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July 02 2010

Lifestyles of Animation Executives

Continuing our lifestyles of animation executives thread, here’s some news about Cartoon Network v-p Adina Pitt and her recent purchase of a four-bedroom condo on the Upper East Side for $1.33 million. As somebody who follows the real estate market closely, that amount is hardly extravagant, but it bears pointing out that few animation artists living in New York City could afford to buy a place in that range. And certainly none of the artists who earn salaries on New York-based Cartoon Network series like Superjail! or Robotomy. In animation, as in most other fields, it pays NOT to be creative.

(Thanks, Aaron Bynum)

Tags: Business

June 22 2010

Matt Williames on Working at Disney

If you read just one blog post this week, make sure it’s this one by animator Matt Williames describing his experience working on Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. He states upfront that the piece comes from “a heart that wants to see change” and “My ONLY desire to see Disney recognize how far they have fallen because quite honestly I think we all care quite a lot about the studio that a guy named Walt started don’t we?”

He then goes on to write one of the most courageous things I’ve seen written by a contemporary animator: an honest appraisal of working at an animation studio. Matt’s thesis is that a feature animation studio should offer at least three things:

- A place with amazing films that challenge and inspire their artists.
- An environment of camaraderie (with the crew) where people are challenged and inspired to grow.
- An environment of active education and study.

According to him, Disney failed on all three counts. Watching The Princess and the Frog makes it clear enough that there are serious institutional problems at that studio, but Matt’s post adds a unique perspective to the situation. If anything, he shows that it’s just as difficult for the artists working on Disney’s current crop of films as it is for the audiences who are expected to watch and be entertained by them.

UPDATE: Matt removed the post from his blog.

(via Mark Mayerson)

June 06 2010

The Men Who Would Be King

The Men Who Would Be King

I can’t wait to get my hands on this book: The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, and a Company Called DreamWorks. All the reviews I’ve read so far indicate a well researched book, and there appears to be plenty of animation-related company history as well. Here is a link to a Businessweek review of the book, and here is an interview with the author Nicole Laporte. In the interview, when asked whether DreamWorks will ever top Pixar, Laporte gives the following answer:

The Pixar culture is the anti-Hollywood studio. It’s based in Northern California. They nurture these ideas over years. At Dreamworks, it’s much more about the way a live action movie gets made. You hire Judd Apatow to come in one day and write some jokes and punch it up. At this point, Pixar is head and shoulders above everyone. I don’t see them passing on the crown any time soon. But I think Katzenberg has seen the folly of his ways. I think he realized you have to let the artist be the artist.

Buy the book on Amazon.com for $18.50.

Tags: Books Business

May 27 2010

Joe Murray’s Kickstarter Success

I wrote last month about the plan of Rocko’s Modern Life creator Joe Murray to raise $16,800 in 45 days to complete his animation project Frog in a Suit. Using the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, Murray reached that goal yesterday, with nine fundraising days to spare.

Murray’s success is significant because he’s the first creator from the established world of TV animation to appeal directly to his fanbase through crowd-funding. The money he raised will be used to produce two three-minute episodes of Frog in a Suit. He then plans to use these shorts to persuade mainstream advertisers to fund a full series on his as yet to be launched online cartoon channel called KaBoingTV.com. In other words, crowd-funding still isn’t a viable solution for funding an entire series if you intend to create the series using a traditional TV production pipeline; it is enough only to make a pilot.

For independent artists who use less traditional and more efficient pipelines, crowd-funding an entire series remains a distinct possibility, especially as more viewers become accustomed to directly supporting the content they want to watch. And there is plenty of room for indies in the crowd-funded marketplace. Even right now, lesser-known artists are reaching their fundraising goals, like Kymia Nawabi who raised $3,000 to make a stop-motion music video for the band Future Islands, and Chris Bishop and Evan Viera who drummed up $11,500 to make their hybrid drawn and CG-short Caldera.

(Thanks, Kelly McNutt)

Tags: Business

May 23 2010

Shrek Fail

Shrek Forever After

How could Shrek Forever After debut with an estimated $71.3 million over the weekend, and still be considered a flop? An analysis of its performance can be found at Box Office Guru. According to that site, if the latest Shrek continues at its current trajectory, it may end up grossing less than How to Train Your Dragon.

May 21 2010

The $20 Movie Ticket Has Arrived

Shrek Forever After

The Wall Street Journal reports that this weekend, for the first time ever, a movie theater will charge $20 for a regular admission adult movie ticket. The theater: AMC in Manhattans’s Kips Bay neighborhood. The film they’re charging you twenty dollars to see: Shrek Forever After.

Tags: Business

Animation Exec Speak 101

Animation Development Company

If animation executives thought out loud, this is what they’d sound like. Keep a barf bag handy.

(Thanks, Ted)

Tags: Business

May 18 2010

How to Budget Your Animation

Animation Budget

Richard O’Connor, a co-owner of New York-based commercial studio Asterisk Animation, wrote a post yesterday about how to create an animation budget. It’s the first in a series of posts that he intends to write. Budgeting animation isn’t sexy, but it’s nuts-and-bolts knowledge that any student, indie artist, and free-lancer who wants to be successful should understand (and judging from personal acquaintances, few do). Take advantage of Richard’s generosity and pick up some tips from him. You won’t find this valuable information anywhere else on-line.

Tags: Business

May 04 2010

New Yorker Profiles A Cartoon Schlepper

Haim Saban

This week’s New Yorker offers a towering 11,000-plus word profile of self-described “cartoon schlepper” Haim Saban, who made his money composing the music to dozens of Eighties animated TV series before becoming a producer of children’s TV series. Animation buffs will run across many familiar names in this unflattering portrait of billionaire Saban including DiC’s Andy Heyward and Michael Eisner.

The most disturbing passages in the New Yorker piece describe how Saban enlisted former president Bill Clinton’s help to complete his sale of Fox Family Channel to the Walt Disney Company which netted him one-and-a-half billion dollars, and the lengths he went to to avoid paying taxes on the money he earned from the deal (naturally he blames his accountant). Understandably, there’s controversy surrounding the criminal aspects of this story, and Sharon Waxman at The Wrap has a detailed blog post about how Saban and his lawyers have been dealing with the New Yorker. The business of children’s TV entertainment can be dirty and corrupt as this piece makes quite clear, but what is most disheartening, to me at least, is that so many animation artists have to rely on individuals of questionable character like Saban for their financial livelihoods.

Tags: Business

April 21 2010

Pixar Canada is Open For Business

CBTV

Pixar’s new studio in Vancouver, Canada officially opened its doors earlier today. According to this article, the studio will begin production on its first film—featuring Mater from Cars—in August. The studio plans to create additional short films and specials for TV and web using existing characters from the Pixar library. Pixar Canada already has twenty employees and plans to add 55 more people within the next one-and-a-half years. To promote their new studio, Pixar produced a three-minute film, viewable on CTV-BC’s website that shows Pixar characters running around Vancouver and John Lasseter asking, “Is there a place more beautiful than Vancouver?”

Tags: Business

Joe Murray Wants to Create Crowd-Funded Shorts

Joe Murray, creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, has created a Kickstarter campaign to raise $16,800 to complete 2 three-minute episodes of his new online cartoon series Frog in a Suit. The pilot episode is already complete. This is part of a larger project called KaBoingTV that Murray wants to turn into a “home for quality, cutting edge cartoons and animation on the web, and a ‘free range’ and ethical environment for the artists who make them.”

When I wrote about crowd-funding a few months ago, I mentioned that initially this funding arrangement would probably work best for filmmakers with a proven track record. Murray certainly has a track record, and more significantly, he is the first creator of a TV series to pursue this route. His reasons for doing so, as stated on his Kickstarter page, are admirable: “I’m trying produce the first episodes without outside funding that comes with strings attached. Its also my wish to have you the audience, plus fellow animators be my producers rather than funding sources that don’t love cartoons as much as you do.”

He also writes that the money raised will be used to hire outside animation talent and won’t be used for his personal labor expenses. The campaign runs 45 days. If his goal isn’t reached by then, the project will not be funded. In the first day of his campaign, he has already raised over $1500 or nearly 10% of his goal. We’ll keep an eye on this to see what happens.

(Thanks, David Essman)

April 04 2010

Most Unpaid Internships Are Illegal

Interns

A piece about internships in yesterday’s New York Times has been making the rounds, and it’s definitely worth a look for any animation student. It essentially states that most internships violate federal law and the government is beginning to crack down on employers who take advantage of free labor. Unpaid internships in New York’s non-union animation scene are particularly notorious; most studios (big and small) have at least a couple interns and certain ones have been known to employ generous numbers of unpaid interns simultaneously. No wonder then that the Times article calls out a local animation studio:

At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an N.Y.U. student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu. Tone Thyne, a senior producer at Little Airplane, said its internships were usually highly educational and often led to good jobs.

From an economic viewpoint, unpaid interns make perfect sense for companies, but from an ethical viewpoint, it’s questionable behavior. When I was looking to hire a personal assistant, a number of friends and associates advised me to offer the position as an unpaid internship. Despite the appeal of such an idea (who doesn’t like to save money?), I declined and opted to hire an assistant with an hourly wage. I’ve also been on the other side; when I was a kid, I found experience as an unpaid intern. Looking back on it, I regret that. That’s because the bottomline is if you’re doing a job, you deserve to be compensated. People like to villainize Walt Disney for paying his employees meager wages in the 1930s, but he paid even the lowliest of the traffic boys, which is more than can be said for many stingy contemporary animation shops that ride on the backs of free labor.

If you’ve got stories, positive or negative, about your experiences with animation internships, please share them with the rest of us. A similar take on internships can be read on the blog of Richard O’Connor, who is a co-owner of Asterisk studio in New York.

March 26 2010

Theater Chains Raising 3-D Ticket Prices Today

Beginning today, the Wall Street Journal reports that many major movie chains, including Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark Holdings Inc. and AMC Entertainment Inc., are raising prices for 3-D movie tickets. It reflects the steepest price increase in a decade. 3-D ticket prices are rising by as much as 26% in some areas, though the average increase will be closer to 8%. The average increase for IMAX screens is 10%. Some theaters in metropolitan areas will be charging nearly $20 for IMAX admissions.

The WSJ article, which is behind a subscription-wall, acknowledges that movie studios are wary the price increases could spark a consumer backlash:

Some movie-studio executives expressed concern that the price increases might be too much too soon. “The risk we run is that we will no longer be the value proposition that we as an industry have prided ourselves on,” said a distribution executive at one major studio, who added that he was worried movies would become “a luxury item.”

But studios also like the increases because they split box office proceeds with theater operators. Dan Fellman, who is president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., a studio that can’t even be bothered to make true 3-D films, approved of the price increases. “The exhibitors are trying to push the needle on ticket prices and see where it ends up,” he said. “Sure, it’s a risky move, but so far charging a $3 or $4 premium has had no effect on consumers whatsoever, so I’m in favor of this experiment to raise prices even more. There may be additional revenue to earn here.” Warners will open Clash of the Titans, a regular film that has been retrofitted for 3-D screens, next week.

Related reading in today’s Wall Street Journal: a piece called Will This 3-D Fad Fizzle Too? In the piece, Peter Decherney, a professor at UPenn, drew a smart parallel to the first 3-D bust. He said that in the 1950s, “3-D died out when the studios realized that television was a boon for Hollywood, not competition.” He predicts the same will happen again. “As studios find ways to profit from Internet and mobile distribution, they will be less interested in competing with new technologies.”

Tags: 3-D Business

March 24 2010

DreamWorks and Wal-Mart Partner For Dragon

Walmart and DreamWorks

The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart will be the exclusive retailer for merchandise related to the DreamWorks feature How To Train Your Dragon. According to the paper, 95% of the products tied in to the movie will be available only at Wal-Mart, including “apparel and toys to custom-made Oreos with a red filling, to symbolize the fiery exhalations of the titular creatures.” The video on the WSJ website has more details about the extent of the deal, and mentions that Wal-Mart is the film’s master toy licensee and was involved in product and package design.

Tags: Business

March 22 2010

Imagi Auction

Imagi Auction

Imagi, the LA feature animation studio that went out of business a few months ago, is auctioning all of its equipment and furniture. Michael Sporn has posted the auction catalog on his blog. Perhaps now somebody will use the equipment to create something that people actually want to watch.

Tags: Business

March 15 2010

C.O.R.E. Digital Shut Down This Afternoon

CORE Digital

C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, the Toronto-based CG/sfx house that produced Disney’s The Wild, shut down this afternoon. The studio has also provided animation for the features Valiant and Ant Bully, Chris Landreth’s short The Spine, and dozens of TV shows and features. Canadian Animation Resources has been following the story and reported that at 3pm this afternoon employees were called into a boardroom and told that the studio was closing. They were asked to pack their personal belongings and hit the road. As many as one hundred and fifty people may have lost their jobs, and many of them have not received their paychecks for their last few weeks of work. There is concern amongst employees about whether they will be paid. The studio was founded by Bob Munroe, John Mariella, Kyle Menzies and William Shatner (yes, that William Shatner).

Tags: Business

February 02 2010

Irish Animation Booming

Secret of Kells

Ireland’s animation industry is still relatively small, but according to this piece in the Irish Times, it is robust and growing. A few noteworthy facts and numbers from the article:

* Animation is the “star performer” of the Irish film and TV industry, and “the only independent audiovisual sector which predicts growth this year.”

* There are 337 people working full-time in the Irish animation industry making it “the largest provider of full-time employment in the Irish independent film and television sector.”

* The country doesn’t have a strong domestic market for animation (an approximate population of 4.5 million will do that) which means that for some studios, up to 90 percent of their business is export-based.

* The Irish Film Board provides around €1 million every year for animation projects.

Tags: Business

January 29 2010

Imagi Shuts Down US Studio

Astro Boy

Imagi, the studio responsible for the TMNT and Astro Boy features, has shut down their American studio in Sherman Oaks, California. The company, which is still working on a Gatchaman feature, has been struggling both at the box office and in its financial operations. From HotStocked.com:

Imagi International Holdings Ltd has announced large scale review of operations which has mostly negative effect towards the staff. The company has cut off their US subsidiaries from any funding, the working contracts for 30 employees were terminated and the Los Angeles based office closed. The company was left with only a few important staff members being utilized as consultants and has transferred the functions of the closed office to other contractors . . . With their US office closed the company still has two more in Hong Kong and Tokyo as well as continues trading under the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Their stock is poorly traded in both the exchanges.

Take-away lesson: artificial Christmas trees are easier to make than animated features.

(via TAG blog)

Tags: Business

November 24 2009

How to Make $55,000 by Giving Away A Film

Sita Sings the Blues

Filmmaker Nina Paley explains in the Wall Street Journal how she’s earned $55,000 from her animated feature Sita Sings the Blues by giving it away for free. The idea of offering content for free is still counterintuitive to a lot of artists, but I’m a firm believer that this concept will eventually become an important part in the arsenal of indie filmmakers. Nina is among the first within the animation community to prove that it works. A good starting point for understanding the concept is Chris Anderson’s recent book Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

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