Friday, October 31, 2014

At the Diz Co.

I spent part of the afternoon at the Hat Building, where people were traipsing back from the costume competition on the main lot. ...

In a week, the new movie comes out. (And publicity is going full bore on the TV and in various periodicals, as you'd expect.)

... “Big Hero 6” is expected to take in $51 million in its first weekend and $200 million in its domestic run, according to That’s no sure thing though, since it opens the same weekend as “Interstellar,” the space epic from “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan. ...

Artists are hoping for a robust opening, but some of them are a bit tense about where the weekend totals will end up (despite positive reviews and a high want-to-see quotient). Production has moved on to Zootopia and a short that's based on a recent, well-loved Disney animated feature that a lot of crew is working on.

Meantime, various projects now in development will be moved out of the feature animation facility next month to take up space at Disney Toon Studios (now with lots of empty cubicles) and leased buildings near the Burbank airport as Hat renovations get underway. (There are design sketches showing interior renovations down on the first floor. The alterations to offices and the entrance space will definitely be big improvements, but WDAS will still be stuck with the basic architectural mediocrity of the three-story structure sprawling along Riverside Drive.

Happily, upper management isn't stressed over any Hat Building weaknesses. Upper management is accentuating the positive.

Iger says his greatest accomplishment was reviving the animation studios. He says Frozen made him feel like he succeeded!

-- Jackie Kazim

A Brief Update

The post titled "We'll See You and Raise" was a wee bit confusing for many.

Mostly because it didn't make a lot of sense. ...

Now it makes more sense. At least somewhat. (I emerged from hibernation and put in the missing quote and link.)

You may now resume your usual morning activities.

TAG 401(k) Plan

A brief update on TAG's 401(k) Plan for participants and/or interested parties.

Plan assets total $221,022,647.

$209,957,503 is in Vanguard funds.

$11,065,144 is in non-Vanguard funds.

There are 2,476 participant accounts.

Fees for the Plan total .19% (19 basis points) of assets. ...

To refresh memories, the TAG 401(k) Plan switched to Vanguard over the summer because the Plan trustees (of which there are six) decided that costs under the previous administrator were higher than they needed to be.

The change to Vanguard has been relatively hiccup-free, although there are always some glitches when hopping from one rumbling investment train to another. The fact that most participants have stayed with Target Date funds is significant. Studios have shown that investors who pick an asset allocation strategy and stick to it are more successful in accumulating moolah than hot-shots who chase performance, jump in and out of markets, and generally micro-manage their portfolio.

Need confirmation? Witness this exchange between financial experts Barry Ritholtz and James O'Shaugnnesy on Bloomberg radio:

O'Shaughnessy: "Fidelity had done a study as to which accounts had done the best at Fidelity. And what they found was..."

Ritholtz: "They were dead."

O'Shaughnessy: "...No, that's close though! They were the accounts of people who forgot they had an account at Fidelity." ...

So maybe the only better thing than having a Target Date fund would be ... forgetting you have one.

What Is It Like For Overseas Students Studying at Bucks? Radoslav Hristov Explains

From Bulgaria to High Wycombe. Image: Wikipedia
Radoslav Hristov is one of our newest students at Bucks, having come to High Wycombe from Bulgaria to study Animation and Visual Effects. We asked him to talk about what brought him to the UK, and what life is like at Bucks for students from overseas.

3D Model by Radoslav Hristov

Bucks: How did you find about about studying Animation & VFX at Bucks?

RH: I initially started looking for universities in Bulgaria, but unfortunately none of them had anything to do with 3D art and animation, therefore I looked up the course I wanted abroad, which then led me to Bucks.

Of course, there were many other universities to choose from, but it was the showreel that caught my attention. It is why I'm starting to think that showreels are important for catching new students' attention.

3D artwork by Radoslav Hristov
Bucks: How has your experience been so far?  

RH: The experience within the course so far is beyond my expectations, the lessons are very smooth and clear. It's like being in school, only 10 times more fun!

Outside Bucks has so far been a positive experience. Bulgarian students would be surprised at the climate changes here in the UK. Most people, including me, expect it to be rainy every day, but so far it's been quite sunny.

3D Artwork by Radoslav Hristov

Bucks: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced? 

RH: The biggest challenge at least for me and probably almost every Bulgarian student is to manage the standards of living and of course the currency ratios. I also find it difficult to search for any part-time jobs, mainly because I've never worked before and it is all new experience here.

High Wycombe Welcomes You
Bucks:. What can Bucks do to be more welcoming to students from overseas? 

RH: Perhaps Bucks could offer to students a guide/tour or someone who can personally show them around the university and possibly even around the town. Where and what they can do, because I've found it slightly difficult to understand most of the activities during the first 2 weeks. It could be of great benefit for new students to have all the information available to them.

Bucks: What advice would you give to other students from Bulgaria and other countries who would like to study at Bucks? 

RH: Advice: do not make the same mistake as I did. Be prepared to be able to cook and have working experience before going abroad. Otherwise you would find yourself in a difficult situation, far from your family.
Advice to students: Learn to Cook! Image: Wikipedia
Also, don't rely on financial support as you may or may not receive it. Be ready to search for part-time work, because it is unlikely that you will be able to keep yourself going for the next three years without any income.
Money: Always a challenge

However, other than the financial issues new Bulgarian students are likely to have, I think Bucks is an amazing university with talented people and awesome tutors!

Some of my past work can be found here:!content/c189b

radoslavmodelling | CONTENT

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK. Find out why we're giving free laptops to all our students, and why we give all our students free access to videos at Also, see what financial assistance might be available to you. Learn which is better for animation, a PC or a Mac? Get hold of a copy of a map so you can find your way around campus, and learn about motion capture at Bucks.

Canadian TV is Dying. Does Animation Know it?

Over the last year, Rogers and Shaw, the two largest cable TV suppliers in Canada, have lost a total of 200,000 subscribers.  That has enormous repercussions for TV producers, including animation studios.

YTV is one of the major outlets for Canadian TV animation.  It is part of the basic cable package, which means that everyone who has cable TV in Canada automatically receives YTV.  YTV receives money for each cable TV subscriber, and it has lost the fee from 200,000 people in the last year.  In addition, it earns money from advertising and its ratings must have suffered by some amount, as some of those 200,000 people must have watched YTV.

Teletoon is part of a cable bundle, but surely some of those 200,000 people were paying for Teletoon.  As Teletoon also sells advertising, the smaller audience has cost Teletoon income on two fronts.

The cable companies are rapidly diversifying away from TV.  Rogers and Shaw have partnered in Shomi, a Netflix-like service that makes content available on demand.  Rogers has now partnered with Vice, which will produce content for them.  The money quote that justifies the deal is that there is a “dramatic shift in Canada’s media landscape which sees young people increasingly consuming news and entertainment from their mobile and digital devices.”

Bell Media is creating its own streaming service.

What are the repercussions for Canadian animation?  It means that broadcasters such as YTV, Teletoon, and Family Channel will have less money to spend on new programming.  Either they will buy less or buy the same amount but provide less money for each.  Either way, the TV market for Canadian animation is going to get tougher.  The future is online and the cable companies know it.  The animation studios that grasp this are the ones most likely to survive.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lessons of Hollywood?

From The Economist:

... Film is an eccentric business, filled with egos and excess. For most of their history, studios have had neither the stunning returns of startups nor the steady profits of mature firms. ...

Film is an eccentric business, filled with egos and excess. For most of their history, studios have had neither the stunning returns of startups nor the steady profits of mature firms. ... Studios recruit a fresh creative team for each film, leaving its members to work intensely together with a minimum of interference, stepping in only when things are clearly going wrong. This gives team members a feeling of control and pride in their project; and to cap it all, everyone has their contribution duly acknowledged in the closing credits. ...

Like Hollywood, California’s other world-beating industrial cluster, Silicon Valley, has overcome the fear of failure. Films are like tech startups in that flops are tolerated because they are so common, even when the initial idea seemed promising. In both cases, the value of failure as a learning experience is well understood. ...

Almost inevitably, the Economist rolls out the example of Pixar, and the reparative powers of that studio's "brain trust". But let's be honest; Pixar's creative model is just a slightly modified version of Disney's Hyperion lot, or Schlesinger's Termite Terrace, or (before those studios), the production techniques of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and ... back in the dim mists of antiquity .. Mack Sennet's Keystone comedy factory.

Beyond the success of California film studios, there is the ongoing salability of American films in the global marketplace. But maybe all the commercial success is due as much to the United States being a multi-cultural behemoth capable of creating entertainment the global audience identifies with, as the power of it movie factories.

Spin Offs

Animated sequels are so ... Wednesday of last week. Now the deal is to spin off side characters into their own franchises.

Next month we get smart-ass penguins. And next year? ...

... Starting as single-celled yellow organisms, Minions evolve through the ages, perpetually serving the most despicable of masters. After accidentally killing off so many of them—from T. Rex to Napoleon—the Minions find themselves without a master to serve and fall into a deep depression.

But one Minion named Kevin has a plan, and he — alongside teenage rebel Stuart and lovable little Bob—ventures out into the world to find a new evil boss for his brethren to follow. ...

Based on the specimen above, the actual minion spin-off will likely do well, but I have my doubts that it will accumulate a billion dollars. On the other hand, the second Despicable Me came close to that amount, and maybe the creators of the franchise know something about the movie's shelf life and international playability that I (we) don't.

New DreamWorks Exec

As DW Animation expands into new areas, it gets a new honcho.

Kelly Kulchak has been named head of current programming at the TV division of DreamWorks Animation. In the newly created post, Kulchak will supervise the day-to-day production of all series, which totals nearly 1,200 episodes of original animated television content.

She joins DreamWorks Animation as it prepares to unveil two new series, All Hail King Julien and VeggieTales In The House, by the end of the year. ...

Ms. Kulchak has served as the producer of Psych, a live-action comedy that's run for over 100 episodes on the USA Network, garnering solid reviews:

Psych is one of those happy collisions of an intelligent script and an appealing cast. Roday's a charmer, nice looking but more charismatic than pretty, and ably paired with West Wing alumnus Dulé Hill, who plays Shawn's ultra-responsible childhood friend Gus. ...

-- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

So Kelly Kulchak does comedy. And we'll see soon enough how she pluses DreamWorks Animation's TV slate.

Free Jason Ryan Masterclass from Brown Bag Films

Brown Bag Films

It's amazing how much free material there is on the web nowadays for learning animation. Studying at University gives you a formal curriculum, a (hopefully) properly thought out program for your studies and your eventual maturity as a well-rounded digital artist. But your tutors at university won't teach you everything. Along the way, doing tutorials online is a great way to learn and improve your work.

Below is a free animation masterclass by Jason Ryan, offered through Brown Bag Films from Ireland. Jason Ryan is a gifted animator who is also a great teacher - a superb combination for any student. We recommend that all our students do online tutorials to help them grow and improve as digital artists.

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK. Find out why we're giving free laptops to all our students, and why we give all our students free access to videos at Also, see what financial assistance might be available to you. Learn which is better for animation, a PC or a Mac? Get hold of a copy of a map so you can find your way around campus, and learn about motion capture at Bucks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Latest Earnings for DWA

One more "box office disappointment" (per the financial press) fuels DreamWorks cash accumulation.

DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. reported stronger-than-expected profits in the third quarter, fueled by the box-office success of "How to Train Your Dragon 2.".

The Glendale-based animation studio earned a profit $11.9 million, or 14 cents a share, on revenue of $180.9 million in the third quarter.

That was an improvement over the same quarter a year ago, when the company posted a net income of $10.1 million, or 12 cents a share, on revenue of $154.5 million. ...

Remember the last DWA release How To Train Your Dragon 2 being labelled a "disappointment" after its domestic release? Me, too.

It made $176.6 million in the U.S. and Canada, which is 3.6 times its opening weekend gross, and a bit under what I thought the movie would ultimately earn on the domestic front.

But let's look, as they say, at the BIGGER picture.

The original feature How To Train Your Dragon collected $494.9 million around the globe. And its successor made $615 million. So how in God's nightgown is Dragons 2 considered a disappointment? Because it should have made an extra $35,000,000 in the U.S. and Canada, but didn't?

DreamWorks Animation still has some steep mountains to climb. It's diversifying into TV product and amusement parks, it's expanding its merchandising arm, but it's still heavily dependent on each theatrical release hitting a homerun. I think the company is sure as hell going to strive to do that, but the odds are against Jeffrey and Co. pulling that particular hat-trick off.

I still think DreamWorks Animation gets sold in the next thirty-six months. Particularly if its price-point becomes attractive to some large, ravenous corporate shark.

Yet One More Into the Pool

There can never, apparently, be too many companies doing animation.

... DreamWorks Animation and Pixar have some new competition on their hands, as a joint venture has been announced between Chris Columbus (director of the first two "Harry Potter" and "Home Alone" films) along with his 1492 Pictures producing partner Michael Barnathan (The Help), Haim Saban (Chairman and CEO of Saban Capital Group and Founder of Saban Brands) and Jeremy Zag (Founder of ZAG Entertainment LLC/Zagtoons), to form ZAG Animation Studios.

This new family-oriented studio will develop, produce and distribute one 3D animated film and one CGI-live action hybrid film per year, starting in 2017. They will operate out of ZAG Entertainment's brand new campus in Glendale, California, with their first full computer animated feature "Melody" to be co-directed by Columbus and Zag. Two other features in development include "Ghostforce", a CGI-live action hybrid, and the fully-CGI "Abominable". ...

The questions I have are:

1) Where will Zag Animation Studios be doing production work? (My guess is out of the state/country, the better to take advantage of Free Money.)

2) Where will Zag Animation Studio be doing development? (I would assume in Glendale, the better to take advantage of Southern California's expansive animation talent pool).

3) Will Zag be paying competitive rates? (I would assume so, since they will need quality work if they plan to compete in the realm of theatrical feature animation).

4) Will Zag be signed to an Animation Guild Collective Bargaining Agreement? (Not so far; and probably only if they a) feel the need, or b) the artistic staff makes it happen.)

But hey, it's always good to have yet another cartoon company swimming around in the deep end of the mill pond. And good luck to them.

Wednesday 19 November 2014 - Our Next Open Day at Bucks

Wednesday 19th November is our next Open Day at Bucks. Open Days are a great way to meet the Course Leaders (for Animation & VFX - that's me and Dave Creighton) here at Bucks, find out about our courses, and also explore our campus.

We're sure you'll be impressed by the state-of-the-art technical equipment we have in the brand new Gateway Building; the result of a £40m investment program completed just a couple of years ago, aimed at turning Bucks into a creative hub for media production of all kinds.

Gateway Building - modern media hub
Got questions about Animation? Or about visual effects work? Curious about careers, the kind of jobs available for animators and digital artists? - We have the answers.

Higher education is a big step and it's even bigger now that course fees have gone up. We want to make sure that all our students get excellent value for money, and receive an inspiring top-quality training that will ensure a successful career in industry.

High Wycombe
You can find out why we give all our students free laptops, and why everyone gets a free subscription to - one of the leading providers of tech tutorials for learning new software.

We want all our students to have access to the latest tools, and we recognise that finance is tight for most students, so we won't burden you with extra costs and hidden charges.

So, come along on Wednesday 19 November  and find out if Bucks is for you. And when you book a tour, make sure you ask to see the media facilities, not just the general tour. Why? Because at Bucks we strongly encourage collaborations between film-makers, working with other departments like sound design and performing arts.

Sound design at Bucks

What makes Bucks unique is the state-of-the-art kit we have, the latest in sound design, music recording, motion capture, dance and performance, film and TV. Need a cameraman? We have those. Need a voice-over? We've got that. Come and take the tour and be as impressed as I was when I came for interview at Bucks two years ago.

The official page, which has more details, including signups, maps and directions, can be found here.


For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK. Find out why we're giving free laptops to all our students, and why we give all our students free access to videos at Also, see what financial assistance might be available to you. Learn which is better for animation, a PC or a Mac? Get hold of a copy of a map so you can find your way around campus, and learn about motion capture at Bucks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Triple Takes!

Here's the cover for my new caricature book I'll be selling at CTN this year!  I'll be sharing a booth with Katia Grifols and Benson Shum.  I have no idea what booth number yet but stop by and say hey!

Contenders For Little Gold Men

The trades think these three could be Oscar-worthy.

Oregon-based Laika is heading into awards season with the stop-motion “The Boxtrolls.” ...

“Trying to make these things feel like breathing characters is very tricky. We see ourselves as actors, but instead of acting with our bodies and our voices, we’re acting through another object. We still have to hit our marks, and it’s almost like a chess game to figure out where these things need to be at any given time, and keep that in your head over a 300-frame shot. ...

Then there's How To Train Your Dragon and The Lego Movie, both of them well-reviewed features.

And what about The Book of Life?

Then, of course, there are the cartoons still to hit the AMC. Who among us is ready to write off Penguins of Madagascar and Big Hero 6? Aren't they Oscar worthy?

We'll See You and Raise ...

You'll recall this:

... Taking a page from the Marvel Studios playbook, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara unveiled a 10-movie slate of superhero movies Oct. 15. ... "DC will be a key engine for growth across all Warner Bros.," he told analysts. But between Warners' DC-based movies, Disney's Marvel, Fox and Sony (which both hold licenses to key Marvel properties), nearly 30 hero pics are planned through 2020. Is the movie universe big enough for them all? ...

So now this ...

... Marvel Studios has announced its new phase of superhero movies, including new films featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, and the Inhumans during a fan event in Hollywood on Tuesday that easily rivaled many of its Comic-Con presentations in San Diego.

The superhero powerhouse also revealed that the third “Avengers” will be broken up into two films, called “Avengers: Infinity War,” set for May 4, 2018 and wrap up on May 3, 2019.

That double-pic strategy has paid off for other film franchises, including “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” and is being embraced by the final installments of “The Hunger Games.”

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed plans reported first by Variety that the third “Captain America” would launch the Civil War storyline from the comicbooks and pit Chris Evans’ Captain America against Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man. ...

You can never have enough caped crusaders. There's gonna need to be a LOT of actors getting themselves into shape.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Disneyland Launch

When I'm looking for something pithy, I rely on President Emeritus Sito.

The" Disneyland" television show premiered [on this date]. Up until now the major Hollywood Studios were all boycotting the new upstart medium of television, then mostly done in New York by blacklisted stage actors and writers. Dori Schary of MGM called TV “ the Enemy”.

Walt Disney was the first to break ranks with the major film studios and get into television production. He even filmed the show in Technicolor, figuring television will develop color broadcasting eventually. His using his TV show to promote his theme park and his movies we now call synergy. ...

The show was part of Walt's overall deal with the ABC network. ABC underwrote part of the Disneyland park, and Walt Disney supplied the (relatively new) broadcast network with programming. The hour anthology show launched in 1954, and the daily "Mickey Mouse Club" followed soon after.

Disney's latest gamble helped elevate the struggling animation studio to the next level. Seven decades on, Jeffrey Katzenberg follows in Walt's footsteps, even as Diz Co. CEO turns the former "Walt Disney Productions" into a diversified, multi-national conglomerate.

Super Hero Studio

WDAS (and Big Hero 6 producer) Roy Conli tells us:

... I love Thor. But we’re [Walt Disney Animation Studios] not going to make Thor, because Thor’s already in that Marvel Universe in live action.

But what Disney animation does is tell stories in a wide variety of worlds in a wide variety of ways. Look, Don Hall came off Winnie the Pooh to then do a superhero tale in San Fransokyo. So we’re always looking for different things, really starting with the world. Taking this into a more Disney animated world rather than the Marvel world gave us the freedom to explore things in a different way. Again, if the directors want to try a Marvel thing that can work, we’re happy to do that. But we’ll never become exclusively a superhero studio, either. ...

Let's be crystalline about this: Disney owns Marvel, and Disney is going to exploit and maximize the content it's bought and paid for.

If Big Hero 6 makes several oil tankers of money, there will likely be a Big Hero 7 and Big Hero 8 in our entertainment futures. In fact, we can probably count on it.

But Mr. Conli's separation of animated super hero movies from live-action super hero movies is increasingly pointless, because the distinctions between "live action" and "animation" have become muddier in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Iron Giant could have been a CG-live action epic; The Mask with Jim Carrey could have been animated. (In fact, chunks of it were animated).

When Gravity -- created almost entirely inside computers -- is labeled a live-action movie, we have burst through the looking glass into a reality where the words "animation" and "live action" are pretty much meaningless.

Meet Our Tutors - Sabah Masood

Exterior shot by Sabah Masood
Sabah Masood is one of our newest tutors at Bucks, having just started teaching our students pre-production concept art and development. Sabah has a wealth of freelance experience designing, building and lighting 3D interiors and sets for clients such as Pinewood Studios. Her expertise helps to fill out some gaps in our existing curriculum, making sure that our students are fully prepared for a long and successful career in the digital arts. We asked her to talk about what she is teaching at Bucks, and how the experience has been so far.

Interior by Sabah Masood

Bucks: What are you Teaching at Bucks?

SM: At the moment I am teaching pre-production concept art which the the students will carry out for all their major projects at university. This will allow them to be more creative and imaginative when creating their final designs in 3d software. Having a pre-concept is vital in any production as this is the foundation to creating a finalized render.

Bucks: How has the experience been?

SM: I have always loved helping people so having this opportunity to teach an entire class (instead of just helping students individually) is on a whole new level. At first I was unsure of how the class might perceive my teaching skills, but my feedback has been positive and I am loving every moment. Teaching something you personally have a passion for makes the role more interesting and so the flow of words comes more naturally.

Gateway Building at Bucks

Bucks: How have you been able to bring your own experience as a freelancer to assist in the classroom?

SM: Most of my projects are all freelance as I feel this way I can express my work the best for I have no limits but more freedom to experiment.  By working on freelance projects I have been able to identify the difference between working on a personal projects where this usually no boundary of imagination and working on a client projects which requires more of a *realistic* approach. either way, my skills and passion have increased incredibly and now I feel more confident in expressing these views and forwarding these skills onto my students.

I learn new skills on each freelance project I work on so the *rights and wrongs*  must be taken into action in according to what the client is requiring. when teaching i will mention how freelance work must be carried out in the right way and how they should go abouts freelance in terms of finding, selling and idea and the actual post production process.

Centroid Academy by Sabah Masood

Bucks: What advice would  give our students who would like to forge a career in animation and VFX?

SM: The most important statement I wish to make is this: you must have the passion for what you do! If the passion and ambition is there, the work process will not come of a pain to you but you will enjoy it! My 3d work only used to be in the classroom but when I found what i do best, i started working on personal projects at home. this increased my passion and skills incredibly. Even my free time is creating arch viz renders instead of going out.

The more you practice and work on personal projects (other than university projects), the more your skills will improve as well as your ambition which will help you later on in finding a job int the animation industry. From my personal experience, the industry directors and producers are not looking for people with the highest degree result but for people who have the passion for what they do and their skills they personally have.

Secondly I recommend advertising your work. By advertising I mean creating a personal domain website which included your portfolio. Create a business card and maybe even an 15 flyer which you can hand out. Attend conventions in London such as Eurogamer or Bluegfx where you can create contacts and meet industry people.  The more contacts you have, the better!

To see more of Sabah's work, see this blog post. And to see more about the tutors at Bucks and what they do, follow this link.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Your Global Box Office

Our friends at Rentrak provide the numbers:

Foreign Weekend Box Office -- (World Totals)

Dracula Untold -- $14,700,000 -- ($166,027,870)

The Book of Life -- $7,800,000 -- ($47,913,449)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- $10,800,000 -- ($392,000,446)

Guardians of the Galaxy -- $10,300,000 -- ($752,640,589)

Big Hero 6 -- $5,000,000 -- ($5,000,000)

The Boxtrolls -- $3,700,000 -- ($89,078,366) ...

As the trade sites tell us:

... Dracula Untold opened in another four markets this weekend and grossed an estimated $14.7M at a total 7,400 dates in 59 territories. ... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles held well across Europe with a total estimated weekend of $10.8M from 2,661 locations in 32 territories. ...

The Fox-released The Book Of Life earned $7.8M bringing its cume to $18M. Mexico kept things alive earning $2.5M taking its cume to $6.9M. The UK opened at No. 4 with $1.5M at 850 locations. ...

Big Hero 6has now been released in Russia, two weeks ahead of the U.S. ... [It] bowed on Saturday and the estimated two day cume is $4.8M ($5M including Ukraine). ...

Guardians Of The Galaxy is still playing in China as other U.S. movies start to seep in. It earned another estimated $6.5M in the Middle Kingdom this weekend to take its estimated cume there now to $84.4M. ...

It's the raccoon that keeps pulling Chinese audiences back in.

Here Comes #2

I'm willing to bet that Warner Bros. worked hard to sign this duo.

“The Lego Movie 2″ is gaining momentum with Phil Lord and Chris Miller signing on with Warner Bros to write and produce.

The duo wrote and directed “The Lego Movie,” which grossed over $460 million worldwide this year. Dan Lin and Roy Lee are producing with Lord and Miller, and Jill Wilfert, Matt Ashton, Chris McKay and Kara Lord Piersimoni are exec producers.

A director has not yet been selected for “The Lego Movie 2.” ...

Everything that Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller touch turns to box office green.

I met them both when they were working on Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, a Sony Picture Animation property (and favorite of Amy Pascal) that many had wrestled with and nobody had conquered.

I understood Lord and Miller to be a couple of tv guys, and had my doubts about how they would fare directing an animated feature. They were lively and funny in their office on the ImageWorks building, but I thought to myself, "Sure, they're funny, but that proves nothing." ...

Except, ultimately, guess what? For them, after some early rough sledding, it proved a lot, and my smart-ass skepticism was proven wrong.

Yet again.

Because, let's face it, Lord/Miller have had an unspoken string of box office successes on both the live-action and animation sides of the movie ledger. So it's hardly a surprise that Warners would want them back.

Maybe Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara has offered them his first-born.

Important 401(k) News

... for people interested in stashing loot away for retirement.

IRS Announces 2015 Pension Plan Limitations; Taxpayers May Contribute up to $18,000 to their 401(k) plans in 2015

The Internal Revenue Service has announced cost‑of‑living adjustments affecting dollar limitations for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2015. Many of the pension plan limitations will change for 2015 because the increase in the cost-of-living index met the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. However, other limitations will remain unchanged because the increase in the index did not meet the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. Highlights include the following:

The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $17,500 to $18,000.

The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $5,500 to $6,000.

The limit on annual contributions to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA) remains unchanged at $5,500. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $1,000. ...

I'm going to be holding TAG 401(k) Enrollment Meetings at various studios over the next month. If you're a TAG member interested in enrolling, you should give us a holler or simply go to the Animation Guild website and download the forms.

And if you're NOT a guild member working at a signator studio, this is still important. Because if you're a wage earner, there's a good chance that your employer offers a 401(k) Plan. And it's important that you participate in it.

Because, guess what? The government will likely not be funding your retirement, nor will very many American corporations I can think of. So if you want to enjoy an existence in your autumnal years that isn't living in a one-room flat with six other people and eating Alpo, then you'd be well advised to tuck something away ... even if it's only 2%-5% of your gross wages ... that can grow over time.

If you're in your twenties, stick it all in a stock index fund. If you're in your thirties, forties, or fifties, put it in a balanced stock/bond fund. But do something.

You can now return to your normal weekend pursuits.

Film & TV at Bucks Wins Creative Skillset Accreditation. Yay!

The Film & TV course at Bucks has just has just received conditional accreditation from Creative Skillset - the UK Government body which oversees university courses in the creative industries. More specifically, Creative Skillset have given Bucks "a conditional pass and recommendation to accredit", which means we're not quite there yet; some work still needs to be done, but now there is little other than time and diligence standing in the way of full accreditation. So, what does this mean for Bucks, and why is Creative Skillset Accreditation important?

Gateway Building at Bucks
Creative Skillset offers students applying to Bucks a stamp of approval. In other words, it's a kind of kitemark of quality, an independent validation of good practice and sound teaching methods.

One of the many pre-requisites for Skillset validation is that the course under consideration has to have been running for at least 3 years. Film and TV has been running for 5, so they have now ironed out all the bumps and are now fully confident that what they offer their students is a world-class education.

Our animation & VFX course has been running for just one year now. When we have three years under our belt, we will be applying too. It will be hard work, but we are confident that when the time comes Creative Skillset will be impressed by the animation and visual effects work being done here at Bucks.

To read more about Film and TV accreditation, see this post by Film and TV Head Allen Stroud

Saturday, October 25, 2014

VFX Supervisor Paul Franklin Reveals The Secrets of Dark Knight and Inception

VFX Supervised by Paul Franklin

Paul Franklin gave a free lecture at Escape Studios in London on 15th October about the work of a visual effects supervisor. He talked about what goes into the making of the sophisticated films he has supervised, such as Dark Knight, Inception, and Interstellar - coming out this November. Franklin is an Oscar nominated VFX supervisor with two BAFTAs on his shelf. Clearly, he is a man who knows VFX inside out, offering a unique insight into how big budget visual effects blockbusters get made.

Paul Franklin started by talking about how he started in the business 25 years ago. At that time the industry did not really exist. He had studied fine art in the 1980s, grew up with and loved the Star Wars movies - which were remarkable in that this was really "the first time you could find out information about how the film got made. People bought books about the making of Star Wars". 

He explained that it was "hard to make digital art in the 1980s". But, despite the hurdles, Paul started doing animated films. Then he got work at MPC – which was at the time a “video tape post-production house” – they came out of the TV commercials industry. Paul was “in the right place at the right time”. ILM in the US was "really the only proper VFX house at that time". 
Double Negative VFX

In London, Paul helped to found his company Double Negative ("D Neg"), which started in 1998 with just 10 people. Now, they have grown immensely; they have around 1,000 people in London alone, plus 250 in Singapore, and they will start up soon in Vancouver.  This reflects how the UK VFX industry has grown, as demand for its product has increased.  The TV sector is “booming” here in the UK right now. D Neg does VFX for Mr Selfridge. Pail has worked with Chris Nolan for 11 years – he VFX supervised all 3 Dark Knight films, Inception, and Interstellar- coming out in November.


Paul went on to explain how, as VFX got more sophisticated, it had become "disconnected from film-making". For example, companies like Sony Imageworks have moved away from Los Angeles (the home of movies) and is now based in Vancouver, not LA. Director Chris Nolan personally felt that VFX was getting too distant from the movie business. So, now, Nolan gets Paul to do the whole job - effectively turning D Neg into a one-stop shop for visual effects.

Director Chris Nolan
Paul described Inception as “an art house Sci Fi James Bond film”.  In Paris they had to blow up the Café Debussy - but since the Paris authorities don't like you blowing stuff up, the film-makers had to be smart about what they did and how they did it. The Special Effects team began by trying to figure out how to do this in a way which embraced the limitations of special effects on a live set. So they used paper furniture and paper plates, soft stuff that would do no harm. In effect they "blasted soft debris through the windows of the café in Paris". To do this, they used "giant air cannons to blast the stuff through, missing the actors". Meanwhile "chairs and cars are being pulled over with cables", getting pulled out of the way. Then, later, using digital VFX, they added" the hard stuff", like plates, cups, cobbles, rocks etc.

They also built a lot of very high-tech sets on Inception. Working with Guy Dyas, The Production Designer, they built a bar, a real set, which could rotate 25 degrees, to create the sense of gravity shifting.  The actors look like they are leaning into the shot - because they are. Both the set and the camera were tilted. They built these sets "inside a giant gimble" so they "could rotate the set", so they could get actors “walking on the ceiling”.  To make Inception they used a huge former airship hanger in Bedfordshire – with a huge high ceiling, perfect for filming.

The Folding City

To make the folding city in Inception required a great deal of work. On a shot like this, the VFX supervisors "start by reading the script", asking the question: “how will they tell the story of what is on the page?”. Paul described director Chris Nolan as "an auteur – he is fully in control". But, he is also "very collaborative, allowing all the lead creatives to have their say".  The folding city shot was filmed on location in Paris. The characters look up and "see the streets rising above them". But, the question was, how to get this to work?
Lidar scanner. Image: Wikipedia

First, the crew documented the location in huge detail, shooting many many detailed photos. They used Lidar scanners to record the buildings in fine detail. Over 2 weeks they "gathered 2 ½ million stills of the location". They built "a super high rez virtual set". They even "got room interiors as well" - when the owners of the apartment buildings in Paris were prepared to co-operate (some were, some weren't).

Then they made an animatic, using relatively low resolution data borrowed from Google maps. In the shot, the buildings "fold in on themselves and mirror image themselves". Of course, everyone in the audience "knows this is an effect". As a result, the audience "will be looking for the join". Also, the lighting of the shot was tricky. If the effect really took place, the street would go completely dark, so the only solution was to cheat by "changing the lighting direction".

Limbo City

To design Limbo city, they "played with lots of modern architecture", architects like Mies Van Der Rohe, Corbusier. The city is "decaying, just like [the Leo Di Caprio characters’] mental state".
They filmed the cliffs of West Bay in Dorset – it has layered sandstone cliffs, and "feels almost like ruined buildings". They looked at "photos of Grozny after the Chechen war when the Russians had flattened it". 

The art department created Matte paintings to design the buildings to get the right feel. Paul (who has an art background) suggested that D Neg write some brand new software to create the effect. This "would take 6 months" but Chris Nolan backed it, so they had the flexibility to create something entirely new. As Paul put it "Studios hate this kind of thing – it's too expensive and takes too long". But, in the end, it worked.

Limbo Beach - decaying concrete
Limbo beach was filmed "with a big box in the sea, to create the physical effect of waves crashing against a real object". Then they "modeled a CG glacier". The new script "turned the glacier into CG buildings, calving off bits of the building like cliffs falling into the sea". The team "needed to get the feeling of aged concrete. The decay had to feel authentic, like real decayed buildings".

To make Dark Knight Rises, the team filmed in IMAX. The image size is "18k – which contains huge amounts of information". This creates problems. "You can’t create digital images this size, at least not commercially" - the cameras don't exist. It is also "expensive to film in IMAX....even the film stock is expensive. Each camera is worth $3m". 

Gotham City from Dark Knight

To make Gotham City they went to Pittsburgh; which Paul described as "more grungy than Chicago". The city was very helpful, they "let them dig up streets and blow stuff up". Paul explained that "whenever they film, they are constantly documenting things". Often, filming is counter-intuitive. For example, they "had to film winter scenes in high summer – with fake snow. Summer scenes were filmed in winter in NYC  - they had to paint the snow out of the shots". This happens because of the practical limitations of the film schedule. 

For the teaser for Dark Knight, this had to be filmed and released "way ahead of the movie – to generate interest in the project". They did lots of pre-viz "to be super accurate". Chris Nolan "did not want the teaser to be fully digital; had to be real effects as well". This made it "hard to shoot", they had to use "lots of miniature work – a 1/5 scale plane, destroyed and filmed while its exploding". As Paul put it "Good VFX is invisible – it just looks real".

Green Screen -v- Blue Screen. Image: Wikipedia

At the end, a student asked Paul which is best - Green Screen or Blue Screen? The answer, he said, is quite prosaic. Usually it’s a question of  “what’s left in the box after the last film wrapped”. In other words, you work with what you have. 


For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days,  take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK. Find out why we're giving free laptops to all our students, and why we give all our students free access to videos at Also, see what financial assistance might be available to you. Learn which is better for animation, a PC or a Mac? Get hold of a copy of a map so you can find your way around campus, and learn about motion capture at Bucks.

Domestic Box Office

... Starting with the smart money predictions:

Prediction of B.O.

1. Ouija - $22 million

2. Fury - $14.9 million (-37%)

3. Gone Girl - $13 million (-26%)

4. John Wick - $12.5 million

5. The Book of Life - $11.5 million (-32%)

-. St. Vincent - $6 million

The only animated feature in the Top Ten -- The Book of Life -- appears to be holding well. Two weeks hence, Big Hero 6 breaks wide.

Sadly, Hulett has only intermittently been near a computer; this should soon end.

Add On: The Weekend Totals:

1). Ouija (UNI), 2,858 theaters / $8.2M Fri. (includes $911K late nights) / 3-day cume: $20M / Wk 1

2). John Wick (LGF), 2,589 theaters / $5.4M Fri. (includes $870K late nights) / 3-day cume: $15M+ / Wk 1

3). Fury (SONY), 3,173 theaters / $4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $13.5M (-42%) / Total cume: $46.6M / Wk 2

4). Gone Girl (FOX), 3,106 theaters (-143) / $3.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $11M / Total cume: $124M / Wk 4

5). The Book of Life (FOX), 3,133 theaters (+42) / $2.4M Fri. / 3-day cume: $9.9M (-43%) / Total cume: $29.5M to $30M / Wk 2

6). St. Vincent (TWC), 2,282 theaters (+2,214) / $2.5M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7.8M / Total cume: $8.9M / Wk 3

7). Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (DIS), 3,117 theaters (+29) / $2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $7M / Total cume: $45.5M / Wk 3

8). The Best of Me (REL), 2,936 theaters (0) / $1.58M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.6M (-53%) / Total cume: $17.6M / Wk 2

9). The Judge (WB), 2,610 theaters (-393) / $1.3M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.2M / Total cume: $34.3M / Wk 3

10). Dracula Untold (UNI), 2,364 theaters (-536) / $1.2M Fri. / 3-day cume: $4.2M / Total cume: $48.2M / Wk 3

You will note that BoL has fallen farther than B.O. Mojo predicted.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Slowdown in China

You wouldn't know it from stateside animation production, but in some other countries the cartoon biz is not as robust.

Animation industry, once basking in high-flying adulation and rapid development, encounters difficulties of "hard landing" at present. Animation industry in the pioneer cities (including Changsha, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Shenyang, etc.) is showing an obvious free falling trend after several years of rapid expansion. Except a few bases, most of the current 24 national animation industry bases have suffered a decline in both production quantity and market share.

As for specific animation companies, there were 656 animation companies obtaining domestic TV animation distribution licenses at the end of 2013, 100 of which had no output for five consecutive years (accounting for 15.2 percent) and 439 had no output this year (accounting for 66.9 percent). Many professional animation producers believe that the deteriorative trend of ecological environment facing the once flourishing animation industry slows down the industrial expansion. ...

Many companies regard government support as the sole profit mode. In order to gain awards from government, many companies produced crappy works while putting strenuous efforts to public relations during broadcasting links instead of investing in quality improvement, thus failing to make a long-term development plan for both works and companies. ...

In 2013, China's animation industry enjoyed a total output value of RMB 87 billion yuan, possessed more than 4,600 enterprises and employed nearly 220,000 people. However, original animation share and added value from animation derivatives (excluding original equipment manufacture) are pitiful.

Zhang Xuan, a teacher from Animation and Multimedia Division of Shenyang Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, believes that currently China's animation industry is confronted with a situation of "highlighting original equipment manufacture while neglecting originality". "Script shortage" leads to scarcity of originality in both themes and artistic images. Due to lack of excellent original works, China's animation market is awash with foreign works...

Some years back, American animation artists reported that China was not robust in the creation of original work. Okay with sub-contracting, but that was pretty much it.

More recently, DreamWorks Animation has been incubating Chinese features at production sites in China. But story development isn't done in the Middle Kingdom. Boards and scripts are created in Glendale, where DWA has staff who can successfully launch a feature.

A Plethora of Super Heroes

We've hit on this before, but it becomes clearer and clearer that Time-Warner is not going to let Diz Co. have the lion's share of spandex franchises without a fight.

Taking a page from the Marvel Studios playbook, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara unveiled a 10-movie slate of superhero movies Oct. 15. ... "DC will be a key engine for growth across all Warner Bros.," he told analysts. But between Warners' DC-based movies, Disney's Marvel, Fox and Sony (which both hold licenses to key Marvel properties), nearly 30 hero pics are planned through 2020. Is the movie universe big enough for them all? ...

This theme song has been played many times before.

When Westerns were in vogue, companies cranked out Westerns. When it was space operas, or sex comedies, you could make book on each conglomerate contributing its fair share. (In ice hockey, this is known as "skating to where the puck was.") Now, with CG animation all the rage, most everybody's jumped in. And although long-form cartoons enjoy the biggest profit margins, caped crusaders aren't far behind.

Time-Warner started the trend of big-budget super hero movies decades ago (Batman, Superman, but Marvel has lifted them to a high (and highly lucrative) art form. Warners clearly doesn't intend to allow this particular status quo to stand.

Enterprise Festival at 6pm on Monday 3 November at Bucks - Free Drinks & Nibbles!

Calling all animators at Bucks - mark your diaries for the  Enterprise Festival Launch Event at Bucks on Monday 3 November, which runs from 6pm to 8pm. You can find out about how Enterprise at Bucks can help you start up your own business, and become a freelance digital artist. Best of all, Complimentary food and drink will be available, as well as the opportunity to find out more information about this year's festival.

Where Is it taking Place?
At various locations around campus. for details, see the official site:

But what about the Opening Night? where is that happening?
Monday 3 November 2014, 6pm - 8pm in the Gateway Lecture Theatre & Rusty’s Cafe, High Wycombe Campus

Who is coming?  
Celebs! The evening starts with an introduction from The Hon. Sir Stuart Hampson, former Chairman of The John Lewis Partnership and the ex-High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. This is followed by performances from the Bucks Dance Society and student band Cheese on Roast who will be playing an acoustic set to. There will also be an interactive question-and-answer panel comprising Alex Mills from The Apprentice 2013, celebrity stylist Alexis Knox, and former EastEnders actress, Bunmi Mojekwu.

How Do I Accept The Invitation?

Please email and let her know if you will be attending.

How Do I Find Out More?
For more information about this year’s festival please visit where you will find the full programme.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wonderful Elephant ...

... Who Could Really Fly.

The 64-minute Disney feature, the shortest and least expensive Walt Disney Productions had produced, was released on this date 73 years ago. Rough animation was complete when Disney staff walked out on strike, and remaining artists ... and crew returning after the strike .. completed the picture. It was out in time for Halloween and other late-in-year holidays.

LIFE Magazine profiled Dumbo and the feature received favorable reviews from most newspapers and magazines. Of the Disney pre-war features, only Dumbo and Snow White turned profits on their initial release.

Free Work

... still A-ok with our fine, entertainment conglomerates. (But not so much with various others).

... NBCUniversal has agreed to pay $6.4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by unpaid interns at “Saturday Night Live” and other NBC shows alleging violation of wage laws.

The details of the agreement were contained in court papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York by attorneys for the interns. The deal still must be signed off by the judge.

Attorneys Outten & Golden LLP alleged in the federal court lawsuit that NBCUniversal violated federal Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. The complaint was originally filed on behalf of two former interns, Jesse Moore, who worked on MSNBC, and Monet Eliastam, who worked on “SNL,” but Moore dropped out of the litigation. ...

“This case is similar to others than we've filed in that it highlights the predominance of unpaid work in the media industry,” one of their attorneys, Juno Turner, told TheWrap at the time the lawsuit was filed. ”Our clients, like the plaintiffs in the other cases, worked hard for no pay and we think it's clear that they should have been compensated for that work because they contributed to the success of NBCUniversal's operation.”

Pretty much a symptom of the times. Lots of offers to work for no money. Lots of wage suppression. But very little blowback on corporate chieftans who merrily conspire to stick it to employees. In fact, many are still lauded.

And so it goes in our corporatist state.

The Ballad of Nessie (Short, 2011)

Pre-production test scene by Andreas Deja
Source: Deja View

I.A. Film Commission Appointment

The IATSE (our mother international) had another of its own placed on the California Film Commission Board of Directors.

... Thomas Davis, 56, of Sherman Oaks, has been appointed to the California Film Commission. Davis is third international vice president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Executive Board, where he has been a member since 2001. He has been business manager at the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 80 since 1998, where he has held several positions since 1977, including vice president, chief organizer and executive board member. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation.

Thom is the business representative of Local 80, and was at the forefront of getting AB 1939 (the tax incentive bill for TV and movies) passed into law.

Our congratulations to Mr. Davis on his appointment. It will be good to have another IA Vice President at the table when film work is being vetted for tax subsidies.

Bucks Tutor Rob Kelly Talks About His Work On BBC 2 Idents

BBC ident by Rob Kelly
Rob Kelly is a director with a long track record in the TV industry, and of course he is one of the tutors on the Animation and Visual Effects course at Bucks. Rob lectures in motion graphics, primarily using AfterEffects to teach our animation students (amongst others) to create excellent motion graphics work. In this interview at the Film and TV blog at Bucks, Rob talks about his work directing some of the classic BBC 2 Idents, and how he created them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cross Pollination

So the trailer gets leaked and (not missing a beat) Diz Co./Marvel releases a high-quality version.

And it's worth posting here because not only does it have the usual amounts of effects and animation, but it features a song that an animated non-human sang in 1940.

When you own multiple franchises, use them all.