Friday, October 28, 2005

Around Town

Let's take another trip around the industry to see what's going on. ...continued...

The Disney marketing machine is in full force to promote Chicken Little. I can't remember the last time I have seen this much marketing for a non-Pixar film. They really want to see this movie make some money, and I'm really happy they are actually making a full-out-effort. I don't often see a movie on opening day, but for Chicken Little I plan on watching the 3-D projected version first thing. Gimmick or not (I don't think it is), this is very cool and could be a new spark for the industry.

There are stories floating around the net regarding Disney and Pixar relationship. They say that the success of Chicken Little will help determine if they get back in bed with each other. I have to agree with that assumption. If Chicken Little does well, there is less chance of a favorable deal for Pixar with Disney. Personally I would like to see the two split and I still think they will. Disney is on to something and they have a big enough ego that they think they can take Pixar down several notches. Maybe they can.

Meanwhile DreamWorks is getting set for a spring rollout of Over The Hedge. This film looks so-so for me. I like the more cartoony feel it has, but I just cannot stand the dry delivery of Bruce Willis. This was a huge mistake and is where getting big name voices will bite you in the ass. William Shatner on the other hand seems like a good fit.

While Sony Pictures Animation cranks away on Open Season, they have announced a movie based on cave kicking neandrathals. The project comes from Jon Favreau of Zathura fame (hahahha). Zathura, the 2005 version of Jumanjii. Jon was busy lowering himself to new levels by appearing on Apprentice a couple of weeks ago. I hope he was forced into this and didn't come up with the plan on his own. He looked like a dimwit. Finally, did anyone tell this guy that DreamWorks has a caveman animated movie of their own in Crood Awakening?

Threshold Studios is STILL working on their first CG feature called "Food Fight". They recently issued a press release announcing voices for the film. This movie has been in the works for so long and looks like it hasn't even really begun production yet. Will this turn into another Delgo 10-year movie? By the time they are finished, that $65 million budget is going to look like a $10 million film.

A few months back I spoke of a new feature company that would be opening up in LA. I've been hearing more rumbles lately and this still looks like a go. These guys mean business and will be creating CG films with $100 million plus budgets. Look for some announcements in the next 5 months. I would like to say more, but I have been sworn to secrecy. My feelings are that these guys could make a serious run to the top just based on finances, story, and talent. Could they make it to the first tier without even officially opening shop? Probably not, but they could be serious contenders in the not so distant future.

Moving up to the bay area, which is quickly reaching critical mass, there is really nothing new to say. Lots of talk, but no one new really doing anything other than releasing glossy press releases and making for story fodder.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Wild Brain & Opus

I'm currently sitting on the 10th floor of a building that overlooks the great city of Burbank. The recent storms put me in a peaceful mood. The rain washed away the smog and dirt and filth that has accumulated over the summer. I really enjoy this time of year because I feel like the LA area is renewed, it is scrubbed clean and LA magically turns into a beautiful place. The weather put me in a good mood, so I figured this would be a great time to write something about Wild Brain and what was to be their first CG film "Opus". ...continued...

Several years ago, Wild Brain created this rather ugly 17-min short film called "Hubert's Brain". The intent was to make a film that attracted the right people to take a chance on WB and send them into the CG feature stratosphere. The quirky short actually pulled in interest from a few studios and landed them a meeting with Harvey "Miramax" Weinstein (year this happened was 2001 or 2002). The meeting went well and WB got excited about the possibility of turning Hubert's Brain into a feature. Time went by and things were evolving slowly with Miramax. WB was talking to others, pushing the idea of a Hubert feature. Paramount ended up optioning Hubert's Brain, and since Paramount never did anything with it, Hubert died. WB continued to develop other projects including an altered version of Little Red Riding Hood which was also optioned but doesn't seem to be going into production anytime soon.

Things are not going very well for WB and their feature dreams until a couple of years have gone by and Miramax comes back to propose Opus. A deal was struck and now, finally, WB had a CG feature to do. That is what everyone thought until the Weinsteins divorced Disney. Several people (including myself) thought Opus was a casualty of the breakup, but maybe it wasn't. Maybe the Weinsteins just didn't want WB doing the feature after all? The Weinsteins still have control of Opus and now I'm told that not only is it happening, but it is happening somewhere BESIDES WB.

Curiously enough, the studio that is rumored to get the project seems like a huge mistake. It really makes me wonder what exactly happened, and the real reason they pulled from WB and went with these nobodies (if the rumor is true). I'll write more after I can confirm the rumors.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Buildup of San Francisco Feature Companies

When one thinks of animation feature production, usually the first city to come to mind is Los Angeles. This is no doubt a reaction to the fact that Disney and DreamWorks make a home there. However, now that animation feature production has shifted from 2D to 3D, is that really true anymore? ...continued...

The San Francisco Bay Area has been the home of three powerhouses. Industrial Light & Magic, PDI/DreamWorks, and Pixar Animation Studios hire thousands of artists and technicians around the city. Los Angeles is making a comeback with DreamWorks, Sony, Disney, and a handful of new startups making 3D films. But, with the recent studios announcing feature production in SF, that city is about to push again to the top. Personally, if I were about to open an animation studio to create CG features it would NOT be in San Francisco. There are talented individuals in both cities, but most of the ones in SF are already employed and probably 99% are unwilling to jump to a new startup. Whereas in Los Angeles, there are lots of talented people already available and many more seemingly unhappy at their current job and therefore more likely to jump ship.

With Lucas, Orphanage, Wild Brain and a couple of other unknowns (in the feature game) get into production too, SF is quickly establishing itself as the 3D feature hub. Unfortunately for them, I think these SF companies are going to find themselves hard pressed finding capable and experienced talent. The workers up there are less migratory than they are in LA. The vast majority are either working at Pixar, PDI/DreamWorks, and ILM and probably do not want to downgrade to a lesser entity without a nice jump in salary. Granted Pixar isn't known for paying much, however I wonder how these studios will be able to lure others away from their current employer when their budgets are often so low.

At least one new startup is giving out stock options instead of a good salary. This company has no track record and there is no guarantee that the stock will be worth anything. You are already living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and instead of getting paid what you are worth you are letting the studio gamble with your money. As an employee it is not your job to accept that risk. At least in the dot com era, most employees were getting paid good money AND getting stock options.

I'll continue my SF outlook in another entry. This will include information about Wild Brain losing the "Opus" project.

A New Player

A visual effects company in the San Francisco Bay Area has recently announced it will jump into the CG feature animation business. Genndy Tartakovsky signs on with "The Orphanage" as creator for their slate of pictures. ...continued...

First things first. Just because you can do special effects, doesn't mean you can do CG feature films. The pipelines are entirely different, the way the work is produced is different, the thought process is different, the personnel NEEDS to be different, there is a lot of mindset to change. That won't stop Orphanage from making the plunge and trying to strike gold with the dozen or so other studios all attempting to do the same thing.

Those of you unfamiliar with Orphanage must not of read the survey for worst visual effects company. Orphanage ranked right up at the top with hundreds of posts from people that must of dreaded their time there. Although this feature division will be separate from the visual effects division, there is a strong liklihood that some of the same work practices and management will seep into the new group.

The good news is that they are trying to keep the budgets in the $50-$75 million area. This is a completely realistic budget to create a CG film, especially for the first project. Companies like Critter Pix in San Rafael are lowballing their feature endeavors with budgets under $30 (equates to lower wages in one of the most expensive cities in the country).

Orphanage has a really rocky road ahead. And considering they don't have distribution yet, they may never get started. However, with all the potentially negative things, at least they are not shooting themselves in the foot claiming Pixar quality work at a $20-$30 million budget.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Over The Hedge Trailer

The first trailer for Over The Hedge went public yesterday. I have mixed feelings about this film. ...continued...

On one hand it has some interesting characters and looks mildy amusing. On the other, something looks off about it. I cannot quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was the burp joke near the end of the trailer or the absolutely horrible voice of Bruce Willis. (This guy should never be considered for an animated character voice, he just doesnt fit. He has done a few cartoon voices in his life, all of them were absolutely gastly.)

DreamWorks does have a nice look to their renders, and the fur looks good. But looks are not everything. Judging by the 15 or so minutes of the film that I've seen, I'm not so sure this is going to be that great of a movie.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New "Cars" Trailer Rolls Onto The Net

I would provide a link, but apparently some trigger happy lawyer snapped their fingers and made it disappear. For those that didn't get a chance to see it, no worries. Just imagine the Michael J. Fox movie "Doc Hollywood" with automobiles. ...not continued...

Vanguard Films Has No Fresh Ideas

Vanguard Films announced that they are trying to do "GNOMES", a story of garden gnomes come to life. Great sheebus, can we be a little more original in this industry? ...continued...

Disney already has its hand in a film about gnomes. The project is a retelling of Romeo and Juliett and is called Gnomeo and Juliett. For goodness sakes, first you pump out a stinker of a movie in Valiant and then you grab a story that is being done by someone else. You guys are setting yourself to become the bowell movement of animation.

If Disney and Vanguard's relationship wasn't over, it must be now. Thank goodness they haven't gotten financing or distribution yet. If we are lucky, they won't.