Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Studio Power Rankings: Second Tier

I sat around procrastinating this blog entry for a couple of weeks now. Lacking the interest to write about the next group of studios, I’ve put it off long enough. Let’s recap the first tier before moving on. In order, they were Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, and Sony....continued...

#6: DNA

While Jimmy Neutron didn’t appeal to me, I can respect that they made a successful film for a modest budget. Sure, it didn’t reach Pixar, DreamWorks, or even Blue Sky figures, yet it still did proportionally well. DNA kept the ball rolling with the Neutron series work and they are now in production on their second feature- “Ant Bully”. Even though their animation is quite a leap below the likes of Pixar and DreamWorks, the studio has a film under their belt and lots of people that know what they are doing. These guys are on the verge of being first tier. Ant Bully is supposed to be better quality than Neutron, so they very well could leap frog someone in the rankings if all goes well. The biggest knock against them isn’t about the work they produce, but their business situation. As far as I know, they are acting purely as a for-hire-facility for other producers/production companies. They need to come up with their own content and stop doing other peoples work. Until then, I would have a hard time moving them up.

#7: Vanguard

Let’s face it, Valiant doesn’t have a spot-on story or doesn’t look all that stunning. The final dagger is that it did poorly in the box office, both in the US and Europe. On a personal level, the company strikes a nerve with me because of their “hire then fire” business model. However, with all that said, they have succeeded in a lot of areas where others have failed. They put a relationship with Disney together (whether that will remain true, has yet to be seen) and have made it through their first film production. They are already back at work with “Space Chimps” which is being produced in Canada. Sorry London, the tax incentives just weren’t enough for round #2.

#8: Omation

These guys are about to release their first film “Barnyard”. The look and feel is very Jimmy Neutron’ish -as it should be with some of the same people involved-. I know very little about this film other than a few conversations with people that are either still working there or have worked there recently. Rumor has it the original budget was practically doubled as they ran into trouble during production. Despite the problems, the trailer seems funny enough and although I worry that it can carry for the whole 1 ½ hours, I think it will do alright. Unfortunately, Omation looks to be falling into the “hire then fire” business model with the possibility that this film will be it for the studio.

#9: Disney / Pandemonium

This film has been in production for a while now and from what I’ve heard, it has been a bumpy ride. This is a Disney funded and marketed project that is being handled by Pandemonium (they have called themselves many different names). CORE is the animation studio in Canada that was hired to produce the visuals. I really don’t have a lot of reasons for putting them at #9 other than they have an 800lb Disney gorilla behind them. The story is similar to Madagascar and it should be interesting to see how this project turns out after hearing of all the problems.

#10 Wild Brain

Wild Brain has been doing shorts and commercial work for a long time now. They recently announced that they would be creating CG features in the $50 million area. The first project out of the gate is supposed to be “Opus”. I think these guys can do a very good job. With the experience they have and $50 million per film, they should be able to pump out a decent looking movie.

#11 Laika

I could write exactly the same thing here that I wrote for Wild Brain. I’m slightly less impressed with their CG work, so that accounts for the #11 slot. What they do have going for them is an excellent story guy that should be able to put something great together.

I’ll get to the 3rd and final tier shortly. That will probably be a little more scathing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Joe Ranft Passes

Very sad news. Story man (Disney and Pixar) Joe Ranft died on August 16th in a car accident. Sorry to see this fine man go. Thoughts are with his family and friends....continued with additional information...

From Hollywood Reporter...

Joe Ranft, Pixar Animation Studios' head of story and a founding member of the animation company's creative team, died Tuesday afternoon in a car accident in Mendocino County, Calif. He was 45.

"Joe was an important and beloved member of the Pixar family, and his loss is of great sorrow to all of us and to the animation industry as a whole," Pixar said in a statement Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner's Office confirmed Ranft was one of two people who died when their car veered off the road while traveling northbound on Highway 1.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the accident occurred at about 3 p.m. Tuesday as the driver of the 2004 Honda Element tried to regain control of the car after swerving when he headed into a tight left curve. The car plunged 130 feet over the side into the ocean, the CHP said.

The driver, identified by the coroner's office as Elegba Earl, 32, of Los Angeles, was also killed in the crash. The third person in the car, identified by the CHP as Eric Frierson, 39, of Los Angeles, survived by climbing through the car's sun roof. He was hospitalized with moderate injuries at Mendocino Coast Hospital, according to Officer Robert Simas of the CHP office in Ukiah, Calif.

Ranft worked in both story development and as a storyboard artist at Pixar for the past decade. He was a co-writer on 1995's "Toy Story," for which he earned an Oscar nomination, and 1998's "A Bug's Life." Before Pixar, Ranft was a leading member of the story department at Walt Disney Feature Animation, where he was a writer on 1991's "Beauty and the Beast" and 1994's "The Lion King."

Ranft also voiced key Pixar characters such as Heimlich in "Bug's" and Wheezy the Penguin in "Toy Story 2."

Born in Southern California in 1960, Ranft was a classmate of director John Lasseter's at the California Institute of the Arts in the 1970s. After two years at CalArts, he joined Disney in 1980. He joined Pixar in 1992.

"Joe was a big part of Pixar's soul," a Pixar spokesperson said.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Around The Horn

Let's take a trip around the industry and see what's going on. First up, is Valiant. It releases this week and is sure to be a huge blockbuster ...continued...

Okay, I just said that to get you to read this. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your angle) for Disney, I think this movie is going to bomb. Combine a lackluster story with a half ass marketing attempt and you get a financial dud. Meanwhile Vanguard is already starting to get in gear for their next film "Space Chimp". Yes, it is about those monkeys that were shot up in space by Nasa. I heard that Disney is pretty unhappy with Valiant and I wonder if they are behind this film or perhaps they somehow got out of the multi picture deal they had with Vanguard (another rumor I have heard).

Pixar is just about finished with Cars. I have my own opinions on this film, however I did an impromptu poll of colleagues that have seen it already. Opinions are very mixed. Even from some of the people working at Pixar. My feelings? It is a decent movie and will do a little better than Incredibles. Since this film does not release until next Spring, Pixar has plenty of time to start production on their next film. This will get them a jump start on their goal of 1 film per year. I read somewhere that Pixar plans to release two films per year by 2009. Yeouch!

Chicken Little is also just about finished. I have mixed reactions about this film that will release in fall. I think it will do pretty well, but won't reach blockbuster status. You all know my feelings about Disney from my previous posts. Disney is headed in the right direction and I'll be hoping that the film does well.

That's all I have time for at the moment. I'm feeling guilty writing this entry instead of working.

What's on Tap

Life has suddenly gotten very busy. Sorry for the delinquency in getting the second tier of the studio power rankings out. It is still coming. I'll try to have something sometime in the next week.

I also began an article on "following the money stream" to talk about where funding can come from to get a few of these films off the ground. It is fascinating to me what the sources are and how the deals are structured. Unfortunately, I started getting wildly off tangent about a particular project and how this crappy story could actually get a decent sized budget and distribution from Warner Brothers. I need to refocus the article before posting it....NOT continued...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Siggraph Observations

Everyone that reads this blog probably already knows about Siggraph. So I'll skip sleep inducing description. I'll get right to the good stuff. ...continued...

Last blog entry was about the CG Feature Power Rankings. Anyone that disagreed with my assesment of Disney being in spot #2 may very well have a little easier time accepting my ranking. You still may not agree, but come on, their booth was the shit. No artist, tech guy, or no animation geek could of not enjoyed it. The video clips were great, the demonstrations, the recruitment videos. Once again, Disney wins the award for the bestest booth at Siggraph. The animation they showed for Wilbur Robinson were very well done. Wow. Some of those shots blew me away. Even their "work for us" video, had me having the good Disney vibes. WDFA is setting a new bar for CG animation. Look out! If the general public digs it as much as me, we will be in for a wild ride over the next few years. Wilbur, Rapunzel, American Dog, they all look good.

Meanwhile, over at the DreamWorks booth, they showed clips from some of their upcoming films. The Curse of the Were Rabbit (stop motion) looked fun. Those damn bunnies were cute. It looks like a good flick. Unfortunately I can't say the same for Over the Hedge. I still don't care for the character designs, and the animation just looked okay to me. Let's hope that the scenes they showed were not finished (obviously were not final renders. I'm talking motion here).

The Blue Sky booth was a snooze. As was Pixar. Boring... The Laica booth was barely noticeable. Sony's booth didn't catch my eye and I barely slowed down as I walked past. I did not go to the Electronic Theatre. I didn't have the time or even the will. I'm sure it was just as awful as previous years.