Friday, December 21, 2007

Trailers

Pixar and Blue Sky have both shown new trailers for Wall-E and Horton Hears a Who respectively. Both look nice. I was originally questionable about Horton, however, after seeing this trailer and a few other goodies, I'm more optimistic!

Pixar doesn't deserve as many kudos. You only expect goodness from them. So, this is only normal.

Check Quicktime.com for the Horton trailer and Rotten Tomatoes for the Wall-E.

Daily Show and Colbert Report

I just heard that the Daily Show and the Colbert Report will be going back on the air despite the WGA strike. Comedy Central needs shows I guess.

Speaking as a complete outsider to this whole strike. This sounds like a huge blow against the WGA. I mean, basically someone (by someone, I mean writers and everyone else responsible for these shows!) is crossing the lines and saying a big F-YOU to the strikers. I can only giggle.

Budgets again

About a month ago I was tasked with budgeting a would-be CG feature slate. It is a draining process coming up with how much one of these things is supposed to cost. How many people? How much will those people get paid? How long will it take? How many machines, workstations, telephones, chairs, paperclips... You get the idea. The list is insane. By default, you are pretty much required to schedule the process as well. If you don't know how long it takes, you'll never come up with a number.

I've done partial budgets. Meaning, someone asked me to budget and schedule certain aspects of a film. But doing the whole thing is more than I bargained for. Sure, I knew it would be difficult, but I didn't realize how much so.

Someone should do a budget to see how long it would take to budget the film. I certainly didn't. Good thing I'm being paid by the hour, because I'll be putting a lot of hours in. Unfortunately, it needs to be done very soon. Artists and those working in production aren't the only ones put under the thumb!

You won't learn anything from this post. Come to think of it, you probably won't learn anything from any of my posts. I'm just venting. Sorry!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Business Plans

This past Friday my wife and I were invited to New York for a dinner in Manhattan. It was attended by roughly fifty very wealthy individuals. It was put on by a Wall Street group to try and lure investors to place some of their money with them. My invitation came courtesy of a contact I made in Los Angeles almost seven months ago as a thanks for a connection I made for him. He even went as far as to pay for our flights, hotel, and a Broadway play.

The seating for dinner was ten to a table. We each took turns going around and introducing ourselves. I was a little worried about the reaction when everyone found out I wasn't a millionaire about to leave for my Winter getaway on an exotic island. Much to my surprise, people were interested and attentive. For some reason, quite a few wealthy people look at the Hollywood business as a glamorous one that they would like to be a part of. A few of them had even invested in films in the past and although they didn't make much money from them, it was a chance to pretend that they were a celebrity. Whether true or not, none of them really seemed to care whether they made money or not, they just wanted just to buy a piece of all that comes with it.

Long story short, I handed out a lot of business cards to those at the table and those that I met afterwards in the cigar room. A few of them were really eager to talk more about investing in animation, but it was getting late. When my wife and I returned on Sunday, I was surprised to find some of them had already left voice messages confirming their interest.

I'm posting this for a couple of reasons. First off, it was a good time and was rather interesting. Second, if anyone reading this has a project they are trying to get funded. Maybe this is an opportunity worth thinking about. Before you ask, there won't be a fee or any cost whatsoever imposed on you.

NOTE: I will receive a finder's fee from the investor for any money they place in a project. Making an easy chunk of change is not my only interest. I'd also like to see some good projects get what they need.

As with everything else in life, there are some requirements. These people don't mess around with their money. You have to have a business plan prepared that fully lays out the project and all the typical things that go into a BP including ROI for the investor. Additionally, this is not open to anyone looking to fund a studio/business or a slate of projects. This is for a single feature or potentially a DTV.

I've already contacted colleagues looking to get their projects going and have also alerted the company I'm currently consulting for. However, I want to spread the word here as well.

If you are interested, please contact me privately through email. Do not send me scripts, business plans, or anything other than a simple introduction to you and the project.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Budgets

My head has pretty much been buried in my work lately. However, a few days ago I came up to breathe and spoke with a friend. We somehow got on the subject of budgets and he hit me over the head with something I found pretty insane.

He told me that DreamWorks Bee Movie was close to $300 million when all said and done. I've yet to talk to anyone else about this to confirm or deny. However, if true, wow, just wow.

Three hundred million. We are getting into Final Fantasy numbers here. Let's pretend that prints and advertising were part of that number. Still, that is a considerable chunk of change. I've seen the movie. It shouldn't of been anywhere near that high. While a visually decent looking film, that cost didn't show up on the screen.

Just to give you an idea of what can be considered norm: DWA's previous films are generally sub $100, around $80-$90. Although that figure is debatable when you take into consideration the high cost of voicing some of these films, especially the Shrek franchise. Blue Sky over in New York is in the same neighborhood to slightly lower in the $65-$80 range. Disney and Pixar spend more money, with budgets exceeding $100 and often getting to $150. And even the Disney numbers are debatable because of the often re-working of stories late in the process. The last of the big 5 is Sony, and their films are about the same range as Blue Sky.

If the rumor is true, what led to this seemingly high budget? Good question. I wish I had an answer. I'm not familiar with the production of this film and what they went through in re-writes and re-takes. Whatever the case, it is just a shame that it went this high.

Personally, I think the sweet spot for an animated film is $45-$60. There is enough money to do a decent visual job, yet it isn't so expensive that it can make a good profit with decent returns. The problem is that a lot of these projects are so mismanaged that the money goes quickly and for all the wrong reasons. Resulting in a $70 million film looking like a $25 million one.

Writer's Strike

What makes the writers so special that they deserve better treatment than practically everyone else in the filmmaking process? Shouldn't all of those important to a production be treated the same? I realize writers are an important part of any show, but so are many other people.

Companies and studios should compensate people for their work. However, I'm in the group that believes that if you are paid fairly for your time, then that is it. You are done. Why should residuals keep coming to you? I don't think the designers of a Ford Mustang are getting residuals even though that car is still being sold. Our how about the guy who invented the flavor of a soda or food, should he get residuals? Stupid examples, but you get my point.

There are exceptions to everything out there. And here is my exception. If a writer went to studio XYZ with an already created script and sold it. Then perhaps I can see why residuals should be used. Especially if he wasn't paid standard (whatever that means) rates. However, if the guy is working staff or hired to carry out someone else's idea, I don't believe residuals should come into play. Admittedly, I'm not paying a whole lot of attention to what the writers get and what they want, maybe that is already the case.

I've been keeping quiet on this subject, but I'm sick of seeing the YouTube videos and reading the editorials. The woe-is-me writers are starting to get annoying.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Planet 51

I'm sure everyone has read that New Line has acquired the rights to distribute and market Ilion Studios' upcoming CG film "Planet 51". For those of you out of the mix, Illion is located in Madrid and began production on a (reported) $60 million feature a couple of years ago.




Signing this deal is big for them. Congrats to the people over in Spain. I fully support this company because it was created and produced in Europe and not just outsourced from an American company. Home grown films are great, outsourcing is bad.

The story sounds pretty good and has a lot of potential. The art direction seems to be nice too. The human character looks appealing and much better than some of the other projects I've seen recently from even the major studios.




What I don't really care for are the overuse of Ambient Occlusion and Sub surface scattering. The aliens all look like they are made out of Playdoh. However, that is a small complaint and can be forgotten quickly in a good story.

Congrats to Ilion for getting what many startups cannot - a respectable $60 million for the budget and distribution from a reputable company. I'm not sure what the cost of living is in Madrid, but even by US standards, this is a good sized budget. Especially for a new player.

Now the pressure is really on!

Shrek The Halls

With all my Shrek bashing, I forced myself to sit down and watch Shrek the Halls on ABC a few nights ago. Funny enough, I enjoyed the show. The story was more interesting and even the animation was better than the latest feature. Who woulda thought?

The budget for that special must of been enormous, when you compare it against the usual animated television projects. It was basically feature quality shrunk down to 22 minutes. Too bad there are not more of these things around!

I'm looking forward to Karate Kid, I mean Kung Fu Panda. Let's hope that this next film changes my perception of a declining DWA.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Drek the Third

After my Bee Movie comments that I hope to post soon, I'm sure going to sound like a DreamWorks hater. Fact of the matter is, I've always pulled for DWA, but they're really trying hard to change that.

I watched Shrek the Third over the weekend and all I have to say is, "WOW". What a piece of crap. The story was almost unwatchable. I really tried hard to like it, but it just was difficult. Maybe I'm reacting a little harshly. But, I just had high hopes and was looking forward to another Shrek movie only to be utterly disgusted.

I'm a Shrek fan, or at least I was. I enjoy the films - farts and all. That cow has just been milked. Please leave it alone. Unfortunately for me, Shrek the Fourth is on its way and even Shrek the Halls is going to be on TV this week.

The story was disjointed and uninteresting. Arthur was a boring character, as were Snow White, Rapunzel, and the rest of the crew. I couldn't even find myself laughing and interested in Shrek himself.

The animation in this one has also taken a downturn. The humans are badly animated for the most part. Their faces are stiff and hard to watch, the body movement awkward. Don't get me wrong, there were a few moments of nice animation (especially of Shrek and Fiona), however, generally speaking I was really disappointed. I'm not sure if this was a budgetary issue or what. We know that the DreamWorks animators are more than capable of turning out good performances, but something went sour here.

Unfortunately, these Shrek movies will continue to get made until people stop seeing them. That's too bad, because they've definitely run their course. Come to think of it, what the heck do I know? The box office was good and most people must be just fine with what they are seeing.

I'm really hoping that Kung Fu Panda changes my perception of DWA around. Right now, they are taking a nose dive on my radar.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Everyone can make an animated film!!

Let's take a moment to brainstorm about how the average person could make their own profitable animated film. Okay, well maybe that is a bit oversimplification. However, for the sake of discussion, let's talk about micro budgeted animated films.

What exactly would be the definition of a micro-budget-animated-film? Well, I'm not sure that there is an accepted one out there. For now, let's pretend it is anything under $1 million.

Huh? How could you create an animated film over 60 minutes for less than a million? That is the typical response from all of us that are used to hearing about $140 million dollar Pixar films, or $270 million dollar Bee Movies. But, if you think about it, most animated television shows are produced for even fewer dollars per minute. If you write the script and design the characters keeping that budget in mind, anything is possible.

Why am I even bringing this up? After all, I'm someone who craps on studios that try to create a feature for $20 million. The reason is that I think that this is an untapped market. Studios attempting features for $20 million often have their eyes so wide that finishing within that budget is laughable. Elaborate sets, fancy characters, a high paid staff of show runners, on and on. What I'm proposing is animated guerilla filmmaking at its finest.

We aren't even talking theatrical releases here. Straight to video is the goal, a theatrical release is unlikely, but if it happens, it would just be icing on the cake. Since we are talking budgets so small, financing starts to become more realistic. Finding someone to put up a million is far easier than twenty. I'm not saying it is easy, just easier. One wealthy person, savings from a few people, or if you were really adventurous - a loan.

Even though this won't be a studio project trying to stay as mainstream as possible and you have the ability to make whatever kind of movie you want; I suggest sticking to what sells. You are entering into a business and you need to keep sales in mind. Don't take chances, make the most commercial product you can and you'll have the best chance at landing a distributor that will give you the best chance at profitability.

Speaking of distributors. I normally think it is a huge mistake to make an animated film without locking in distribution FIRST. However, these micro budget projects are the exception. Honestly, a distributor will probably ignore you anyway until you have a finished product to show them. Frankly, theatrical release is unlikely. However, don't ever count it out. Anything is possible. I just wouldn't go into this assuming it would make the theaters. If you do land a theatrical release, it will make it that much nicer. Far better than expecting it and only being disappointed when it never happens.

If I were about to embark on a micro budget project, here is what I'd do:

My concept would involve few/simple environments and uncomplicated characters. The storyline would be aimed at under 10 years old with some humor to entertain parents. However, my goal would be that baby-sitting-device that sells so well at Walmart. After completion, I'd enter it into appropriate film festivals that are looking for that type of material. If you're lucky, distributors would see it and approach you for a DVD and potentially a theatrical release. At the same time I'd call around to the distributors and arrange to have a DVD sent to them for their review. Not everyone is going to see it at a festival, and you need to get it out there in front of those that can help you sell it. Lastly, I would attend any TV and film markets I could afford to visit.

If none of these work, I'd cry myself into the next decade. Seriously, if you didn't fund this yourself, hopefully you got a decent salary so that even a failure is a success. Meaning, you have learned some valuable lessons and have aligned your career for something much bigger than you would of gotten otherwise.

Some people are just fine sitting at a desk or at the computer working for a studio their whole lives. For others, there is a tremendous drive to be a filmmaker, a director, or something more than just doing what you're told. You want to do things YOUR way. For those people, maybe micro-budget-animated-films are the way to go. And possibly, a profitable way to go.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Disney and Pixar

I watched Meet the Robinsons last night and was reminded how behind the eightball Disney is at the moment. I was disappointed when the two came together, because I wanted to see the mouse turn the corner themselves without Pixar's involvement. However, after watching MTR, I'm not sure how soon that would of happened, if ever.

MTR was visually acceptable. In fact, I thought the lighting was really well done in "present day". It was soft and warm and visually inviting. On the other hand, "the future" was too bright perfect. I'm sure it was done on purpose, but it just didn't feel right. (Overall, I'd give the art direction a B-. ) As expected, the animation was well done. Not great. But well done. Bowler Hat was especially fun to watch, even if I feel that he was often over acted. The models and character design were okay, but didn't have that big budget feel.

The story is where this movie fell apart. It was boring and uninteresting. I feel like they were trying too hard and forcing us to sad for Lewis. However, by the time it was over, I actually could care less for him and his plight. The idea had a lot of potential, but it just wasn't carried out very well, imo.

This is where I'm doing an about-face from months past. Now I really feel glad that Pixar and Disney are together. Maybe the stories will be better from here on out. When you look at Ratatouille and MTR side by side, it is night and day. A carefully crafted story compared to something that felt rushed and forced.

MTR didn't get the full Pixar treatment since it was in production before the two companies came together. It will be interesting to see the first WDFA film that was created after the buyout. Will we see an immediate improvement?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It Takes a Perfect Storm

With all of the terrible animated movies out there getting made, you would think that getting funding to put one of these together is easy. To the contrary, it is extremely difficult and time consuming. Most never are successful. The days of money flying around left and right for CG features has died out.

DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Disney, and Pixar (last two being the same now) are set. They have the cash, infrastructure, crew, and reputation to continue to make films. But even Sony Imageworks is having trouble - a company that you would think would easily make that list.

I'm constantly being barraged by business plans (btw- I enjoy reading them, keep them coming!) that producers and executives have put together trying to find financing for their films. It is just plain hard to break into this area. Sometimes you look around and think that everyone and their mother is making animated films, but if you knew how many were trying and failing or floundering, you'd realize just how rare it is.

Take for instance that company I've talked about in the past for years now. It continues to have difficulty getting over the hump. No matter who is behind it and how well thought out the business plan is. It just flounders (the latest reasons are almost laughable it is so silly). Think about established studios like Wildbrain in San Francisco who have been rumored to be pitching a CG feature of their own to everyone in Hollywood. Word on the street? No takers so far. The history of the company and the financial backing seems to matter not. Some people either don't have the connections, have bad luck, or are just have bad timing. Even mega company - Universal has been trying to get their CG films going for years now. I've heard that they are still moving forward, but are tripping up as well.

I'll occasionally get an email from someone pitching their business plan or presenting their pet project. Sometimes the ideas are fantastic and something that I honestly feel would make a boatload of money or become an extremely popular franchise. They just don't have the contacts or business background to draw in financing. Sometimes they are just civilians (to use a Soprano's term) with a great idea but no clue where to go with it. Other times the business plan is almost amazing and has obviously been written by someone that has put in the time and research, yet the stories are bad, or they have unrealistic expectations about how easy it will be to get distribution or how much a good film will cost.

It takes a perfect storm.

Meaning, the companies that not only get funding, finish production and find distribution takes a huge stroke of luck and hard work that few can achieve. And those that somehow pull it off, can easily become a one-hit-wonder and never achieve elite multi-film-status.

It all has to come together; great story, business plan, sound production team, and real distribution from a legit company. Something almost always breaks down in the process.

If only these groups knew about each other. If the executives that put together this awesome business plan with realistic numbers and forecasts could hook up with a writer with a great story, and they knew about these artists that could supervise the project, and they had this producer/director team to lead the project, a distributor that recognizes the genious before them, and finally an investor looking for the perfect project stumbles across this group.

Good luck with that one.

More on the Sony Imageworks/SPA partial sale.

Articles have surfaced that Sony Imageworks and SPA are going up for sale. Or at least a portion of them. This obviously is a result of a shortage of cash. Surf's Up and Open Season didn't do as well financially as expected. Their for-hire work on various films have slowed to a trickle. The company needs money to stay afloat. Layoffs have already happened and you can only assume more will take place unless something happens quick. Two of their CG feature films are still in development, but a ways off and realistically, they may never see the light of day. The moral at this studio must be low.

I know of one group that is seriously contemplating sending money their way. Whether it will surface or not depends on a lot of factors. Mostly it depends on what they would get out of it. Let's assume that it does happen and this company comes in with a wad of cash, what happens then? Will the company continue as it has been? Or will new management take over and clean house and streamline the company? The latter choice would suggest more layoffs as they try to start somewhat fresh. The first choice would suggest continued problems.

If I were in charge of several hundred million dollars and had the option of either buying part of Sony Imageworks/SPA or starting a brand new animation studio... It would be a hard decision. On one hand you can start completely fresh without the baggage. On the other, you are able to get into a company with decent infrastructure and more importantly, a well known name. My choice would all come down to what where in the details of the contract. I have a feeling that Sony would want a high dollar figure for not a (relatively speaking) lot in return and make it very unattractive.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

WGA Strike

I won't pretend to know all the details regarding the writer's strike. I'd just like to say thanks. Nothing like an excuse for more reality shows.

I've caught myself going over to the TAG union blog several times a day to get an update on the whole thing. I just cannot seem to fall asleep at night until I've read the latest. (sarcasm) What's my opinion on the whole union thing? Bleh. I'm not much for the union. But that's just me. To each their own. However, I can see the value in it, especially when trying to get something like residuals. Something animators and artists will never get.

Someone on Animation Nation brought up a good point. Did the WGA honor the Animator Union Strike? Would they honor an IATSE strike? Kevin from the union replied no and probably no. Therefore, I've decided not to honor the WGA strike.

I will not honk for support as I drive by in my limo.

New Look

I'd like to take credit for the website's new look. But really, all I did is select a new template. However, I was smart enough to add some items to the left hand column.

Be sure to answer the poll questions that will rotate here and there. And of course, check out my "Current Mood". My wife says I turn on a dime. I'll try to reflect that here in the blog.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

First weekend for Bee Movie

The latest film from DWA received a little over 39 million this opening weekend. Not bad. I forgot to put up my prediction for its debut, although I could lie, I'll be honest and say I would of guessed a little lower.

I'm surprised it did this well. I haven't seen the movie yet, and probably will wait for a DVD release, but congrats are in order. Seinfeld was a good show, Seinfeld the person... Not so much. I think the success was more due to the writers than the guy who brought the name. I can live without Jerry as a bumbling bee.

Like many others in Hollywood, Jerry seems to hold animators and animation in a much lower class. I secretly hoped the film would bomb because of this. Oh well, maybe next time.

Sony Pondering Sale

Click on the title for a link to a story that appeared in the New York Times on Halloween. In short, it says that not only Sony Imageworks, but SPA are possibly up for a partial sale.

I'm not sure what to make of this. If you can believe what is written, I guess Sony is looking for some financial relief. For years, Imageworks has been having a more and more difficult time keeping afloat with the under bidding going on the for-hire effects jobs. And with SPA's films not performing as high as hoped, I guess there is some consideration being given to selling portions of the companies.

I don't really have any comments other than it doesn't really surprise me. From what little I've heard over the last year, these guys are hurting. They are looking for ways to cut costs (India and New Mexico) and selling portions off is a quick way to bring in some money.

Space Chimps and Kung Fu Panda

I'm in the process of writing an article about financing animated films. The idea for this came about as I viewed the teaser trailer for Space Chimps a few days ago. As I sat watching this teaser, I wondered to myself, how, how, I mean HOW! could this project get backing? Watch it for yourself and let me know if I'm insane for thinking this was a waste of someone's money.

I'm glad that the folks at DWA decided to post a hidef trailer for Kung Fu Panda. It is so much more pleasing to watch than the postage stamp sized video posted a few days back. I'm still not convinced that this is nothing more than Karate Kid with animals, but it looks somewhat entertaining!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Animated Karate Kid

There is a brand new teaser for Kung Fu Panda. Click on the link above to check it out.

Visually it looks good, the story seems funny, however, I can't seem to get Karate Kid out of my mind.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bee Movie

Now, I haven't seen Bee Movie yet on the big screen. However, I have seen plenty of clips from it off the internet. Is it me or are the DreamWorks animated films looking worse and worse? (Link above provides clips from the film)

I'm not talking story or animation. The animation looks decent enough and I can't really speak for the story since I haven't seen it yet. However, the character designs, modeling, and texturing of the humans are UGLY. The bees are not much better, but at least acceptable. Not only are the people ugly, but the clothing deformations are horrible. Take a look at Bee Movie when it opens in a few days and pay attention, then come back and let me know what you think. What the hell?

Am I over reacting? Maybe so. But, even with Over The Hedge's humans looking pretty bad, this is a step backwards over at DWA. Pixar is visually blowing DWA out of the water while even the low budget shops are surpassing them too. I've always pulled for them, but I may be jumping ship here.

What gives?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ollie the Otter

Remember that film/company I brought up many moons ago? You know, the one in Marin County (outside San Francisco) making an animated film called "Ollie the Otter"?

Well, I love to tell you "I told you so", but I told you so!

It looks like it has died. This probably happened quite a while ago, but I'm just now finding out about it after a visit to their webpage. Of course I could totally be wrong. But come on.

Critter Pix seems to be advertising a new film in pre-production called "Spy Guy". They go on to say:

Other movies we plan to make, besides SPY GUY 2 & 3, are Ollie the Otter, and Hollywood Vermin.

What happened here? They're already planning Spy Guy 1, 2, and 3, but the film they started with (Ollie) is now the fourth film? Something fishy happened here.

Surf's Up

Since I just read that Surf's Up is the number one DVD out there right now, I guess this is a good time to post something about it.

First things first, this movie is 1000 times better than that sham of a film called Happy Feet!

Now that that is out of the way... While I may of had some problems accepting an animated mockumentary, it was enjoyable overall. The character designs (especially Big Z and Tank) were nice, the story was fun, and the animation was really good.

I was pretty impressed by the technique they used to motion capture the camera. It really gave it an authentic documentary feel. Well, as authentic as an animated documentary can be. It may of been a little over the top at times, but for the most part worked well. Finally a good use for motion capture!

Putting the real life surfers in the movie as voices was a stupid idea. These guys, except for maybe Sal (?) were horrible. Dry and boring. It put too much reality in the film and drug it down every time they spoke. I also thought that the John Heder chicken character was annoying. A lot of his lines felt really forced.

After watching the making-of, I noticed that the actors recorded their lines with some of the other actors at the same time. The improvising really came through and I thought that gave the dialogue a nice flow.

I'm still not sure what is happening over at SPA now. This movie did pretty poorly and I've heard rumors that they have dropped the idea of doing future CG films. Yet someone else told me they were still in development for a project or two. I guess time will tell. I'm still a fan of SPA first two attempts. However, I thought the story on Open Season was much more fun.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thundercats

Did this TV cartoon series really deserve an animated feature film version? Evidently someone thought so! According to Variety, Warner Brothers is making a CG version of this classic (hah).

My questions is, will this be done at WB or farmed out to another studio? My guess is that it will be farmed out. If anyone has any insights, please share via the comments.

This movie will be directed by someone who comes from the video game world. His name is Jerry O Flaherty. The article says that he was an art director on some of their games. Wow, score one for this guy. How he got himself into that role, I don't know. But kudos for that move.

I've got to believe this will be a pretty decent sized budget film. Let's hope we hear more over the next weeks/months.

TMNT

I rented TMNT the other day and finally got a chance to view it. Much to my surprise, it wasn't that bad. The story didn't really hold me, but visually and animation wise, I thought it was pretty well done for a medium sized budget production.

Since I'm usually a bitter person with nothing but bad things to say on this blog, I better come up with something terrible. How about, the rat character design was ugly? Or maybe that some of the deformation on the characters were down right disgusting? Additionally, some of the animation was a little stiff. But probably most important, it sucks that they are outsourcing the work to other countries to get it done?

Even that has a bright side, at least they are doing the pre-production/development of their next movie in Los Angeles before shipping out the production elsewhere. Still a shame that any of it is being farmed out to begin with.

All in all, it wasn't that bad given the budget.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Wow

I can't believe July was my last post. Time really flies. I'll avoid dispensing with the excuses and just say that my interest in keeping up this blog has diminished.

After I'm done with work, all I want to do relax and spend time with the family and then go to bed. I'm drained.

On top of that, even after months of not saying anything, I have no clue what to even write about.

After saying all of that, I'm going to try my best to post something sometime before Saturday. Don't hold your breath. But, I'm going to try!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Knights of Laika

Cartoon Brew linked to an article on Phil Knight (Nike) and his son Travis over at Laika. What an interesting read. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

For those out of the loop. Laika used to be Will Vinton Studios. They did all of those great Claymation/stopmo projects over the years. Travis Knight, Phil's son, had been working at Vinton as an animator. At some point, the company needed additional funding and along came Daddy Warbucks. I don't know if Travis asked for his father's assistance, nor does it really matter. However, that article makes it sound as if Phil really wanted his son to follow in his shoes (ziiing). And since Cheesy Tee didn't want to be in the Nike business, there was nothing left to do but buy the company he did have interest in, fire the founder/president/owner, and groom your son to be in charge.

Maybe the plan all along was to buy the company for his son, who knows. The article sure makes it sound that way.

Look, I don't know either of these people or have any secret inside information. And, I guess you cannot fault Travis (he does seem to love animation and the article doesn't make it sound like he wanted all of this). [jealous rage] But man, this just sets me off. My life would of been so much easier with a rich father that could just buy me whatever I wanted. [/jealous rage]

Props to Phil for putting together a well orchestrated plan. I guess if your son doesn't want to be a part of the company you built, you might as well takeover the company the son does love.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Those crazy Indians

I recently received an email from an Indian animation company that made a few startling claims. Did you know that Pirates of the Caribbean, King Kong, Lord of the Rings, and a few other big productions had their CG outsourced to India?

That was news to me too. I suppose they think that they will get a few clients by making outrageous claims. I really don't have anything to say on the matter. Just wanted to share this incredible bit of information!

Stop the insanity!

Ratatouille

I'm not one to praise a studio or a film, especially one that has so many fan-boys. However, after seeing Ratatouille last week, I have to post something.

Although I think the story is good, it is not great. It kept my interest and I was entertained. What really impressed me about this movie was everything else. The character design, the lighting, the texturing, the animation, and the effects were all amazing. Pixar pushed the bar higher again.

It was just beautiful eye candy. It was crafted so well. I give my props to Pixar. After that just-okay-Cars, you've pulled off a wonderful film.

I'm not normally a DreamWorks basher, but seeing the Bee Movie trailer prior to Ratatouille just made it look so much more crappy. What a difference.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Financing Animated Films -- Part 2

Once again, I talked about making a part 2 of an article and then ran out of steam. I’ll try to get through this and not cop-out completely.

When a studio makes a film, there are an infinite number of places they can get funding. However, a source that many don’t know about is the film fund. These things act almost like a mutual fund where many investors pool their money together to buy a lot of shares in a lot of different companies. The mutual fund is a great way to diversify and remove risk from an investment of one company. A film fund has similar methodology.

Several wealthy individuals or companies can put money into one of these funds knowing that it will go towards a slate of films. Usually the films are “pre-selected film slates”. Meaning, the studio picks what goes into the slate and what doesn’t. Low performing comedies are in, risky vanity projects are in, and traditionally profitable films … out?

Sure enough, that is what happens a lot of time. Animated films are generally excluded, as are franchise films (i.e. Harry Potter, Spider Man, Pirates OTC, etc). With these two removed from the slate, you are really limiting return on investment.

To their credit, some studios are doing Sequential Slates. Meaning that a fund is investing in any release the studio puts out over a certain time period. Disney has one called the Kingdom Fund. However, they call it Semi-Sequential because they wanted to remove Pirates of the Caribbean and all animated films! Talk about stacking the deck in their favor. Face it, the studio is smart and personally funding the pictures they know will perform well. The investors are being a little slow on the take by throwing their money in the pot hoping to make money on a surprise success like Borat.

If I had a bunch of money lying around, investing in films would be the last thing I’d do. With the creative accounting that is so rampant in Hollywood, it just doesn’t make business sense. Combine that with these lopsided funds, I’m not sure why anyone gets involved.

So, if you were wondering one way Hollywood gets a ton of easy money, film funds is an example. Although it doesn’t seem very profitable for the investor, it still manages to put billions of dollars into the film industry. Someone is doing a good sales job!

Now, if a studio came along and put together a film fund that actually includes the animated and frachise films AND had open book accounting (make sure no funny business is going on)… Then we are talking a good idea. People are trying it. Let’s see what happens.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A few things...

I wrote another article that was posted over at CgChar. You can see it here. In a nutshell, it is an easy way to see what others are making at various studios without relying on polls or sneaking a look at someone's paycheck.

Part 2 of "Financing Animated Films" is coming soon. Sorry for the delay. Been very busy.

Ratatouille had its opening weekend. Pulled in an estimated $47.2 million weekend. Good take for an animated film (lately), but since it isn't the highest Pixar opening, you can bet that the press will make a deal of out of it. I couldn't make it to a theater, so I can't really give you my opinion on the movie. Judging by everyone else loving it, I'll probably have a much too high expectation and end up hating it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sharon Morrill

By now, everyone has heard Sharon Morrill has been removed. It has been published on just about every animation website. However, there doesn’t seem to be anyone telling the whole story.

I must preface the following by saying it is all rumor. I’m hearing much of this information second and sometimes third hand. Take any of this with a grain of salt because it is probably 100% false.

Not many of the artists at Disney liked Sharon. At least that is what most of them told John and Ed when they interviewed a chunk of the staff while Sharon was away in India. Upon return, she was told bluntly, “Your staff doesn’t respect you.”

My source (my best Jim Hill impression) tells me that Sharon is still under contract and will continue to pull in her mid six figure salary until it expires. Half a million a year for doing nothing. I'm told that she wasn't put into any other real position, rather put somewhere to wait our her time. Many of you are probably thinking that would be a sweet deal. However, I imagine for Sharon, someone who loved her job and was so wrapped up in that Tinerbell movie… it is absolutely devastating.

I don’t imagine she will sit out the rest of her contract at Disney. This is pure speculation on my part, but I think Sharon will end up at Warner Brothers as President of animation. Sure, Lisa Judson has just filled that spot, but I think she will either be “moved” somewhere else or Sharon will magically become her superior.

Back to what went down between John and Sharon. Lasseter hasn’t been happy with the Toons studio. It was watering down the Disney brand. For a while, he has wanted to either get rid of it entirely or redirect the efforts to something else. The division has had all sorts of problems with the shows, however the latest, Tinkerbell, seems to be especially troublesome.

This faeries movie is Sharon’s baby; she has fired and hired so many directors trying to find someone who can adapt her ideas properly (is that really her job responsibility?). As soon as she felt they weren’t doing her version justice, they were removed. A while back, when Lasseter asked the current director’s opinion, he gave his take on fixing the problems. John agreed and decided that was the way to go. Sure, they would have to scrap some of the movie, but it would be stronger in the end. Sharon wasn’t happy. She liked her version and rumor has it – she ordered two versions of the movie to be made. Hers and the Lasseter supported director version. I’m skipping a whole lot of what went down, but at some point recently, Sharon tried to push for her version again and Lasseter wasn’t happy about it. When she went away to India, the Pixar boys talked to the staff and concreted their decision to remove her and speed the redirection of the division.

Again, all second or third hand information. I’m sure I’m missing quite a bit. Whatever went down, it is safe to say John wasn’t happy and Sharon wasn’t the right person for the job. It seems that a lot of people at Disney are thrilled about her removal, especially the artists. I guess that is what happens when you aren’t respected.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Financing Animated Films -- Part 1

Now that Box Office returns for animated films are coming down from stratosphere like heights, reality is setting in for many studios. The days of money being thrown around left and right have slowed. Those that missed the boat during the frenzy are going to have a harder time making a go at it.

When decent films like Surf’s Up and Meet the Robinson’s aren’t getting a lot of attention from potential audiences, you have to wonder what some of these people are thinking that invest in projects like The Missing Lynx.

I can’t see movies like this doing well in the theaters at all. As a direct to video, it may have a chance. But come on, that thing is going to bomb if released to theaters. It reminds me of another hard-to-watch CG film, Happily Never After that I recently sat through. I could be wrong though. After all, I hated Happy Feet despite how many people enjoyed it.

With all of the bad films doing poorly, combined with the good ones doing moderately, you have to wonder what the investors and distributors are thinking. It is really difficult to get an animated film going right now. I recently heard about the antics of a studio in San Francisco that is trying to get a CG feature off the ground. They are an established company with a proven track record (in commercials), financial backing, and developed stories. They just cannot find a distributor. It is just another example of people being more apprehensive. If they were this prepared a few years ago, it would have been much easier.

Occasionally, I get an email asking me exactly what I do for a living or what I’m currently working on. While I won’t go into details, I’m involved with a film fund. This investment vehicle will co-finance more than a dozen movies. Worth several hundred million dollars, it is mostly geared towards live-action. A while back I was asked to consult on it to see if it was worth including an animated film or two in the mix.

While this fund is currently in limbo, I’m given a ring side seat to some of the financing action going on around Hollywood. It is more than obvious that the money for animated films is slowing. Now that investors are starting to see that it may no longer be the golden ticket, they are choosing to be more careful about their choices...


In part 2, I will discuss current financing schemes that studios are using.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Here and there, Part 2

Near the end of June, Ratatouille opens. As usual, the look of the film is pretty impressive. Leave it to Pixar to keep pushing the visual boundaries. I'm on the fence on how I think the general populace will accept it. I think it will do okay, but nothing near Shrek numbers.

Weinstein continues to try and dominate the animated feature world by making an agreement with the [sarcasm] animation juggernaut that is Exodus[/sarcasm]. I've got to hand it to Weinstein. They are really trying to make this lower budget animation business work. The deal calls for Weinstein to finance and distribute a slate of CG films from the company that will first finish "Igor" in 2008. This is another one of those films that has been going on for so many years. We are not talking Foodfight, but you get the idea.

Speaking of juggernauts, Shrek 3 just pimp slapped a million haters out there. All of the people that despise this franchise for whatever reason have got to be unhappy about its success. Face it, the movie going audience loves Shrek. Personally, I think it is funny. Not the movie, just the fact that so many people want to see it and DreamWorks fall on its face. Get over it, Shrek is a success and will continue to be so for a while.

Anyone catch that Cannes stunt that Jerry Seinfeld did to promote Bee Movie? That is pretty funny. An even better way to get the attention of the world would of have been if that contraption failed and sent Jerry belly-flopping into the water. Sorry, but I find this guy annoying and a pure distraction when it comes to the voice of an animated character. Unlike my dream of Jerry making a painful splash, this film is going to do the flopping for him. Maybe all you Shrek/DWA haters out there feel a little better after that Shrek BO dominance.

Here and there, Part 1

Here we go again, another long pause between blog entries. There is no shortage of things happening, I've just been too lazy to post.

Meet The Robinson's came and went without much fanfare. It performed okay, but I can't imagine it was considered a success inside the walls of Disney. More people laid off afterwards. Blah blah blah. Nothing exciting.

I read an interesting couple of comments from the mouths of Luc Besson and Harvey Weinstein. Wow, what happened between these guys? Luc wasn't too fond of how the Weinsteins distributed their film:
I've worked in the movie business for 30 years now," Besson told SuicideGirls.com interviewer Robert Epstein when asked why his "Arthur and the Invisibles" did so poorly in America. The Weinstein Company, Besson said, "was the worst I have worked with in my entire life, in any country.

The French auteur said Weinstein went too far in "changing" the French fantasy for an American audience. But Weinstein, who brought on everybody from Madonna to Snoop Dogg for the English-language version, says Besson is the problem.

Harvey Weinstein couldn't let that go. At Cannes he had the following to say:

He's out of his mind." Weinstein, whose changes made "Arthur" a success in the U.K., accused the director of enriching himself by "lying about his budget," which Besson claimed was $86 million. "I'll write a $1 million check to the charity of his choice if he can prove that really was his budget. He's a has-been.

Those are quite the claims. It is always fun to read about these squables.

Sony's second film Surf's Up opens quite soon. The film looks interesting enough, but I am not looking forward to this one as I did with Open Season. I don't know if it is the documentary style or just that Happy Feet killed my interest in penguins. Whichever the case, hopefully it will do decently so that Sony can re-hire all those people they fired. However, I think it will do poorly. Even less than Open Season. By the way, I really love those "art of" books that are put out for the SPA movies. I saw the Surf's Up book this weekend. A little thin on the CG aspects, but the traditional art was good eye candy.

Speaking of Sony and firing people, they have officially announced that they are opening that New Mexico studio. I guess the tax incentives were cleared for what they wanted to do and they'll try to make it happen in the desert. It will be interesting to watch. I have a feeling it will be another disappointment - like when Fox had the Phoenix studio.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New business models? Part 2.

It has taken me a while to get this thing out. Between work and the fact that I couldn’t decide on how to best present this… Well, you get the point. I’ve written and re-written the post at least seven times now. The sad part is, it is pretty watered down from my initial version, I’ve just decided to be extra careful. I doubt I could do any harm, but in order to be on the cautious side...

More than a year ago, I started hearing rumors about a group trying to put together a new animation studio in LA. After some digging, I found a little more here and there. Information was very hard to come by. However, as it turns out, someone I know is involved and I was able to extract just a little more from him. He is very tight lipped, but it gave me enough that I could expand my search.

First things first. As of right now, the studio is nothing more than a glimmer in a few eyes. It only consists of a small group of people, a telephone book thick business plan, a few strategic partners, and financial backing. You are probably wondering what the hold up is if they have these ingredients. I wondered the same thing, but based upon a rumor, there is one last hurdle that needs to be leapt before anything can proceed. And yes, it is still possible that it won’t happen at all.

There isn’t a whole lot more I can say. This studio has the ability to immediately jump into the $100+ million per CG feature game. The question is, can they find the talent and compelling stories to do it right? The business people have it together and I’ve been told will stay out of the creative side (we’ll see about that). There is an extremely small foundation of people together to run the animation studio, but nothing more. Of course no real hiring has begun and the hordes of individuals needed for an actual show won’t be needed for quite a long time.

What is most intriguing to me about this whole thing is the business model. It isn’t exactly following the standard studio system that has been basically unchanged over the years. It took some successful business men that aren’t rooted in the Hollywood system to develop something totally (what I think is) unique. The animation part of the company, at least what the average employee is exposed to won’t be much different than anywhere else in town. It is the behind the scenes differences that have me excited and would probably bore everyone else visiting this blog. It may translate into a more open and creative environment, it could provide more bang for the buck, it could do a lot of things. But realistically, until it gets going it is hard to know for sure and is all vapor.

There you go. A whole lot of nothing. Sorry! It all boils down to the possibility of another large animation studio in LA doing CG features very soon. Smart business people coming up with a tight plan, while still handing over the steering wheel to creatives. I usually don’t get jacked up about proposed studios, in fact, I’m normally pretty skeptical. Something is just different about this. I really hope they can pull it off. At the same time, I’m remaining realistic that it may go nowhere. If it does get traction, it will be a great opportunity for talented individuals to jump a few rungs on the ladder or simply provide a change of scenery.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New business models? Part 1.

It appears that LA Times published an article about the Sony Imageworks relocation. Or partial relocation, whatever the case may be. It provides a little more information regarding where the studio would go and how many people would end up there initially. Anyone that comes here regularly knows that I hate outsourcing. When a US based business ships their stuff overseas to get it done on the cheap, it really ruffles my feathers. However, just for the record, I'm okay with this New Mexico move.

It doesn't thrill me that work is moving out of LA, but, I would much rather see it move somewhere else in the States than out of the country. Sorry my Canadian brothers. I'm okay with your homebrew productions, that's cool, but that is where I draw the line (not that I can't blame you for taking advantage of the situation).

So, how long until California starts offering tax incentives to keep productions here? It will probably not happen for a while, but if they wish to keep one of the biggest industries in Southern California producing income for the area, they are going to have to do something. Let's face it, the cost of doing work here is expensive. The only reason to keep it (feature animation production) locally is because of the talent pool (in numbers and experience) exceeds every other part of the world (extreme bias here) except for maybe San Francisco. And even that is going to shift if something isn't done.

Part 2 will be focused on "that new studio" that I keep barking about. I'm editing and re-editing it in order to say something without saying anything.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Imageworks toying with moving?

First off, everyone here knows about Sony flirting with the idea of opening shop in New Mexico. The tax incentives make it attractive to the company and since the studio seems to be hemorrhaging money they are thinking of possible solutions. Some of the comments in my last post seem to suggest "if you build it, they will come". Seriously though, does that always work? If Sony opens a studio in NM, will many people really pack up their lives and move to a one pony town? I realize the cost of living is lower there (and you can be assured your income will drop too), but is it worth the gamble? If Sony goes through with it, I guess we will find out.

The above isn't really news. Now that I think about it, neither is this. However, I've heard that Sony is also flirting with a satellite NorCal studio. I'm not sure what they would do there, maybe just a way to steal talent local to the area. This btw, is unrelated to another move to the San Francisco area - the Zemeckis thing.

Meanwhile, back in Culver City, I've been told that they are down to a pretty small crew working on a couple of shows. If you believe the people I talked to, they don't have much lined up right now. Surf's Up is done, their next SPA film is a ways off and they don't have many pure Imageworks fx jobs.

I don't know what any of this means or how true any of it is. Perhaps I am just spreading rumors. Whatever the case, I'd like to see Imageworks and SPA succeed. I enjoyed Open Season and Surf's Up looks pretty good too.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The majority of LA Animators don't live on the west side.

So where do the majority of LA based CG animators live? The obvious thought is that most reside around the Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena area (or atleast within a relatively easy commute of). However, there are a ton of smaller to mid sized shops on the West Side. Could that possibly add up to more?

Why would I even care? I guess I really don't, but the conversation came up with someone and it is extremely important to him. And since I can't think of anything better to blog about...

He is going on the impression that most of the experienced feature talent live closer to Disney and DreamWorks than the West Side. I question if that is true. If so, I wonder how easy it was for SPA to get the creative talent to jump over the hill to Culver City. Some of the people I know over here (Burbank) would rather live on the street with nothing more than a shopping cart to their name than deal with the commute.

So I ask you, my loyal group of 2 readers. If you were to start a studio in LA, where would you put it to take advantage of the people?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Wow! Happy Feet sucked.

Has it really been almost two months since I posted to this blog? Apparently so! I'm sure there is no one reading this anymore, so I suppose I'm free to say whatever I want.

First off, during my blog hiatus, I saw Happy Feet. What an utter piece of crap that movie was. Completely ignoring the motion capture, the story was just ridiculously beating the audience over the head with that environmental message. I'm just as much for saving the planet as anyone else, but this was not entertaining at all. Taking out the messages, the story was uninteresting and boring. If I weren't in this business, I would of walked out of the theater (or in my case, shut the DVD off). The character designs were also horrendous -- down right ugly and unappealing.

I'm not exactly sure how it won the Oscar. Were the other animated films that bad (or maybe my conspiracy theory isn't so crazy after all)?! This wasn't exactly a banner year for our business, but Happy Feet shouldn't of come anywhere near even being nominated.

What a piece of crap that was.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Conspiracy Theories

The posts seem to be coming weeks or even months apart. I guess that's what happens when you lose interest in your own blog. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing when I find the time. Finding that time is the hard part.

It's a first! I made a point of avoiding the Academy Award show and all the hoopla surrounding it. I feel so much better for it. I've been so successful, I don't even know who was hosting! How is that for commitment?

Regardless, I still know who won in the animation categories. First off, congrats to the person who made The Danish Poet. She won in the short film category and I can't express how nice it is to see an independant win. Goes to show that the studios can't flex their muscle everywhere.

Happy Feet won for the best animated film. There are plenty of people arguing that the film shouldn't even be considered animated. I'm going to surprise a lot of people here and say that I disagree with that. Maybe they did use motion capture, but the end result is comes across as animated.

Don't worry. My feelings about motion capture haven't changed. I still think a film like Happy Feet is a terrible place to use the technology. Keep it to animated/live action films on human characters. Not cartoons. I have a couple of very dedicated motion capture defendants that constantly email me trying to prove their point that mocap is the future and that I should accept it. I do accept it. Just not in cartoon projects.

To my friends that love to send in that pro-mocap email BS, I'll stir things up in your focused little brain once again. Real animators dont work on motion capture projects by choice. They would rather the whole performance comes from them, not some guy on a stage. If someone choses to work on a mocap project and considers themself an animator... I would argue that it is A) They think it is just a stepping stone for them, B) they cant get a job elsewhere, C) their animation skills wouldn't cut it on a purely animated film. Stick to games, stunt doubles, and animation for live action movies.


Now back to my conspiracy theories. First, I really don't take this seriously or believe it myself, but I want to throw it out there to just start a rumor.

A) The reason Pixar didn't win either the feature or short film categories is because they are now owned by Disney. Everyone knows that the Academy has it against Disney animated projects these days. It has nothing to do with Cars being a boring movie that offered very little beyond eye candy.

B) The reason Happy Feet won is because the Academy in general hates animated films. They chose to pick something that was as close to a live action (mocrap) film as possible. If it has to be animated, they want to see real actors, directors, talent employed. Not just lowly animators or animation directors. (If you haven't noticed, in Hollywood, the animation community is considered the ugly red headed step child of the industry). (Please, no hate mail from ugly red headed people. It is just a saying.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Next New LA Animation Studio?

Anyone that has been reading this blog has probably read previous posts about a new studio that is trying to get started in LA. Just in case you are wondering, the new Universal division setup by Chris Meledandri is not the one I had been referring to.

This studio I keep talking about, but never seems to surface, is still pushing forward. Latest rumors are saying that they are almost ready to go. Yea, I've said that before. And believe me, I am just as skeptical as many of you are. I guess I'm just hopeful for this one. I'm in love with what I've heard, the people behind it have a good head on their shoulders and the financing is impressive. Most importantly, it is built around the core idea that artists should be in charge. Minimal executives and most of all, the uncreative executives that exist will be keeping their nose out of story and execution. Of course someone has to be level headed and able to keep things under control. The exciting part is that those people come from creative roles that happen to know how to manage. My fingers continue to be crossed for this one.

With the new UP announcement and the possibility of this other studio, the animation outlook in LA is good. Despite the downsizing at Disney, we could be looking at many openings in the year ahead. Those of you that are looking for work, or a change of scenery, it's time to polish up the portfolio.

New Studio in LA

It appears that Chris Meledandri is going to leave Fox to start a new animation division at Universal Pictures.

Although I heard about this a little while ago, I was just as suprised as everyone else. I wasn't expecting this. It will be interesting to see if Chris can put together some success over at UP like he did with Fox/Blue Sky. Unfortunately, the early rumors are that the although the development will take place in LA, the actual production work may be farmed out. It is a little early to know where it will be farmed out to. It could be another studio in LA (Blur would make a nice candidate), a studio outside of LA, yet still in the USA, or to the lowest bidder across the oceans.

We may be waiting a while to find out, because I've heard that Chris has to finish two more pictures with Fox before he can legally begin the UP projects. Although the linked article does point to a 2009 release for film #1.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Live action producers just don't understand animation

I was talking with a pretty well known Hollywood producer a few weeks ago. He is responsible for a number of popular live action movies most of us have seen. He cornered me one afternoon in Hollywood after walking out of Hamburger Hamlet. We had been introduced a couple of weeks prior by a mutual friend, he asked if I had a few minutes to sit with him while he would eat.

I really did not want to. This guy is an arrogant SOB. He is the prototypical Hollywood producer and I really didn't want to deal with his attitude, not to mention, I had just eaten. However, a large part of me was very curious. After all, he is a big shot, what would he want with me?

I watched him stuff his face full of food and not bother swallowing as he spoke. Before he emptied his mouth, another handful was pushed in and puffed his cheeks out even further. I could barely stand it. I kept looking at my hands, the walls, anything to get my eyes off that disgusting pie hole. As his fat belly started filling up, there was less food and more talking. I could finally concentrate on his words.

As it turns out, I really think this guy just didn’t want to be seen alone. It probably had little to do with wanting to talk with me specifically. Whatever the case, we did have an interesting conversation. Evidently, the guy is involved in a new venture with some others. It was clear that he didn't want me to know very much. What I did gather is that a new movie studio is being conceived and he is somehow connected with it. He had a real gift for diverting a question that he didn’t want to answer. It was quite amazing actually. Unfortunately that meant I didn’t get much information. Anyway, this new studio would also have an animation division to create CG features.

He explained that the reason he wanted to talk with me was to get opinions on a few animation topics. I couldn't help but wonder why he was asking me. I thought that maybe he didn't know too many people on this side of the business. However, I think it was just sheer luck that I bumped into him outside when he had this on his mind.

He was very curious about animation schedules. It was clear he knew absolutely nothing about the subject. It sounded as if he had a discussion with someone and he just couldn't believe what they had said. He was looking for verification. The point of telling this story isn't really the conversation itself, but what it made me think about afterwards.

What I gathered is that this guy, someone very familiar with the live action way of producing a movie just couldn’t grasp the animation process. Why does it take 4 years to make an animated movie? The whole film is storyboarded? It takes how long to complete 10 seconds of footage??!

I tried to explain the reasoning behind the lengthy production schedules. He just didn’t understand or was playing stupid. He was used to shooting hours of coverage based on a script and then making the movie come alive in the editing room. In live action, it is important to shoot as much footage as possible so that they could cover their asses if something wasn’t working. The director and editor sit down and assemble the film. The real magic happens in editing. They have so much footage, they hope that any changes or ideas that they have will be covered. Because of this, there is an extreme amount of waste in live action, however, this is accepted practice and is part of the process.

After we parted ways and I went back to my office, I sat down and thought about our conversation. It quickly became obvious why motion capture is getting popular with producers and directors that come from the live action world. It gives them an opportunity to shoot a lot of coverage, they can review stuff immediately without having to wait a week for an animator to deliver work, they can use multiple camera angles, etc, etc. Some of these guys just cannot wrap their head around the slow process of traditional (non-mocap) animation, where everything is so pre-planned and spelled out before any animation is made.

Unfortunately, I feel that too many live action producers and directors are moving into animation for the wrong reasons. It isn't for the love of the artform. They are looking at the dollar signs. And because of this, they try as hard as possible to adapt animation to what they are familiar with. Right now, motion capture is currently the best way for them to do it. Motion capture will continue to be the flavor of choice for these people. It isn’t as if mocap is better looking or provides a different look that appeal to them. It simply is because it is something they can relate to. It is closer to their experiences for immediate gratification. Instead of learning to appreciate animation for what it is, and understand the bonuses it provides, they cop out.

While this is not a new realization, it really hit home after this lunch discussion. The problem is that while companies such as Pixar, DreamWorks, and Disney continue to stick with keyframed animation, too many of these newer studios are using live action people and they are bringing along what they are more comfortable with. They are afraid or unable to work in the traditional way of making an animated film. They refuse to see the benefits of animation. I'm convinced they really don't want to be making animated movies for any other reason than making the money that can come from it.