who his peers might be. 'The company I'm in on this show!' he breathes. 'Well, it's pretty humbling. Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt, who was nominated for an Oscar. ... Some of my heroes!' Yet watching the first episode of Jump Cuts (which is airing every Sunday night this month at midnight for the edgy-and-young audience), Lev's cartoon stands shoulder to shoulder with theirs. Subtitled 'Stuff you think about but don't talk about,' Tales of Mere Existence is a first-person narrative tour through the occasionally mundane, always hilarious, thoughts of a young man on the edge.”

We Take A Spin On The Magic Roundabout
The Magic RoundaboutEmpire Online, in reporting on a press preview of the movie based on the beloved kids TV show, reports, “Well, it's back with a vengeance — and this time, it's 3-D. Yes, CGI has taken over even from puppets, but the good news is that the characters themselves haven't changed much, except that they can now do action. And how — Dylan sees off some evil skeletons with his hitherto-unguessed at martial arts know-how, Brian gets ejector-seated from a moving train and Ermentrude does some Catherine Zeta-Jones style ballet dancing through infra-red beams. ... We're assured that the film is not going for Shrek style humour — distributor Pathe said that the film aimed at 'very particular, eccentric, British' style laughs. And while some of the jokes fell flat out of the context of the film as a whole, there are some lovely sight gags to fill any gaps.”

Find Out Who Lives in the Pineapple Under the Sea
Zap2it.com has this interview with Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke, the voices of SpongeBob and Patrick in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (as well as the original TV series). They say that “some legendary Hollywood comedy duos from the past were inspirations [for the animated duo]. 'You see elements of Laurel and Hardy in us, but we're trying to avoid the smart mean guy and his moronic friend, so what you have is a sweet fairly dumb guy and an even dumber guy who's a hurricane force of nature,' says Kenny. 'It's kind of a combination of Martin and Lewis and Laurel and Hardy,' adds Fagerbakke. 'But unlike Martin and Lewis, Dean Martin would occasionally be snappy and mean to Jerry, saying something like 'Shut up let me handle this!' ' says Kenny. 'SpongeBob would never say that to Patrick, he thinks Patrick is a genius.'”

Captain Comics: a Love Letter to the Comic-book Genre
Andrew A. Smith of the Scripps Howard News Service feels that while The Incredibles “isn't based on any particular superhero comic book, [it] is obviously a love letter to the genre. ...Let me state it right up front: The Incredibles is in many ways an homage to Marvel's Cosmic Quartet [Fantastic Four]. Both teams are families, for example, although it's not a one-to-one match. The family dynamic is intact, as witnessed by both love and irritation. As to superpowers, Incredibles scores 75 percent compared with Fantastic Four. Mr. Fantastic's stretchiness, The Thing's brute strength and the Invisible Woman's force fields and disappearing trick are all mirrored, respectively, by Elastigirl, Mr. Incredible and the shy, teenage Violet (shrinking violet — get it?). Only the FF's Human Torch is left out, replaced by the young super-speedster Dashiell Parr (Dash — get it?). Which, you know, makes sense — a movie that millions of children will watch isn't likely to star a kid who sets himself on fire. But I don't want to make Incredibles sound like a swipe of Fantastic Four. ... Instead, the movie uses the superhero genre's conventions, tropes and clichés— many of which FF epitomized or created — to tell a rousing and sometimes touching story. How could you do a superhero family story and NOT reference the original First Family of comics?”

An 'Incredible' Pinay Animator:
The Philippine Daily Inquirer has this interview with animator Virginia “Gini” Cruz Santos, who “had an important hand in bringing characters from Toy Story 2, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles to life. ... She [says] that animating superheroes is definitely a huge departure from doing the lead female fish in Finding Nemo, Dory. 'Oh, it's night and day! It's a lot more work. There are a lot of us in the animation department that love comic books. We got to do the extreme hero poses. The nice thing too about it was animating the characters like regular humans.' She worked on the characters Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) and her super-kids, as well as Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and some very specific scenes. 'The nice thing about Pixar is, they encourage us, like 'If there's a particular character that interests you, let us know.' I remember seeing the cave sequence, and saying, 'I really wanna work on that one!'' Santos says it was an understandably demanding job to work with director-writer Brad Bird, who helmed one of her all-time cartoon movie faves, Iron Giant. 'Standards were really high. I wouldn't say it was fun, but I'm saying that in a positive way, because he challenged all of us. But what made it easy was, everything was set. It was just up to us to add nuances to the acting. The first thing I told Brad after watching it in the wrap party was, 'Wow, I have to say, I actually forgot that we worked on it, and I watched it like a regular film,'' she says.”

Creator of Superhero ‘The Flash' Dies at 88
The Flash The death of Harry Lampert, who began his career at Fleischer Studios, in New York, was fairly widely reported, though it largely focused on his role as the creator of The Flash. Though his career at Fleischer was rather aborted, he did play a key role in the unionization of the studio and the 1937 strike. When I talked to him back in the 1980s, he actually seemed prouder of his role as author of a number of best-selling books on the game of bridge, which was one of his real passions. One of the more accurate obituaries is this one from The Associated Press, which notes, “He began drawing professionally at 16, inking cartoons at Fleischer Studios in New York for characters such as Popeye, Betty Boop and KoKo the Clown. Six years later, Lampert created the DC Comics original "Flash Comics .1" in 1940, collaborating with writer Gardner Fox. The first-edition featuring the physics-defying superhero has become a classic among comic book collectors. "He based it on the character in mythology (Hermes) ... the wings on his feet," said daughter Karen Lampert Akavan. "He had no idea how big it would be." ... After retiring in Florida [after a career in cartooning and advertising], Lampert was known as an avid bridge player. He became president of the American Bridge Teachers Association, and wrote several books on the subject including The Fun Way to Serious Bridge, largely considered a bible of the game.” See also this obituary in The Palm Beach Post.

New York Becomes ‘Toontown'
The Boca Raton (Florida) News reports, “It’s been a while since the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse and Yosemite Sam enthralled crowds at the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton. Those famous and classic cartoon characters have been in storage since the museum closed down in July of 2002. But they’ll soon have a new home — in New York’s Empire State Building. Mort Walker, former operator of the Cartoon Museum and owner of the valuable art collection, confirmed Monday that the animated characters will take up residence on three floors of the famed 34th Street skyscraper. They will occupy a space formerly leased by a men’s clothing store.”

Asian Film-makers Still Favour Traditional Movie-making over CGI
In its story explaining why, Channel News Asia notes, “Singaporean film-maker Eric Khoo, whose movie 12-Storeys is the first Singapore feature to be shown in Cannes, believes that CGI animation in Asia is still in its infancy. 'Basically with CGI animation, I haven't seen anything coming from Asia per se, to be viewed as pretty strong work (flash or overlay). Somehow I don't think we've gotten the real knack for it at this point. I don't think they stand up as good as some of the Hollywood films,' said Khoo, local director and producer. Then there's the talk of budget constraints. But even in Bollywood, where there are big bucks to spend on making movies, they aren't quite attracted to these special effects. 'I think there's a strong culture in Bollywood movies and it's pandering to their market and it's very localised,' said Fong.”

In Brief ...
Disney Booting up 'Toy Story 3':
According to The Hollywood Reporter (also here), “Walt Disney Studios is actively moving ahead with its long-in-discussion sequel to Pixar Animation's two Toy Story movies, a move that could bring Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the gang back to the big screen. Disney is in the process of setting up a digital animation facility in Glendale, not all that far from DreamWorks Animation's digs, that will be used for the production of Toy Story 3. ... Coming Soon: Desi Walt Disney Films: The Financial Express reports, “The Walt Disney Company wants to make original desi animation films and TV shows in India for the world market, as against the outsourcing model prevalent in the industry, it is learnt. In effect, everything will be Indian, from start to finish, in these films. Walt Disney indicated its interest in the country’s animation sector, when an entertainment industry delegation from India met Disney president and chief operating officer (COO) Bob Iger in Los Angeles last week. The team from India visited big-time film studios in the US.”

November 15, 2004
Polar Express Sets Imax Record
Reuters reports (also here), “Tom Hanks' holiday movie The Polar Express has set an opening weekend record for a Hollywood film released in Imax Corp.'s giant screen format, the company's co-chief executive said Monday. Brad Wechsler said the film grossed $2.1 million over the weekend in 59 North American Imax theaters for a total of $3 million in receipts since Wednesday. 'We're extremely pleased in terms of its absolute performance in Imax. We've set a new weekend record for us ... we've had a ton of sold out shows and our advance sales to consumers have been great,' Wechsler told Reuters. ... [He] said the movie has outperformed other Hollywood films released simultaneously in the Imax format and regular theaters, including the Harry Potter and Matrix sequels. 'Polar Express opened to impressive Imax box office and is likely to have legs in Imax, in our view. We believe the films' performance will make exhibitors and studios take more notice of Imax,' Soleil Research Associates analyst Marla Backer said in a note to clients.”

The SpongeBob SquarePants MovieThe SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
Michael Rechtshaffen in The Hollywood Reporter feels that, “Expertly navigating the tricky waters of feature adaptation like the can-do sea sponge that he is, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie proves that it's possible to go from cozy TV series to the much more demanding expanse of the big screen without losing any of the little yellow guy's wide-eyed irreverence. While other cartoons have taken the plunge with mixed results, creator/director/co-screenwriter Stephen Hillenburg has been careful not to draw his lovably goofy protagonist too far out of his depths. The result is an animated adventure that's funnier than Shark Tale and more charming than The Polar Express.” Meanwhile, Sun Media has this interview with SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg.“'I started off wanting to do a show starring this little invertebrate optimist,' Hillenburg says. The design was simple, if colourful, with SpongeBob as a simple, square, household sponge. The tone of his work was based on the ideas embedded in the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, as well as in early Jerry Lewis movies. Like them, SpongeBob would be an innocent braving a hostile world; he survived without maturing or growing cynical himself. And the slapstick style was inspired by the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and the boys at Termite Terrace.”

At the Mall, Mixing Popcorn and Religion
Mohammed: The Last ProphetThe Washington Post in visiting a theater showing Mohammed: The Last Prophet says, “Up they go. Past the Tropik Sun, the Radio Shack, the T-Mobile kiosk, families rush to their seats in the Regal theater, bags of popcorn and sodas in hand. It's Eid al-Fitr (pronounced EED-al-FITTER) — the Festival of Fast-Breaking, marking the end of the month-long Ramadan — and, for the first time, a very exciting time, a very important time, there's a film to help celebrate it. Muhammad: The Last Prophet — a lush, solemn, 90-minute animated film directed by Disney veteran Richard Rich (The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron) — made its U.S. debut yesterday, showing in about 40 cities in 86 theaters nationwide, four of them in Northern Virginia. The English-language film has been released in a handful of countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Malaysia and Turkey, with subtitles. But 9/11 came, and the $10 million film — produced by Badr International and financed by Saudi investors — was shelved in the United States. ... The film is not a big Hollywood production, [Oussama Jammal, the distributing company's owner] says, certainly nothing like The Passion of the Christ. Still, word of mouth among the estimated 150,000 Muslims, Arab and non-Arab, in the Washington area, paying $12 a ticket, is expected to fill theaters until Thursday, when the run ends. For the past week, volunteers like Yahya Fouz, a 23-year-old law student, and 24-year-old Sajjad Ahmad, a software tester, have been helping sell tickets; their cell phone numbers are posted on Fine Media Group's Web site.” See also this report in The New York Times, which notes that “for thousands of Muslims who flocked to ... theaters [showing the film], the American premiere of Muhammad: The Last Prophet, was unquestionably a landmark cultural event.”

UNESCO Takes Cartoons to Kenya
AFP reports, “The United Nations educational agency has launched an initiative to bring a popular international art form to the continent of Africa, where homegrown examples are rarely to be found — the cartoon film. Already an experiment conducted in July has yielded encouraging results after trainees produced seven short animated films after an introductory course of just five weeks. According to Alonso Aznar, regional communication and information counsellor in east Africa for the UN educational, scientific and cultural organisation UNESCO, normally it would take six months to a year of training to achieve a similar result. ... UNESCO plans to launch a new training course in the early part of next year and is looking for financial help to set up an African animated films production centre, Aznar said.”

In Brief ...
After 'The Incredibles,' Pixar Can Afford to Play Hard-to-Get:
According to The New York Times, “Anyone expecting Pixar to pounce on the success of The Incredibles to strike a distribution deal, much as DreamWorks Animation took advantage of the recent box office success of Shark Tale to quickly roll out its initial public offering, would be mistaken.” One of the reasons is “What [Steve] Jobs described as 'musical chairs among the studios' is a prime reason for Pixar's lack of urgency.” This includes Sherry Lansing stepping down next year as head of Paramount and, more importantly, Michael Eisner departure from Disney in 2006. ... Artist Gives Animated Talk on Pixar: New York University's The Washington Square News has this report on a talk on campus given by The Incredibles animator John Kahrs. “'Animation is really tedious,' Kahrs said. 'Sometimes you can work really hard for a long time at something and get nothing.'” ... A Woman of Many Voices: The Ann Arbor News has this interview with voice-over artist Pamela Lewis, who is based in Ann Arbor, who says, "I'm doing commercials and promos and talking toys and voices in Web sites, and I'm doing political commercials, and cartoons and CD-ROM games.”

November 14, 2004
'Incredibles' Ices 'Polar' at Box Office
The IncrediblesReuters reports, “In the battle of computer-animated cartoons, The Incredibles held onto the top slot at the weekend box office in North America, while the costly Tom Hanks holiday movie The Polar Express pulled in at a distant No. 2, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday. The Incredibles ... sold about $51 million worth of tickets in the three days beginning Friday, said a spokesman for Walt Disney Co. ... Its 10-day total soared to $144.1 million, which is how much Pixar's previous effort, Finding Nemo, made at the same time in its release cycle last summer. That film ended up with $340 million. Disney distribution president Chuck Viane was confident the new film would reach that level, helped by a paucity of family movies in theaters. The Polar Express, which reportedly cost $270 million to make and market, opened with a modest $23.5 million for the weekend, distributor Warner Bros. Pictures said. Since its release on Wednesday, it has earned $30.8 million.” ... Box Office Prophets asks, “Is The Polar Express, with its reported $165 million production budget, going to be considered a disappointment? Not yet. If the film chucks large next weekend, WB could have a mess on its hands, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Pow! It's an Incredible Victory for Morality
The Sunday Times of London reports that, “A family of superheroes who defy mediocrity to defeat the bad guys and save the world from tyranny are being hailed as Hollywood standard-bearers of middle America’s values. After the re-election of President George W Bush by voters who ranked moral issues above terrorism, the economy and Iraq, the hit film The Incredibles has caught the national mood. Just as Bush supporters believe that the president will always follow his conscience, so will Mr Incredible, the beefy family man who cannot be forced to punch beneath his weight for long, and his wife Elastigirl, who bends but does not snap under pressure. It is as if Hollywood had found the perfect vehicle for the Republican-voting 'red' states. In its opening weekend, immediately after the November 2 elections, the animated film from Pixar and Walt Disney took $70.5m at the box office. 'Now we’re in a post- November 2 universe, the themes of The Incredibles look downright prescient,' wrote the film critic of National Review, a conservative magazine.” ... Liberals are dismayed by the cultural hijacking of a medium that they had once owned. Ted Rall, a newspaper cartoonist, said: 'It’s kind of ironic that superheroes now have these fascist, right-wing connotations. The right has stolen our flag and our superheroes, too'.”

Big in Japan, but Made in the U.S.A.
Hi Hi Puffy AmyYumi.The New York Times notes, “Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi, which has its debut on Friday on the Cartoon Network, is an animated series based on two real Japanese pop stars, Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura, a k a Puffy Ami Yumi. In Japan they're known simply as Puffy, but North America already has a Puffy. They have been familiar faces since 1996, when 'Ajia no Junshin' ('True Asia') their debut single in imitation of the group E.L.O., sold more than a million copies. Like most Japanese pop acts, the group is nearly unknown in the United States, which is what the new cartoon is intended to change. For this is no Japanese import; their Japanese fans won't even see it. Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi is a made-in-the-U.S.A. cartoon intended to turn average American kids into fans of a Japanese pop group. ... Given the success Cartoon Network has had with its Toonami block of Japanese animation from 7 to 11 on Saturday nights and the continuing success of syndicated series like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Digimon, it would be natural to expect Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi to resemble anime. But its look is more Ren & Stimpy than Ruroni Kenshin ... with garish colors, simple character designs and a general lack of visual clutter. Likewise, the plots tend toward the simple slapstick of American kidvid- no surprise, given the show's intended audience, 6 to 11.”

Naked Samoans' Toon 'Bro' Is a Go with Kiwis
Bro'TownAccording to Variety, “After years of low to average ratings for Kiwi comedies, CanWest Mediaworks TV3 in New Zealand has found its biggest hit with bro'Town, the country's first adult-skewed animated primetime series. Written and voiced by comedy theater group the Naked Samoans — Oscar Kightley, Dave Fane, Shimpal Lelisi and Mario Gaoa — bro'Town chronicles the misadventures of five teenagers growing up in Auckland. ... Chief executive Rick Friesen is ecstatic with the firstrun of six episodes for bro'Town, which has drawn up to 70% of the 15-29 audience and around 35% of the wider TV3 target, ages 18-39. ... By the standards of Kiwi budgets, its NZ$400,000 ($277,000) per half hour is high.” 10% of its budget comes from product placement and 60% from the government.

In Brief ...
Animated Film Tells Story of Muhammad:
NPR's All Things Considered has this audio of an interview with Oussama Jammal, distributor of Muhammad: The Last Prophet. ... Local Boy Rides 'Polar Express': The Cincinnati Enquirer has this interview with 12-year-old Union, Kentucky native Josh Hutcherson who “portrayed Hero Boy, a youngster swept away on a magical train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve in [The Polar Express,] the movie based on the beloved 1985 book by Chris Van Allsburg.” ... Holiday Animated Film Features Teen Voices: The Bristol (Connecticut) Press has this talk with “Bristol resident Emily Aviles [who] will be featured as the voice-over for character Dr. Joe in the [half-hour] TV film, It’s Christmas, Dr. Joe!”

November 13, 2004
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
Todd McCarthy in Variety says, “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie takes on rather too much water during its extended feature-length submersion. Stephen Hillenburg's enormously clever and appealing animated creation, which has been one of the Nickelodeon channel's biggest hits since debuting in 1999, still possesses charm, as well as visual and musical appeal, on the bigscreen. But as with many short-form TV entities when sextupled in length, SpongeBob proves more palatable as scrumptious fast food than full-scale repast. Still, B.O. should prove absorbent with the target audience through Thanksgiving and slightly beyond, with much more in store down the line as a home entertainment staple.”

Muhammad: The Last Prophet
Stephen Whitty in The Newark Star-Ledger Staff, in reviewing the animated feature, feels “Muhammad: The Last Prophet ... has a harder time than Christian films. For one thing, Islam prohibits the depiction of religious figures — a prohibition which means this film about Muhammad isn't allowed to show him. For another, passions among the faith's factions run high — a concern that discourages any remotely controversial teaching. The result is a film about as bland — and appealing — as cold porridge. Because Muhammad is never shown, we never get any sense of him as a man. Because doctrinal fights have to be avoided, many characters and cultural conflicts — at least to non-Muslims — will remain unclear. ... The animation — designed by the same folks who gave us the awful recent The King and I, and outsourced to Korea — is crude and colorless. The voice actors all sound a little like Ernest Borgnine, hardly the sort of thing to transport you back to ancient Arabia.”

Citroen C4's Transformer Dance
Citroen C4 commercialCarpages asks, “How do you make a car dance? Hire hit making superstar Justin Timberlake’s choreographer, Marty Kudelka, cyber scan a brand new Citroen C4 using lasers to create a perfect 3D model and spend two months using the latest film industry animation techniques as used by the likes of Pixar to create a car/transformer with all the right moves. The resulting 30 second TV commercial was conceived by the Citroen creative team at agency Euro RSCG’s London office, produced by Spy Films in Toronto, with animation undertaken by Vancouver based post production VFX house, the Embassy. ... The commercial breaks on Britain’s TV screens on November 15th, the Citroen C4’s UK on-sale date, and the multi million pound campaign runs right through to the end of December.”

Popeye the Sailor Man Turns 75
The Associated Press reports, “Put away the cake. Pass the spinach. Popeye celebrates his 75th birthday this year, animated evidence that a steady diet of leafy green vegetables and pipe smoking can guarantee you Hulk Hogan forearms as a septuagenarian. To honor the veteran sailor man, the Museum of Television and Radio unveiled a retrospective Saturday featuring rarities and collectibles from the cartoon hero's career. 'There are very few characters that are that old and still in the public consciousness,' said Barry Monush, curator of the exhibit. 'It's quite impressive to stick around that long and stay recognizable. ... Popeye was launched in 1929, debuting in a minor role in the comic strip Thimble Theater. The sailor was an immediate hit with readers, and artist E.C. Segar converted him into the star of the strip within two years. ... But it was the Max Fleischer short films, 109 in all, that ingrained the spinach-chomping sailor into the national consciousness. The first one debuted in 1933, and Popeye became such an instant icon that spinach consumption in the United States jumped 33 percent during the 1930s.”

November 12, 2004
How Pixar Conquered the Planet
In an interesting, in-depth article on Pixar, The Incredibles and computer animation (including the problems of motion capture), The Guardian notes, “In Hollywood ... figuring out Pixar's secret has become a matter of panicky necessity. Since 1995, when Toy Story became the first computer-animated feature film, the company has had an unbroken record of triumphs, as popular with critics as the box office, resulting in 17 Oscars and sufficient millions to make Pixar, movie for movie, the most successful studio of any kind in the history of cinema. (The Incredibles took $70.7m [£38m] in its first three days in America, more than the rest of that weekend's top 10 put together.) Other animation studios, saddled with a string of flops, have been left to glower from the sidelines — with the exception of Disney, the grandfather of them all, thanks to a deal under which it provided most of the financing for Pixar's hits. Then, earlier this year, that arrangement fell through too, after a reported clash of egos between Disney's Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs, the erratic genius behind both Pixar and Apple. The upstart studio made it clear that it no longer needed Disney's protective embrace, and something significant had changed forever in the landscape of family entertainment.”

Kalispell (Montana) Native Is the Superhero Behind 'The Incredibles'
Brad BirdAccording to The Daily Inter Lake, “In a story in the Nov. 3 edition of USA Today, The Incredibles writer and director Brad Bird is noted as being 'uncomfortable' when asked to state his birthplace. But Bird, who was born in Kalispell, was eager to speak about his Montana connections with the Daily Inter Lake, though as the creative force behind last week's No. 1 movie, his time is coveted. 'I want to come back, I love it there,' he said of Montana. 'I have a couple of film projects in mind; both would take place in Montana.' Bird, 48, hasn't been in the state since his father died about 10 years ago. He moved to Oregon before he began school, but has strong memories of the Flathead Valley from many childhood summers at his family's Bird Point home, on the south end of Flathead Lake. Bird's family name is well known in Montana; his grandfather was Frank W. Bird, one of the first presidents and a past chief executive officer of Montana Power. His aunt Virginia Bird MacDonald still lives in Polson.”

DreamWorks Animation 10th Anniversary
As part of its special DreamWorks 10th anniversary issue, Variety has several articles on its involvement in animation. Cel research: Michael Mallory provides this overview, which begins, “Forging an identity in feature animation is a formidable task, given the price of admission to an arena long dominated by Disney. But with cracks appearing in the Mouse House facade and Pixar's toons eclipsing the studio's own, the window of opportunity has widened. A decade into its uneven run, DreamWorks has stepped into this chaotic, risk-filled landscape and left a definite mark with its 10 releases to date. Newly christened as a stand-alone public company and steered by onetime Disney reanimator Jeffrey Katzenberg, it has developed a distinctive brand all its own. "You pretty much know a DreamWorks film now versus a Pixar film," says animation historian and chronicler Jerry Beck. ... Small Fry Swim to Go Fish: Michael Mallory in Variety has also this brief report which notes, “Like the card game its name alludes to, Go Fish PicturesDreamWorks Animation's specialized distribution arm — is holding a gambler's hand in the hopes that Japanese animation for grown-ups, which has so far thrived only in the home entertainment marketplace, will establish a major theatrical presence. Then again, DreamWorks' decision to launch Go Fish was based more on artistic considerations than the bottom line.” ... DreamWorks Animation Score Card: In the same issue, Variety has this listing of the box office results of all DreamWorks Animation films, from Antz to Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.

Dialogue: Jerome Chen
The Polar ExpressThe Hollywood Reporter has this interview with Sony Pictures Imageworks' Jerome Chen, visual-effects supervisor on The Polar Express, who goes into considerable details about the problems of doing motion capture. In reply to the question as to “How complicated is it to transfer the adult performances onto the digital children?,” He replies, “It's just taking that data and sticking it onto (another) skeleton. That's what we had to do with Tom [Hanks]. When Tom plays the boy — and the Hobo character and Santa Claus — they're not his features at all, but because the underlying skeleton is the same for everything, the movements just get translated — or retargeted, as we say — onto the skeleton. An actor's performance can drive any character because all it's doing is pushing a skeleton around; that skeleton could be moving a very skinny person or a big person, but the movement of that skeleton (can be) provided by anybody. It's almost like you're wrapping the skin of one person onto another person's movements. You can transpose all these movements, so the actor doesn't have to look like the part he's playing. There's talk about that now — that it might change the way certain types of movies are cast. Actors should embrace this because it actually opens up more roles for them. If you're a really good actor, but the part you're playing needs you to be 300 pounds, you don't have to become a method actor and suddenly try to gain all that weight.”

Animation, Costs Improve with Advances
This story in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette on recent developments in computer animation begins by reporting that, “Computer animation is moving to the point that consumers may not even realize what they are watching is not real. At least, that is what Andy Hendrickson, head of technology at PDI/Dreamworks, told audience members this week at SC2004, the supercomputing conference that ended yesterday at the David Lawrence Convention Center. In fact, Hendrickson said technology has improved so much that, in some cases, a technically perfect image has to be altered to make it look more real. For instance, when an animated character speaks, audiences do not expect his lips to match every sound. If that were to occur, the mouth's movements would be so precise that viewers would think something is wrong with the character — that he or she may have something akin to Tourette's syndrome, he said. So artist/technicians often go over films to make the movements of animated characters appear less perfect.”

In Brief ...
Drawn TogetherAnimation Fair to Add Lustre to Sitex this Month: IT AsiaOne reports, “The regional animation industry is set to converge at this year's AnimaXtion Fair 04, which will be held alongside the annual Sitex consumer IT fair. Both events will be held from Nov 25 to Nov 28 2004 at Singapore Expo. ... [It] is part of [Media Development Authority's] efforts to push Singapore into the global animation industry, which is estimated to see US$70 billion in revenue by 2005.”... Comedy Central 'Drawn' to More Animated Reality: Zap2it.com reports, “ It only took two weeks for Comedy Central to decide it wants more Drawn Together. The network has ordered a second season of the animated 'reality' series, in which a bunch of cartoon archetypes make sport of reality television. The new season, consisting of 15 episodes, will premiere next year.” ... Pohat Native's Creative Engine Helps 'Express' Make Tracks: The Easton (Pennsylvania) Express-Times has this interview with Pohatcong Township native Amy Taylor about her role as technical animator on The Polar Express.

November 11, 2004
A Sailor Man, 75, Gets a Digital Nip and Tuck
Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for PappyThe New York Times notes (also here), “This week, Popeye made his debut as a computer-generated 3-D character in a 44-minute movie called Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy, available on DVD ($20). A 22-minute version of the film, the first Popeye animation in 15 years, is to be broadcast on Dec. 17 on Fox. Applying digital technologies to iconic figures born on the comics pages of the 1920's was far from simply translating hand-drawn animation to computer-driven modeling and motion. Part of the challenge was capturing the kinetic style of Popeye's theatrical cartoons, said Frank Caruso, vice president and creative director at King Features.” ... Mr. Caruso said he and Mainframe Entertainment, the Canadian company that did the computer-generated animation for the Popeye project, were determined to recreate that effect [of the Fleischer cartoons] with little or no trace of the mechanical movements often present in computer-generated imagery.”

The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys
RyanJason Anderson in The Toronto Eye Weekly writes, “Near the end of Laurence Green's documentary, Alter Egos, two men sit down to watch a movie. The silence that follows the screening is acutely uncomfortable and it is not because the movie was Surviving Christmas. When they are finally able to articulate their reactions, it makes for the most unsettling and moving few minutes I've seen in any film this year, yielding vital questions about the divisions between art and life, the functionally sane and the mentally ill, and jerks and geniuses. When it comes to the last two, the artists portrayed in Alter Egos can be both. Chris Landreth, the one with the beard and the ponytail, makes Oscar-nominated animated films for the National Film Board. The older, bespectacled Ryan Larkin was the NFB animation department's wonder boy in the '60s and early '70s. The movie they watch together is Ryan [pictured], a 14-minute animated short in which Landreth tries to understand how an animator as brilliant as Larkin ended up a panhandler in Montreal. As Landreth says in Alter Egos — which screens along with Ryan and Larkin's 1968 short, Walking, at the Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival on Nov. 18 at the Joseph Workman Theatre — 'He has fallen from grace in a way that is as spectacular as you could imagine for anyone who's been an artist.'”

Along Came a Spider
Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends The Associated Press has this story on David Kirk, creator of the Miss Spider children’s books, which have been adapted for the Nick Jr. series, Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends, which is also being shown Saturday mornings on CBS. “'I’m not surprised by Miss Spider’s success,' [publisher Nicholas] Callaway says. “David’s illustrations are so rich and complex, they are perfect for computer animation. His whole life has been a rehearsal for creating a character like this. Miss Spider is the universal mother figure. Children form a deep emotional connection with her.' The idea for Miss Spider came from [Kirk's daughter] Violet, now 17. 'When she was little, she could pick up a little caterpillar and carry it around for hours,' he says. 'I would worry because kids aren’t usually very careful. Hours later, she would still have her little bug, and it would still be happy, crawling around. When she was ready, she would let it go. She was the inspiration for Miss Spider. Someone who might cause a little trouble, but always very nice.' ... Last year, Miss Spider made the jump to TV star with an hourlong, 3-D computer-animated television special on Nickelodeon. In September, Miss Spider became a popular fixture on Nick Jr. Its debut was the highest rated Nick Jr. premiere since Bob the Builder in January 2001. Kirk is delighted by how his characters have come to life.”

'Polar Express' in 3D is a Thrill Ride
The Imax version of The Polar Express seems to be getting a better critical reception than the regular version, as witness this review by John Monaghan in The Detroit Free Press. He says, “As a Christmas fable, the movie version of The Polar Express may never reach a consensus among viewers or critics. For all those who embrace it as a charming rendering of a favorite book, others will find its computer-generated characters creepy, its Yuletide message insincere. One thing is certain, however: If you're going to see the movie, make the effort to experience it in 3D. Though the two-dimensional edition shown at theaters nationwide already gives the illusion of depth, the version playing at [IMAX theaters] provides enhancements so striking that even humbugs may have to take a second look. ... IMAX has used quality 3D for documentaries, but The Polar Express is the first Hollywood feature released in the IMAX process. It likely won't be the last. Now with the possibility of retrofitting 2D features, everything from The Incredibles to the original Star Wars movies could be entering new dimensions.”

In Brief ...
Pixar Trounces Estimates, Shares Jump:
Reuters reports, “Pixar Animation Studios Inc. Thursday reported that its third-quarter profit rose, driven by foreign video sales of last year's hit Finding Nemo. Net income was $22.4 million, or 38 cents per share, compared with $13.2 million, or 23 cents per share, a year earlier, Pixar said. Analysts had predicted earnings of 24 cents per share, according to Briefing.com.” ... ITV Sells Moving Picture Company: Reuters reports,ITV has sold its film effects business Moving Picture Company to Technicolor, part of French technology group Thomson SA, according to the Times. The paper on Friday said ITV sold the unit for 53 million pounds [$98.5 million] and will take an extra 9 million pounds [$16.7 million] out of MPC, the London-based production house which worked on the films Troy and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. ... 'The Right Stuf' Coming to Grimes: The Dallas County (Iowa) News has this story about “Shawne Kleckner, owner of The Right Stuf ...a distributor of animated cartoons, [which] is now expanding into the T-shirt, bag, stuffed toy and book business,” which will soon be moving from Des Moines to Grimes. “ 'We now carry hundreds of animated cartoons and we ship anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 packages a day,' Kleckner said. 'I think I overwhelmed the Grimes Postmaster when I told her.'”

November 10, 2004
'The Polar Express'
The Polar ExpressThe film is getting a mixed reception. On the positive side, Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times says, “The Polar Express has the quality of a lot of lasting children's entertainment: It's a little creepy. Not creepy in an unpleasant way, but in that sneaky, teasing way that lets you know eerie things could happen. There's a deeper, shivery tone, instead of the mindless jolliness of the usual Christmas movie. This one creates a world of its own, like The Wizard of Oz or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in which the wise child does not feel too complacent.” He adds, that if you have to choose, pick the 3D stereo Imax version. ... David Mumpower at Box Office Prophets, says, “The Polar Express is visually stunning throughout, has several fascinating insights into the nature of man, and offers crisp storytelling that sparkles with wit. The movie is without question one of the finest of 2004, a near-certainty to compete for Best Animated Film at the Oscars, and an insta-classic. It is the new Yuletide answer to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” However, Manohla Dargis in The New York Times notes, “The Polar Express has already received attention for the advanced technology employed to make the film and the heart-skipping amount of money reportedly spent to transpose the story from page to screen. I suspect that most moviegoers care more about stories and characters than how much money it took for a digitally rendered strand of hair to flutter persuasively in the wind. Nor will they care that to make Polar Express Tom Hanks wore a little cap that transmitted a record of his movements to a computer, creating templates for five different animated characters. It's likely, I imagine, that most moviegoers will be more concerned by the eerie listlessness of those characters' faces and the grim vision of Santa Claus's North Pole compound, with interiors that look like a munitions factory and facades that seem conceived along the same oppressive lines as Coketown, the red-brick town of 'machinery and tall chimneys' in Dickens's Hard Times.”

Latest Animated Films a Twist on Old Techniques
Speaking of The Polar Express, CTV has this story on the positive and negative aspects of motion capture. “Garrick Filewood, a professor in the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University, said motion capture is just a jazzed-up version of older technologies. 'This is not a new technique, although the technology has changed,' Filewood told CTV.ca. It used to be known as 'rotoscoping.' A director would have an actor perform the live movements, and then the animators would trace those movements, he said. ... Motion capture gets rid of that person in the middle. It means if you can have someone wear that three-D suit where the motion can be captured directly into the computer, you bypass all that need for animation,' Filewood said. However, the three-dimensional aspect means you can do more advanced animations more easily. 'It's also about efficiency and making money,' he said.” On the other hand, “Ken Walker, a technologist in the animation program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., [said] that motion capture can sometimes be a creative hindrance. 'When we're doing movie work, people want animated action as opposed to motion capture action. Because motion capture grabs everything, and sometimes you don't want all that action,' he said. 'If you're an animator, you might want to exaggerate something.'”

Animated Discussion
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Just four years after its inception, the race for the best animated feature Oscar is shaping up as one of the most diverse and innovative heats in the 2005 pack. ... 'The big money is on (The Incredibles director) Brad Bird and Pixar,' says Ramin Zahed, editor of Animation Magazine. 'However, the Academy has traditionally rewarded movies with big boxoffice returns, so Shrek 2, the highest-grossing toon of all time, has a good chance of landing a nomination.' ... Could we see a deja vu battle between Disney and DreamWorks, a la the 2002 Oscar race between Pixar's Monsters, Inc. and the original Shrek? Only if Academy voters reward a revisiting of Shrek over the newly minted Incredibles. ... The critically acclaimed [Teacher's] Pet, a hand-drawn animation feature from Disney's former Florida studio, splashed onto the screen in early January and could rise to the head of the class. ... Finally, a possible sleeper has emerged: Paramount's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Can the Academy resist a big, wacky adventure about a spirited sea sponge and his starfish sidekick?”

Short Attention
In the RoughThe Hollywood Reporter notes, “If you're curious about the direction animated features are headed, look no further than the competition for the animated short film Oscar. Unfettered by the need to please financiers or age-group demographics, these shorts showcase some of the most creative and innovative work in animated filmmaking. In stark contrast to most other Oscar contenders, these filmmakers rock the medium in unexpected ways to please no one but themselves. For established animation facilities, shorts reward hardworking creatives and test new tools. For young studios, shorts unspool abilities beyond their day-to-day contract work. For animators, shorts can be one of the last refuges for both experimentation and traditional skills. Take Buena Vista's Lorenzo, for example. The clever story of a cat's rebellious tail is a shoo-in for the first Oscar cut and a likely candidate for a nomination. ... By contrast, Chris Landreth's Ryan, an innovative film also likely to make the cut, pushes photorealistic 3-D computer-generated imagery into what Landreth calls 'psycho-realism.'” It also other films that have been shortlisted, including Jeff Fowler's Gopher Broke, Paul Taylor's In the Rough, and Tomek Baginski's Fallen Art.”

Mainframe Entertainment Reports Q2 Profit of $400K, up from Loss Year Ago
The Canadian Press reports, “Shares of Mainframe Entertainment Inc. soared more than 20 per cent after the computer animation company reported a small profit in its latest quarter, compared with a year-ago loss, as it doubled revenues. The Vancouver-based company said Wednesday it earned $400,000 or one cent per share for the three months ended Sept. 30. That compared with a loss of $2 million or 12 cents per share a year ago.

November 9, 2004
‘Polar Express' Takes Express Route to 3-D
The Polar Express Imax 3DMSNBC has this story about the Imax 3D stereoscopic version of The Polar Express. It notes, “Simultaneous with the start of its run at thousands of conventional theaters across the country, Polar Express is beginning its rollout at scores of large-format Imax theaters capable of showing 3-D movies. Imax has presented 3-D documentaries before, but retrofitting a big-screen Hollywood feature with the third dimension is something else entirely, said Greg Foster, president of filmed entertainment at Imax Corp. ... 'Hopefully in a year or two we'll be discussing the first live-action 2-D film that we've converted into 3-D,' he said. Already, Imax is processing footage and stills from the Apollo moon missions to add the three-dimensional effect for a documentary titled Magnificent Desolation — a project that, like Polar Express, gives a prominent role to actor/producer Tom Hanks. ... 'There are certain sequences that he really tweaked to take full advantage of the Imax 3-D release,' Foster said. 'For instance, it snows a little bit more, and where he placed the snow in certain sequences allows you to feel as if it's snowing in the theater. There's a sequence toward the very beginning of the movie where one of the little boys pulls a stop on the train ... (and) the train lands in your lap.' The 2-D version of the movie was updated with those 'tweaks,' but of course they don't have quite the same impact.”

Manga Animates New Millennium
The Japan Times has this story about the Psionic Distortion exhibit at the SuperDeluxe event space in Roppongi, Tokyo that features “selected works from more than 30 artists, mostly from Japan and the U.S. ... The multi-media exhibition — which incorporates paintings, sculptures and segments from various artists' comic books as well as live music events — features both the works of cutting-edge Japanese comics artists like Shintaro Kago and Akino Kondoh and artwork by manga-inspired artists from the States like Kenjji and Toby Barnes.” It is being curated by Missouri-born, Asian-American artist Tim Evans, who says, “Manga has served as a catalyst for self-expression and a powerful springboard in dynamic nihilism in the 21st century, in much the same way that jazz, blues and hip-hop grew out of very specific historical situations and consequently took on vibrant new forms in various parts of the world' ... Psionic Distortion aims to demonstrate how Japanese popular culture has been dispersed and transformed throughout the West (particularly in America), and is currently influencing a younger generation of artists.”

November 8, 2004
Transformed by Robots in Disguise
The Malaysia Star has this historical survey of the Transformers toys and their animated incarnations over the years, including interviews with “robo-fans whose lives were transformed by Autobots and their adventures in fantasy land.” It begins, “'Autobots, transform and roll out!' If you were a kid growing up in the 1980s, those immortal words would probably bring up countless nostalgic memories. Uttered by a certain robot called Optimus Prime, it was one of many memorable moments of the Transformers, which was one of the most popular toy franchises in the Eighties. The Transformers first burst into the scene in the early 1980s, with a toy line and cartoon series that featured giant robots from a mechanical planet called Cybertron. The series focused on the heroic Autobots (led by Optimus Prime) waging their war against the evil Decepticons. Perhaps the main attraction of the Transformers was the fact that the robots actually “transformed” into actual Earth vehicles and objects. Optimus Prime for instance, transformed into a trailer truck, while the Decepticon leader Megatron turned into a pistol. Other robots in the line transformed into jet planes, cassette recorders, ambulances, sports cars, and even a cute little Volkswagen Beetle called Bumblebee. It is largely due to this unique concept of robots actually being disguised as everyday objects and vehicles that the robots in disguise are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.”

November 7, 2004
Box Office Better Than Incredible
Boxoffice Prophets notes the opening weekend for The Incredibles was “above [Finding] Nemo's $70.3 million opening weekend. ... Trust Pixar to rev the box office up in November. The opening weekend for The Incredibles is the biggest yet for Pixar, and is a definitive sign of the future of animated filmmaking. ... When Monsters, Inc. opened on November 2, 2001 it grossed $62.6 million over its opening weekend, or about $67.5 million if tickets were sold at today’s prices. Finding Nemo improved on that slightly, opening in May and finding $70.3 million. This weekend, The Incredibles has trumped Monsters Inc.and basically tied Nemo (although that ranking could change tomorrow), finding a mammoth $70.7 million from 3,933 venues. That’s the biggest opening weekend ever for Pixar and Disney since Finding Nemo, released in May of last year. Since the release of Nemo, Disney has released 27 films versus Pixar’s zero. The Incredibles had a venue average of $17,970, but more importantly had a weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday’s gross) of 3.4. The weekend multiplier indicates that business got better after Friday’s first-day gross of $20.9 million, and indicates that The Incredibles is playing older than Monsters, Inc., which had a 3.6 internal multiplier. Monsters finished its run with a opening weekend compared to total gross multiplier of about 4.0. If The Incredibles can match that, it will gross $282.7 million; if it matches Nemo’s 4.8 (which it probably won’t, due to the different season of release), it will gross an incredible $339.3 million.”

‘Polar Express' Is Clever Yet Cloying
The Polar ExpressJohn Hartl at MSNBC feels, “When it’s good, which is most of the time, The Polar Express suggests a Christmasy version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s also quite a workout for Tom Hanks, who has a ball playing six roles, including a train conductor who appears to have a Wonka-like agenda for the kids he takes to the North Pole on his magic train. As long as he’s a mystery, as long as the kids are required to respond to him as a mischievous authority figure who may or may not be testing them, the movie is an irresistible roller-coaster ride. ... When it’s not running so smoothly, when the cloying moments threaten to overwhelm the clever touches and the state-of-the-art visual effects, The Polar Express can get trapped in sentiment. The characters, who have no names, are literally identified as types (Hero Girl, Lonely Boy), and they sometimes come across as one-note people in a schematic universe.”

In Brief ...
University Trying to Create New Animation Artists
: The Taipei Times reports (also here), “Tainan National University of the Arts (TNUA) is poised to become the cradle of the nation's animation industry with its well-established academic background and expanding plans and ambition to achieve that goal. The university is running the nation's first graduate institute of animation, nurturing skilled talent in animation art and industry every year, and it is also bolstering cooperation with international groups and foreign institutes in related industries and research, according to university president Huang Pi-twan. One of Taiwan's two 'digital design resources centers,' TNUA has been invited by the world-renowned New Zealand film production company Oktobor, which produced cinema hits such as Lord of the Rings and Matrix, to join its production team for a new animated movie titled The Legend of the White Snake, Huang said. ... 'Simpsons' Gets Local Flair from Hometown Animators: According to The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner notes, “Charles Ragins and Eddie Rosas may live in Los Angeles now, but they really just traded one small town for another. That's because the two natives of Fairbanks spend their workdays drawing the characters and places that make up Springfield, the warped-yet-wholesome slice of Americana that's the setting of Fox TV's The Simpsons. The two animators had never met before they landed jobs with the seminal cartoon sitcom ... but they've since bonded in the studio over their own small-town roots.”

November 6, 2004
Do Pixels Make Perfect?
The Boston Globe has this story about Hollywood's infatuation with computer animation. It begins, “The animation industry, says Brad Bird, director of the new Pixar movie The Incredibles, is 'in a dumb period right now.' It's a funny thing to hear from Bird, because if all goes right, his movie, which opened this weekend in a blitzkrieg of marketing and product tie-ins, should make approximately a bajillion dollars. What's so dumb about that? Bird's critique is that Hollywood has leapt at computer generated animation as a kind of holy grail of technology, turning up its nose at traditional, hand-drawn animation in the process. The motivation is easy to understand: Even though fewer than 20 CG feature films have been released in the United States, some have made huge amounts of money. Shrek 2 grossed more than $436 million at the US box office, and Finding Nemo, at No. 2, made $340 million. The last hand-drawn film to even come close to those figures was Disney's 1994 The Lion King, which grossed $313 million in theaters domestically.”

November 5, 2004
Being Super in Suburbia Is No Picnic 
The IncrediblesA.O. Scott in The New York Times (also here) has an interesting take on The Incredibles. He says, “'They keep finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity,' grumbles Bob Parr, once known as Mr. Incredible, the patriarch of a superhero family languishing in middle-class suburban exile. He is referring to a pointless ceremony at his son's school, but his complaint is much more general, and it is one that animates The Incredibles, giving it an edge of intellectual indignation unusual in a family-friendly cartoon blockbuster. Because it is so visually splendid and ethically serious, the movie raises hopes it cannot quite satisfy. It comes tantalizingly close to greatness, but seems content, in the end, to fight mediocrity to a draw. ... The intensity with which The Incredibles advances its central idea — it suggests a thorough, feverish immersion in both the history of American comic books and the philosophy of Ayn Rand — is startling. At last, a computer-animated family picture worth arguing with, and about! Luckily, though, Mr. Bird's disdain for mediocrity is not simply ventriloquized through his characters, but is manifest in his meticulous, fiercely coherent approach to animation.”

Weta: Rendering Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the RingsDigit Magazine has this story about the computing power used to do the special effects in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It notes, “Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films are packed with epic battles. Behind the scenes, however, another struggle was going on. As each movie in the trilogy went into production, visual effects studio Weta Digital scrambled to add the processing power needed to render an increasing number of computationally intensive special effects shots. By the end of the three-part project, the New Zealand-based company had built a massive, 3,200-processor 3D rendering server farm to cope with the load. The installation is ranked on the top 500 supercomputer list as one of the world's largest supercomputer sites. With some 2,400 of those processors residing on blade servers (small rack-mounted servers), and the remainder on traditional servers, it's also one of the most compact.”

November 4, 2004
Mr. Incredible Versus Shrek
The IncrediblesCNN/Money notes (also here), “Movie buffs flocking to The Incredibles will see a story of an overweight ex-superhero living in suburbia and newly unemployed when he secretly returns to his crime-fighting life and uncovers a sinister plot. But for producer Pixar Animation Studios, Mr. Incredible is battling darker forces, namely the rise of its chief nemesis, DreamWorks Animation. On Friday, the same day The Incredibles arrived in theaters nationwide, DreamWorks counterattacked by releasing its most potent weapon — Shrek 2 — on DVD. ... While the DVD didn't put much of a dent into the box office release ... the simultaneous arrival points to the growing rivalry between Pixar and DreamWorks.” ... CNN also has this interview with Jason Lee, the voice of Syndrome, the villain of The Incredibles, who says he got the part because “apparently they liked my dialogue delivery in the film Dogma ... And] when I saw the drawings of Syndrome, the big hair, and the fact that it was Pixar, I was in. But the director told me that a lot of it came from Dogma because I was very animated and evil in that movie. I was kind of all over the place with the inflections and the energy, and I guess that's what did it.”

11 Films 'Toon Up for Oscar
E! Online reports, “A family of superheroes is vying for Oscar glory. And we're not talking about the Justice League. Disney-Pixar's buzz-heavy 'toon The Incredibles, which opens Friday, tops this year's slate of eligible contenders for this year's Best Animated Feature Film Oscar unveiled by the folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But giving the superheroes a run for their money will be DreamWorks' megahit sequel Shrek 2 and undersea adventure Shark Tale (which happens to feature a lead character named Oscar), along with Nickelodeon's upcoming The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and director Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express, featuring Tom Hanks in six animated parts.” Other films deemed eligible are “Disney's Home on the Range and Teacher's Pet; DreamWorks' cyberpunk anime thriller by Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence; and Warner Bros.' Clifford's Really Big Movie. Sky Blue and The Legend of Buddha round out the list of contenders.”

In Brief ...
IATSE Gets Rights to Rep Film Roman Team:
According to Variety, The Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has won the right to represent animation employees at DPS Film Roman in North Hollywood through the Animation Guild, Local 839.” The staff at the studio, which has been nonunion since it was founded in 1984, voted 166-20 in favor of unionization. ... Who Moved My Mouse?: In its story about job opportunities in animation, The Indian Express points out that, “The latest craze ... is computer generated animation. Mumbai’s Graffiti Studios’ (Mahim) — Jadoo premiering on Nickelodeon on November 14 — is the first Bollywood character to be animated and imported to the small screen. 'Hand drawings are labour-intensive and the technique takes ages to learn. With computer-generated figures, manpower and production time are significantly reduced,' says Ram Mohan, Chairman, Graffitti, also known as the father of Indian animation. On the big screen, such images have long made a splash, with hits like Nemo and Shrek. .... Grad Student's Cartoon Airs on Nickelodeon: Texas A&M's The Battalion has this item about “Graduate student Jessica S. Scott [who] came up with the idea for a cartoon that ended up airing on Nickelodeon while taking notes for a class. The Attack of the Note Sheep, originally a class project for professor Karen Hillier's VIZA 622 class, was aired on the Nickelodeon network Sunday night as one of the winning films of the Nicktoons Film Festival.”

November 3, 2004
'The Incredibles' — More Reviews
The Incredibles posterPeter Travers in Rolling Stone raves, “The Incredibles ... is not like any animated movie you've ever seen. While delivering the goods as a rip-roaring action-adventure and in the process rocketing the art of animation to new heights of imagination, humor and wonder, director-writer Brad Bird has crafted a film that breaks fresh ground and defies fogy rules. For starters, there's no talking fish, insects or toys. Bird — who cut his satirical teeth working on The Simpsons and the criminally underseen 1999 feature The Iron Giant — animates human beings.” ... Tim Appelo in The Seattle Weekly says, “The ads for Pixar's triumphant new CG animation insta-classic can only suggest the brilliance of the slapstick comedy involved in Mr. I's midlife crisis — squeezing his swollen belly into tight places and such. In fact, writer-director Bird ... makes his plight far more poignant. This isn't just a cartoon, it tops any live-action feature at the multiplex for honest emotion, snappy dialogue, character integrity, and the lost art of narrative coherency.”

“I'm Just Trying to Make the Kind of Movie That I'd Want to See”
The Onion has this interview with Brad Bird about The Incredibles, in which he says, “ I'm just trying to make the kind of movie that I'd want to see. .... I worked on eight seasons of The Simpsons, and we certainly had our lowbrow jokes. But we'd follow it right afterwards with a joke about Susan Sontag. Any time you think you're making a film for [thelowest-common-denominator], not you, that's a dangerous direction to head, because there's something patronizing about it. Any time you think you can press a certain button and get a laugh, you're probably not pushing yourself. It's like when you go to a comedy club, and the less experienced comics get up and start pulling out the lewd jokes. It's like, 'Yeah, you can get a laugh, but you're not gonna make history with that.' Then you get the great guys, the guys we're still listening to. Have you ever heard a Nichols & May routine? I mean, that stuff is as contemporary as ever, and it's, what, 40 years old? My jaw still drops at how cool Nichols & May are. I think that's what I would like, to do something that's cool a hundred years from now.”

A Blunder Haunts the Magic Kingdom
BusinessWeek reports, “Drama is abundant at the Disney shareholder suit over Michael Ovitz' short tenure as president of the entertainment giant. The one-time Hollywood uberagent's four days on the witness stand made for tabloid-like headlines, with charges of backstabbing by top Disney execs and stories of deals that could have transformed the outfit — if not for CEO Michael Eisner. Ovitz even testified that he was 'cut out like a cancer' by Eisner, a man Ovitz said he once considered as close as his brother. ... In his deposition, Ovitz said when he joined the company, then-Vice-Chairman Roy Disney, who headed the animation unit, wrote a memo to his 1,400 animators saying Ovitz wasn't to be involved with them. And when Disney studio chief Joe Roth first learned that Ovitz was coming aboard, he made a special trip to Colorado to see Eisner because he 'just wanted to make sure that Michael Ovitz wasn't going to run the movie business,' Eisner said in his deposition. ... More potentially juicy testimony is yet to come. Eisner hasn't yet taken the stand, nor have former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold. The two have recently been trying to push Eisner out but were among board members who supported Ovitz's hiring.”

In Brief ...
CarsJapanese Rising Sun Award Goes to Russian Animator Norstein:
Mosnews reports, “The famous Russian animator and director of animated films, Yuri Norstein [Tale of Tales], has been awarded with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government, the NewsRu.Com web-site reports. The Russian animator received the award for 'remarkable services to Japan,' an official release reads.” ... International Animations by Students Highlighted in Puchon Festival: The Korea Times notes, “Animated works from all over the world by both students and professionals will be screened from tomorrow to Nov. 9 at Boksagol Cultural Center in Puchon, Kyonggi province to show the current trend in animations and promote the industry. Focusing on creative works by college students, the 6th Puchon International Student Animation Festival (PISAF) will show 129 animations from 23 different countries. ... Baby, You Can Drive Disney/Pixar's 'Cars': USA Today has this short article on Cars [pictured], the last of the Disney-Pixar collaborations, which to judge by the teaser trailer seems a poor imitation of those delightful Aardman stop motion Chevron adverts. ... Animation Lagging Behind Int'l Standards: According to IranMania News, “Iranian painter Aidin Aghdashloo said that Iranian animation arts has yet to reach international standards. He however said that preliminary steps to this end have been taken in animation filmmaking. ... 'Unfortunately, after victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, little attention was paid to animation films. Perhaps, in the past decade, some artists produced several computerized animation films but, we did not go far enough to keep up with the international standards,' he noted.” ... Emeryville Voters Support Pixar Studios Expansion Plan: The Oakland Tribune reports, “Two measures that will allow famous Pixar Animation Studios to grow — and stay — in Emeryville, were leading in very early returns Tuesday. With absentee ballots from 5 precincts reporting, companion Measures T and U were leading by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. Both must pass for Pixar's latest expansion plans to proceed.” ... Toon Town Campaign for the Gold Coast: Ninemsn has this report on the advertising campaign designed to sell Australia's Gold Coast as a tourist destination. “[Ian Macfarlane] the man hired to sell Australia to the world has turned the Gold Coast into toon-town in a bold farewell promotional campaign designed to reverse a visitor decline in the coastal city. Real life meter maids and surfers have been replaced in marketing material by a sophisticated animated world featuring a tall brunette who swims with dolphins, enjoys golf, sun bakes and plays up at night.” See also story in The Brisbane Courier Mail.

November 2, 2004
‘The Incredibles' Another Pixar Classic
The IncrediblesThe superlatives keep on rolling in for Brad Bird's newest film. Thus, John Hartl at MSNBC calls it “hilarious, slightly scary and endlessly inventive.” While Matt Zoller Seitz in The New York Press says, “Wow. That three-letter word sums up The Incredibles, and you can be sure that no matter what other superlatives you hear applied to Pixar's latest, the movie will match or exceed them. This superhero romp from writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) and Pixar's army is no mere cartoon crowd pleaser or merchandising machine, though it surely qualifies as both. It is also, in no particular order, a relentlessly inventive adventure, a slapstick ballet, a thoughtful exploration of blood ties, moral imperatives and America's mythic self-image and an example of linear narrative filmmaking at its technological and esthetic peak. The film's sheer beauty actually moved me to tears — a reaction I've only experienced at three other films this year: Hero, The Passion of the Christ and Osama.”

Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas
Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas coverScott Chitwood at Comingsoon.net has this review of Disney's new direct-to-video release. He says, “the most notable thing about Mickey's Twice Upon A Christmas [is] the computer animation. Disney has set aside traditional 2-D animation in favor of computer animation and I have to say the transition is pretty good. If you've seen the Disney's Philharmagic attraction at one of the Disney theme parks then you've seen the animation style that they use. I'm amazed at how well these 2-D characters translate into 3-D animation. Donald, Mickey, Goofy, Pluto, and all the rest look as good as if not better than their traditional incarnations. It's the same writing, the same characters, and the same humor all wrapped in a hi-tech package. The animation isn't quite up to Pixar quality, but it's better than that of Jimmy Neutron (which is still very good). The animation wouldn't have held up if the writing wasn't there. Fortunately, the story is just as entertaining as the presentation.”

In Brief ...
Chuncheon Anitown Festival posterDreamWorks at 10: In the wake of the successful release of Shark Tale and the IPO for DreamWorks Animation, The Hollywood Reporter has this extensive evaluation of the parent company, including its role as a major player in the animation universe. For instance, it notes, the company “has generated blockbusters in the form of Shrek and the May release Shrek 2, the latter of which is now the third-highest-grossing domestic release of all time ($436.5 million) and the top animated film in boxoffice history.” ... NBC Pulls 'Father of the Pride' for Sweeps: On a more somber note for DreamWorks, Reuters reports, NBC has pulled Father of the Pride, its expensive foray into computer-animated prime-time comedy, off its schedule for the key November 'sweeps' ratings period, the network said. ... for all of the successes DreamWorks has had with Shrek, the much-hyped Pride has not fared as well. For the fall season through Oct. 24, Pride was tied for 42nd among household audiences. Of 13 episodes ordered, seven have aired. An NBC spokeswoman said the show would return to the network's schedule after sweeps, though she did not pinpoint a date. Voice work has been done for all 13 episodes, though some animation is yet to be completed.” ... Animation Festival Currently Underway in Chuncheon City: Chosun Ilbo has this short report on the Chuncheon Anitown Festival currently underway in Korea's Gangwon Province. “'The five-day festival offers visitors a chance to gain a deeper understanding of animation through free screenings of renowned industry films, exhibitions on popular cartoon characters as well as conference and workshop sessions,' said one organizer.” ... R&H India Assists LA Based Parent on Garfield: Given the impending release of Garfield — The Movie in India, Indiantelevision.com has this story on the role of Rhythm & Hues Studios India played in the production. “India director of operations Sarawathi Balgam said,'Our Mumbai facility contributed on certain aspects of integrating the digitally generated Garfield with the live action scenes & characters. We have worked extensively on camera tracking, matchmoving & digital image manipulations (compositing).'”

November 1, 2004
The IncrediblesThe Incredibles
Christy Lemire of The Associated Press exclaims, “Just when you thought computer-animated extravaganzas had devolved into little more than a litany of played-out pop culture references and some swaths of bright colour comes The Incredibles, a smart, sophisticated, much-needed reminder — after Shark Tale — of how good the genre can be. ... Writer-director Brad Bird boldly follows up 1999's The Iron Giant with a film that's equal parts charm and innovation. And delving into a superhero's inner life is all the rage these days. (Bird also proves to be a vocal talent in a scene-stealing supporting role as superhero wardrobe designer Edna Mode, a loving takeoff on legendary costumer Edith Head.) ... But at two hours, the movie could be tough for youngsters to sit through, and there are no cute, cuddly creatures for them to adore. Older kids and adults, though, will be thrilled that Bird is challenging them with a film that makes them think and feel and, frequently, laugh out loud. ... Here's a link to the audio of Kim Masters review on NPR's Morning Edition

Pixar Poised to Thrive — With or Without Disney
MSNBC, in reviewing the split between Pixar and Disney, notes that, “In 1995,Toy Story — the first joint venture between Disney and upstart Pixar Animation Studios — breathed new life into the fading animation market, but not without a price. In a way, the Pixar partnership — and its subsequent popularity with audiences — was instrumental in fostering the public’s increasing disinterest in classical animation. Launching the new technology with a movie as instantly likable as Toy Story no doubt quickened traditional ink-and-paint animation’s demise. Thankfully, Pixar has embraced its role as high-tech pioneer, and turned out a new generation of classics, films that dazzle with not only eye-popping graphics, but also flesh-and-blood characters that kids — and adults — care about. How? Ironically, Pixar has taken a cue from their soon-to-be former partners. The upstart’s movies are reminiscent of early Disney, utilizing many of the same groundbreaking characteristics that Walt & Co. exhibited in its formative years. Early classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Cinderella were spectacular, character-driven gems, ignited by eye-popping graphics and sweeping tales of adventure and romance. Recent Pixarless Disney outings like The Emperor’s New Groove, Brother Bear and Treasure Planet? Not so much. Disney seems to have lost its Midas touch.”

In Brief ...
Bud LuckeyMarvel Sues in LA to Strip Disney of Copyrights: According to Reuters, “Three months after suing The Walt Disney Co. in a dispute over royalties, Marvel Enterprises Inc. wants to strip the Magic Kingdom of its licensing deals for lucrative Marvel superheroes. In a new lawsuit filed on Friday in Los Angeles federal court, Marvel asks a judge to declare that Disney never legally assumed copyrights to Marvel characters when it bought the original licensee, Fox Family Worldwide, in 2001.” ... Pentamedia Posts Over 12% Growth in Q2 Net Profit: The Press Trust of India reports, “Pentamedia Graphics on Monday said its net profit for the quarter ended September 30, 2004, grew by 12.59 per cent to Rs 5.08 crore [US$1.23 million]During the quarter, Pentamedia has completed its first full-length 2D animation feature The Legend of Buddha, which was produced in collaboration with the Economic Development Board of Singapore. The company said the production of Gulliver's Travel has gone into the finishing stages. This will be the fifth 3D animated feature of the company's production.” ... Animated Film Includes Short by Area Native: The Billings (Montana) Gazette has this interview with Bud Luckey [pictured], who grew up in Billings, whose Annie Award-winning short, Boundin', will be playing theatrically along with The Incredibles. ... Animated Canucks: The Calgary Sun has this brief profile of “a pair of Ontario lads,” Alan Barillaro and Steve Hunter who were animation supervisors on Brad Bird's The Incredibles.

 

Animation Consultants International
News on the Web — November 2004