A Mexican Cemetery Comes Alive Through Animation

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“They say Mexicans have a special fascination with death,” writes Christian Bermejo of the Mexican animation website Tweenbox. “We don’t believe it but maybe playing around with mapping in the cemetery doesn’t help.”

The following projection mapping piece, Panteon de Dolores, brings alive the Dolores Cemetery with a colorful procession of animated characters. Directed by Alejandro Garcia Caballero of the Mexico City-based Llamarada, it was one of six pieces commissioned for Ciudad Intervenida, a project that invited a half-dozen Mexican animators to reinterpret public spaces.

How Japanese Animators Use Flash to Create Amazing TV Animation

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Science Saru, the new studio started by Japanese directors Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi, has shared a behind-the-scenes look at how they used Flash in the recent TV series Ping Pong. Says the studio:

In this short video you can see the “insides” of two scenes we worked on for the show. Animators developed a new digital technique, in order to get slow movements, turnings and big zooms, that would have been very difficult in hand-drawn animation.

Yuasa and Choi haven’t reinvented the wheel. They have the same tools available to everyone else who has Flash—shape tweens, motion tweens, symbols—but they use those techniques to achieve results that don’t look anything like the cheap-looking product we tend to associate with the software.

Black Dynamite director LeSean Thomas puts it best when he says, “Remember: There’s a difference between good programmers who move things in Flash and good, traditional animators who use Flash.”

Watch ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ Trailer

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The first trailer for the SpongeBob movie Sponge Out of Water was released today, and it’s a real winner. The trailer is packed with goofy dumb humor (in the best way possible), and the mixed-media approach looks to be very smartly done from a filmmaking standpoint. Directed by Paul Tibbitt (with live-action sequences directed by Mike Mitchell), Sponge Out of Water will debut in the US on February 6, 2015.

World Premieres of ‘Big Hero 6′ and ‘Parasyte’ Set for Tokyo International Film Festival

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The Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is putting a special emphasis on animation this year, and has announced that Disney’s Big Hero 6 will be the opening night film of their 27th edition.

“The setting of our film, San Fransokyo, is a fictional, futuristic mash-up of two of our favorite cities in the world–San Francisco and Tokyo,” Big Hero 6 directors Don Hall and Chris Williams said in a statement. “The research we did in Tokyo informed every detail of the film. We look forward to bringing our film to this city that so deeply inspired us.”

The closing night film will be Takashi Yamazaki’s Parasyte, based on a manga by Hitoshi Iwaaki about an alien who lodges himself into a human boy’s hand. The live-action film has plenty of animation in it, and Yamazaki also served as the film’s vfx director. Trailer is below:

The festival will also be hosting the first-ever major retrospective devoted to the works of animation and live-action director Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion).

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The program, entitled “The World of Hideaki Anno,” will include 50 of Anno’s works, including TV and theatrical animation, short films he created when he was at school, commercial films, live-action features, and promotional videos. From the festival’s announcement:

When he was in his early twenties, Anno impressed Hayao Miyazaki, who subsequently hired him as an animator on his film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Since then, Anno has created a string of hits, including Nadia The Secret of Blue Water (1990), the first television series he directed, and the Evangelion series, which has become a global phenomenon.

Toshio Suzuki, the producer of Studio Ghibli, who collaborated with Anno for a number of works, described Anno as the only man Hayao Miyazaki would ever acknowledge as his apprentice. “Anno always brings back memories of the time we created Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. As soon as we agreed that he’d work on the God Warrior character, he came to our studio and never left until the work was completed, sleeping under our desks!” he reminisced. “That was three decades ago, and there is no one in Japan now who doesn’t know of him.”

TIFF will be held from October 23 to 31, 2014 at Roppongi Hills, TOHO Cinemas Nihonbashi, and other venues across Tokyo. The festival’s full line-up will be announced in late August. For more info, visit the festival’s website.

Nick Previews Its First Web Series ‘Welcome to the Wayne’

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Nickelodeon unveiled the revamped Nick.com today, and as part of the new site, they offered a 90-second first-look at Welcome to the Wayne, which is their first animated series made exclusively for digital platforms like the Nick App.

Created and written by Billy Lopez (Wonder Pets!), Welcome to the Wayne follows the adventures of three kids who live in a New York City high-rise filled with eccentric tenants. The show, which was announced last spring, will launch new episodes on Mondays.

Nick is aggressively expanding its digital offerings, not only by producing original content, but by shifting over some of its broadcast content. The network recently announced that new episodes of The Legend of Korra would no longer be broadcast on their cable network, instead being made available exclusively through digital platforms.

Watch The Comic-Con Preview of ‘Mike Tyson Mysteries’

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Warner Bros. Animation’s Mike Tyson Mysteries is a throwback to the celebrity-endorsed TV cartoons of the 1970s and ’80s, but the comedic twist is that the “celebrity” is a wife-beating, drug-abusing, flesh-biting, convicted rapist. The series, which is scheduled to debut on Adult Swim this fall, was previewed at Comic-Con with the teaser posted below.

The show strives to faithfully capture the vintage Seventies design style, complete with Hanna-Barbera’s no-lower-eyelid, flesh-colored-eyes style. On the whole, the show looks to have above-average production values for Adult Swim.

The former felon’s crime-solving buddies are Pigeon, a man-turned-pigeon, voiced by Norm MacDonald; the Ghost of the 9th Marquess of Queensberry (voiced by Jim Rash), a real-life historical figure who was an early promoter of boxing; and Tyson’s adopted Korean daughter, voiced by the white actress Rachel Ramras for that added touch of racist caricature. The showrunner/exec producer is Hugh Davidson, whose writing credits include The Looney Tunes Show and Robot Chicken.

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Comedy Central Teases 1980s Crime Show Parody ‘Moonbeam City’

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Scheduled to debut in 2015, Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City is described as an absurdist take on the sex-drenched crime dramas of the 1980s. Set in the fictional Moonbeam City, “America’s most fluorescent metropolis,” the show follows the handsome undercover detective Dazzle Novak (voiced by Rob Lowe), who “commits more crimes than most criminals,” as he tries to win back the attention of police chief Pizzaz Miller (Elizabeth Banks) from hotshot rookie Rad Cunningham (Will Forte).

Created by comedy writer Scott Gairdner (Funny or Die), the show has a striking visual style that consciously references the iconic early-Eighties illustrator Patrick Nagel and an electronic soundtrack by synthpop duo Night Club. Olive Bridge Entertainment produces in association with Titmouse Studios.

Since being announced at Comic-Con last week, the show has drawn comparisons to Archer for its inept agent premise. But we’ll have to wait until it premieres in 2015 to see how far the similarities go.

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Barack Obama Finally Honors America’s Greatest Animation Artist

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On Monday, Jeffrey Katzenberg became just the second animation figure, after Disney animator Ollie Johnston, to receive the National Medal of Arts, the highest award bestowed upon artists and arts patrons by the United States government.

It’s hard to think of an individual who has contributed more to Barack Obama the development of the animation art form than our man Jeffrey. Here’s the moment of coronation:

Obama and Katzenberg’s body language in the following clip is particularly fascinating to watch:

If you want to watch the whole video, go here (Jeffrey’s part starts around the 9-minute mark).

‘Annedroids’ Creator J.J. Johnson on Developing Amazon’s Latest Original Series

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Last Friday, Amazon Prime premiered Annedroids, its third original kids show following Creative Galaxy and Tumble Leaf. The live-action/animation hybrid features a kid scientist named Anne (played by Addison Holley) who conducts experiments in her junkyard lab with the help of her human pals and a trio of CG-animated android assistants. Amazon Prime Instant subscribers can now stream the first seven episodes of the series, with 19 more episodes to come at a later date.

The series was created by J.J. Johnson (right) who, through his production company Sinking Ship Entertainment, has also created children’s shows such as Are We There Yet? World Adventure and Nick Jr.’s Dino Dan.

Johnson recently spoke with Cartoon Brew about science-based kids’ programming, the challenges of making live-action/animation hybrids, and why not understanding the animation process can work to a producer’s benefit.

Cartoon Brew: What inspired you to create Annedroids?

J.J. Johnson: I wanted to do a science show for a very long time, but I couldn’t figure out an avenue to do science in the way that I think kids like science—with explosions and [that] kind of chaos. Obviously networks are going to be concerned that kids seeing kids do that are going to try to emulate it and hurt themselves. I took a little while to get to the idea that some of these things are dangerous, but the character—who built her own robots to perform her experiments—is smart enough to know that she needed something there in between herself and the science.

Cartoon Brew: Was developing a series for online streaming different than one for traditional broadcast?

J.J. Johnson: The challenge I see when your show’s on a space like Amazon is that a kid turning into Amazon Prime has their choice of every TV show, and also every movie, and so we have to be able to deliver an experience that lives up to feature [quality]. We’re desperately trying to make grander stories more impactful, with more heart, and visual effects that rival what kids see in cinemas.

Cartoon Brew: This is your second live action/animation hybrid show? Is that a medium you enjoy working in?

J.J. Johnson: Honestly it’s a nightmare making these. It’s awesome, but at the same time, we’re not doing a green screen shoot; we’re actually out in a real space for Annedroids. We have a set that’s an acre-and-a-half and we have multiple androids that our cast is reacting to [and] our cast ranges from kids who are 6 to 13. It’s like a double-edged sword; we’ve got a live-action shoot and animation on top of that, and it takes an extremely long time to actually incorporate the animation—about four or five months from the time that we deliver our live-action plates to our animation team at Sinking Ship. In the end, we’re aiming for something that feels cinematic and hopefully we’re getting close to that.

Cartoon Brew: How familiar are you with the animation process being used on the show? Do you know what programs are being used for the CG?

J.J. Johnson: I respect animation, but I’ll be honest with you, I deliberately remain ignorant about how the [animation] team actually does it. [Laughs] I always feel bad when I’m directing and I have the characters running through water in a moving shot with explosions happening. I’m like, “I have no idea how they actually are going to pull that off!” I think if I knew a little bit more about those challenges then I’d be less eager to do those types of shots. I would feel so guilty. It’s insane the degree of sophistication that that team operates on; the quality that they are pulling off is just spectacular.

Cartoon Brew: You mentioned earlier that networks are very concerned about subject matter, did Amazon have any concerns that influenced the content or tone of the series?

J.J. Johnson: [With Nick Jr.'s Dino Dan] there was a lot of concern on the network’s part that kids would find the show scary, so we actually went in to test in a kindergarten class and asked kids specifically what do you like about dinosaurs. Ninety-nine percent said they liked them because they were scary [and] I think it just reinforced the idea that kids are a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for. [AnneDroids is] one of the few transitional pre-school shows that has an overarching storyline in whcih one episode clearly evolves into the next one. It was really Amazon that led the way on being supportive of that idea. We see a lot of kids that are watching shows that are well above their age, and I think that’s mostly because we’re not matching the degree of emotionality they have in their lives. It’s insane how smart and sophisticated kids are, and I hope Annedroids is hitting them at that level.

Annedroids is available for unlimited streaming on Amazon Prime Instant. Learn more about the show on its official website and Facebook page.

GALLERY: Figure and Animal Drawings of Animation Legend Jesse Marsh

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For nearly twenty years, Jesse Marsh (1907-1966) drew the Tarzan comic books, in the process creating one of the most idiosyncratic comic styles of all-time. His art combined an impeccable eye for composition and design with the quirks of a self-taught drawing style. He was also incredibly prolific, pencilling up to 100 pages per month. Prior to his comic career, Marsh had worked at Disney where he contributed storyboards to films such as Make Mine Music and Melody Time, and developed numerous projects that were never produced like Don Quixote and One More Spring. His most admired contribution to the studio though might have been his pin-up drawings (drawn on large rolls of butcher paper) which adorned the doors of artists throughout the studio.

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The figure and animal studies below were sold at Heritage Auctions a few years back. Based on the subject matter and drawing style, they would appear to be drawn some years after Marsh had departed Disney. These rarely seen drawings reveal a new side of an underappreciated artist who created an exceptional body of work in his lifetime, both in animation and comics.

Most of the images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

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First Look: Cartoon Network’s ‘Over the Garden Wall’ Mini-Series

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Last week at San Diego Comic-Con, Cartoon Network offered the first look at Over the Garden Wall, a ten-episode fantasy mini-series that will debut this fall. Created by Pat McHale (creative director, Adventure Time), the show is based on a pilot he directed called Tome of the Unknown. Indie filmmaker Nick Cross (The Pig Farmer, Yellow Cake) is art directing the series.

‘Marilyn Myller’ by Mikey Please

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Marilyn maketh, Marilyn taketh awayth. Marilyn is trying really hard to create something good. For once, her expectation and reality are going to align. It will be epic. It will be tear-jerkingly profound. It will be perfect. Nothing can go wrong.

CREDITS
Directed by Mikey Please
Animated & Photographed by Mikey Please, Dan Ojari
With animation from Tim Allen, Steven Warne
Music Composed by Ben Please, Jools Scott, Bethany Porter
Sound Design by Adam Janota Bzowski
Voices: Josie Long, James Stevenson Bretton, Theodora van der Beek, Josephine Gallagher
Model Makers: Jen Newman, Nadia Oh, Katy Beverage, Dan Ojari, Mikey Please, Carmen Mason, Anna Ginsberg, Laura Bateman, Kim Swallo
Puppets: Mikey Please, Lizzy Dalton, Jen Newman
Set Design: Nadia Oh, Mikey Please, Jen Newman, Dan Ojari
Supervising DOP: Matthew Day
Incidental Lighting: Max Halstead
Musicians: Andrew Douglas Forbes, Catherine Hurley, Emma Hooper, Benedict Please, Bethany Porter, Jools Scott, Ian Vorley, James Watts
Soloists: Amadou Diagne, Maria Danishvar Brown
Developed at the JAPIC Residency with the Japanese Ministry for Cultural Affairs
Produced by Blink Industries/Hornet Films
Filmed at Clapham Road Studios

House Special Launches in Portland

House Special principals (l. to r.) Kirk Kelley, Lourri Hammack and Al Cubillas.

House Special principals (l. to r.) Kirk Kelley, Lourri Hammack and Al Cubillas.

housespecial-logoA new commercial studio, House Special, launched in Portland, Oregon last week. The company was started by Lourri Hammack, Kirk Kelley and Al Cubillas, who ran Laika’s former commercial division Laika/house. Like the earlier Laika division, House Special will produce commercials in a variety of media including stop motion, CG, and hand-drawn.

Laika announced last May that they would disband their commercial unit to focus exclusively on feature films. While commercials had served a prominent role in Laika’s earlier incarnation Will Vinton Studios, they didn’t make as much sense after Nike founder Phil Knight acquired the company in 2003 and shifted the company’s focus to feature filmmaking. Laika CEO Travis Knight told Oregon Live a few months ago that, “It’s become clear that we need to devote all of our artistry, innovation, and resources towards our feature films in order to craft the distinctive and evocative stories for which LAIKA has become known.”

The newly formed House Special has stated on their Twitter account that they will remain in the former Laika/house location through this fall. For more info, visit their website at HouseSpecial.com.

LAIKA Chief Surprises Comic-Con Crowd By Saying He Wants To Do Hand-Drawn Animation

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At a presentation for LAIKA’s third stop motion feature The Boxtrolls, LAIKA’s CEO Travis Knight told San Diego Comic-Con audiences that he hopes to make a hand-drawn animated film at some point in the future. Slashfilm’s editor Peter Sciretta was in attendance and offers more context to Knight’s comments:

[Knight] says that every one of the Laika stop-motion movies feature small bits of hand-drawn animation composits [sic], but he would like to one day do a whole movie in the medium. It seems like they don’t have any definite plans but you could tell from his tone that it’s something he’s been considering for a while now.

If Knight chooses to pursue the idea, he would have no competion. While dozens of hand-drawn animated features are produced annually in Europe, Asia and Latin America, there has not been a big-studio hand-drawn production produced by an American company since 2011 when Disney released Winnie the Pooh.

(Thanks, Elliot Lobell)

‘Buy Buy Baby’ by Gervais Merryweather

It’s the roaring twenties and things are looking great for Frederick Frinklesworth II and the rest of the New York Stock Exchange, but when his daughter Betty is left in his care for the day can Fredrick and Wall Street survive the mayhem that ensues?

CREDITS
Director: Gervais Merryweather
Writer: Gervais Merryweather, Adele Coburn
Art Director and backgrounds: Henry Lambourne
Concept artist: Daniel Permutt
Animation assistants: Henry Lambourne, Emiliano Gonzales Alcocer
Daniel Permutt, Joshua Butler,Elias “Uva” Diaz
VFX Supervisor: Victor Tomi
VFX Artist: Jason Evans, Doychin Margoevski
Editor: Chloe Lambourne
Composer: Jonathan Hill
Sound designer: Vicente Villaescusa
Cinematographer: David Woodman
Concept Designer: John Merry
Created at the National Film & Television School, 2012

Netflix Adds More Animated Series: ‘The Knights of Sidonia,’ ‘Ever After High,’ and ‘Dinotrux’

Netflix’s slate of original animated programming continues to grow with the recent announcements of three new series: The Knights of Sidonia, Ever After High and Dinotrux.

In The Knights of Sidonia, the site’s first original anime series, genetically modified mech pilots fight to protect the last of humankind from shapeshifting aliens. Based on the manga of the same name by Tsutomu Nihei, it is touted as a Netflix “Original,” despite the fact that the first season of the series, produced by Polygon Pictures and directed by Kobun Shizuno, aired in Japan last April. Both dubbed and subtitled versions of the first season’s 12 episodes have been available exclusively on Netflix since July 4.

Ever After High is a glossy, sartorial reimagining of classic fairy tales that follows the teenage mini-dramas of the sons and daughters of timeless characters like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and the Mad Hatter. Based on Mattel’s fashion doll franchise, 12 episodes of the new animated series will debut in 2015, with an original film premiere titled Ever After High Spring Unsprung. Netflix currently streams a handful of Ever After High short form animated episodes, created by Mattel’s Playground Productions.

Dinotrux, which will also debut in 2015, is an adaptation of the children’s books by Chris Gall. It features prehistoric construction vehicles like Tyrannosaurus Trux, Tow-a-constrictors and Reptool as they defend their world from the most dangerous Dinotrux of them all, D-Strux. Dinotrux is part of the original programming deal between Dreamworks and Netflix, and among the few announced projects that is not based on an existing Dreamworks film property.

Hot Tip: Watch ‘The Onion’ Make Fun of Hyper-Real CGI ‘Ninja Turtles’ (NSFW)

If you thought the faces of the new hyper-realistic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were disturbing, wait until you see their dongs. This Onion piece is an instant classic:

What I’d like to know though: Was this piece sponsored by Paramount? It would appear to be studio-approved stealth advertising, which somehow makes it even funnier.

Nick Yanks ‘Korra’ From TV, Moves Series To Online Platforms

In an unprecedented programming move that surprised even the show’s creators, Nickelodeon will remove The Legend of Korra from its network schedule, and premiere the remaining episodes of season three exclusively on digital platforms.

The network will air its final broadcast episode tomorrow evening. Beginning on August 1, the five remaining episodes of the “Book 3″ season will debut weekly on Nick.com and the Nick app, as well as on platforms like Amazon, Google Play, Xbox and Hulu.

“I appreciate all the support for the show and share your frustration,” Korra co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino wrote on his Facebook fan page. “[T]his was a disappointing development for sure but as long as you all are able to see the show in some capacity, I’m grateful.” A fourth season of the show is currently in production, according to DiMartino.

Fans of the series have been concerned about the show’s ratings for some time, even going so far as to create videos that discuss why so few people are watching the new season. Many fans have accused Nickelodeon of not promoting the series enough and airing it in a poor timeslot.

Korra will have a panel at Comic-Con on Friday, and the show’s co-creator Bryan Konietzko posted this note on Tumblr indicating that they’ll be discussing the move to online platforms:

Jeffrey Katzenberg Will Receive National Medal of Arts

Jeffrey Katzenberg. (Photo-illustration/original photo: Shutterstock)

President Obama will honor DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg with the 2013 National Medal of Arts. The honor, which will also be bestowed upon 11 other individuals and organizations this year, is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government.

Katzenberg is one of Obama’s top campaign donors, having personally donated over $3 million to Democratic super-PACS that back the president and raising an additional $30 million for Obama. He is one of the first businessmen to ever receive the award, which traditionally honors artists. President Obama toured DreamWorks’ campus last year.

The announcement for the honors described Katzenberg as “director and CEO of DreamWorks.” A National Endowment for the Arts spokesperson later clarified to the press that “director” referred to Katzenberg’s role on the DreamWorks Animation board.

Over 300 National Medals of Arts have been handed out since 1985. The only other animation-related person who has received the honor was Disney animator Ollie Johnston in 2005.

Katzenberg will receive his medal on July 28; the event will be streamed on the White House website.

Venice Film Festival Selects ‘Boxtrolls’ And Two Animated Shorts

The Venice Film Festival, the world’s oldest film festival, announced the line-up today for their 71st edition. The festival is known for not giving much consideration to animated cinema, but they always throw in a few animated films. This year, their sole animated feature selection, among over fifty-plus films, is Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable’s The Boxtrolls, which will screen in the out-of-competition category.

“This is an incredible honor for LAIKA and our film,” said Travis Knight, who is the producer and lead animator of Boxtrolls as well as the president and CEO of LAIKA. “To be singled out by one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals is an utter joy and an enormous validation for the hundreds of artists whose talents make our films come to life.”

Boxtrolls will screen in Venice on Sunday, August 31st. The film opens on September 12 in the UK and Mexico, and on September 26 in the United States and Canada.

The Venice festival also selected two animated shorts this year: the Brazilian Castillo y el Armado directed by Pedro Harres, which will screen in competition, and the Italian film L’Attesa del Maggio, directed by Simone Massi, screening out of competition.

Here’s the trailer for Castillo y el Armado:

For the full list of films at Venice, visit their website.

First Look: SpongeBob CGI Superhero Feature ‘Sponge Out of Water’

While we’ve known for quite a while that the new SpongeBob SquarePants film would have computer-animation in it, the first image from SpongeBob: Sponge Out of Water was revealed today. The film, which will debut on February 6, 2015, will be the first release from the new Paramount Animation unit.

Sponge Out of Water begins in the traditional animation world and stays in that classic world for most of the film, but for its climax, it switches to a CG world, where the main characters become an “Avengers-type team” who have to save Bikini Bottom from Antonio Banderas, who portrays a pirate: SpongeBob transforms into the Invincibubble, Patrick Star is Mr. Superawesomeness, Squidward Tentacles becomes Sour Note and Mr. Krabs is Sir Pinch-A-Lot.

A note to Comic-Con attendees: Paramount is expected to reveal footage from the film at their 3PM panel TODAY in Hall H. Share what you see with us.

Digital Domain Animation Studio Cheated Taxpayers Out of $80 Million, Lawsuit Says

Yesterday the State of Florida sued the principals of Digital Domain to recover tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded incentives that they claim were “fraudulently” obtained from the state.

“The script had the makings of a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster: greed, corruption, special effects, and a star-struck audience willing to suspend belief,” according to the lawsuit. “In the real world, there was no Hollywood happy ending. The hero did not save the day. The villain was not defeated. Instead, the story ended with Florida taxpayers being cheated out of over $80 million dollars.”

Filed by the State of Florida and its Department of Economic Opportunity, the suit (DOWNLOAD the 71-page PDF of the complaint) lists 23 different parties as defendants. The most serious charges of fraud were leveled against two individuals: former Digital Domain CEO John Textor and the company’s president and chief financial officer Jonathan F. Teaford. The other defendants in the suit—who include former state Rep. Kevin Ambler; the company’s secured lender Falcon Mezzanine Partners; the members of Digital Domain’s board of directors; and various accounting and investment firms associated with the company—were cited for civil conspiracy to commit fraud, gross negligence, aiding and abetting fraud, and tortious interference with grant fund agreement.

The lawsuit maintains that the pre-Textor Digital Domain in California was a “de facto Ponzi scheme” that stayed afloat by constantly borrowing money to replace old debt with new debt, and “like all Ponzi schemes, Digital Domain’s demise was a certainty.” Textor’s strategy, according to the state, was to merge the debt-ridden Digital Domain California with the new Digital Domain Florida that would be funded by taxpayer dollars:

Digital Domain’s fraud on the State began in earnest in 2007. For some time, Digital Domain California had been seriously indebted, including to Falcon Mezzanine Partners, its principal lender. Through a series of loans and debt restructuring, Falcon came to hold various notes, stocks, and warrants that by 2009 enabled it to take over the company in the event of a default and call in millions of dollars of personal guarantees. Before 2009, Digital Domain California hatched a new plan to rid itself of debt: 1) start a brand new company (Digital Domain Florida) with no debt on its books; 2) use Digital Domain California’s credentials, together with promises of new high paying jobs for Floridians, as security to obtain grant money for Digital Domain Florida; and 3) use the grant to partially bail out Digital Domain California (who, by June 2009, was on the verge of defaulting with Falcon); then 4) merge Digital Domain California with Digital Doman Florida to keep the failed business model going.

The pitch-man for the plan — code named “Project Bumblebee” — was John Textor, a Florida native turned wannabe Hollywood movie mogul who (together with other notable investors) had purchased an interest in Digital Domain California in 2006. He and others within the company portrayed Digital Domain Florida to the State as a start-up with no debt whose ties with Digital Domain California were its management and visual effects credentials. The script included Textor promising that Digital Domain would bring thousands of high paying jobs to Florida during a devastating recession. But, there was just one catch: it needed millions of dollars in State grant money first. Textor never told the State that as soon as Digital Domain Florida obtained the grant, the money would be committed to repay Falcon. He and others within Digital Domain Florida deliberately withheld that information.

Florida has a system in place to ensure that grant applicants like Digital Domain Florida are scrutinized to prevent the State from being defrauded like this. At first, the system worked. Digital Domain Florida’s proposal for a $20 million grant was rejected by Enterprise Florida, the State’s public-private partner charged with vetting potential economic development projects. Much to the dismay of Textor and others fraudulently attempting to portray Digital Domain Florida as a start-up, Enterprise Florida scrutinized Digital Domain California, whose reputation Textor was using as currency for the grant. Pursuant to Enterprise Florida’s normal process — due diligence and consideration of statutory requirements for economic incentives — it found “the financials for the company were ‘extremely weak’” and specifically noted concerns over “profitability, income, equity and debt financing, revenue projections, cash position, executive compensation, and recent litigation” involving Digital Doman California (many of the same “risk factors” it identified as part of its 2007 IPO). Enterprise Florida found that Digital Domain’s unsound business model could not meet the statutorily required five-to-one payback ratio. Accordingly, Enterprise Florida refused to recommend the funding of $20 million for the project.

The state says that after the rejection of funds, Textor illegally lobbied then-Florida governor Charlie Crist. The lawsuit, however, does not include any major legislative figures as defendants. According to the state’s attorney, Bill Scherer, he didn’t find any evidence that Crist or other major figures were pushing for these projects, or that politics played a role in the suit.

John Textor speaking in 2011.

Textor maintains that the lawsuit is politically motivated. In a statement to Cartoon Brew, he reveals that the law firm currently representing the state had earlier agreed to represent him in a case. Here is the full text of Textor’s statement:

This lawsuit reads as a politically motivated fiction. The Studio was built, the workers were hired, the State audited and confirmed that DDMG met all of the grant requirements. After the bankruptcy, Governor Scott’s Inspector General conducted a thorough investigation and found no wrong-doing by me or any of those involved in awarding the grant. Now months before a close election, I am surprised to see the Governor hire a law firm that only recently chose to represent me in the same matters. When acting as my lawyers, they believed the public was not aware of the facts. They met with me several times, received confidential information and agreed to represent me in my efforts to investigate the actions of hedge fund lenders whose predatory actions shut down a performing economic development project. The politics of this lawsuit cannot change those facts. The State’s law firm has knowingly violated their ethical duties as lawyers.

I support the review of DDMG’s overall jobs initiatives. We built two separate programs to deliver on the jobs promise…a studio for 500 jobs and a college to inspire thousands of jobs. The studio did fail, but the college was prospering, even after DDMG filed for bankruptcy. Maybe this lawsuit will force the Governor to explain his own actions in closing the college in South Florida — the biggest part of our jobs program.

Animation Block Starts Tomorrow in New York City

The West Coast might have its Comic-Con this week, but the East Coast will be enjoying animated films at the 11th annual Animation Block Party, which starts tomorrow and continues through Sunday. The festival will offer a dozen or so screenings, as well as a couple parties. While the festival remains in Brooklyn, tomorrow night’s opening screening will take place in Manhattan for the first time. The free outdoor screening will occur at Brookfield Place along the water between West Street and the Hudson River (220 Vesey Street, NY, NY, 10281). Doors at 6:30pm with a live band at 7:45pm and films at 8:45pm.

The rest of the screenings will take place at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn (30 Lafayette Avenue) and include the usual festival mix of animated shorts, student work, music videos, commercial projects. Special screenings include a John Hubley centennial screening, an East Coast screening of Animation Breakdown, a tribute to Paul Terry’s Farmer Alfalfa, and a screening of Space Jam.

A full schedule and ticket info can be found at AnimationBlock.com.

San Diego Comic-Con Animation Open Thread

San Diego Comic-Con 2014 begins tonight. If you have an animation-related project or merchandise that you want attendees to know about, or if you are an industry artist who’ll be selling something, post it in the comments. (Be sure to include your booth number.)

To get things started, here’s a few animation-related products and events. Firstly, Mondo Tees is getting into toys, and one of their first efforts will be an Iron Giant figure for the film’s 15th anniversary. Their description:

The 16″ tall figure will have over 30 points of articulation, light features, and other fun surprises! Accompanying The Iron Giant will be a Hogarth figure, scraps of metal for him to munch on and a Seafood sign that has a removable “S” to put on his chest. He will also include an interchangeable head and gun attachment, giving a choice of displaying the figure as the regular version, or the “War” version! The figure was designed from the actual CG files used in the film, for ultimate accuracy.

MAC will unveil a 10-piece cosmetic collection based on Marge Simpson. The set will be sold exclusively at the company’s Gaslamp store on Saturday, July 26, and they’ll also be giving visitors Marge-inspired makeovers. The collection will be available to the public in September.

To promote Laika’s The Box Trolls, insect chef David George Gordon will be hosting an “Eat Like the Box Trolls” food truck on July 25-26. According to the chef, “The menu for this two-day event will include Boxtroll-approved foods: teriyaki grasshopper kabobs, chocolate-dipped chapulines (small Mexican-spiced grasshoppers) and a few exotic surprises.”

Here’s a look at what the chef will have:

And here’s where you can find his truck:

‘Walking City’ by Universal Everything

Walking City is a continuation of Universal Everything‘s artistic line of enquiry, investigating human movement, emotional design, architecture and sound. It is inspired by the sense of walking through a city, how absorbing your surroundings alters sensation and emotion. How you become part of the fabric of the city, a man-made eco system. Referencing the utopian visions of 1960s architecture practice Archigram, Walking City is a slowly evolving video sculpture. The language of materials and patterns seen in radical architecture transform as the nomadic city endlessly walks, adapting to the environments it encounters. What appears as a 3D person, shrouded in a digital costume, shifts and breaks, reshapes and endlessly evolves into a video sculpture continuously walking in the center of the screen: creating an artificial form whose movement feels alive, not synthetic. It explores the structural processes found in modern architecture, which have led to a multitude of aesthetic outcomes. From Buckminster Fuller’s domes to Richard Rogers’ inside out buildings, Daniel Liebskind’s angular public museums to Future Systems’ biomorphic structures. Created using Houdini, Walking City utilizes a procedural process to seamlessly change into different costumes—moving from faceted shapes, through contours and brutalism—as the walk cycle anchors the piece.

CREDITS
Creative Director: Matt Pyke
Animation: Chris Perry
Sound design: Simon Pyke (Freefarm)