Worth a read today: the New York Times profiles five rising animators in the American animation scene. The five featured artists are Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe), Minkyu Lee (Adam and Dog), Jason Ruiz (Murder Police), Justin Roiland (Rick and Morty), and Timothy Reckart (Head Over Heels).
This afternoon in Burbank, the newly opened Center Stage Gallery will present “Fast Track to Animation” featuring the work of artists who worked on DreamWorks’ Turbo: senior visual development artists Marcos Mateu-Mestre, Takao Nagaguchi and Jason Scheier, visual development artists Jeremy Engleman and Mike Hernandez, and lighting designer Dominique Louis.
From 3 to 4:30pm, the gallery will present a book signing of The Art of Turbo. The signing will be followed with live art demos presented by Jason Scheier (5-6pm) and Mike Hernandez (6:30-7:30pm).
RSVP for the FREE event at CenterStageGallery.com. The gallery is located at 847 Hollywood Way, Space 100, in Burbank, California.
Candy Kugel is an icon of the New York animation scene whose body of work over the last forty years includes everything from classic Sesame Street segments like It’s Hip to Be a Square…
…to memorable spots that established the visual identity of MTV in its earliest days:
In this new episode of Frenzer Foreman Animation Forum, Candy Kugel talks about what it was like to work as a woman animator in New York’s commercial animation scene in the 1970s, at a time when women animators in commercial studios were few and far between. She also brings us up to date on her latest projects, including the TED-Ed short Sex Determination: More Complicated Than You Thought, which is one of the most viewed TED-Ed shorts to date.
If you were unable to attend the SIGGRAPH Keynote panel on Monday, featuring nine distinguished animation directors, you’re in luck because the 92-minute discussion is posted below.
The panel, entitled “Giants’ First Steps,” focused on the early careers of the following artists: Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up), Eric Goldberg (Pocahontas, Fantasia/2000), Kevin Lima (Tarzan), Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked), Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon), Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline), David Silverman (The Simpsons Movie), Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin).
Following the lackluster opening of Turbo, DreamWorks Animation heard grumbling from Wall Street this afternoon, with shares in the company losing over 5% of their value on NASDAQ. Sterne Agee analyst Vasily Karasyo released a report this morning that offers a big-picture perspective on DreamWorks and explains why the weak Turbo debut highlights the erosion of DreamWorks’ business model, which relies largely on a few tentpole films every year.
Of course, DreamWorks management is well aware, too, that their reliance on blockbusters is not a sustainable long-term model, which is why Jeffrey Katzenberg is scrambling to diversify into other areas, such as acquiring Classic Media’s library, entering the Chinese animation and amusement park markets, and working with Netflix to create online series.
Here is Karasyo’s report:
DREAMWORKS ANIMATION SKG INC. (NASDAQ: DWA)
Price Target: $21.50
Weak Turbo Opening Highlights Business Model Erosion
We believe that the weak opening of Turbo is not a one time event but another illustration of the challenges to DreamWorks Animation’s business model due to decreasing box office opportunity and high legacy production and releasing costs. Although the management’s efforts to build new revenue streams received a lot of attention recently, they are not enough to offset decreasing film profitability. We reiterate our Underperform rating.
- We estimate at this point that Turbo will generate $70 mln at the domestic box office, less than half of our and the Street’s pre-release estimate of $160 mln. A significant number of international territories don’t open till October but assuming IBO is in line with our forecast at $280 mln, we expect a $19 mln write-down which would drive $0.28 downside to our FY13 forecast. We don’t believe the company has to make a determination on the title’s profitability and therefore the write-down won’t happen until Q4.
- If we are right about Turbo’s ultimate profitability, the risk to FY14 estimates is now significantly higher. There are two original releases, Peabody and Sherman and Happy Smekday, next year. With two out of the last three titles underperforming, we see the likelihood of another write-down as materially higher.
- New revenue streams from the recent Netflix (NFLX – $264.58 – Neutral, Bhatia) deal only modestly decrease dependence on film earnings: we estimate they will account for $0.07 in EPS in FY14 assuming there are no execution issues. By comparison, Rise of The Guardians write-down impact on EPS was $0.68 and The Croods contribution to FY13 will be $0.26.
- We think the execution risk associated with the Netflix deal is overlooked. In recent history, the company pursued several initiatives to drive incremental revenue which ran into challenges and did not yield expected results, e.g. Penguins of Madagascar consumer product licensing program and a shift to three films a year. The main challenge of the Netflix deal, in our view, is to produce high volume of content within tight time frame and at the target margin.
This morning we continue Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival with the online debut of Eric Ko’s Our Son (우리 아들) which is a graduation short produced at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Notably, Eric’s short marks the second time he’s been selected for our festival; his junior year film Troubleshooting was featured in last year’s festival. Our Son is an evolution of his distinctively spare geometric language while reaching new heights of filmmaking ambition and confidence.
Ko is fascinated with the idea of speed in this film, and he skillfully manipulates the cinematic space to create a fast-paced and exciting animation thrill ride. The driving percussion-oriented soundtrack lends to the sense of urgency. The film flirts with abstraction, but remains grounded in a narrative universe that is both resistant to (and demanding of) interpretation by the viewer.
Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker:
The transition from carefree irresponsibility to reality is often instantaneous. Based off of a few precious memories of growing up with a best friend in a place that offered very little and the relationship I have with my heritage, I wanted to work on a film that took me on an adventure during its creation, with hopes that it would take the viewer on one as well.
I used Flash and a tablet to animate. For the music and sound design I worked in Ableton Live.
CHALLENGES & LESSONS LEARNED
I wanted to make a film that embodied impulsive, frantic adventures; with that said, having a storyboard seemed to be an ill limitation. At first I had plenty of boards drawn up and ideas down on paper, but after the first few seconds of animating I threw it all out. All I had left were the bigger ideas that I kept in the back of my head as I worked. At a certain point I was simply putting one image in front of the other without knowing what came next, which was fun for me. Once something stopped being fun, I stopped and changed it. I think realizing to make sure I had fun was the most important thing.
I looked up to independent animators such as Lei Lei and Misaki Uwabo. I did some really basic research on Korean culture; I think my vague understanding of my own heritage and the disjointed humor I get from it particularly inspired me. Also, retro side-scrolling spaceship games such as Gradius interests me a lot, where a lot of strange visual motifs went unquestioned because it’s an arcade game. While animating I listened to a lot of Louis CK interviews for laughs and really loved his attitude about creative freedom. Echo Park by Willamette was my favorite album to listen to.
WHERE YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS
Making more short films!
The Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival is made possible by the generosity of our presenting sponsor JibJab.
Speaking of cartoon mascots, this head-scratching take on Mr. Clean was concocted by Leo Burnett’s Toronto office and directed by Pete Riski at Sons and Daughters. While the ad isn’t noteworthy from either an animation or technical perspective, I’m oddly fascinated by how thoroughly creepy, stiff and unappealing they’ve managed to make this character. Perhaps that was the point.
I’ve wanted to watch Errol Le Cain’s Sailor and the Devil ever since I saw these stills on Hans Bacher’s website a few years ago. Animation research Garrett Gilchrist recently unearthed a copy, which although incomplete and poor quality, offers a tantalizing glimpse of this masterful short.
Le Cain made Sailor and the Devil in 1966 while working at Richard Williams’ studio in London. He had been working there for only a year when Williams invited him to direct the film under his supervision. Williams explained the idea behind the project in a documentary: “[Le Cain is] doing everything so he’s getting ten years’ experience in one, and we get a film.”
The results are refreshingly original. Le Cain invents an idiosyncratic style of movement that combines jittery bursts of motion with visually pleasing dance cycles. When the storm arrives in the film or the skeleton wave threatens to overwhelm the sailor, we encounter a world of pure graphic art. Le Cain uses the full range of color, movement, design, and cinematic devices to create an exciting universe that could exist nowhere but in an animated film.
Le Cain made significant contributions to the production design of The Thief and the Cobbler, and afterward became a well known children’s book illustator. He died in 1989 at the age of 47.
Among the many projects he did with Richard Williams, Le Cain designed these titles for The Liquidator (1965):
There’s a clip of Le Cain and Williams working on Sailor in this documentary from 1966:
(via Michael Sporn)
Flawed film premises weren’t invented in the last decade. In 1977, a gentleman named Lorenzo Music was developing an animated feature called Simon and Miranda, which starred a snail named Simon and his love interest, Miranda the caterpillar. Music had successfully developed and produced snail-free TV shows like The Bob Newhart Show and Rhoda, and needed advice if his latest idea was worthwhile.
For guidance, Music reached out to Ward Kimball, who had spent nearly forty years as a director, writer and animator at Disney, and had excellent instincts about entertainment. Kimball, of course, was also responsible for creating the most successful insect in animation history—Pinocchio’ Jiminy Cricket—and though snails aren’t technically insects, for Music’s purposes, they were close enough.
Music sent the script he’d developed to Ward Kimball through a mutual friend, John Gibbons. Ward was unimpressed. Or to put it more bluntly, he thought it was a plain awful concept. Never one to mince words, Ward ripped apart Music’s idea in acerbic fashion with an extended riff on why Americans hate snails. He ended with a warning to Lorenzo to spend his money on “something besides snails.” Printed for the first time ever is Ward’s letter to Lorenzo Music. Click to enlarge:
Lorenzo Music was a smart man. He listened to Ward’s advice and the world was momentarily spared from having to endure an entire animated feature starring a snail. Music, whose response to Ward is recorded below, set aside his hard-shelled dreams and went on to perform numerous voices in animated cartoons including Ralph the All-Purpose Animal in Twice Upon a Time, Tummi Gummi in Gummi Bears, and his most memorable role as Garfield.
Turbo, the DreamWorks-produced and David Soren-directed animated feature about the snail that could, opened in a disappointing third place in the U.S. with an esimated $21.5 million. The film is the third-lowest all-time opening weekend for a DreamWorks CGI film, doing better than only Antz (1998) and the Aardman-produced Flushed Away (2006). However, adjusted for inflation and 3D prices, Turbo had the smallest opening weekend audience EVER for a DreamWorks CG pic. The film has grossed $31.2 million since opening last Wednesday.
Illumination’s Despicable Me 2 kept up its amazing run in its third weekend. The film landed in second place with an estimated $25.1 million. Its current domestic total is a smashing $276 million, and by next weekend it will pass Man of Steel to become the second-highest grossing film in America this year. Holding up the tenth place spot was Pixar’s Monsters University, which earned an estimated $5 million in its fifth weekend. The film’s total now stands at a robust $249 million.
International numbers to come in a bit.
These two promos are the publicly released footage that I’ve seen from Wander Over Yonder, the upcoming Disney Channel series created by Craig McCracken (The Powerpuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends).
Also, here’s a lo-quality version of the trailer that someone recorded at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con:
(Thanks, Anthony DiPaola via Cartoon Brew’s Facebook group)
Just announced at San Diego Comic-Con: Finn and Jake will be the stars of an Adventure Time balloon at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Their helium-filled adventure will debut on Thursday, November 28th, 2013. Click on the image below to see a closer view of what the balloon will look like:
Few industry observers are banking on Turbo, the David Soren-directed DreamWorks pic about a garden snail who races in the Indianapolis 500, to be a blockbuster. But the film is being well received by its kindertot target demo, having received an A+ CinemaScore rating from filmgoers under age 18. The general audience has deemed it sufficiently likable too, giving it an A rating. The critical consensus has delivered a milder yet still respectable 67%.
In Variety critic Peter Debruge’s review, he forgoes the most obvious comparison to Pixar’s Cars and instead says it’s “closer in spirit to Pixar’s Ratatouille.” He continues, “Turbo adheres to an otherwise safe formula, combining cute cartoon characters with the standard all-American ‘dream big’ message: If a rat can thrive in a French restaurant, then why can’t a snail become an Indy speedster.” The NY Times sees the glass as half-full: “Even in the absence of originality, there is fun to be had,” while the Hollywood Reporter is less than impressed: “…[I]t’s as if the makers of Turbo had been pressed to come up with the most extreme underdog tale they could think of. Or else animators really are running out of ideas for original new characters.”
It’s your turn now. After you see the film, report back here with your thoughts in the comments below. As always, this talkback is reserved for readers who have seen the film and wish to comment on it. Any general comments about the film will be politely discarded.
(Turbo billboard via Daily Billboard)
Indie animation legend Bill Plympton has released the trailer for his sixth narrative feature, Cheatin’. Plympton, who still draws every single frame of his feature films, successfully raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter to help complete the film. Cheatin’ is expected to debut this fall on the festival circuit.
The official synopsis:
In a fateful bumper car collision, Jake and Ella meet and become the most loving couple in the long history of Romance. But when a scheming “other” woman drives a wedge of jealousy into their perfect courtship, insecurity and hatred spell out an untimely fate. With only the help of a disgraced magician and his forbidden “soul machine,” Ella takes the form of Jake’s numerous lovers, desperately fighting through malfunction and deceit as they try to reclaim their destiny.
North America’s biggest animation festival, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, has announced the feature film and short film selections for their 2013 edition. The festival takes place in Canada’s capital city from September 18-22.
“I was extremely pleased with the wide range of films this year,” said Chris Robinson, artistic director of the OIAF. “Their quality was outstanding, which made the selection process extremely difficult. The Japanese and feature films were particularly refreshing due to their boldness and originality.” The festival selected 106 finalists for competition this year, from a total of 1,924 entries.
Notably, Ottawa has expanded its feature film category this year, with a record eight feature-length films in competition. As I wrote a couple months ago, it is an “exciting time for animated features” and major animation festivals must acknowledge the growth of long-form animation to stay relevant. The feature films in competition at Ottawa this year are:
- A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman directed by Jeff Simpson, Bill Jones and Ben Timlett (UK)
- Anima Buenos Aires directed by Maria Ramirez (Argentina)
- Couleur De Peau: Miel (Approved For Adoption) directed by Laurent Boileau and Jung (France/Belgium)
- Cycle directed by Zoltan Sostai (Hungary)
- It’s Such A Beautiful Day directed by Don Hertzfeldt (USA)
- O Menino e o Mundo (The Boy and The World) directed by Ale Abreu (Brazil)
- The Pain and The Pity directed by Phil Mulloy (UK)
- Tito On Ice directed by Max Andersson and Helena Ahonen (Sweden/Germany)
Rio 2, directed by Carlos Saldanha and produced by Blue Sky Studios, will be released in April 2014. Here is the official synopsis released this morning with this teaser:
The entire cast of the animated smash Rio returns in Rio 2, and they are joined by a new flock of top actors and musical talents. Rich with grandeur, character, color and music, Rio 2 finds Jewel (Anne Hathaway), Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and their three kids leaving their domesticated life in that magical city for a journey to the Amazon. They encounter a menagerie of characters who are born to be wild, voiced by Oscar nominee Andy Garcia, Oscar/Emmy/Tony-winner Rita Moreno, Grammy winner Bruno Mars, and Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth.
Yesterday’s New York Times delivered a glowing profile of DreamWorks chief creative officer Bill Damaschke. The pieces describes how CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is relinquishing oversight of creative matters to Damaschke, who for his part is trying to make the studio more creator-friendly.
It reads like your typical puff piece until it gets to the part about Brenda Chapman. The article reveals that Chapman, who co-directed the first DreamWorks film The Prince of Egypt before jumping to Pixar where she made Brave, has recently returned to DreamWorks. First, Chapman explains why she left DreamWorks:
“I left in part because I felt like I was being asked to do the same story over and over. I look at the movies DreamWorks is doing now, and I see the exact opposite happening.”
Then, it gets juicy when she places the blame for her removal as director of Brave squarely on the shoulders of John Lasseter:
She was pushed out of Pixar after clashing with that studio’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter. Although she could have joined another studio, she said she chose to return to Glendale in part because of Mr. Damaschke, who started at DreamWorks Animation in 1995 as a production assistant on The Prince of Egypt.
“As Jeffrey has gained experience and age, and DreamWorks has grown, he has stepped back and allowed other people to run creative,” Ms. Chapman said. “At Pixar, it’s all John’s show.” She added of DreamWorks Animation, “you can butt heads here and not be punished for it, unlike at another place I could name.”
It’s not exactly news that there was some kind of a conflict between Lasseter and Chapman, but it begins a new chapter in the story when Chapman publicly claims that Lasseter’s micromanagement was the cause of her rift with Pixar. And on another note, who would have ever thought that directors like Chapman and Chris Sanders would begin migrating to DreamWorks for its liberal creative environment. In the animation world, the times they are a-changin.
Altneuland (Old New Land) is a 2012 graduation film directed by Sariel Keslasi at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. In the film, Keslasi re-interprets Theodor Herzl’s 110-year-old utopian novel Altneuland through contemporary eyes. He writes:
By using a surrealist allegory, the film tries to deal with the collapse of Herzl’s dream and seeks to emphasize the sense of absurdity and instability of my personal experience as an individual in the Israeli society.
I met the thoughtful Keslasi a few months ago at the Anifilm festival in the Czech Republic, where his film was in competition. Altneuland also was in competition at Annecy last month. Keslasi’s strong art direction and his cinematic eye for staging and cutting has already landed him work in the Israeli animation scene, where he recently worked on Ari Folman’s feature The Congress.
The audience pleasers Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 have now resulted in fully-animated features leading the U.S. box office for four straight weeks. Despicable Me 2 retained its number one slot this weekend while facing stiff competition from two newcomers—Grown Ups 2 and Pacific Rim. The modestly budgeted Illumination film grossed an estimated $44.8 million over the 3-day span, boosting its overall total to $229.2M.
To put this into perspective, the last time that fully-animated features led the U.S. box office for four weeks or longer was nearly twenty years ago, when Toy Story was the number one film for six straight weeks in 1995.
In its fourth weekend, Monsters University landed in sixth place, grossing $10.6M for a $237.8M domestic cume. International figures for these films coming soon.
Animation legend Jay Ward produced such cartoons as Rocky & Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody & Sherman and George of the Jungle. Besides having a fine sense of humor, it turns out that he was a lovely human being, too. Cartoon researcher ‘Don M. Yowp’ uncovered this story published in a 1962 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News:
Linda Dill is a senior in Baird High School. She fell in love with the Bullwinkle nonsense when it came along, and since she has marked artistic talent, she made some tiny dolls to represent the characters, wrote a script for them and let them “perform” for various Baird classes. One day, she bundled up her Bullwinkle dolls and mailed them to Jay Ward. That started a friendship-by-mail. Jay wrote that the dolls were on exhibit in his Hollywood studio. He sent Linda a Bullwinkle clock and a battery-operated Bullwinkle figure. Linda, in turn, got up a “petition” in Baird seeking statehood for Moosylvania.
Then it developed that Jay Ward would be in Dallas for a show in mid-November and he wrote an invitation to Linda to drop by if she could. Linda would have but six-weeks exams conflicted and she had to decline the invitation. On Wednesday evening last week a long distance call came to Baird from Jay Ward at Dallas. He asked to speak to Linda. Then he learned. Linda is deaf, her mother told Jay…
Grab some Kleenex and read the rest of the story on the Tralfaz blog.
Japanese filmmaker Tao Tajima filmed the footage for Night Stroll around his Tokyo home. Then, with the aid of motion tracking, he added motion graphics and particle reflections to complete the piece. It’s always a treat to see someone use digital tools with restraint and thoughtfulness. The live-action backgrounds are somewhat superfluous; Tajima’s sense of mo-graph design is so strong that I’d venture the piece would be just as effective against a stark black background. Either way, it’s solid work.
(Thanks, Matt Jones)
Late-breaking labor news out of Los Angeles:
NICK CG ARTISTS OVERWHELMINGLY RATIFY ANIMATION GUILD CONTRACT
Burbank, CA, July 12 — Newly organized CG artists have ratified a contract negotiated between the Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE and Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Ratification was overwhelming, with 90.1% of the bargaining unit’s 70 employees voting “Yes.”
The Guild has had a contract with Nickelodeon covering traditional animation artists since 2004. Talks extending union contract protection to Nick’s CG artists extended from March to July of this year, between management and a committee of seventeen employees along with Guild representatives. The primary issue was bridging from Nickelodeon’s corporate insurance to the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan, to insure uninterrupted health coverage for covered employees.
Steve Hulett, the Animation Guild’s Business Representative Steve Hulett issued this statement:
“Five years ago, the Animation Guild went to work organizing Nick’s CG department. We had a number of setbacks, but last year, thanks to Guild organizer Steve Kaplan, communication with employees accelerated and support for the Guild increased dramatically. Early in February, Nickelodeon agreed to a neutral card count and negotiations for a contract started soon thereafter.
“Talks went on for months. TAG had a large negotiating committee of unit employees, most in their early to mid-twenties, and they were focused and tenacious through several long days of work. I doubt we could have reached agreement without them.
“Nick negotiators Bill Cole and Kevin Ellman were tough but flexible, and had a lot to do with the parties reaching agreement.”
Final negotiations over the Memorandum of Agreement wrapped on July 10, with ratification by unit employees taking place at the studio’s Burbank facility on Friday afternoon.