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December 28, 2004
Please Note: I am taking a hiatus for the next few weeks as I get ready for my new teaching duties at the Savannah College of Art and Design. This will also give me an opportunity to consider a possible redesign of the Animation Consultants International site. I hope this does not cause any inconvenience and wish everyone all the best for the New Year.

Tsunami
The recent events resulting from the massive earthquake in Sumatra are a reminder on how fragile our planet can sometimes be. I would like to take this opportunity to send my condolences to all those who have been affected by this tragedy and to urge those who can to support the relief effort in any way they can.

On a more personal note, soon after I received an email Christmas greetings from Andreas Bieber, of Bieber Animation in 9, in Chennai (Madras), India, I got a second email which ended with this report:

“... as all of you might have heard by now, the island of Sumatra had been hit by a very heavy earthquake and following that a couple of aftershocks and huge Tsunami raced over the Bay of Bengal and devastated large surrounding areas such as Thailand, Sri Lanka's East Cost and hit Madras today morning at 06:30. Water entered the eastern part of the city up to Chola Sheraton, flushed cars off the coastal roads and killed within the city-limits alone more than 50 people. While I look out of my window, I can see a beautiful blue sky, but still feel a very strong wind from the sea.
Everybody hopes that no aftershocks of follow-up-Tsunami will appear.”

“It makes us feel that as perfect as mankind may act, the final say seems to be with someone else!”

December 15, 2004
'Taekwon V' Director Takes on Koguryo History
The Korea Times has this report on Kwanggeto Taewang (the Great Emperor), Kim Chung-ki's new animation project. “Kim’s new animation is a fictional account of the achievement and love of Emperor Kwanggaeto from the ancient kingdom of Koguryo (37 B.C. to A.D. 668), which enjoyed the height of its territorial expansion in Korean history during his time in power. 'Despite its long history and historical importance, Koguryo has been a bit neglected compared to other ancient Korean nations,' Kim said. 'So I hope that my animation can help people, especially children, learn more about the ancient kingdom and have pride in it.' ... The animation project, which costs 18 billion won [$17.2 million], also includes a 26-episode television series. The animation, expected to open by late 2006, uses advanced computer graphics to express the characters in three dimensions. ... 'If we merely try to make animations that are like the ones from Japan or the U.S. in their style and characteristics, we won’t attract audiences to theaters since we can’t outstrip their long history and high technology. So we’d better focus on developing our own style and finding our own identity even while we are learning advanced technology and skills from them,' Kim said.”

Nickelodeon Remains Firmly 'Tooned In
The X’s:USA Today, in reporting on Nickelodeon's new animation lineup, notes, “That characters such as SpongeBob have embedded themselves in the popular consciousness illustrates the importance of animation to Nickelodeon, now finishing its 25th season and its ninth in a row as the top-rated basic cable network over the entire program day. (For the first week of December, SpongeBob and OddParents accounted for seven of the top 15 most-watched basic-cable shows, according to Nielsen Media Research. And the SpongeBob movie has grossed $74 million at the box office in four weeks.) 'You could trace (the top ratings) to when we launched animation,' Scannell says. 'We had Rugrats before SpongeBob. Now SpongeBob is like our Bugs Bunny.' The Inkubator is an effort to find the next generation of Nickelodeon cartoon stars and series. In its inaugural outing, the program is designed to experiment with animation, looking at new work in traditional two-dimensional, CGI and stop-motion animation. Artists and writers, ranging from newcomers to veterans, will create 10 animated shorts each year.” This “pilot-development project” would seem to be taking its cue from Cartoon Network's long-running Cartoon Cartoon project. (Pictured: The X's.)

In Brief ...
Jadoo Denies Salary Cuts, Looking for Growth Capital
: Indiantelevision.com reports, “While a lot of industry gossipmongers are talking about the debacle of Jadooworks, the top management at the company has denied the talks of JW's windfall doing the rounds and has claimed all such talk to be rumours. ... Denying reports which appeared in some section of the media in sections of the press ,of salary cuts, Rajiv Marwah, CEO of India's premiere animation company, Jadoo Works Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore while speaking to Tarachand W of Indiantelevison.com's Bangalore bureau, said, ”There is definitely a cost rationalization going on at our end, and this is a normal activity for any business, but no salary cuts have been made.” ... Cartoon Couturiere Edna 'E' Mode Has Portland's Fashionistas Just Raving about Her: The Portland Oregonian has this story which reports on how “The cartoon couturiere [in The Incredibles] has made an impression on real-life local fashionistas. Some who caught the Disney/Pixar hit offered their take on Mode's style, her piercing verbal zingers and the question likely on Mr. Incredible's mind: Will superhero capes ever make a comeback? ... The Man Behind 'The Incredibles': NPR's Talk of the Nation radio show has posted this audio featuring an appearance by Brad Bird.

December 14, 2004
Selick Draws Support for His Unique Vision
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (cover) The Hollywood Reporter notes (also here), “If you've heard anything about veteran animator Henry Selick recently, it's probably in relation to his delightful stop-motion sea creatures in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which opened in New York and Los Angeles last weekend. But longtime Selick fans ... are well aware that Selick has more under his hood than a few character cameos in a live-action film. ... The animation director found a new home this year as supervising director at Vinton Studios in Portland, Ore. That's where he's finalizing the CG short film Moongirl, polishing the Coraline screenplay for Bill Mechanic's Pandemonium, co-directing The Fantastic Mr. Fox with Anderson (as soon as the screenplay is done) and building the in-house animation team of his dreams. 'The key thing I've learned from directing films so far is I need to stay true to what my vision is,' Selick says. Monkeybone is a prime example of making huge compromises (resulting in) a movie that took me so far away from my original impulse that it almost wasn't my movie.'” This Sci Fi Wire story adds, “Henry Selick told SCI FI Wire that he'll write and direct a big-screen adaptation of Coraline, based on the children's fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman. ... 'Neil Gaiman approached me to ask if I'd like to get on board the project before it was published,' Selick said in an interview while promoting ... The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou ..... 'That was three and a half years ago.' Selick added, 'I saw the galleys and took it to Bill Mechanic, the producer, and convinced them both to give me a crack at writing it. It took a year and a half for me to actually get a draft that worked.'”

In Brief ...
Chicago Tribune Anthem commercialState Pensions Push for Disney Director Resolution:
Reuters reports (also here), “Activist state pension funds on Monday said U.S. regulators had cleared the way for a nonbinding Walt Disney Co. shareholder resolution which could open the way for shareholders to nominate directors. 'This important ruling is a message to shareholders that they will be able to seek direct representation on corporate boards where appropriate,' New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi said in a statement after the Securities and Exchange Commission allowed the proposal.” ... 'Chicago Tribune' Enlists 'SNL' Artist in Branding Campaign: Editor & Publisher has this story on the newspaper's new ad campaign, “designed by the animator and illustrator J.J. Sedelmaier, who is probably best known for the Saturday TV Funhouse spots on the Saturday Night Live television show.” The article has a link to the paper's website where you can view the commercials. ... Toronto Film Festival Group Announces Annual List of Top 10 Canadian Films: The Canadian Press notes that “Ryan: Chris Landreth's digitally animated short for the National Film Board about troubled filmmaker colleague Ryan Larkin” was named among “the top 10 Canadian films of 2004, as chosen by an independent panel of 10 industry experts.” ... Incredibles Keep Grip on Cinemas: BBC News reports, “The Incredibles has kept the top position in the UK box office chart for a fourth week. The superhero story took £2.3m [$4.4m] over the weekend, bringing its box office total to £19.4m [$37.3m].”

December 13, 2004
In an Unlikely Locale, 3-D Animation Thrives
Hatchling Studios logo and Flare character The Concord (New Hampshire) Monitor has this story about Hatchling Studios, “a small Portsmouth company [which] is making serious headway. Owned by 34-year-old New England native Marc Dole, Hatchling Studios has taken on commercial projects for Fisher-Price, Sierra Mist and Reebok. The studio has done short clips for television shows, including a re-enactment of the John F. Kennedy assassination for Court TV. And employees have started work on their first full-length feature, about a baby dragon named Flare. Animation is only part of what the company does. It also creates special effects, touches up film and does Web design. But it's in the 3-D computer animation realm that Hatchling has gained the most attention. That's because the realm itself is getting so much attention right now. ... Hatchling isn't the only New Hampshire company employing the technology, according to Van McLeod, commissioner of the state's Department of Cultural Resources. But it's the only one that's announced plans for a feature film. 'The economic impact would be enormous,' McLeod said. The movie has a budget of around $20 million, which is low by Hollywood standards. If Hatchling can get the funding, the company will have to grow vastly. More than 100 employees would be needed to do the work. There are currently 15, plus a few interns. But Dole has confidence that he can attract that many animators, artists and technicians. 'It's something I've been able to emphasize to people - the high quality of life here,' Dole said.”

In Brief ...
Mary PoppinsAsia TV Awards: World Screen News reports that at the Asian Television Awards held in Singapore notes, “Two shows shared the award for best animation: Nippon Television Network’s Gokusen and Disney’s Legends of the Ring of Fire — Why the Sun Chases the Moon. ... Golden Globe Nominee: Reuters reports that The Incredibles was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the best film musical or comedy category. ... Rising Sun Scans the Future of Film-making: Australian IT has this report on the 10th Australian Effects and Animation Festival, where “the creative wizards behind films such as I, Robot, Spider-man 2 and The Polar Express strutted their stuff.” ... 'Mary Poppins' Gets a Makeover in New DVD: The Associated Press has this interview with Julie Andrews about the film's 40th anniversary DVD. It notes, “Movie animation has come a long way since Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke frolicked with cartoon penguins, sheep and carousel ponies in Mary Poppins. Yet fresh off her voice work in the cutting-edge cartoon sequel Shrek 2, Andrews thinks the blend of live-action and animation holds up splendidly in the 1964 musical fantasy, which gets elaborate new DVD treatment in a 40th anniversary two-disc set out Tuesday.”

December 11-12, 2004
Vanguard Makes 'Valiant' Effort
ValiantVariety asks , “Can you make a CGI movie to compare with Shrek for a third of the money?” The question is asked in regards to Valiant, the “$40 million British pic about a plucky pigeon during WWII, directed by first-timer Gary Chapman with a voice cast led by Ewan McGregor, [which] finished shooting Dec. 9 at London's Ealing Studios after a mere 106 weeks in production.” In explaining how the film could be done for so little, the producers realized “the film would have to be short. Valiant weighs in at a skinny 70 minutes, a full 20 minutes less than Shrek. Man-hours were slashed — the production used just 179 people vs. 500 or so for Shrek, hiring them only for as long as strictly necessary. ... [There were also] $7.5 million in deferrals. Going outside Hollywood and training inexperienced animators from Europe and the British Commonwealth also helped cut costs. By making Valiant as a British movie, in partnership with Ealing, [Producer John] Williams could access tax breaks and $4 million of lottery coin from the U.K. Film Council.”

China Turns from Chairman Mao to Mickey Mao
According to The Telegraph (also here), “Walt Disney has teamed up with an unlikely but ruthless partner to introduce China to the pleasures of Mickey Mouse: the country's Communist Youth League, founded and inspired by Chairman Mao. The collaboration, which Western diplomats have privately dubbed 'Mickey Mao', is aimed at harnessing the power of the 70-million strong Communist movement to promote Disney characters to Chinese children. ... The benefit to Disney, one of the best-known faces of capitalism, is clear enough: it wants children in one of the world's fastest-growing markets to become familiar with its products before the planned opening of the Magic Kingdom theme park in Hong Kong in 2006. Access to the Communist Party organisation has been granted because the project has received funding from the Beijing-backed Hong Kong administration which is investing $2.8 billion (£1.46 billion) in return for a 57 per cent stake and a similar share of its profits - plus a handshake from Mickey Mouse for Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, when the deal was finalised last month.”

Face of CGI Is Often ... Well, Creepy
The Polar Express This article in The Redlands (California) Daily Facts notes that, “when execs at Warner Bros. Animation gambled more than $265 million to produce and promote the lifelike cast of The Polar Express only to watch them get derailed by Pixar's The Incredibles, psychologists weren't all that surprised with the film's initially lackluster box-office performance. According to the 'uncanny valley' theory developed in the late 1970s by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, we increasingly empathize with a robot the more it looks like a human being (recall C-3PO from Star Wars). Yet if a robot appears too humanlike, our compassion peaks, then plummets into a chasm of emotional detachment and disgust. That's because we can usually still detect a robot's eerie, machinelike movement or cold, mechanistic facial expressions — no matter how much it resembles us. ... The uncanny valley theory has yet to be proved — or disproved — by a scientific study. But it may exist because our eyes pick up subtle differences between things that appear similar but are not quite identical, says Donald Norman, author of Emotional Design and a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Experts say that it's during this process of mental nitpicking that we notice off-putting features: cheeks that fail to bulge, eyes without shadows beneath them, wrinkles that don't crease across the forehead and oddly textured skin.”

When the Poop Hit the Fans
Shrek 2Mark Schone in The Boston Globe has this lament on how, “Potty humor has become de rigueur for movies aimed at children. ... A quick scan of Internet chat groups reveals that parents now take poop and fart jokes as a given, and they're angry. 'I know elementary schoolers love fart jokes,' lamented one parent on FamilyEducation. 'But do we have to feed it to them for profit?' Some moms and dads view the trend as more proof of social decay. Others just find the jokes boring and irritating, but all take it for granted that they're everywhere. Many professional pop culture watchers agree. Famed critic and talking head Leonard Maltin ... calls potty humor 'standard operating procedure for any film aimed at kids or young people.' For 10 years, critic Nell Minow has been watching five or six kids' movies a week and posting the reviews to her Movie Mom website. Potty humor, confirms the Movie Mom, 'was already pervasive when I started in 1995.' Even the best movies, she says, go for easy laughs. The only issue is how much -- whether a fart gag lasts mere seconds, as in Finding Nemo, or should hire its own agent, as in Shrek.

In Brief ...
Jadooworks Scripts its Own Tragic Story:
According to India Daily, Jadooworks, the high-profile Bangalore-based animation company, seems to be scripting a tragic story for itself as the company is learnt to be nearing bankruptcy for lack of fresh investments and project orders. Sources said the management has given clear indications of a reduction in salary to its 250-odd employees, while few senior officials have already put in papers.” ... Gervais to Produce Animated Flick: Ireland Online reports, Comedian Ricky Gervais [creator of The Office] will produce a €75m [$100m] Hollywood animated movie based on his children's book Flanimals.” ... LA Critics Pick: E! Online reports, “The Incredibles picked up two awards [from The Los Angeles Film Critics Association] for Best Animation and for Best Music/Score.”

December 10, 2004
Simpsons Movie in the Works?
The SimpsonsIGN FilmForce has this story about James L. Brooks, whose “latest film, Spanglish, is about to hit theaters. ... While Brooks' involvement in The Simpsons isn't as extensive as it once was, particularly while he's in the midst of directing a feature, Brooks still says that the show is close to his heart. "Well, I sure haven't been [as involved] for the last year. Usually what I do when I'm not doing the movie is there's one day a week that I put in …" ... When IGN FilmForce spoke with Brooks this weekend, he indicated that the prospect of a movie was not out of the question. "If we feel right, then we'll go forward, and we're in the process of trying to feel right. "It's sixteen years, and we have gathered together the people who have been there from the beginning, and everybody who ever was a show runner on it, so we've all gathered together and we're looking at this right now.”

Anime Magnetism Draws Fans to South Florida
OtakuConThe Miami Herald has this report (also here) on “South Florida's first major anime fan gathering. OtakuCon (otaku means 'extreme fan' in Japanese), which will be Dec. 17-19 at the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort in Miami Beach, is expected to draw about 4,000 enthusiasts of all ages, said Camacho, director of operations for D20, an anime convention company he formed with other fans. D20, which launched a year ago in South Miami, is planning similar anime fests in 2005 in Atlanta, San Diego, St. Louis and Denver.” The story also quotes yours truly, i.e., “'It has really caught kids' imaginations,' said Harvey Deneroff, who runs the Animation Consultants International website. 'There's this whole network of anime fans out there. There are anime clubs in almost every college.'”

In Brief ...
ITV Gets £52m for MPC: C21 Media reports, “The UK's ITV has finalised the sale of its special effects business, The Moving Picture Company, to France's Thomson for £52.7m [$101.9m].” See also report in The Guardian. ... Cabler Mints 'Mikes' Movie: Variety has this story about how “Showtime is getting in the middle of Two Blind Mikes. Pay cabler has teamed with feature scribe Frederic Raphael, who co-wrote Eyes Wide Shut with Stanley Kubrick, on a two-hour movie about the doomed relationship between [Disney CEO] Michael Eisner and Mike Ovitz [which is the subject of the current shareholder suit against Disney].” ... Toon Titans: Hawaii Business has this cover story about how Animation Magic, a “five-store chain of licensed cartoon products, such as stuffed animals, T-shirts and novelty items [and how owners Janis Mizuno and Kerri Nakanishi have] branched out into manufacturing last January with All That Aloha, a Hawaii-themed store featuring their own animated character, a Bratzlike local girl named Mekana, and into food retailing two years ago, with Snak-a-licious, a snack store at Ward Warehouse. ... Sitges Film Fest Winners Announced: Fangoria reports, The jury [for the 2004 Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya, held in Sitges, Spain] gave a special award to Japanese animation sensation Hayao (Sprited Away) Miyazaki for his complete body of work.”... Digital Nudity — a New Concept Gaining Ground in Bollywood: According to India Daily, Bollywood's solution for “popular actresses [who]do not like to shed their clothes in front of camera ... [is] to create something called digital nudity of actresses that all want to see. With digital camouflage effects, the actress and the censor board will not have much of objection.”... ‘Incredibles' Gives a Nod to Corvallis: The Corvallis (Oregon) Gazette Times has this home-town-boy-makes good item on former Corvallis resident Brad Bird (also here). It notes, “Sharp-eyed moviegoers familiar with Corvallis perhaps noticed the picture's two tributes to Bird's roots. Both Spartan Stadium and the now-defunct Western View Junior High pop up in The Incredibles.” ... NAFTI Receives Equipment to Enhance Animation Production: According to GNA, “The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), on Friday presented equipment valued at 5,000 Euros [$6,625] to [Ghana's] National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), to facilitate the production of local animation.”

December 9, 2004
Two Animation Studios Push Top Offerings Into the Future

The New York Times notes, “The highly competitive animated film market just got more lively as the two leaders in computer-animated production announced shifts in their lineup of movie releases. On its first earnings call since its initial public offering in October, DreamWorks Animation said on Wednesday that it would postpone the theatrical release of Shrek 3 ... to May 2007 from November 2006. That announcement followed news from Pixar Animation Studios on Tuesday that it would postpone release of its movie Cars to June 2006 from November 2005. With more than a dozen animated films scheduled for 2005 and 2006, Hollywood is facing a glut, giving some analysts and movie executives a Shrek-size case of indigestion. The movie lineup changes reflect Hollywood's desire to eke the maximum profit not only from summer blockbusters but from the holiday DVD sales season as well. ... [DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg[ said that Flushed Away, a DreamWorks co-production with Aardman Animations about a rat who is flushed from a penthouse suite into the London sewer, will be released in the fall of 2006 in place of Shrek 3. Mr. Katzenberg suggested that more changes might be afoot in coming weeks, as several competitors are expected to announce plans of their own. His competitors include Twentieth Century Fox and Sony Pictures Entertainment.” See also this BusinessWeek article.

Nike Apologizes to Chinese for TV Commercial
Nike Chamber of Fear TV  commercial Xinhua reports, “Nike ... issued an apology to Chinese customers Friday, not long after China banned its new television commercial Chamber of Fear for insulting Chinese national dignity. ... [It] shows 19-year-old NBA star LeBron James defeating [an animated] kung fu master, two women in traditional Chinese attire and a pair of dragons, symbols of traditional Chinese culture. ... [Nike] said the commercial tried to show James's growing-up story that he faced and overcome fears and difficulties. The cultural figures were used as metaphor of fear. It is not the first time Nike has run into trouble with its television advertisements. ... In August, Nike withdrew an ad from Australian television featuring young girls trying to impress a male tennis coach after local morals groups protested it trivialized paedophilia. And last month, Nike ads, also featuring James, designed to resemble graffiti provoked controversy and protests in famously conservative Singapore.”

Toons Target Top Trophies
Michael Mallory in Variety writes, “Conspiracy theorists in toon town see the Academy's creation of the feature animation Oscar in 2001 as a means of keeping the picture statuette out of their hands. The alleged plot could fail miserably this year. The combination of some very strong animated contenders and the paucity of live-action front-runners bodes well for animation scoring in the top race. In fact, DreamWorks and Disney have made Shrek 2 and The Incredibles, respectively, their top candidates for Oscar promotion this year, each aiming as high as best picture. ... Still, granting a toon feature a picture nomination is one thing. But actually handing over the gold is quite another. ... While [previous] snubs of the first Shrek and Finding Nemo imply that neither Disney nor DreamWorks should be holding their breath on pic noms this year, other major categories seem within their grasp. Disney's campaign for the Pixar-produced Incredibles has its sights set on writer-helmer Brad Bird taking home a directing trophy. The studio also has targeted the performance awards. Until now, the acting categories have been unimaginable for animated pics — in part because perfs become moot once a film is dubbed for foreign markets. ... Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Imageworks, which produced The Polar Express for Warner Bros., wants the genre-bending film considered for a visual f/x trophy in addition to the top animation prize. 'It is as much a tour-de-force visual effects project as it is an animation project,' notes Imageworks prexy Tim Sarnoff.”

Dream On Silly Dreamer
Dream On Silly Dreamer FilmForce has this review by Ken P. of the documentary by Dan Lund “on the sad death of traditional Disney animation, told from the artists' perspective.” He notes, “Considering all of the reminiscences in question come from artists no longer employed by Disney — all of whom were purged when the company decided that it no longer needed its legendary 2-D production unit under the assumption that 3-D was the wave 'o the future — it's both poignant and fascinating that there's very little bitterness about the time they spent working for the Mouse House. In fact, if anything, there's a great deal of pride and nostalgia in a job well done and, more importantly, a job doing what every artist dreams of — getting paid to create. That pride and satisfaction shows through in the classic films [such as Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Lilo and Stitch], the majority of which were made during what many consider to be Disney animation's second golden age, a time when both art and commerce aligned (a rare occurrence) and resulted in films that made both the artists and the bean counters very happy indeed.”

Come 'Fly' with Moore
The Fly Who Loved Me
CommanderBond.net has this report on the making of The Fly Who Loved Me, a Web cartoon made on behalf of UNICEF and featuring the voice of Roger Moore, which is available online at flywholovedme.com through Saturday, December 25. “Written by Olly Smith and directed by Dan Chambers, The Fly Who Loved Me sees Santa Claus stranded at the North Pole, unable to deliver gifts when his reindeer get injured. Just when all hope seems lost, help comes from an unusual source, when a determined fly from Santa's garbage bin insists on taking over the job. According to Smith, who also produced the film, the collaboration with Sir Roger has its roots in a bizarre little Internet cartoon entitled Roger Moore's Requiem, [available here] which Chambers put together, incorporating some unusual animation and several still photographs of Roger Moore circa The Saint.

Is This Shark Gay? Kiddie Cartoons and the Culture Wars
Shark Tale“Does Shark Tale have a pro-gay message? Does The Incredibles mock schools where everyone's 'special'? Should anyone care?,” is the subheading for this story by Frederica Mathewes-Green at Beliefnet.com, which begins, “In this tense post-election climate there’s a tendency to look for suspicious messages in everything but the stickers on grocery-store produce. That’s the only way I can explain a writing assignment that included these instructions: 'I need you to go to a movie and find out whether the shark is gay.' Now, sharks have done some memorable things in American movies, but this would be a first. Granted, they’re usually engaged in disrupting social norms, but not in the size-twelve-high-heels way. A gay shark doesn’t make any sense—except, it seems, in a movie for children. That’s the charge, anyway, and where you pitch your tent on the cultural battlefield will determine whether you see this as a bad or good thing. Most of us who sat through the recent animated feature, Shark Tale, saw nothing more than a typical Dreamworks Studio offering: an impressive glossy look, big-name voices, plenty of tiresome pop-culture references and potty jokes, and a curiously empty place where its heart should be. But some reviewers insist they saw more.”

Japanese Animation Catching on in U.S.
Full Metal Panic! characters The Associated Press has the latest story (also here and here) on the success of anime in America, focusing on Houston-based distributor ADV Films, and its co-founder John Ledford. “'We're kind of like the anti-Disney,' Ledford, a bespectacled, fast-talking man with a friendly smile, said during a recent visit to Tokyo. 'Disney is very family type. We are appealing to the video-game, PlayStation, Generation X, Generation Y kind of crowd in America.' Although American animation releases, such as Toy Story, Shrek and The Incredibles, continue to wow audiences, they are largely aimed at children. Japanese anime and manga spans a wide range of topics, including science fiction, horror-thrillers and soap-operatic melodrama. At American video-rental shops, whole shelves are taken up by titles like Ninja Resurrection, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040. ... Manga and anime may not be for everyone with their heavy dosage of corny romanticism, blood-splattering violence and pubescent sense of erotica. But both are clearly no longer just for Japanese geeks as their counterparts in the United States, Europe and other parts of Asia simply can't get enough.” (Pictured are characters from the ADV release, Full Metal Panic!)

Serious Business for CritterPix
The Marin Independent-Journal reports, “The founder of San Rafael-based fledgling digital animation studio CritterPix Studios says his company's first movie, an animated chronicle of the sea saga of Ollie the Otter set for an early 2007 release, will make CritterPix a major player in Hollywood. Within three or four years, Williamson expects CritterPix to employ enough people to help fill the void left by the summer 2005 departure of LucasFilm Ltd. and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to San Francisco. Although they're not yet hiring, company executives expect to leap from around 20 employees to about 130 during the first several months of 2005. ... CritterPix already has landed a partnership with New Regency Productions, a subsidiary of Regency Enterprises, a major Hollywood movie producer and distributor. The company produced JFK, L.A. Confidential and the three Free Willy movies. ... Gary Goldman, a CritterPix board member and a veteran Hollywood movie producer who has produced Anastasia, All Dogs Go to Heaven and Titan A.E., was one of the first to jump on board as an adviser.” Goldman, of course, is Don Bluth's longtime collaborator.

In Brief ...
ValiantEntertainment Unit Helps IDT Earnings: The Associated Press reports, “IDT, the Newark-based telecommunications and media company, said its first-quarter loss narrowed on the strength of its entertainment business [which includes holdings in several animation companies, including DPS Film Roman and Mainframe Entertainment].... [It] said the loss for the quarter narrowed to $11.7 million, or 12 cents per share, from $14 million, or 17 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue rose 22.7 percent, to $629.7 million, from $513.1 million. The company's entertainment division showed significant improvement from a year ago, recording operating income of $4.6 million, vs. a loss from operations of $700,000 a year earlier. ” For more details, see this press release. ... Brave Bird's Animated Adventure: BBC News has this story on Valiant, the new British CGI feature being produced by Vanguard Films. “The story of a hapless carrier pigeon turned World War II hero is the theme of a new animated film due to hit cinema screens next year. Featuring the voices of Ewan McGregor and Ricky Gervais, the film follows the adventures of Valiant — a carrier pigeon who is enlisted during World War II. ... It has taken a 170-strong army of animators and artists two years to complete the film which is co-produced by John H Williams — the man behind the highly successful Shrek film [and directed by Gary Chapman].”

December 8, 2004
'Shrek 3' Delay Hits DreamWorks

CNN/Money reports, “The lovable ogre Shrek delivered better-than-expected profits to DreamWorks Animation SKG in its first quarter as a public company, but the studio's announcement that his next film will be delayed sent the stock tumbling. The Glendale, Calif.-based company said profits in the third quarter came to $13.7 million, or 18 cents a share, compared with a loss of $35.9 million, or 47 cents, a year ago. That topped the Wall Street consensus estimates of 16 cents, according to Thomson First Call. ... The news [regarding Shrek 3] came one day after DreamWorks' chief rival, Pixar Animation Studios, said it also would delay the release of its next computer animation, Cars. The back-to-back announcements appeared unrelated. But DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg later told analysts in a conference call that Pixar's move gave DreamWorks some breathing room. Katzenberg said the delay of Shrek 3 was not a sign of production problems. He noted instead that DreamWorks had been scheduled to release three animation films in 2006, a pipeline that was posing some challenges. ... In other company news, Katzenberg called it a fairly safe bet that NBC Universal will cancel Father of the Pride, a computer animation television show that has posted poor ratings since its August premiere on primetime.”

The Boxer: Adventures in Animation 3D
Adventures in Animation 3DPhilippa Hawker in The Age has this review of Pierre Lachapelle's new film being presented in large-screen Imax format in Australia. Once upon a time, Lachapelle caused something of a sensation with Tony de Peltrie, his 1985 short, which was seen as the first film to demonstrate the real possibilities of character animation using computer animation. Lachapelle later turned his attention to motion capture and in 1992 started production on his current film, the trailer of which was also one of the first to show the possibilities of the process. I believe I last spoke to him five years ago, at which time he was talking about adapting the film for the large screen. Anyway, Hawker says, “There are some intriguing possibilities suggested by the premise of The Boxer: it's an animation that reveals its own processes, showing how computer-animated characters are created, then setting them loose in a story. ... The Boxer is an energetic, kinetic immersion event, but there's something a little bit limited about its conception: it might be a vivid sensory experience, reinforced by the in-your-face nature of 3D, but the characters themselves — these virtual actors — are pretty basic and uninvolving. ... The Boxer is something commendably different from the standard IMAX fare, but it's a combination of wonders and disappointments, of technical achievements and gee-whiz moments where the imagination has somehow fallen short.”

Talk Through the Animals
Creature Comforts TV seriesThe Age has this interview with about Richard (“Golly”) Goleszowski, the person responsible for the characters in Creature Comforts, the Aardman TV series inspired by the Nick Park short that is now playing in Australia. “For Creature Comforts, Goleszowski created 120 characters, which include a rambling greyhound who never finishes his sentences, a bickering dog-and-cat married couple and a maggot with a frighteningly unsentimental view of its usefulness. A second series of Creature Comforts that is in production deploys about 150 characters and conversations with 540 people, some of which lasted two to three hours. 'The best people we interview,' Goleszowski explains, 'aren't self-confident people. I think more typically the British are self-effacing and uncomfortable talking to an interviewer. I think that makes it more human. ''We actually study eye movement very carefully because where your eyes go when you're thinking . . . if you're thinking visually your eyes go to the left, and if you're thinking conceptually your eyes go to the right. That's universal, every person on the planet does that when they're talking. We study that very carefully to make the characters as human as we can. We amplify the nervousness of them being interviewed.'”

Animating a Live-Action Classic for OfficeMaxOfficeMax: Santa's Helper spot
Film & Video Magazine has this short interview with director Chel White of Bent Image Lab, in Portland about his work on the Santa's Helper campaign for Office Max, which involved translating a live-action campaign into animation. He says, “The most challenging part was capturing the likeness and personality of the main character while still keeping the design inherently simple. In the live-action ads, the lead role is portrayed by actor Eddie Steeples. He has great expressiveness and comic timing. For our animated OfficeMax ad, we shot video reference footage of Eddie going through the various scenes. The animators studied these live reference scenes before shooting their animated scenes. Just like the actors, I think of animators as performers. They understand what can and cannot work in the puppet world.”

Ready to 'Wumble'?
The WumblersThe New York Irish Echo has this interview with Laura Wellington, who has roots in County Cork, about the creation of The Wumblers cartoon characters, which are now being adapted into an animated TV series expected to start airing next year. “'There were no new ideas in children's television at the time [the show was conceived],' said Wellington. She explained that after Sept. 11, the whole world was going through the motions of loss, which was especially hard for children. That brought a global perspective to her work and made her think about how children would view the outside community differently.' ... Working closely with Peak, a British production company, as well as Cosgrove Hall Films, the stories Wellington created came to life. Cosgrove Hall handles all the voices and animation for the series, but the storylines are all Wellington's. She sends the outline for a story to both groups, who come up with a script. It is then sent back to Wellington for final approval. 'The entire idea of it being my creation is very important,' she said. 'I'm very concerned with what goes into each episode.'”

Unilever Tries Low-Key Approach to the Battle for the Laundry Room
Print ad for All laundry detergentThe New York Times has this story about the new ad campaign for All laundry detergent, which notes, “The first campaign for All from its new United States agency does not look like typical detergent advertising. Indeed, the campaign for All, now on television and in magazines, is as whimsical and low-key as most ads for laundry products are rational and hard-selling. The goal of the campaign, with a budget estimated at $15 million to $20 million is to differentiate All from its competitors in a crowded category with pitches that are deliberately at odds with what consumers expect for detergents. ... The theme of the All campaign is 'Look on the bright side,' which echoes the theme for the Surf campaign in Britain, created by the Bartle Bogle flagship office in London. Like the British campaign, there is winsome, almost childlike animation as well as anthropomorphic portrayals of objects like dirt and socks, and quirky music during commercials. ... The animation in the commercials was created by a London studio called Airside. It may strike some viewers that there is perhaps a passing resemblance to the style of animation seen in the Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack, but the executives at Bartle Bogle New York disagree.”

In Brief ...
Rodney SaulsberrySelf-Censorship and Syphilis:
The Los Angeles Times has this editorial about the part-animated Phil the Sore public service announcement [commissioned by Los Angeles County health officials]which it finds “less [offensive] than a lot of prime-time TV fare. That's why the refusal of five Los Angeles TV stations to air the anti-syphilis public service ad (some relented on late-night slots) seems another example of the self-censorship that broadcasters are imposing as the Federal Communications Commission cracks down on material it deems objectionable. ... Another Incredible Week!: Empire Online reports, “The Incredibles held on at the top of the UK box office with a very respectable £4.2 million [$8.1 million] take this weekend, giving it a total of £16 million [$30.9 million] in just three weeks. That means that Pixar's latest is already in the Top Ten highest grossing films of the year here after a mere three weeks — and during one of those weeks it was only showing on one screen. Why, that's…unbelieveable!” ... The Voice-Over Biz with Rodney Saulsberry: The Tavis Smiley Show has this audio of its interview with the voiceover artist, whose credits include the Spider-Man cartoon series. In it, Saulsberry [pictured] talks “about the art and business of the voice-over trade — the subject of his new book You Can Bank On Your Voice: Your Guide to a Successful Career in Voice-Overs.” ... Anime Gifts for the Holidays: Charles Solomon on NPR's Day to Day gives this audio rundown providing “some anime-themed gift ideas for parents who don't know what to get their teenagers this holiday.”

December 7, 2004
In Brief ...
Davey and Goliath's Snowboard ChristmasThe Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou: Armond White in The New York Press, in his review of the new Wes Anderson film, notes the director “even enlisted Henry Selick to design fanciful sea creatures that amaze Team Zissou when huddled in their Beatlesque sub, a perfect image of friendship. Selick's figurine-like animation keeps proportion with Anderson's small-scale approach to wonder.”... 'Incredibles' Leads Annie Nominees: Zap2it.com reports, “The Incredibles flexed its superpowers to earn 16 nominations for the 32nd Annual Annie Awards [sponsored by ASIFA-Hollywood], including a nod for best animated feature. ... Following with seven nominations apiece are DreamWorks' Shrek 2 and Shark Tale.” A full list of the nominees can be found at the official Annie Awards site. See also press release. ... 'Davey and Goliath' Back for Holiday Special: The Orlando Sentinel notes, “Two beloved animated figures from the 1960s and 1970s — a good-natured but clueless boy and his drawling dog — are returning to national television. Davey and Goliath's Snowboard Christmas will air on the Hallmark Channel at noon on Dec. 19 and Dec. 26. The original stop-action, Sunday morning series, developed and owned by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), was designed to teach values to young children in 15-minute segments. In the first new cartoon in 30 years, Davey and Goliath takes an ecumenical turn, with the introduction of a Jewish boy and a Muslim girl to the cast. ... The Lutherans developed the series with Art Clokey, creator of the equally beloved Gumby and Pokey.” See also press release. ... Animation Draws on Eurimages Funds: According to Variety, “Pan-European film funding body Eurimages has allocated €3.5 million ($4.7 million) to nine international co-productions in its December session. Animation received special attention, with Michel Ocelot's Azur et Asmar, Philippe Leclerc's La Reine Soleil, and Nocturna by Victor Maldonado and Adrian Garcia receiving up to $780,000 each.”

December 6, 2004
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for December 3-5

David Mumpower at Box Office Prophets notes, “The Polar Express pulls into the station in third place this weekend [earning] an estimated $11.0 million this frame. ... the film’s reported negative cost of $270 million (Wow!) makes this one of the most savage beatings a studio has received from a production since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. With worldwide receipts unlikely to be significant, The Polar Express is going to be remembered as a grand concept but ultimately a box office failure. ... The Incredibles, continues its stellar run at the box office with an estimated $9.2 million in receipts. ... While the Brad Bird film is not going to come anywhere close to matching Finding Nemo’s financial success, the $226 million represents one of the five biggest releases of the year. The Incredibles will not be making the top three, but it does still have a solid chance at overtaking Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’s $249.4 million tally for fourth place. ... SpongeBob SquarePants! Paramount’s mega-franchise[finished fifth and] accrued another estimated $7.8 million, bringing its running total to $68.4 million. ... Due to changing marketplace behavior in [the six years since the release of The Rugrats Movie], it’s unlikely that SpongeBob will manage to cross the $100 million threshold as the 1998 release did, but Paramount has to be relatively satisfied with this performance.”

We're Playing Their Toons
Howl's Moving Castle According to The Washington Post, “The animated film that took Japan by storm last week had nothing to do with sponges in square pants or incredible suburban superheroes in tights. Instead, Howl's Moving Castle, a glittering homegrown epic of an 18-year-old girl transformed into a 90-year-old woman, roared into theaters, breaking box office records in the world's second-largest movie market. On the back of its success at home, the film created by acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki, whose Spirited Away won the 2002 Academy Award for best animated picture, is set for the widest release ever of any Japanese-made movie. Scheduled to open in 50 countries over the next year, the latest film by the man whose magic touch has earned him a reputation as Japan's Walt Disney is generating the kind of international buzz once reserved strictly for the big-budget animated offerings from Hollywood. 'The release of a Miyazaki movie has become like an event — the excitement surrounding his movies is as big as Disney for us now,' said Frederic Toutlemonde, cultural officer at the French Embassy in Tokyo. 'Yet they are seen as something different. To our moviegoers, they are also seen as being, well, more like works of art.'

China Bans Nike Commercial as Insult to National Dignity
The Associated Press reports, “China has banned a Nike television commercial showing Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James in a battle with an animated cartoon kung fu master, saying the ad insults Chinese national dignity. The commercial, titled Chamber of Fear, was broadcast on local Chinese stations and on state television's national sports channel before being pulled last month. It shows James, the Cleveland Cavaliers' reigning NBA rookie of the year, in a video game-style setting defeating the kung fu master, two women in traditional Chinese attire and a pair of dragons, considered a sacred symbol in traditional Chinese culture. The advertisement 'violates regulations that mandate that all advertisements in China should uphold national dignity and interest and respect the motherland's culture,' the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television said on a statement posted Monday on its Web site.”

Partners Create 'Japanimation' Station in Houston
The Houston Chronicle has this story which notes that, “most Japanese animé bought in the United States is dubbed in English. Many of those DVDs are dubbed in an obscure, unimposing suite of offices and studios in southwest Houston. ADV Films, the largest animé distribution company in the world outside of Japan, hires hundreds of Texas voice actors such as [Greg] Ayres. Along with technicians and artists, they work two shifts a day, readying animé releases for the U.S. market. 'We're usually working on multiple shows at once,' says the 36-year-old Ayres, who gives voice to Chrono [the animé star of the Japanese television series Chrono Crusade] and several other youthful animé characters. 'Right now I'm working on six or seven shows here (at ADV) in Houston.' ... 'We are now the fourth-largest home video distributor in terms of content in North America (after MGM, Warner and Sony),' [co-founder John] Ledford says. 'Not in (quantity) but in (number of) DVD releases.' ADV also may be the largest employer of Houston-area actors. The average DVD has four 30-minute episodes that each require five to 25 voice actors.” See also sidebar story in the same issue entitled, Japan Breeds a Comic-Book Culture.

In Brief ...
China Sets up Animation Studios, Research Centers:
Xinhua reports, “China authorized the first batch of national animation studios and animation research centers, Monday. The establishment of these studios is a major step for the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) to further develop China's animation industry, said Xu Guangchun, director-general of the administration. The nine studios are approved to produce cartoons with depth and refinement to form an animation industry chain, XU said.” ... Surprise Rocks Disney Trial: The ongoing shareholder suit against Disney spurred this piece by Woody Allen in The New Yorker, which provides a transcript of Mickey Mouse's testimony. For example, in explaining how “Donald lived at Mr. Eisner’s home for six months when he and Daisy Duck were separated. Donald had been having an affair with Petunia Pig, Porky’s girlfriend. It was a no-no at Disney to socialize with creatures from a competing studio, but in Donald’s case Mr. Eisner chose to look the other way, which upset the shareholders.”

December 4-5, 2004
Disney Dissidents Are Disappointed
TheStreet.com reports, “Disney dissidents Roy Disney and Stanley Gold won't nominate an alternative director slate for the 2005 meeting, saying they believe the company's board is making progress in serving the interest of shareholders. Disney and Gold ... lauded the board for committing to find an outside candidate to succeed Eisner with due speed.” However, as The Associated Press noted, “The two men expressed disappointment that the board had rejected recommendations for an independent board member from a group of state pension funds. They also said they were displeased that the board had rejected several shareholder proposals the two men had backed. But they said that they were pleased with recent improvements in the company's performance.” The text of the letter from Roy Disney and Stanley Gold can be found here.

'Shrek 2' Leads People's Choice Film Nominees
According to Reuters, “Shrek 2 ... led the field of film nominees announced on Friday for the People's Choice Awards, selected by the public. The storybook satire ... garnered nominations in virtually every movie category, including a nod for favorite film of 2004. ... [It] also clinched nominations for favorite movie comedy, favorite film sequel, favorite animated film and favorite animated stars (Michael Myers as Shrek, Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots and Eddie Murphy as the Donkey). ... The Incredibles ... also received multiple nominations, including bids for favorite animated movie and animated film stars (Holly Hunter as Elastigirl and Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone).”

In Brief ...
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou:
In reviewing the film, Sheri Linden in The Hollywood Reporter notes, “Eschewing digital effects for hand-crafted whimsy, the film uses stop-motion animation by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) for such delightful creations as candy-colored sugar crabs and rhinestone bluefins.” ... Snap, Crackle and Pop: The Statesman has this article on what's going on at Toonz Animation India, noting, “while some still hold the pugnacious and downright antagonistic attitude that Indian folklore can never make it to the small screen, graphic designers burning the midnight oil in Thiruvananthapuram have deemed the theory to be nothing less than shortsighted. The guys from Toonz Animation India are on a mission to bring to life the tales grandma told you as a child. Their realistic approach in the Tenali Raman series negates all that stultifies the art form. The series is assured in wit and girded by the rightness of an aesthetic and moral vision much like the character of the 16th century court jester, Tenali Ramalinga.” ... Can of Beans Holds Award Key for Filmmaker: The Western Mail reports, “It took her just a weekend to create but Emma Brown's ideas for a short film have helped her clinch a new award. And although the 23-year-old, [whose stop motion film] won the inaugural 2004 Wales Filmmakers Challenge trophy, is hoping for a career in the media, she has no aspirations to crack Hollywood. 'I would like to make films for a living,' said Emma. 'But I'm just not enamoured by Hollywood's mainstream films.' Her winning short film, which is just one minute and 40 seconds long, is about one man and his dimwitted brother's quest to find treasure in a can of beans.” ... Gardena Boy Plays Key Role in 'Polar Express': The Daily Breeze has this story about Alex Fierro, the 7-year-old from Gardena, California, who was the motion capture actor for the Lonely Boy character in The Polar Express. The deals with how he was adopted from a Russian orphanage and brought to Gardena, as well as his extensive but uncredited role in the film. ... Animators Share Magic at School: Knight Ridder Newspapers has this report about how “Pixar's animation studio director Pete Docter and lead animator Eliot Smyrl [were] delivering insider tips and dishing 'toon gossip” to students at De Anza High School in Richmond, California, last week.

December 3, 2004
'Polar Express' Comes in from Cold at Box Office
According to The Hollywood Reporter (also here), “While it would be an overstatement to call it a proverbial Christmas miracle, Warner Brothers Pictures' The Polar Express is confounding expectations. After a disappointing opening, the animated film rebounded last weekend at the north American box office and now is on track to perform significantly better than its naysayers had originally predicted, becoming a rare example of a film whose future isn't determined by its opening weekend. Director Robert Zemeckis' high-tech adaptation of Chris Allsburg's popular children's story pulled in a weak $23.3 million in its first weekend November 12-14 after opening the previous Wednesday. Hollywood's instant judgment was that the $170 million spectacle was virtually dead on arrival. ... Now that the dust has settled after the Thanksgiving holiday, Polar's fortunes are looking more hopeful. In its third weekend of release, the film rose 24 percent, taking in $19.3 million. Its domestic haul now stands at $84.3 million. The film still pales in comparison to The Incredibles .... But with no more family-oriented pictures entering the marketplace until December 17 ... Polar's domestic gross, once predicted to rise to only $80 million, is now expected to grow to at least $115 million-$120 million. .. One major factor that has contributed to Polar's turnabout is its 3-D performance on Imax's screens. Playing on 61 screens, the film has grossed more than $11 million in three weeks of release.”

It's Amazing I've Survived: Interview with Bill Plympton
The Tune DVD coverScott Thill in introducing his interview in PopMatters says, “Consistently compelling and jarring, animator Bill Plympton is most comfortable when he's destabilizing everything from the human body to the corporate machines that make the world turn. Whether it's his hilarious short films, inspired Geico commercials or feature-length films — such as his latest fever dream, Hair High, or his highly acclaimed first film, The Tune, recently released on DVD from New Video Group — Plympton is a resolute iconoclast making his way through a mainstream more interested in CGI-dependent snoozers like Van Helsing and Troy.” When he notes that, “Many of the Hair High clips I've seen deal with one of your usual themes: the body, and how it's taken over, invaded, exploited, explored. Was your approach to working with that theme different with Hair High than, say, I Married a Strange Person or others?” Plympton replies, “ No, the body and the face are my milieu, I guess. This is the terrain I talk about. Other directors deal with war, romance, foreign countries, sports or something like that, but I like the body. It is my metaphor for human interaction, for storytelling and I just love doing weird things to it. It's amusing for me and it's amusing for the audience.”

In Brief ...
'Hammerboy' Pucca Picked as Year's Top in Animations, Characters: The Korea Times reports, “Animation film Mangchi (Hammer Boy) and cute cheeky girl Pucca were selected by Korea Culture & Contents Agency (KOCCA) as the winners in the local animation and cartoon character field for 2004. Hammer Boy, the feature animation based on a popular comic book by Huh Young-man, was chosen as the winner of the Presidential Award for Best Animation. It beat out 47 other animations, including second-place winners Wanghu Simchung (Empress Shimchung), In the Forest and Fortress.” ... New Cartoon to Spread 'Panda Monium': The Taipei Times says, “Following in the footsteps of Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty and Pokemon, a Panda cartoon character is likely to become the next popular icon among kids in Taiwan after the nation's first original animation series begins broadcast later this month. The cartoon, Panda Monium, has been created by TVbeans Co, which signed an agreement with Japan-based Planet Inc and Fuji Creative Corp last year to pour in $800 million (US$7.8 million) for the project.”

December 2, 2004
Kosher Corporation Releases a Cartoon 'Passion'

The Animated Passion Trilogy DVD coverThe Forward notes, “Until this week, families made queasy by the violence in Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ could take in Jesus' flagellation and death in a kid-friendly cartoon version, The Animated Passion Trilogy. The cartoon is an odd spinoff from Gibson's film, which offended many in the Jewish community. But even stranger is that the animated version, with its own depiction of Jewish rabbis calling for Jesus' death, was being distributed by one of the most Jewish companies in America. Anchor Bay Entertainment, which began distributing the film in August, is a subsidiary of IDT Corporation, the Newark, N.J.-based telecommunications company that serves kosher food in its cafeteria and was founded by Orthodox philanthropist Howard Jonas. After IDT was contacted by the Forward about the film this week, however, the company decided to pull The Animated Passion from further distribution. In an interview with the Forward, Jonas said that the film had not been reviewed by his company before the decision to distribute it had been made. But he is reversing that decision now. ... Jonas has tightened his own company's links with Christian media companies during the last year. Last December, Jonas signed a deal with evangelical preacher Pat Robertson to produce family-friendly entertainment through IDT's animation division. The agreement underscores the increasing links between Orthodox Jews and evangelicals over not only their shared interest in Israel, but also their shared religious values.”

GCC's First Animated Film to Premiere at Dubai Film Festival
The Jungle KidStrategiy reports, “The first-ever animated film produced in the Gulf will make its world premiere at the first-ever Dubai International Film Festival, Festival organizers announced. The film, The Jungle Kid (Ibn Al Ghabah), is the result of a joint GCC production venture .... “This is a great addition to our Festival line-up, not only because it is a first for the Arab world, but also because we want to encourage Arab filmmakers to break new ground,” Amralla said. “It is a well-crafted film, and is sure to have strong inter-generational appeal because of its story and its message.” The film is based on the classic Arabic novel Hai bin Yaqzan by famous Arab writer Ibn Toufyl, and tells the story of an infant raised by a deer after being abandoned in the woods. ... The 88-minute family film is the latest creation from the GCC Joint Programs Production Institution, a Kuwait-based group with a history of creating quality educational programming for Arabic-speaking children. The institution, which is jointly funded by all the Gulf states, earlier produced Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arab version of Sesame Street. The Jungle Kid uses a combination of traditional 2-D animation and modern computer-generated 3-D animation, and the vocal talents of several Arab stars.”

Pixar's Wonders Are Not Just for Kids Only
USA Today has this story about the large numbers of adults and teenagers going to see The Incredibles. “Brandon Gray, president of boxofficemojo.com, says nearly 40% of those seeing The Incredibles on opening weekend were either teens or adults attending without a family member, which is the norm for a Pixar movie. 'Pixar is really early Disney in many respects,' Gray says. 'I can't think of any other company that has that strong a branding as Pixar. They have always understood that if you don't have the story, you're not going to capture people's imagination. They tackle universal themes or stories. In Monsters, Inc., it was being afraid of the monster under your bed or in your closet.' Pixar is aware that its films appeal to non-parent adults. 'I'm actually relieved,' says Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo. 'That's where we spend all of our attention, toward 12 and up.' Animation movies are virtually guaranteed the under-12 crowd. Often, parents will tell him how much their kids enjoy these movies. 'And then they'll say, 'By the way, we love them, too,' ' Stanton says. 'I say, “Great. I wrote them for you, not for your kids.”' See also this earlier Arab News report.

When Quality Mattered
Rick Aristotle Munarriz in The Motley Fool contemplates the background to Disney's announcement to go ahead with Toy Story 3 without Pixar. He feels, “the beginning of the end when it came to Disney's reputation for putting out quality family entertainment [came back] in 1994, [when] Disney released The Return of Jafar. It was the sequel to the studio's hit, Aladdin. When its star, Robin Williams, had a falling-out with Disney, the company went ahead with the direct-to-video production by casting [Dan] Castellaneta as the quick-witted Genie. Going from Mork to Homer Simpson may not seem like much of a cinematic stretch. It certainly didn't hurt that Castellaneta was — and still is — an incredible voice actor with a dynamic range. Yet by going cheap in not coming to terms with Williams, only to be rewarded by a surge in video sales to the point where the movie was more profitable for Disney than its hit comedy Pretty Woman, it lulled Disney into thinking that quality didn't have to reign paramount. The assembly line of homogeneity got cranked up. The same company that was so protective of its characters that it would lock up its classics from the home video market only to release them for a few months every seven years went ahead and toilet-papered its own vault.”

In Brief ...
The Wheels on the BusPainting In Action: Olga Khoroshilova in NY Arts Magazine has this short review of “Pink and Pong, a new project by Russian-born, New York City-based Alina Blumis [which was] on display throughout October at St. Petersburg's KvadraT gallery. ... Blumis' animation shows how contemporary painting turns from an object into a means for creating one. The artist created a cartoon by shooting twelve paintings per second, all of which she made especially for filming. In so doing, she transformed canvases into frames. Pink and Pong looks like a caustic caricature of cheesy pop painting, redolent of bubblegum; it's hard to guess whether there was some sarcasm at play here, or if the consumer-society zeitgeist indeed influenced Blumis’ in earnest — or am I overanalyzing a bit (just as likely).” ... Daltrey Sings For A New Generation: Reuters reports, “[Roger] Daltrey, whose onstage charisma powered the Who to fame in the 1960s and '70s as much as Pete Townshend's caustic lyrics and furious guitar chords, has just made his first video/DVD for tiny tots. The microphone-twirling singer provides the singing and speaking voice for a friendly green dragon on an animated The Wheels on the Bus video [pictured] for independent California production company Armstrong Moving Pictures (distributed by Starlight Home Entertainment). 'Having had children, and now grandchildren, it all sounded like a great idea,' Daltrey says.” ... Animation Museum Still Alive: According to The Los Angeles Daily News notes, “Some animation professionals trying to raise $18 million to open an animation museum [The Animation Bank] in a vacant social-services building [in Glendale, California] have been granted six months to firm up the project. The extension, granted by the city's Redevelopment Agency despite Mayor Bob Yousefian's skepticism, is the second given the group, whose members envision transforming a 225 E. Broadway building into a museum including a research library and archive, screening room and animation-school space.” ... Cartoon Violence Results in Jail Time for Moviegoer: The Associated Press reports from Ann Arbor, Michigan that, “A man accused of starting a fight with another moviegoer who shushed him while watching [The Triplets of Belleville], leaving him with a punctured lung and broken ribs, will spend six months in jail.”

December 1, 2004
Animation and Acting

CNN has this transcript of an interview with Tom Hank, in which he says, “[The sort of computer technology with] which we used to make The Polar Express, is going to allow a different kind of human scale to be brought to the movies. They're not going to be animated movies, and they're not going to be two-dimensional movies in an old-fashioned way. ... The fact is that computers and all the technology that goes into film-making are constantly being renewed, constantly being examined and constantly being utilized in brand new different ways. It is possible to do one of two things. One is review the technology itself — you are always going to find fault with it. I can look at the movie and find things I hate, that I think are wrong with it. Or, you can review how the technology has told the story. But that's how it's telling the story — not where the technology is. And that's the thing that is going to matter more than anything else, have we told the story well?”

The Iron Giant
Armond White in The New York Press has this review of the new DVD edition of the film, in which he recalls that, “In 2000 when I proposed that the New York Film Critics Circle initiate an award for Best Animated Film, I had an agenda: Brad Bird's The Iron Giant. The animated film version of the Ted Hughes children's book stood apart from the Disney animation by reviving the quaint richness of post-war advertising and magazine graphics to tell a fantastic and dangerous story (a boy befriends a robot from outer space, alarming the town's adult conformists). Bird's drawing and narrative swiftness overturned preconceived notions of illustration and cartoon animation—it looked great in a dramatic new way. ... Bird's imaginative blend of nostalgic graphic style with a childhood morality has a classical effect ... but his technique is, essentially, new. Bird's understanding of cartoon mythology is sensitive rather than childlike, subversive or satirical. His images evoke spatial and chromatic wonder—the peculiar closeness/distance animation has from photorealism — in the midst of efficient storytelling.”

Pop Culture Popeye
Popeye's VoyageThe current Museum of Television & Radio exhibit in New York — Well Blow Me Down: 75 Years of Popeye — is the occasion for this lengthy article in New York Newsday, which provides some good historical background, starting with his debut in the Thimble Theatre comic strip to the new Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy TV special [pictured]. “'The best thing that ever happened to him was Max Fleischer, who decided to make a Popeye cartoon,' [museum researcher Barry] Monush said. ... The Fleischers ... commissioned songwriter Sammy Lerner to write a song for the cartoon. The use of Popeye's pipe to provide a 'toot toot' punctuation, and the signature line 'I'm strong to the finich 'cause I eats me spinach' have made it a world-recognized, if much parodied, tune. There was something else about those early cartoons. 'The very concept of plot was old-fashioned to the Fleischers,' writes animation historian Mark Langer of Carleton University in Ottawa. 'Hackneyed and ritualized story conventions were torn apart, recombined in odd juxtapositions and satirized in endless variations.'

In Brief ...
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed ReindeerLook Who's 40: 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer': NPR's Morning Edition has this audio report on the classic TV special which features a talk with “author Rick Goldschmidt [who] has been involved in the Rudolph story for years, from helping to assemble a DVD of the special to writing a book on the making of the children's favorite.” ... Paris Draws Two Cult Cartoonists Together: AFP reports, “Two cult figures from the world of cartoon and animation, Japan's Hayao Miyazaki and Frenchman Moebius, have teamed up their imaginary characters for an exhibition in Paris. Some 300 original drawings from the two designers' personal collections have gone on display at the Musee de la Monnaie in central Paris until next March. ... the exhibition explores the similarities and singularities of the two men's works.” ... Steamboy (Soundtrack): Mikael Carlsson in Music From the Movies has this brief review of the soundtrack album, in which he feels, “With his score for the Japanese film Steamboy, up and coming composer Steve Jablonsky composed the perfect show-reel for future assignments in the action adventure genre. The score CD showcases a well-crafted, effective and adrenaline-rushing accompaniment to the animated adventure directed by Katsuhiro Otomo.”

 

Animation Consultants International
News on the Web — December 2004