More about the closure of Wild Brain San Francisco

It’s been a tough year in San Francisco. First, The Orphanage shut down, and then we reported earlier this month that Wild Brain is a goner. The Business of Animation blog, run by an anonymous industry vet, has posted more about why the Bay Area Wild Brain was shuttered. Apparently, it was at the urging of one particular female exec:

How did this happen? Well, I cannot say for sure. But the rumor going around is that when the previous CEO left, they brought in a woman to run the company. She was a TV producer down in LA and her big bright idea was to shutter the SF office. Supposedly she put the kibosh on any incoming projects, just to guarantee there was no work to support the studio.

The woman in question who was brought in to run the company is Marge Dean, and I’ve heard a similar tale from my sources that corroborates this version of the story.

Equally enlightening is a reader comment from the same post. It was written by an anonymous person who worked at Wild Brain in its earliest days. The comment is worth reposting in its entirety:

I guess the saying might be that they always took the opportunity to do the wrong thing, but that might be a bit harsh. They had, in the start, an esprit de corps, since I was one of the original 7 or so with the company.

“We few, we merry few…”

And yes, we took chances, we got creative, and we got things started and done since it was all of out asses on the line. Once it got too big, once money came into the picture, then you really could see the divisions, especially during the Dot-Com blizzard of cash and idiocy. Once the bottom fell out, so did all barnstorming and chance taking. The joy was sucked out of it. Wounds never healed. Backs remained stabbed.

We need that kind of company in the Bay Area again, like the early days of Colossal or the ‘Brain. Small enough to take chances and try new approaches, but egalitarian enough to avoid the layers of fat and mindless loyalties.

UPDATE: Reader “Judas P. Foxglove” offers another perspective in the comments about what’s happening at Wild Brain:

Wildbrain was not “shuttered” in the traditional meaning of the term. The studio moved to Los Angeles, the recognized epicenter of animation in this country. Anyone who is bemoaning a prudent business move (during a recession mind you) is probably someone who has a lot of sour grapes. All things change and everyone who lives and breathes in this world has suffered the consequences(or reaped the benefits) of change around them.

For what its worth, and what isn’t mentioned in this post, is that Wildbrain Studios in Los Angeles is as vibrant and creative a place as any that I have ever worked for – and I’ve been in the industry for over ten years in three different cities. And when the productions we are working on are released they are going to knock your socks off.

Cartoon Network presentation reel (1991)

I was a consultant to the Cartoon Network shortly after it launched in 1992. Somehow back then I acquired a copy of this 1991 presentation video, which Ted Turner used to pitch the idea to cable operators and potential advertisers. It’s interesting to revisit this piece today — the channel’s current agenda is a far cry from its original stated goals. Also note, this was before CN created their checkerboard logo.

Cartoon Network held great potential — and still does. Perhaps posting this video will give someone the idea to revive it.

Shrek the Musical Flops, Will Close Soon

Here’s a shocker: people aren’t willing to spend their hard-earned money to see a Broadway musical with a lead character that looks like this:

Shrek the Musical

Variety reports that DreamWorks is shuttering Shrek the Musical early next year. Despite Katzenberg’s best efforts to milk the Shrek franchise, the musical has only been filling about 60% of audience capacity and dipping to as low as 49% capacity last month.

Classic Cartoon Mural in Montreal

Montreal Graffiti

After the stress of judging the Ottawa International Animation Festival (more about that soon), I decided to unwind for a few days in the much more lively Canadian city of Montreal. Even there, I couldn’t escape cartoons. I stumbled upon this large and unconventional graffiti mural that incorporates vintage cartoon characters like Bosko, Honey, Betty Boop, Buddy, and Krazy Kat.The mural, which is a good eighty feet long, gives more visibility to these characters than anything their parent studios have done with them in a long time.

If you want to see the piece in person, it’s off of rue St. Catherine, a few blocks east of rue St. Denis. Otherwise, click on the image below to see my quick-and-dirty stitch job of the mural.

Montreal Graffiti

3 Dog Band by Paul Rudish

Worth checking out: a hi-res version of the Cartoonstitute short 3 Dog Band directed by Paul Rudish (Dexter’s Lab, Star Wars: Clone Wars). I wanted to like this short because there’s a lot to appreciate about it, including funny character movement, moments of visual inventiveness (the dj who flips his turntables into a bike), and a solid track at the end that is probably the best piece of music to ever accompany a Cartoon Network product.

At the same time, the characters have vague unappealing personalities, there’s little chemistry between the leads, and the attempts at humor fall flat (was the ending even supposed to be a joke?). It’s also a shame they couldn’t figure out what to do with the music. The last couple minutes come across as a fetishistic exercise in design and art direction that offers little in the way of entertainment value. By comparison, this is an example of how to properly end a cartoon with a musical sequence that rewards its audience.

In a shorts program, not every cartoon is going to be a homerun, especially when they’re produced in the completely nonsensical manner of allowing each director to only make one short. But when all is said and done, even the weaker shorts that I’ve seen so far from the Cartoonstitute program have their moments, and few appear to be offensively bad as so many TV animation pilots tend to be nowadays.

Ottawa Animation ad campaign

The funniest thing I saw in Ottawa last week wasn’t on screen, in a theatre or even cartoons. They were the festival posters plastered on buses, mounted on walls and bannered all over intersections in downtown Ottawa.

HBS Marketing created this clever print ad campaign for the Ottawa International Animation Festival — which perfectly sums up my own philosophy of life. Click on images below and above to view at full size.

(Thanks, Kelly Neall)

Interviews Worth Reading and Hearing

Pups of Liberty

Filmmaker Michael Sporn interviews Jennifer and Bert Klein about their ambitious new animated short Pups of Liberty and the lengths they to to finish it:

Jennifer: It is hard to sit down and work after you have worked a full day, but I always remembered something Bert would say, “Even if you just get one drawing done you are one drawing ahead.” So I’d try and get one scene’s worth of layouts done a night, or read a track, or just something, and we’d inch forward until we were done.

The Venture Bros. creator Jackson Publick and voice actor James Urbaniak recently appeared on “The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling.” The interview lasts a couple hours and there’s a lot of goofiness, but there’s also a lot of good discussion because the host, Scharpling, is a TV writer and producer (Monk, Tom Goes to the Mayor). The interview begins a little after an hour into the September 29 program, which can be listened to at the WFMU website.

Fred Wolf retrospective

Speaking of Ninja Turtles… My next screening at the Cinefamily/Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood is a tribute to animator Fred Wolf.

Wolf collaborated with Harry Nilsson to create The Point!, with Frank Zappa to produce 200 Motels, and with Peter Yarrow to make Puff The Magic Dragon. He’s the man behind the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series, Marlo Thomas’ TV special Free To Be You And Me, the animated feature The Mouse And His Child, the classic “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” commercial (see below) and won an Oscar for his short The Box. He even animated the iconic opening sequence to The Flintstones! Yours truly (Jerry Beck) will present rare clips from his movies, TV shows, vintage TV commercials, his award winning shorts and will conduct a live on-stage interview with Wolf himself, discussing his career in film and his relationships with his world famous collaborators.

Join me on Tuesday November 3rd at 8pm. Advance tickets available now… the first 100 admissions will receive a free DVD of The Point!, and every admission will receive a free Tootsie Pop! Buy Tickets Here!

Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol

This trailer has been out for a while, but I just have to ask: Does anyone in Hollywood have the cajones to tell Zemeckis to just STOP?

Robert Zemeckis has made several of my all-time favorite films, but this motion-capture madness must end. He’s doing Yellow Submarine next. Are any of our readers looking forward to this Christmas Carol? Does anyone think it looks good?

More tickets for The Iron Giant 10-year reunion

Last week we posted about Asifa-Hollywood’s Iron Giant 10-Year Reunion. It sold out within 24 hours.

Now, a limited number of additional tickets are available for the reunion, because the event has been moved from Woodbury University to the Stephen J. Ross Theater on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank – a much larger venue.

Here’s what you do if you want to attend: send an email to [email protected] with the number of guests and your guests’ names. You will then be given further instructions via email on purchasing tickets. Tickets are $10 for ASIFA-Hollywood members and $15 for non-members. Tickets are non-refundable.

The Iron Giant reunion is this Friday, October 23rd, at 7:30pm. Among the many artists expected is writer and director Brad Bird, background artist Anne Guenther, art director Alan Bodner, lead animator Steve Markowski, and artistic coordinator Scott Johnston. The panel will be moderated by animator Tom Sito.

Ticket holders are required to park in the Franklin parking structure, located at 4301 W. Olive Ave, Burbank, which is across the street from the Warner Bros. Studio Lot. At the parking structure, guests will be given an entrance pass, then directed across the street to Gate 2 for entrance onto the studio lot, and then to the theater. You must purchase tickets ahead of time to be included on the guest list, as Warner Bros. studio security requires a list of every person attending. In addition, all guests are required to show a valid government photo ID, in order to be admitted into the parking structure and onto the studio lot.

Due to the large turnout to this event, guests are advised you to arrive no later than 7:00 p.m., to insure that they have enough time to park and get to the theater before the program begins. Seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. For more information, visit asifa-hollywood.org.

Meet the new Nicktoon

Disney buys Marvel, so it only stands to reason that Nickelodeon would pick up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

But Nick didn’t just buy the old TV shows and movies, they bought the property in its entirety, including the merchandising rights and the ability to make new series and TV shows.

MTV Networks acquired the global rights to the Turtles from The Mirage Group and 4Kids Entertainment for roughly $60 million dollars. Nickelodeon plans to develop a new CG-animated TMNT television series to premiere in 2012 and, in partnership with Paramount Pictures, a new Ninja Turtles feature film for 2012.

One of the most popular kids’ television programs of the 1980s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as an independent comic book. Note, the current network TMNT animated series now running on CW4Kids Saturday morning will continue to air through Aug. 31, 2010.

New dates for Cartoon Dump

Shhhh…. We are having a top secret performance of Cartoon Dump this month. Why top secret? Because the date was shifted around with little to no publicity. So we expect a small turn out this month.

We used to be every fourth Tuesday of each month, but starting in 2010 we are moving to fourth Mondays. As for our remaining dates in 2009: In October, we are on this Wednesday (10/21) at 8pm; In November we perform the fourth Monday (11/23); and in December (our Xmas party) we’ll party on the third Monday, Dec. 21st.

This month, Cartoon Dump stars MST3K’s Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank) and J. Elvis Weinstein (Dr. Erhardt & the original Tom Servo), Erica Doering and special guest star comedian Jay London. It’s Wednesday night 8pm at The Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood. Comedy! Songs! Puppets! Magic! And God-awful cartoons from the wasteland of 50s and 60s Saturday morning television! Advanced tickets click here.

“Products For Little Black Princesses”

I’m not going to post on every oddball piece of merchandising Disney is doing these days – and this one isn’t particularly oddball – but I thought it was worth a note.

The premise of The Princess and the Frog lends itself to new merchandising opportunities within the black community and the company has now reached out to the black-owned Carol’s Daughter to create a new line of limited edition grooming merchandise aimed directly at black consumers. The Magical Beauty Collection, features Princess Tiana Hair Detangler, Bubble Bath, Shampoo and Conditioner products. For more information, the Afrobella blog has posted an interview with Carol’s Daughter president Lisa Price.

(Thanks, Tamu Townsend)

The Mad Magazine TV Special (1974)

I admit it, this one has me stumped. Don Martin, Antonio Prohias, Al Jafee, Mort Drucker and Dave Berg – adapted to animation! How did I miss this? Did it ever air? If so, what network?

It was co-directed by Chris Ishii, Jimmy Murakami and Gordon Bellamy. You can hear Allan Swift and Len Maxwell on the soundtrack. There are some New York animation veterans, such as Johnny Gent and Cosmo Anzilotti, as well as many Hollywood freelancers, including Gerard Baldwin and Bud Luckey, listed in the end credits. Perhaps my friends Mark Kausler and David Brain (who are also credited) can send us some info on this in the comments section below.

It’s been uploaded in three parts. Start here:

UPDATE: MAD’s Maddest Writer, Dick DeBartolo wrote to JJ Sedelmaier about the special. Quote: “We had a copy of that show up in the office, but I haven’t seen it in years. It never aired. That was the pilot. Nobody wanted to sponsor a show that made fun of products that were advertised on TV, like car manufacturers.”

(Thanks, Charles Brubaker)

Book Review: South of the Border with Disney

The Three Caballeros will always hold a place in my heart. As a child of the 1960s and early 70s, at a time when my class mates were experimenting with mind-altering drugs, I was getting my high off screenings of early 30s Fleischer cartoons and Disney’s South American psychedelics. Is there anything trippier than the last 45 minutes of The Three Caballeros or the Blame It On The Samba sequence in Melody Time? I’ve always wondered what the thinking was behind these films and now, finally, I have all the answers.

J.B. Kaufman’s new book, South of the Border with Disney should be a permanent addition to your Disney or animation history bookshelf. It goes way beyond the basic information of Disney’s South American tour, as outlined in Ted Thomas’ recent film Walt and El Grupo. Thomas’ film was concerned with the trip, Kaufman’s focus is on the films. J.B. covers El Grupo’s tour more throughly and, more importantly, follows through to discuss each film that resulted from that initial trip, a complete examination from development to end product – from Saludos Amigos (1943) to Destino (2003).

The book explains things I had always wondered about (for example, why Saludos Amigos was also released under the title Saludos; or why Panchito was never used on screen again), and reveals new facts I had no idea of (such as definitive information on all the unfinished shorts and aborted feature concepts; and that half of the live action footage used in Saludos Amigos was actually shot in Burbank, months after the trip to South America). Kaufman (who has emerged alongside Canemaker and Barrier as a leading Disney historian) discusses in depth and in detail, not only the well known features and shorts, but the more obscure nontheatrical health films and rarely seen documentaries Disney made primarily for the Latin America markets. You will not find this information anywhere else.

The appendix includes a complete filmography, a discography and information on related South America themed Disney comic books. It’s not an “art book” per se, but there are ample color illustrations from the Disney Archive to illustrate the text, and overall a high quality job in all printing aspects. For me, this is the animation book of the year. A great read, and I highly recommend it.

Ho White Beer

Talk about your Cartoon Brew: A new Australian beer campaign has co-opted Disney’s Snow White and renamed her Ho White — and the seven dwarves are now Randy, Filthy, Ugly, Freaky, Dodgy, Dirty and Smarmy. The initial ad features Ho White wearing a negligee, in bed with the naughty dwarves, blowing smoke rings. The concept was created by The Foundry for Jamieson Brewery.

The Walt Disney Company is not pleased.