Just Kickin' cataroo.com
Just Kickin'

Back To Main Page

Whatever happened to "what's new"? Today it seems whenever I'm greeted by friends, family or co-workers, the question is something like "are you making it okay?" It is a question about how we are doing in these troubled financial times. Of course, like the similar "how do you feel" question, most asking do not really want to hear that you are in deep trouble. They hope to hear that things are going well, but maybe you are cutting back a bit on things. No one wants to hear a story of depression - lost homes, delinquent bills, and such. I never really know how to answer. If they are close enough, the asker knows that I have been without a producer gig for quite some time. Some know that I am doing part time restaurant management. Some know that I am selling on eBay, and picking up the occasional mascot gig. Some know that Rachel has a store on Cafe Press. But I am not one to make things look too dark for such questions. Even when the issue is health, I will downplay any major concerns. A key reason for keeping the responses on the light side falls into the "think positive" role. Such thoughts are even more important when times get dire. Recently my mother was discussing a move East and I mentioned that when things "got better" Rachel and I would visit her. Her response was a gloomy, "do you think things will get better?" It was quite a shock from my mother who, for over 80 years, has been able to keep pretty positive when things got rough on everything from health to finances to family. After all, she even lived through the "great depression". I told her I was sure things would get better. But with the news full of constant distress signals on the economy, it does get hard to imagine we will be able to pull through in one piece. I do have concerns, at times grave, but as Rachel often mentions, "we'll get through". And that is really what I have to think about when folks ask if I am "making it". Yes, I, we are. At least for the moment. And every moment, every day, every week you make it through is a good one. And it adds a little hope that you will make it through the next. Wonder what is new? (3/29/9)

Along with seeing BOLT on dvd (reviewed in a previous kick), we got to see a trailer for THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. This is Disney's "return" to hand drawn animated features. From the trailer, it does not look like it is going to help the cause much. The frog looks like it stepped out of a Warner Bros cartoon, and the princess is so stock Disney as to seem a parody. The only laugh in the trailer is the song. Some history is needed to explain my laugh. The film is based in New Orleans and the directors wanted to get a song writer from the area to add atmosphere. John Lasseter insisted they use Pixar's composer dujour, Randy Newman. The minute Newman's song began, I laughed because of FAMILY GUY. In an episode Peter and family end up at a country home where Randy Newman is living and, as the home owner states, "just sings songs about what he sees". As Lois (Peter's wife) goes to pick an apple, Newman sings a musical description of the sequence of actions. It becomes so annoying the family leaves. Not being familiar with Newman's music catalog, I don't know if most of his songs are like this. However, for THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, that is exactly what he does! It just made me laugh. It was as if the trailer had been done by the folks of FAMILY GUY. After seeing the trailer, I would have definitely preferred going with the director's choice. Like the original TINKERBELL cgi movie and the original BOLT, I will always wonder what the original PRINCESS AND THE FROG would have been like before the "executive interference" from Pixar. The many animation sites that like to bash movies when producers and executives alter a director's original plans are always very silent when the interference comes from someone considered a genius. I remember all the fans in the 70s and 80s who constantly stated no movie from Spielberg or Lucas could ever be a bad movie. Come to think of it, many of them still feel that way. So no matter how much interference Disney creators get from the North, fans (and many in the business) will think it is all for the better. (3/27/9)

BOLT. Just saw this latest Disney/Lasseter cgi pix and found it a definite mixed bag. It is easily Disney's best cgi effort. On the positive side, the four-legged characters have some great expressions and various scenes of humor, heart and action work quite well. The plot about a character believing their imaginary life is real is one not frequently used. On the negative side, and it's a bit one, the story has such a lack of true-ism that it is hard to believe what is happening. Rachel reminded me that I shouldn't let such things ruin a movie - as Austin Powers says, just enjoy the show. I tried... but the movie kept pulling me out of the story by continually having the "real world" seem preposterous. Again, the animal characters are nicely designed and full of personality... not just celebrity. Less of a problem, more of a lost opportunity, the animators/directors tend to treat the animals as people as opposed to animals. The only time Bolt even uses full canine facial features is when Mittens is teaching him to beg and be a dog. The other times the expressions come strictly from the eyes, nose and mouth - totally ignoring the ears, tail and such. Story wise, as mentioned, it has trouble remaining true to its origins. It also shows more and more of Lasseter's Pixar influence. I wonder if all future Disney films will, like Pixar, become a string of story elements from previous films. This film has a character who thinks he is something he is not (TOY STORY), a female who had a human family but was dumped and now hates humans (TOY STORY 2), a character who thinks the average activities happening are the result of special abilities (BUG'S LIFE), a wonderment of the roads (CARS), a sincere character who feels duty bound to help a human while their snide companion decides to stay behind (MONSTERS, INC), a character traveling a great distance to reunite with a loved one (NEMO), etc. etc. etc. Repeat viewing may lessen the negatives and make the film easier to watch - it did with CARS. Still, BOLT is a strong effort from Disney... and hopefully a sign of better things to come. (3/25/9)

Placing the blame. A popular animation website has a current thread about studio notes on cartoons. It started when an animator thought what type of notes an exec would give on the classic WB short ONE FROGGY EVENING. The notes were amusing, and certainly got a cheering section going. Sadly, it became another chance to split the team that creates animation - artists and management. Like bickering conservatives and liberals, both sides blame the other for everything. Should someone come in, as I did (against my better judgment), and try to indicate such notes come from both sides, it brings more insults pointed at those who produce the cartoons. What I find interesting, is that my comment really pointed up that blame is easy to fix when one is trying to demonize a team member. For some, the mere mention that artists create problems in animation is to support terrorism. Fact is, I have seen problems on both sides. I have also seen the blame game used far too often. I can't count the number of times an artist or writer was told the network rejected their work when it really was the creator or story editor. If those managing the show did not like a gag, an idea, a plot, or even a talent, they would quickly point to the network or studio and state it was they who killed the idea. The talent, having heard of problems with managements of the past is quick to believe it. Similarly, I have seen more than one management person state it was the creator who killed an idea and asked the network to announce it. The business of animation (and probably most production) is to never say "no". I even had a boss tell me that one could never go far in the business by telling anyone no. Instead, they try to point out others who used the "n word", or to create some sort of rationale based on schedule or money. While I have certainly met my share of management that would gladly stab anyone in the back, I have found many more who really try to make shows work. After all, unlike a number of creators who announced their show was "shit", I have never wanted to work on a lousy project. I have backed everything from letting a creator tint all the windows in their building to pushing back on tight schedules from networks. But, like anyone who tries to help bring calm these days, all one can expect is to become the focus of attacks from both sides. No wonder the reasonable, dare I say "sensible" moderates in business, politics and perhaps life have all but gone into hiding. (3/18/9)

ABC Family ran another Harry Potter weekend running the first four films several times. It made us pop on the fifth film's dvd. However, watching these films just reminds of several issues I have with the literary world of Harry Potter. [SPOILER ALERT - If you have not read the final 2 books, stop here] Issues I have with Potter are seen in some of the early volumes/films, but really come to an irritating point by the final book. First, the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore. Though Harry constantly talks of how much he cares for Dumbledore and how important he considers their relationship, Harry never confides with his mentor. At least once in every book where Dumbledore is alive, Dumbledore asks Harry is there is "anything" he wants to tell Dumbledore... Harry always refuses. And most of the time these refusals cause greater danger, disasters, and even death for the characters. Second, Potter and his parents. Again, Potter frequently talks of how he wishes he could have known his parents. Yet Potter does little, if anything to find out. Most of the information he gets is told to him by others as parts trivia or plot points. By the end of the first book, the reader knows that the Potters were wealthy, his dad was a sportsman, his mom was muggle born and such. Despite all of Harry's comments about wanting to know, he never does any research - looking at old newspapers, yearbooks, other relatives and such. For example, where are his grandparents? How did his folks get the money? Why does it take him so long to visit his original home? And the list goes on. But the worse flaw is the final pages of the last book where Rowling tries to wrap up what should have been at least one more book with a few comments. She explains where some of the characters are years later, but leaves out lots of key folks. And the ones she does reveal are rather sad. Hermoine and Ron are married (not too surprising), but what is she doing? Has the "brightest witch of her age" as she if oft referred just become another Weasly woman working around the house taking care of acres of kids? And Harry's marriage to Ginny Weasly seems contrived. Yes, Ginny shows interest in Harry very early, and Harry shows feelings for Ginny... but little time is ever spent really developing Ginny. In fact, it seems as if Harry is more interested in getting a family than a lovelife. Now he has the whole Weasly clan. But I really think Harry should have married Luna. The performance of the actress in the 5th film changes the character from a dippy weirdo (in the book) to a charming, 'flower child' type. (I wonder if Rowling took some of that charm and put it into the written character for the final book.) Harry and Luna seem to really connect in the film... a way that Harry never does with Ginny. And what exactly is Harry doing now that he is older? Did he go to work for the ministry of magic? No doubt his father in law could pull some strings. Did he go to work at Hogswart? Considering how well he taught kids in book 5, he should have. Or is he just living high on the hog with his parents mysterious fortune? Again, some of these may be nitpicking, but when I watch the Potter films they keep popping up. I sometimes think Rowling got caught up in the films and began writing more cinematic points than character points. Will see how the final three films handle the books. Though I fear the two part final film will be longer than necessary... especially since the final book is filled with really long dialogue scenes - many seem to be there just to explain points in the series not clearly told in the first books. Despite these quibbles, I enjoy the early books very much... and am enjoying the later films very much. See what HP6 does this summer. (3/17/9)

Contradiction in terms? I am getting tired of TV in public eateries. At one time, back in the 1970s, I remember pizza parlors tried drumming up business by running movies (at the time 16mm) during lunch and late night to attract customers. Bars also began running films to attract folks on off nights. It was a novelty, and occasionally it was fun to go out to "dinner and movie" in one location. By the 80s, home video made the event less unique and most places seemed to have dropped them. The closest was probably "video bars" that had dozens of tv screens airing music videos. However by the end of the 90s cable TV began invading locations and became a kind of visual muzak. Today they seem to be just about everywhere... and suddenly mealtime means commercials, soap operas or worse, news. At one fast food eatery customers complained that the news channel was showing gruesome murder footage. The customers thought it was not proper for children. The management stated they did NOT change channels. Period. Actually, worse than news would be sports. I get tired of waiting for a space to open up as folks sit at their tables with the refillable sodas for hours watching a game. What amuses me, is at this same restaurant that has folks hanging around for ever watching tv there is a large sign on the opposite wall of the TV that states "No Loitering". Perhaps they need to decide what they want their customers to do - loiter in front of a screen, or leave after eating. (3/13/9)

All I hear about today is how advanced the art of communication has become. Emails, text messages, voice mail and other tech devices make it seem as if one is in constant contact. Yet, it seems that it is harder and harder to communicate with anyone today due to the massive amount of communication taking place. On a recent studio production, we were having difficulty with the network. At one meeting we talked with the head of the network about the problems with getting approvals and answers on their series. The exec stated the problem was he was not kept up with the production. I stated that we had emailed him almost daily on the progress. He responded that he got "hundreds" of emails a day and could not possibly read or even remember them all. I asked about the phone calls made. His answer was that he has so much going on at the network that he could never remember specific phone call questions or his responses. I then asked if the answer would be regular meetings. He liked the idea, but stated that his schedule did not allow him to add any more meetings, and besides that, he couldn't remember everything that happened at each one anyway. After the meeting, folks at our studio discussed the problem of communicating with someone who could not recall emails, phone calls or meetings. Similarly, while dealing with a publisher recently, we had a bit of "confusion" that came about because he received "so many" emails that he didn't read them all. He simply forwarded them on to someone else... who obviously did not read them either. Phone calls were also not of use due to the amount of projects he was handling. Everywhere I go these days, I see folks on cell phones talking and texting. It all seems like it is so important to keep the lines of communication open. But are there so many lines open that no one line every registers? The days of relying on printed correspondence and message services may be gone forever... but it appears when they left, communication followed. (3/11/9)

Another burst of thoughts on recent movie rentals/viewings. Finally got through the final RINGS film, RETURN OF THE KING. Will admit that this was the 'extended' version so longer than the theatrical. MUCH longer. Basically, the whole ring trilogy is an impressive piece of film making involving good acting, nice stunts, and amazing effects. In some ways, the films are more interesting for what they represent, than as entertainment. While watching them, I was constantly thinking, "oh, that's where the idea for [blank] came from." Never having read the books, but knowing how popular they were with comic and scifi fans of the 60s and 70s, it is easy to see where so many filmakers and writers got their ideas from. Was also interesting to find the story so convuluted and over-populated like much of the 'fan fiction' of the 70s and 80s. Again, the source was evidentally a major influence. As for the films, they all need editing. Keep the character bits, and reduce the massive battle scenes by half. It would be just as impressive... and more comprehensible and involving. On the opposite end of the spectrum was BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA. Bet there were lots of angry theater goers looking for the lively musical number seen in the trailer. (It does not appear in the film.) The story is pretty predictable, but respectably done. Effects range from good to obvious. What holds the film together is the German Shepherd who is well trained and well voiced. What nags at me is the humorous aka bumbling villains who run a dog fight ring. Just don't think the violent truth of such groups rings true with the film's tone. In fact the back story on the Shepherd is similarly whitewashed. Looks like Disney tried to keep it totally family friendly. (3/10/9)

Life without THE SIMPSONS. Who can remember such a time? It reminds me of how when such long running, pioneering shows as Ed Sullivan, Bonanza and Ozzie & Harriet went off the air, there was talk of how families did not know TV without them. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of THE SIMPSONS as a primetime series. That means there is a generation that does not know a time when SIMPSONS was not on prime time TV. Amazing. Now there were other prime time shows before SIMPSONS, most famously THE FLINTSTONES. But FLINTSTONES only lasted around six years, so by the 80s, most folks remembered the series as a Saturday morning show. I recall the reactions of co-workers who could not believe that the Flintstones was really a once-a-week, nighttime show, that was even sponsored by cigarettes! But today, anyone in their twenties, perhaps even early 30s will not remember a time when THE SIMPSONS was on primetime TV. What they won't remember is how amazing it was to have such a show debut and be successful. Or the big media event it was to move it opposite TV biggest hit (at the time) THE COSBY SHOW. Or how there was occasional attempts to tackle social issues somewhat seriously. Despite some character shifts over the years, the show has remained pretty consistent since its second season. (That was the season the directors finally began to utilize animation timing as opposed to live action timing.) They probably won't remember early comments by creator Matt Groenig who stated that the show should stop once they began using tired cliches of earlier series (like THE FLINTSTONES) by having celebrity voice talent guests or using aliens from outer space to affect storylines - sharks the series jumped more than a decade ago. Yet with FOX's decision to pick up another two seasons, the show looks to run well into 2010, making it the longest running series in TV history. Not bad for an animated show. Not bad at all. (3/6/9)

While reading a summary of an upcoming animated direct to video movie on DC Comics Green Lantern, I realized how comic fans are probably the most evolutionary of all media folks. The summary showed the story was trying to incorporate the various versions of the modern Green Lantern (no mention of hte Golden Age version is mentioned), which is quite a task. Comic book characters have been around now for nearly a century. During that time we have seen heroes and their secret identities shift and change as often as presidents. First you had the "golden age" heroes who mostly died off in the 40s only to be re-invented for the 50s and 60s (Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, Sub-Mariner etc). You also saw a new crop pop up (Spider-Man, X-Men, Teen Titans, Deadman, etc). Even the few who made it straight through the good and bad times (Superman, Batman, etc) kept being re-invented. In the late 60s and 70s you saw characters shift to darker sides and deeper emotions. The 80s and 90s found them getting more urban tales and characters and psychological issues. Some characters died. Some were reborn in new skins. Some had the origins totally reinvented. Some just stopped publication only to be restarted with in a totally different setting. And each time a new dimension, twist, or shift occured comic fans usually cheered the update. Few mourned the passing of the "classic" version. Compare this to animation fans who cringe, holler and petition every time someone mentions the idea of "doing something different" or "reinventing" Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear or He-Man. Literary folks shout foul when a publisher decides it is time to present Peter Rabbit, Sherlock Holmes or Winnie the Pooh to new audiences with a "modern tone". Film folks gripe when classic films are edited, re-cast or musicalized. Is it because comics don't "stay" with us as much as we age? Is it because the characters are not as "real" as those on the screen? Is it because they are not as fleshed out as those in books? I honestly don't know. I just know that for some reason comic characters can be re-designed, modernized, colorized, youthen-ized, and any other "ized" and fans either simply accept or cheer. But let WB mention Looney Tune Babies or Loonatics and the public acts as if terrorists had taken over the studio. Don't know why. Just is. (3/5/9)

Two different websites have once again been hijacked by two of animation's latest heated debates - writers and credit. Sadly, animation has become as polarized as the rest of the world and finding any common ground today is nearly impossible as each side screams it is right to the other. First, the Animation Guild's blog has had someone push that artists and not writers should control animation as it was in the golden age. I am willing to take a 'middle ground' on this and admit While there is evidence some artists were/are good writers, one only need to see the entire output of animation (golden age or today) to find that there is much more garbage than quality, no matter who is controlling story. All I will add to the debate is that when I talked with Bill Scott (who worked in the golden age at Warners, UPA and later Rocky & Bullwinkle) he always got angered at being called a 'storyman' or 'gagman'. He stated he was a writer, as were the rest of the best folks like Michael Maltese (at WB) and Bill Peet (at Disney), and that his job was to develop stories and characters with which the animators could enhance. He got angry whenever it was suggested (as some debaters do) that all "storymen" did was write dialogue captions. The modern "waah-nimators" just cry that even suggesting a writer has any place in animation is anti-animation. As for credit, another site reminded folks of BANJO: THE WOODPILE CAT, Don Bluth's first independent release and wondered where it might fit into the creation of the animated feature boom of the 80s, that continues to this day. I mistakenly commented (see earlier kick about why I should not comment on websites), that Bluth's break from Disney really was the trigger that started the boom since it finally focused the business community and Hollywood on the financial value of animation. Instantly the "waah-nimators" were screaming that better directors or designers were behind the boom. One thing this crybabies never want to admit is that commercial animation (as opposed to school or independent shorts animation) is driven by the business end. Disney understood that and based many of his decisions on how best to achieve profit for his studio. It is one of the reasons he survived the decades where other small studios did not. Hollywood and the business community is only interested in financial success. When actions causes financial trouble (as Bluth's walkout did - Disney stock dropped), or productions are successful (as Bluth's AMERICAN TAIL was) the industry takes notice. Other directors or designers might have been more appealing to the animation community, but it was the power-houses of Spielberg, Lucas, Eisner, Jobs and such that drove the animation industry to the position of strength it is today. Yes, they gave opportunities to some of the newer directors and designers... but it was money that mattered. The only way the "waah-nimators" dream of a golden age will really return (where it didn't matter if the cartoons were good or not, as long as they produced the right number each year for theatrical release), is for animation to once again become a subsidized art form. Walt Disney fought a long and hard battle to elevate animation from a theatrical freebie to a major player in motion pictures. To do that he had to have good writers and good profits. Even Walt understood that it was not "just" about the art. The one lesson animation schools never seem to teach. (3/3/9)

Would Walt Disney have a job today? Was wondering this as I see studio after studio shifting the way they value their staff. Once there was a great respect for folks who could manage productions and personnel towards the best possible product. However in the era of cost cutting, workers need to do more than multitask... they must physically cover several jobs. Storyboard artists must also create layouts and models as they work. Directors need to be able to time animation and edit animatics. Producers need to be able to juggle budgets and schedules for various productions as well as either provide art or editorial assistance. Only top corporate folks need to handle one task - deciding how to increase profits. Walt? Well, he was good at managing story and staff... but in his later years he would not have been called to re-do art for boards or animation. He would not be hands on editing picture or sound. He would fall into that perceived wasteland of "middle management". Despite one's past experience handling any variety of tasks, if they are not currently doing more than one job, they are an expendible line item in the budget. After all, it happened to Phil Roman at his own studio. Once a corporate structure was set up, it realized that Phil no longer had "real" jobs at his studio. Spotting talent and delegating were skills of little value. Phil was removed from his own studio. (Similar stories include claymation great Will Vinton and golden age Hollywood mogul Louis B Mayer.) So perhaps the question today is less "what would Walt do", and more "what would the studio do with Walt?" (2/27/9)

Another Academy Award ceremony comes and goes. As folks debate the reasons and worthiness of the winners of Oscars, the main loser is again the animated feature. Though it might please some that animated features have their own category, the fact is that the presentation of them is always a bit snide. This year was no exception. While films, stars and directors had serious comments, the animated feature was treated the same as special effects or sound editing... as a kind of a sideshow. However, the winner still gets bragging rights. WALL-E can claim it is an "oscar winning" motion picture. Already some are complaining that KUNG FU PANDA was more deserving because it was more entertaining. The opposites argue that WALL-E won because of its technique and unusual story line. Sadly, of the two, I think PANDA was more fun, and will certainly inspire more repeat viewings. The truth is, though, the best picture oscar for live action has seldom gone to a crowd pleaser. If you look at its history, you will find that most best picture films are not as well remembered as other films of the year. Who remembers which film won the best picture oscar the year STAR WARS or INDIANA JONES came out? As Will Smith joked about action/efx films, they may not win awards, but they win fans. Yes, WALL-E has won the award... but in future years, the fans and public will be more interested in KUNG FU PANDA. Ditto for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Both join the footnotes of history while other films from 2008 will become part of popular culture. Officially, I felt PANDA was fun while WALL-E was long and epic-minded - just the type of film that often wins best picture. (2/23/9)

It was one of those "I'll never get that hour back again" moments. While waiting to head out, I decided to click on to Nickelodeon's RANDOM CARTOONS show. The show is compiled of the latest shorts created by a group of artists to showcase talent and new characters. The concept is nothing new. Nick and Cartoon Network both had series of shorts in the 90s and early part 2000s that actually led the way to a number of series from DEXTER'S LAB to CHALKZONE. And while there is some interest in shorts produced under such creative freedom, it is mostly a major disappointment. It was short after short of similarly designed characters due to the fact that so much of the talent comes from the same pool of shows currently on. The stories expressed the same tired concepts seen ad nauseum the last two decades including opposites coping with each other, overly happy characters being tormented with reality, and characters so over the top "wacky" as to make such classics as Bugs, Daffy, Tom and Droopy seem to be bland nobodies. I can't blame the creators for wanting to do things they think are funny. That is why they are talent in demand - the can make funny things. I blame the management and execs who after looking at hundreds of pitches went with such lame ideas. No doubt the creator had some very funny drawings for the pitch, but as was obvious in the half dozen or more I saw, a funny drawing does not a story/short/series make. The continuous barrage of over done humor and common characters proves these groups make a big mistake by not allowing writers to get involved. I remember when Cartoon Network was starting one of their big drives for shorts they announced that writers need not apply. (CN, almost annually announces they are starting a program to develop over a dozen shorts a year... then barely can get two through the pipeline.) About the only "nice" thing watching the shorts was seeing a few familiar names. One particularly made me chuckle. The creator is a very funny fellow and has punched up many a series/film. However, in almost every batch of such 'creatortoons' he has one or two. They have a similarity that makes it easy to see why they test poorly with the general public and network execs. Yet the guy is so popular in the community, studios will always give him another chance to create (basically) the same cartoon over and over with only a species change. I am glad networks are willing to spend bucks on so many untested properties... I just wish the networks would seriously evaluate the pitches, and encourage all creators to pitch. Maybe they would really find some good ideas then. I recall at one studio meeting where they announced one of the studio's newest batch of experimental shorts, before it began someone in the crowd shouted to "look under your chair" and stated if you found a special sticker, your idea would be produced. When I see things like Random Cartoons (or the earlier incarnations like "What A Cartoon") I think using a system like stickers under a chair could not produce any less funny or successful cartoons... and might discover some new talent. Now THAT would be random... (2/22/9)

To post or not to post... that is something I often wonder when reading some of the sites I visit that offer readers to post "comments". Often I'll read something and want to correct a statement or add some information. But I seldom do. A long time ago, I was a member of various publications that asked members to comment on others' submissions. For awhile, I would try to correct errors of fact or assumption. I got tired. A friend who was in one of the publications stated that I needed to correct the information, otherwise the wrong information would get spread around as fact. My comment was similar to Sherlock Holmes after he let a thief go, "I am not employed to correct the deficiencies of the local police." Similarly, I didn't feel it was my job to police others writings for errors. I continue to feel that way, though I do have to fight the urge. Misinformation drives me nuts... especially when it gets passed on via websites, wikis and such. I tried for a bit on one animation website. Someone had stated an artist had worked on TV series X. I wrote a comment stating that the artist had NOT worked on the series. The topic was soon flooded with various folks saying that I was obviosly not aware of studio workings. I then stated that I knew for a fact about the series because I had produced it. No less than two other commentors suggested that just because I produced the series didn't make me a valid authority on the staff!!! Of course it is hard. The internet allows folks to state anything. Just as political groups use it to push their ideas, folks in animation use it to boost their credit importance. I have seen folks claim to create, head color, supervise storyboards, direct and produce on shows that I was in charge of... and know that the claims are, at best, exaggerations. Some are just plain lies. The historian in me wants to instantly post a correction, or "question" regarding their statements. But what good will it do? Those who have read it believe it and have moved on. Those who have not read it, will look at the two claims and believe the one they want to - if they like the blogger, they will believe the blogger, if they think the blogger is a phoney, they will believe the commentator. So, for the moment, I will continue to hold my tongue. At least on other sites. Here, I will occasionally suggest there are at least two sides to every post. (2/9/9)

The "creatives" are at it again. Or at least they are busy blaming everyone for bad films and shows... except themselves. I noted this again when some sites were recently griping about this film or that book. In such gripe fests, eventually one or more commentator will state that all the problems were due to "non-creatives" making decisions best left to "creatives" (ie artists). One of the bigger legends ("lies"?) of the animation business, and even comics to some length, is that only artists really understand creativity. While there is ample evidence that some folks are certainly good at multitasking, these artistic anarchists generally ignore the more numerous examples of artists who cannot handle more than a pencil. In live action, folks point to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen as examples of those who do best when controlling their creative process. There have also been modern actors (animators without pencils) successfully moving into the controlling chair like Ron Howard and Clint Eastwood. But those who have tried the move and failed are seldom brought up. In the silent era, one of the greatest film comics was Harry Langdon. He was as popular with critics and the box office as Chaplin and Keaton. At the time, Langdon surrounded himself with top writers and directors. Suddenly, he wanted to be another Chaplin and took over the story and direction himself. Within a few years (and several flops) he was forgotten. Jerry Lewis was having huge success with directors like former animator Frank Tashlin when he similarly decided to take control. Within a few years, Lewis went from being a top comic to a punchline still used in TV cartoons today. Animation is also filled with folks who felt that the structure of management was too restraining and headed off on their own only to fail. "Creatives" who wanted to be in charge of the whole show run the gamut from Ub Iwerks to Don Bluth. With the creatives in control, Disney produced ROBIN HOOD, ARISTOCATS, FOX AND THE HOUND and THE BLACK CAULDRON. With a management system in place, Disney produced THE LION KING, THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Of course, examples can also be named of those whose talents were stifled by management - from Buster Keaton to Tim Burton. But the bottom line is there are multi-talented creatives and creatives who do their best work at the drawing board. A truly good production usually comes from a unique blending of talents - artists, writers, managers and producers. A production heavily weighted towards creative or production have equal chances of success and failure. (2/7/9)

Just saw OPEN SEASON 2, the direct-to-vid sequel to Sony's theatrical OPEN SEASON and it is one of the better DTV of late. It is a shame that animated DTVs get such a bum wrap. To paraphrase John Lasseter's comment about 2D animation, DTVs are the scapegoat for poor storytelling. For some reason, the story folks behind the sequels are often even less inspired than those working on the originals. For example, OPEN SEASON 2 has a great ending that shows there was an understanding for the frantic action in the first film. But for some reason, the new team tended to go more towards standard TV writing than freewheeling as the first did. The sequel is pleasant with a few fun moments, but the ending is strong enough to make it a worthwhile trip. (Thought I disagree with the final ending for story reasons.) Oddly, Toon Disney, in its last few weeks before converting to the boy-driving XD, has been showing lots of the Disney sequels. While some, like the ALADDINS and MERMAID look TV driven, others, like THE LION KING, BAMBI and FOX AND HOUND are actually decent films. I might even say that, if you remove the idea of the original FOX AND HOUND, the sequel actually plays as a better film. Again, it is a shame that live action sequels can keep franchise going, but so many poor animated ones have cast a shadow on the entire concept. While John Lasseter's push to stop such sequels, halts some Disney characters who still have some interesting tales. Around a decade ago, I pitched a number to the Disney studio. The execs actually thought my ideas were stronger than the ones in production. But, as they put it, there were certain inhouse folks creating sequels who could get any story through. With the right folks at the helm, well conceived sequels could not only extend a fanchise (always important in today's film world), but could possibly be better films. I think some of the better sequels (like the afore mentioned LION KING, BAMBI, FOX AND HOUND) are better than some Disney originals that deserve a second chance - like ROBIN HOOD, ARISTOCATS, BLACK CAULDRON, OLIVER AND COMPANY, etc. All have interesting characters that could easily cover better stories. And I would rather see one of those than another half dozen Tinker Bell films. (2/3/9)

Once again animation is getting a bum rap. This time from Warner Bros and their home video division. (Course WB video has never been the best place for animation with only a few exceptions.) They just announced a new series of videos called "Saturday Morning Cartoons". The first releases are "1960s Volume 1" and "1970s Volume 1". Not a bad idea... just a bad selection, or reflection on the art. Both sets contain episodes of prime time series that later repeated on Saturday morning, including TOP CAT and THE JETSONS. Instead of lumping all animation into "Saturday Morning" kidvid, why not create a series of "Prime Time Animation". Warners could plug in those TOP CAT and JETSONS episodes, along with things like THE FLINTSTONES, JONNY QUEST, FISH POLICE, WAIT TIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME, WHERE'S HUDDLES, JOKEBOOK, CAPITOL CRITTERS and others. After all, I grew up seeing such primetime fare as THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, BONANZA, PETER GUNN, DECEMBER BRIDE, and JACK BENNY on daytime repeats. Would anyone place these series in a "Daytime TV" collection? Of course not. They were made for primetime and aimed at a more diverse/mature audience. But it seems as if animation is still just kids' stuff. So sad. (1/26/9)

Synergy meltdown. The falsity of synergy came back to me recently via a comment from a friend in charge of a major animation studio. My friend mentioned a big corporate meeting coming up. As business in the animation business is slow, I suggested that my friend make a corporate pitch to increase production by working with the cable and video divisions to co-finance some new productions. His response was brief and direct - the cable and video divisions would not want to work with the animation studio on any project. Even in tough economic times, studio divisions are as divisive as if they were different companies. In the 90s lots of companies discussed "synergy" and how it was going to improve the world. However, it seems that the term was merely a smoke screen (like low interest mortgages) to allow media companies to grow into monopolies. The suggestion was that all of a media company's various division would work together to create, promote and distribute product. In truth, each division remained seperate and in competition with other divisions. I recall at Time Warner how the Kids WB network and Warners Animation were constantly at odds with Cartoon Network and the Cartoon Network studio. As I kicked about recently, it is a far cry from times past when studio departments and personnel worked together to solve problems. Today, despite many once independent companies being absorbed by bigger companies, business folks and artist working at a media giant still act as if they are seperate entities. And worse, they seem to resent and resist any attempts to work together. Is it any wonder that these giants are now having financial woes... as well as a vacuum in creativity and development. (1/23/9)

Sometimes two news stories about different topics paint the same picture. Recently it was announced that Cartoon Network would be adding more live action programming to their lineup. Of course execs say it will not take away from animation... except every minute used and dollar spent on live action is time and money not available for animation. Around the same time Warner Home Video announced the release of a DVD set of Powerpuff Girls honoring their 10th anniversary. It reminded me of an exec's comments around last Thanksgiving (2008) that TV animation was having trouble because there hadn't been a big hit since SpongeBob. Now there have been occasional cult favorites here and there on various cable channels. But it is amazing to think that last mega hits in animation all took place in the last century. South Park (1997), Simpsons (1989), Family Guy (1999), Powerpuff Girls (1998) and even Rugrats (1991) are all at the least 10 years old. Course animation does seem to go through long periods of flat concepts. After all, once the classic Hanna-Barbera era of the 60s (Yogi Bear, Flintstones, Scooby Doo) ended there are not any real TV animated successes until the 90s. And yes, there are those who will point at a show here or there that was somewhat successful, but none reached the heights of universal popularity. Will there be one in 2009? Will anyone even recognize it when it arrives? (1/20/9)

Hard to believe (at least to me) that I have been a professional costume character performer for over three decades have started at Disneyland in the mid-1970s. My interest in suiting expanded into doing freelance work as well as doing it just for fun. Remember wearing my own character costume (red fox) in the mid 1980s at comic cons. At that time, the only folks wearing costumes at conventions were those dressed as the likes of Spider-Man or Mr. Spock. By the early 90s the idea of wearing such costumes began catching on between anthropomorphic (aka furry) cons in the US and anime cons in Japan. Today, these cons have hundreds of folks in suits. Though the number of these costumes and wearers have increased tenfold, the number of folks who are interesting to watch has not increased much. Of course, as mentioned, doing it professionally tends to make me always look more critically at suit performance. When I first saw Rachel, she was in costume. Her performing abilities stood out from the rest of those in suits. It was one of the first things that caught me eye. Sadly many folks in suits tend to either be "plush", that is lifeless stuffed animals, or spastic, that is they run around like a kid hyped on sugar thinking such over-animation shows skill. To be truthful, even at Disneyland you found both types. In fact, at one event, we ran into a "professional" performer who thought the ultimate action/performance was to "high five" everyone in the crowd. Such actions depress me as I know both types will continue to work as most event managerrs have no idea of what good suiting is. Kind of like an actor who can appreciate a good performance, or a writer who can appreciate a well told tale, costume characters who take their craft seriously are often much more critical of performers around them. I recently bumped into a video on You Tube that stated it was a parade at a recent convention. However, the line of largely dragging costumes looks more like they are going into a theater or waiting at the DMV than parading. They shuffle along as if they were merely wearing pants and a t-shirt, not a costume that probably cost a great deal of time or money. As I haven't really attended a major con in years, I don't know if the current percentage is similar to a decade ago, but it sure seems as if the character has been taken out of most costumes these days. (1/18/9)

What is more important in business - one's head or one's butt? In the early days of my careers, a good head was valued. At Disneyland, my analytical and planning skills got noticed and I was engaged to assist in costume re-development and employee training and testing. When I got into animation, my knack for problem solving and full understanding of the process was appreciated and got noticed by other studios. Not only did we have the likes of Disney TV and Warners come to see how my productions functioned, I was called upon by execs at Disney Feature and Fox to discuss how to handle their production issues. However, as the 90s dragged on and animation studios became invaded by Hollywood and corporate types, the value of knowledge and experience became secondary to the value of "protecting one's butt." (Not to mention kissing butt.) Suddenly any meeting in which I did not immediately agree with the holder, or seemed more informed than the holder was quickly ended. It was a time when it wasn't important if you could do your job well... it was important to prove any problem was the result of someone else's mistake. More and more I see executives, producers, creators, directors and such struggling through productions with little clue on how to make them more effecient (or even pleasant). What they can do is to direct negative attention to someone else when any problem arises. If an exec has under budgeted a production, it is obviously the producer who cannot control his crew. If a production has budget or schedule issues, the producer points to the "out of control" director. If there are creative issues, the director quickly points to artists or writers for lack of quality. (I saw folks create one disaster then move to another studio where they repeated the disaster, and then moved to yet another studio and again created problems.) It seems the days of working as a team on projects, where everyone tries to work together to solve problems, are over. now we have a group of individuals all trying to do what they can (save money, cut corners, over produce, whatever) and blame everyone else the minute the plan has a problem. Animation icon Floyd Norman once commented that the massive task of making a feature was like trying to push an elephant down a football field. The trouble today is that everyone is pushing in a different direction because instead of focusing on where they are heading, they only worry about protecting their backside. (1/14/9)

With the new year comes new things. Have spent a bit of time over the past few weeks adjusting the site here. Re-arranged some pages. Refreshed existing links. Put in some new buttons. Around home, we have been making an effort to clear out half a century (between me and Rachel) of collecting by sorting boxes and increasing the amount of items at my eBay store. Have found time, both physical and economic, have diminished many a former valuable. Audio recordings, both vinyl and cd, seem most hard hit. Print is second. But am still happy to find new homes for items that have, in some cases, been sitting around in boxes far too long. Another benefit of such sorting is finding treasures long forgotten, along with the memories they bring. No matter what changes a new year may bring, memories of past years remain. (1/11/9)

Faces of You Tube. Back in the early 1980s, when the home video market was just beginning, I briefly managed a video rental store in Orange County. It was one of the early ones... when such stores also sold VCRs. At that time one of the most infamous and popular videos (not counting pornography) was "Faces of Death". The video was a crudely edited collection of death scenes - from executions to war footage to accidents. At the time it had a small cult following, and a large amount of critics. I borrowed it one night to see what the fuss was about and could only handle a few minutes. It was hard to believe anyone would want to sit and watch such death and destruction. I hadn't thought about the video in years, but it came to mind because two unrelated events. The first was seeing a very gruesome piece of footage on You Tube. The same day, one of the "educational" cable channels was advertising a new series that just shows scenes of destruction. Once such "trashy" tabloid type footage was considered poor taste and something only the most morbid individual would have an interest in. Now it seems a majority of the population would gladly watch the lions devour the Christians. (1/6/9)


Holiday movies. Over the recent holidays, had some time to catch up on some recent dvd releases. One was HORTON HEARS A WHO. This cgi feature had the same issues as other Seuss projects - to expand a 10-minute story to feature length. (Even when converted to half hour animated specials, most Seuss tales seem padded.) The film was a huge success, so obviously pleased many. For me, it was competent, safe entertainment. Nothing hilarious. But then, nothing really annoying. It was mostly too long. And speaking of long, sat through the newest MUMMY. Unlike the original, which opened quickly and built a nice rhythm, this one took a long time for the set up... and then too much time on overly extended fights and battles. It was sad to see so many great character scenes in the "deleted scenes" section of extras. A director/editor more interested in character and story would have kept them in and trimmed the bloated battle scenes. Perhaps the most successful was the direct to video BEETHOVEN V. A corny film that would have fit well into the 1960 and 70s Disney output, it was generally effecient, and fully entertained Eagle (our oldest boy) from start to finish. Finally, watched A MISER BROTHERS CHRISTMAS, which has Heat Miser and Freeze Miser headlining over Santa in this new special. The special looked consistent with the classic Rankin-Bass look. And the story was similarly obvious. However, the new songs were dreadful. Only the renditions of the classic, "I'm Mr. Heat Miser" (etc.) kept the proceedings lively. In fact, Rachel and I both felt that the special would have benefited if they had just used Rankin-Bass library tunes. With all the holiday specials, they must have a pretty hefty one. Heck. Instead of the lame opening song about Christmas, it would have been wiser to use the classic Rudolph song, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. (1/3/9)

2009 is here.
I will officially hope that, as the cliche goes, the new year is better than 2008 and will bring positive events. At the same time, I am aware that the year could also be one of harsh realities and difficult times. Again, I hope for the former. Either way, as Shmendrake says in THE LAST UNICORN, "There are no happy endings because nothing ends." (1/1/9)

Nuts and BOLT. The boxoffice, or lack thereof, for Disney's newest CGI effort, BOLT, is attracting lots of buzz on the animation webs. (Actually, BOLT will end with a respectable boxoffice which will be boosted by foreign numbers and home video.) The camps come down on two sides. One is that the film is very good and the failure is due to various reasons including opening weekend competition from TWILIGHT, weak publicity, and even the voice cast. The other camp states that the film is doing flatly because of its quality, and camp one is just making "excuses". While both may be right, or even wrong, the only fact that matters is the final number. In business, there are many reasons (aka excuses, mitigating circumstances, etc) for a film's box office or TV show's rating. Once at Cartoon Network, execs explained there were five factors that influenced the ratings of a tv show - and the last one, #5, was the quality of the show. But the number will be what counts in the end when Disney looks makes future decisions about types of productions, style of animation, personnel, budgets and such. It is interesting to note, that until the 1980s, Disney was the king of animation. Period. When Spielberg entered the picture in the mid 80s with Don Bluth, the animated box office became more of a horse race. Suddenly, studios and creators were always looking reasons to justify the success of their film, even when the numbers did not agree. What is amusing is how the camps shift their arguements based on the film. Many of the folks I have seen state that BOLT's bland box-office is due to the quality and no other factor are the same folks who are quick to point out the reason for THE IRON GIANT's low income was due to poor publicity. Such inconsistancies is why execs will continue to look at just the numbers and dismiss any such excuses. (12/26/08)

A Photoshop world. While shopping the other day, I saw the rows of whitening toothpastes. They were near the hair coloring and skin tanning items. It made me think of how much we have turned into a Photoshop society. For those not familiar, Photoshop is a computer program (one of many) that allows one to alter images - particularly photos. One can't turn around without seeing some image altered for either advertising or humor. Of course, altering photos is an old art. One as old as photography itself. But it was once the domain of publicists and the press. My father began to seriously move into nature photography in the 1980s. He was constantly frustrated that he would work hard to create a nice photo, only to lose at a competition to a photographer who had worked hours in the lab to adjust colors, details and such. While my father knew such things happened for postcards and advertisements, he felt it was out of place in the world of nature photography. (His background in photography was as an Air Force photographer in WWII where photos had to be accurate to be of any value.) Today, altering photos is as common as taking photos. Most new digital cameras even let one edit the photo in the camera - no computer needed. But it is more than photos that we are altering. Our society is becoming so image conscious that altering images is not enough. There is a need to alter to physical being. Plastic surgeons now advertise on freeway billboards. People whiten teeth, remove blemises, color hair and adjust skin tone at home. As science progresses, will the desire of the general public be to alter their looks to match some sort of perfect society? For some reason, I thought the idea of such master races or conformity were supposed to be a bad idea. Kind of like using camera tricks to win a photo contest. (12/22/08)

The (animation) Producers. As mentioned previously, I have been enjoying watching Mel Brooks' musical version of his THE PRODUCERS. Not only is it a clever script, in some ways more inventive than the original, but it is a good introduction for anyone into the world of animation production. Every time I watch it, I see elements of previous places and productions I have been involved with. There are the slimey producers (these days creators) who will say anything to get what they want. There are the way partners can be divided almost immediately by an outside factor. There are the creative types who are demanding and derivative. There are the schemers and dreamers. There are even the monies that are hard to trace. And ultimately, there is the constant surprise of outcome. I have never seen someone try to make a bad cartoon, but one can never tell how any cartoon will be received. Some are well done and clever but end up being ignored. Some are done quickly and cheaply but become very popular. Basically the film is truly a clever look at the world of producing entertainment. All one needs to do is find a production of Stephen Sondheim's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (which tells of the loss of creative idealism and the need of compromise) and together they cover about every key point of producing animation. (12/19/08)

With absolute plower comes absolute corruption. Of course, the plower I mean is the person who drives a plow down our street to remove snow from the middle of the road and cover up everything on the side of the road. I grew up around snow, but left its influence in the 60s and did not return to white winters until the 90s. As a child, I knew little of the process of plowing roads. As an adult, I have probably less understanding. The reason being is that after all these years, I do have reason. Yet I cannot seem to find the reason plowers do what they do, unless there is some evil secret society behind them. After all, what else would be the reason for how they decide who to bury with snow and who to leave open. The process of plowing is pretty basic. A big truck goes down the street and pushes the snow to the side. It is the operator who turns this into a game of cruel intentions. One would think, if a plower were going down a road and saw a car (or more) all dug out, they would push the snow out of the way of the cars. Wrong. They frequently will bury the dug out car to leave the opposite of the street clean. Or perhaps the plower would see a street where there are cars parked on one side and none on the other. Logic would say they would plow the snow into the empty side of the street. Wrong again. They will usually push all the snow into the cars so that the empty side of the street is clean. I have tried to beat this by parking one car on one side, and the other car on the reverse side. Sure enough, they bury both cars and leave the opposite sides clean! There are supposedly a variety of signals that will alert the plower. Locals tend to agree that none are fully followed. The most popular suggestion is to leave a six pack of beer on your car. The plower will see this as a "tip", take the beer and leave your vehicle clear. However the thought of a plower on a slippery road with a six pack in hand is one I do not enjoy. So as the snow mounts up today (over a foot so far), and we await the plows, I wonder if they will plow around my vehicles to help, or plow the snow into them and thus putting a wall of around 5 feet tall and several feet thick between my vehicle and the road. Only time will tell. (12/15/08)

More kicks in all direction. Lots of buzz about the Golden Globe Award nominations and how, despite all the talk about awards for THE DARK KNIGHT, the Batman feature got only one (for the dead actor). Makes me think about all the times animated films were supposed to get nominated. Fact is, superhero movies, like cartoons, still are rarely considered serious contenders at awards time. Still think of how the 80s ruined collecting by making act of collecting an end to itself. The most recent example is those who "collect" Disney pins. Though there are some who really enjoy the pins and Disney, many simple collect because collecting is fun. Run into too many traders at the park that have little knowledge of the actual characters or films. And then there are the collectors who must get complete sets, who also don't know who the characters are - just that there are 8 pins in the set. An auto company bailout? I wonder where the benefit is. The auto companies say if they get the money, they will re-structure to become profitable by closing plants, laying off employees and cutting back production. The government says, if we do not give them the money, they will have to lay off employees, close plants and cut back production. Have been enjoying the musical version of THE PRODUCERS more and more. The performances really are fun, and the musical makes me think back to the classic light musicals of the past like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, THE BANDWAGON and even MARY POPPINS. A shame the film did poorly due to it being "just" a musical and not a visual extravaganza ala MOULIN ROUGE or CHICAGO. Reminds me of the musical number in SILK STOCKINGS where Fred sings about how audiences want "more" than just entertainment. Kind of like execs who think all folks want is cgi and 3D movies. And bringing it back to awards, several producers are wondering how 3D films will do at the Oscars. 3D screeners don't work well, and many cities don't have lots of 3D theaters. So how will academy members view the films? Producers have already indicated they don't want the films viewed/judged in 2D. Might make it tough for such films to be honored. So I guess 3D can join animation and superhero movies in the award neverland. As Charlie Chan would say, "So much for so much". (12/11/08)

How much should someone get paid to work? I am getting very irritated at all the talk these days from almost every source about how much someone should get paid to do a job. The question is becomming a major point when discussions turn to the poor economy and companies bleeding red ink. Almost immediately someone will ask "how much should one be paid to make a car?" One might as well ask, how long does it take to come up with a good idea. There are far too many factors to equate pay with work. In my mind, instead of asking how much should an employee get paid for doing their job, I would ask how much should executives get paid! From the entertainment industry to auto companies, the top folks are earning millions of dollars a year to drive their companies into bankruptcy. Why is the employee, who makes much less an hour and has no say in to how the company is being run, being considered to take the brunt of the problem. It would be like blaming the passengers on a plane for the pilot's error. I fear the issue is really just another attempt to knock out the (once large) middle class and convert the nation into the rich (or super rich) and the minimum wage worker. And should someone ask me how much a worker is paid, I would say service folks like teachers, police, firepersons and such should all be getting very good salaries. People building the cars and planes should be paid enough to make sure that they care about their job and build them safely. Food servers and preparers should get a high rate for taking care of our health. People who should be getting cuts? Executives. I remember years when Michael Eisner was making over $200 million at Disney. Some will argue his salary was less, but that the succhess of the company gave him millions in bonuses. However, the workers who created the hit movies, ran the successful theme parks and designed top selling merchandise received no such performance bonus. When pay becomes more justified from the corporate top to the drone worker bottom, then it will be time to discuss how is getting paid too much for their job. (12/8/08)

I now know a job that I should be doing - Animation Lawyer. When I was finishing up my four years of college, folks would ask if I was going to continue my education. My answer was that I had had enough school, but if I did, it would be to go into law. I always found law intertesting. In some ways it combines the fields of science and art. Like science, law is "technically" based on specific rules. However, like art, the rules can be open to interpretation. In my journalism law classes in college, I was fascinated at how the two themes worked together. Now that I am an accomplished (and still unemployed) animation producer, I realize that my law degree would have been an excellent idea. This revelation has come due to my contstant dealings with lawyers at animation studios. One would think if a lawyer was practicing law in a specific industry (like medicine, insurance, auto repair), said lawyer would have a working knowledge of that industry. Not so with animation. When a studio exec tells me their legal person is "no stranger" to animation, that means the lawyer knows that Yogi Bear's friend is Boo-Boo, or maybe that Chuck Jones was a director at Warner Brothers, or that not all animation is meant for children. Very few have even a passing knowledge of the process. That is one reason at so many studios I have worked hand in hand with the legal department drafting contracts, explaining deal memos, and even assisting in litigation. It would be nice to tell the legal folks that artist A was terminated for not finishing a storyboard, without having to re-explain what a storyboard is, how it fits into the process and why such an unfinished element would affect schedule and budget. It was actually refreshing when Cartoon Network Studio sent me and another producer to the home office in Atlanta to explain production to the execs there. Sadly, many of the legal folks sent their secretaries to take notes. Those who did attend had multiple questions, which hopefully gave them some idea. Not being a lawyer, though, perhaps I could convince a studio that an animation ombudsman for their legal, accounting and human relations might make the studio look smarter and actually save money. Bet it could easily save twice the salary paid to such an ombudsman... as long as they hire one who really has the experience. (12/6/08)

Lots of kicks have been building up, so will try to cover just a few. Am tired of seeing all the signs at realtors advertising lists of "bank owned" aka repossed homes. I can't help but think of these homes as haunted houses. Most likely there were no murders in the homes... but they must be full of dead dreams and futures of the families who did live there. Watched TINKERBELL the movie and found it pretty flat. Just wonder if the original storyline (dumped by Lasseter) of a human girl who discovers the world of fairies would have been more interesting. The trailer for that movie can be seen on a number of 2007 Disney dvd releases. Am surprised that in this age of digital data so much "recent" data is missing. Found that when listing my cds for sale on eBay, many are not listed due to them being the first release - having been buying cds since the early 80s. When eBay or other music searches look for my titles, all they come up with are remastered editions from 2000 and up. Have actually been surprised that in this digital age my LPs and cds are still attracting some sales. Am still saddened to see more and more live action cropping up on channels formerly heavily animated. But was pleased-horrified to see Nick advertising a show using two mascot suits. Pleased to see suits being used. Horrified that the footage is of them kicking and fighting each other. Just fear it will encourage youngsters to kick the next costume character they see. And as 2008 begins to wind down, I am keeping hopeful that things will pick up everywhere. One good sign is that Rachel's Cafe Press store in November had about the same sales as November 2007 - so no sign of recession there. Now if everything else will show similar strength, 2009 could be a very good year. (12/2/08)

More and more it appears as if people are losing their connection with animals. This connection began before recorded time with the likes of dogs, cats and birds helping humans, acting as inspiration, and even being worshipped. But this centuries old bond is being undone by a number of forces from housing rules to political activists. Modern housing rules at apartments, condos and housing developments are making it harder and harder to own pets. Many simply do not allow pets, while others have restrictions on size or number. Then you have activist groups who are trying to pass forced neutering legislation which will have the effect of eliminating entire species. (Despite some groups' calls to push for animals to only live in the wild, it seems there may be a time when there will be no wild left for animals.) On top of that businesses are begining to get behind the ban as some have stopped servicing homes that have pets. All of this came to me due to recent walks we have had with our kids. On a recent outing, we had people ask if our miniature horse was "real" or a robot. Another time, someone looked at him and wondered if he was a horse or a dog! We are used to getting a lot of "stupid questions", like "is that the breed that doesn't like its tail pulled", but over time I have seen an increase in folks who seem to have little awareness of animals at all. They think any animal over 90 pounds is for riding, or that they must live on a farm or in a zoo. The idea of having pets of substance seems totally foreign. Sadly, the ones who love meeting our kids and talk fondly of how they had similar pets in their youth seem to fall on deaf ears of a population out to make every inch of the planet a human-only environment. What a sad place it will be when the only experience one can have with an animal is via some kind of multimedia source. (11/29/08)

Flat 3D. Just saw two films that reminded me of why 3D died in the 1950s. The first was JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. We began watching the dvd with the 3D glasses, but after around 10 minutes found it giving us a headache. So we switched sides and watched it in "2D". In any dimension, this film was a major stinker. In fact, it seemed similar to so many of the cheesy 3D films of the 1950s. Lame story, flat acting and poor dialogue. No matter what the studio execs are now saying about 3D being the future, if films continue to be hit and miss in the format, folks won't want to pay extra and wear the glasses. The 2nd 3D film? Well, it was THE BEE MOVIE. Not really 3D, despite the constant media statements about computer animation be 3D, but it was just as flat as a film as JOURNEY. It was hard to even keep awake during the film. The film was not funny, clever or cute. I would probably describe it as a monotone movie. The film never really shifts pacing whether it is an exposition scene with dialogue or an action scene with excitement or comedy. The film just plods along until it is over. Seinfeld would be probably claim it was a movie about "nothing" (like his TV show). "Nothing" is probably the best way to describe this yawn-er. It just goes to show that every studio - Walden Media and Dreamworks can put out a clinker. Happily both studios are continuing to move forward and create new films. So much nicer than when a film tanks and suddenly the studio drops all plans to create future films... as so many animation studios have done in the past. (11/27/08)

One month until Christmas. I keep hearing that the economy will make it a rougher holiday than usual. I know many are feeling the crunch, with lots of associates, including myself on the hunt for some semi-permanent employment. Also in the news is President's Obama's plans to kick start the economy. Of course all the details are not out, but at the moment two key elements are aiding banks and starting lots of building projects (roads, bridges, etc.). It all sounds so 1930s to me. When we had the great depression, the government utilized the same tools to save banks (and thus the people's money), and goose employment with labor projects. But the US in the 2000s is a very different country than the US of the 1930s. Back then, much of the work force was in labor - building, sewing, manufacture, etc. Today, thanks to cheap labor overseas, most of those jobs are in China, India and such. The US work force is largely service based. While it is nice to see jobs created to repair our intrastructure, I don't know if a film producer, a salesperson and a loan officer will be of much help in contstruction. I will admit to not knowing how to goose up the film industry or the retail industry. Guess as construction folks get money, they will start spending it bring more jobs in retail. As folks in construction and retail get more money, they will begin spending it on entertainment bringing jobs to folks in entertainment. But for now, it seems the corporations will be the one's in the catbird seat. After all, with so many unemployed workers are willing to take large pay cuts, and work excessive hours just to eat. One manager of a McDonald's stated that this has been very good for them. Quality folks who normally would not want to work at McDonalds are now happy to be working there. He felt it gave them better staff at lower wages. Wages that a lot of very good people may be looking at for quite a while. (11/25/08)

More movie chat. Rented and watched WALL-E. Am glad I didn't go to a theater. Rachel said it best when she mentioned, she most likely would have walked out after around 20 minutes. Now to be completely honest, I was doing work while it played. However, it never created a desire for me to stop and watch for any length of time. I know the film is a new 'fave' of the animation in crowd, but for me a film still has to be entertaining - special effects or amazing animation are not enough. Yet the in crowd seems willing to accept meandering plots and predictable story points if the film is groundbreaking enough. (Ironically, I recall Don Bluth stating several times in the 1980s that if the animation in an animated feature was good enough, audiences would accept weaker stories. A comment that many of the same in crowd folks derided Bluth for at the time.) Watching the film made me think that Pixar's biggest problem right now is their success. They have become such darlings of the film crowd that they no longer feel the need to edit themselves. WALL-E and CARS could have been much more enjoyable if they had been around 20 minutes shorter. This happens with all kinds of creators. For example, the Harry Potter books kept getting longer and less focused as the series progressed. Peter Jackson's success on the Lord of the Rings movies let him do anything he wanted on KING KONG, and he created a long, bloated film that faded away. One of Walt Disney's initial strengths was that he knew when to say "when". He would drop sequences, shift storylines, replace characters, and more if he thought a film was getting too long. That is why his initial films (animated and live action) are so tight. It is only in his last few years that the films begin to feel slow and bloated. Which is now where Pixar stands. Films like TOY STORY and MONSTER'S INC are great examples of tight stories told briskly. TOY STORY II, CARS, and WALL-E all show the signs of not wanting to let anything go. As I once joked about another bloated movie, "they were able to squeeze a half hour of story into a two hour film." And as if to prove it, the same night we put on KUNG FU PANDA. It also is not the most original nor surprising film. But it keeps the pace light and never seems to drag. And should someone try to differentiate between a film that is frothy (PANDA) and one that offers complex stories and themes (WALL-E) I would reply with two words - WATERSHIP DOWN. A film that is compelling, dramatic and, unlike more recent serious films, has a quick pace and a tight script. (11/18/08)

Saw MADAGASCAR II tonight. Despite what other animation sites are saying about the film, I did not find it as good as the first. Yes, there was more story. Yes there were more characters. Yes there was more character moments. Yet there were not a lot of laughs. The audience, of which half were very young children, did little laughing, and a good amount of chatting. It all makes me wonder if I have just seen too many movies, or if my taste has done a complete 180 from the general population. It seems to happen more and more. THE INCREDIBLES, FINDING NEMO, KUNG FU PANDA were all films that the public and animation folk (pros and fans) fell in love with. To me, the films were predictable storylines cobbled together from any number of films. MADAGASCAR II is no different. Like those other films, there was seldom a surprise or original idea. Not to say the film was unpleasant. The characters are still a fun bunch. Some of the ideas were clever and well thought out. But it missed the tone and freshness of the first film. The original was like a 3 Stooges short or a Paramount Marx Brothers film, being a simple story with jokes piled on. The second film seems more like a 3 Stooges feature, or an MGM Marx Brothers where suddenly the jokes have to be wedged in between story points. More simply put, MADAGASCAR II fails because it is so much more than the first. There are no less than 6 storylines that must be weaved together. There is continuous effort to show off studio skill with shot after shot of huge crowds and fancy camera angles. As I said, there are a lot of good ideas in the film. It is just too bad that the writers and directors did not know when to say "when" and keep the focus on the comedy, not the continuity. It all reminds of the classic line about Woody Allen and how folks would tell him they love his films - "especially the early funny ones." For decades I have wondered why animators feel so compelled to tell "serious" stories in animation. As if doing a movie that was "just funny" was a failure. I would gladly take another MADAGASCAR I or OPEN SEASON I over yet another allegedly more important film. As Donald O'Connor sings... "Make 'em laugh." Oh. Saw two animated trailers. One was for MONSTERS AND ALIENS which looks to be another assault on retro comedy (the type fans love in features, but bitch about on shows like FAMILY GUY). The other was for a movie about rats, mice and soup based on a famous book. The title escapes me... but not all of the visual and story similarities to RATATOULLE and SHREK films. (11/14/08)

Was chatting with fellow mascot performers recently when tales of work popped up. Seemed we all had stories of working with "professional" actors or performers who were, to be polite, lame characters. One of our group could not figure out how someone who made a living acting would be so flat in costume. I stated that mascot work was not always about performance or acting. I should mention there are numerous stage shows, ice shows, and such that have the need for folks who specialize in memorizing lines and knowing how to hit their marks. While at Disneyland, I performed in a number of shows and parades in which the choreography and direction were all very tight. Similarly, I did a gig at a county fair up north with a "band" of characters that needed precise movement. But in many situations, mascot performers are hired for the popular "meet and greet" events. At these events, one is thrown into a crowd and must perform, entertain and maintain the proper personality. It is here were folks who act have problems. These actors do very well when told what and how to do things. But if they need to improvise material, they have diffuculty. For standard events, a mascot performer needs to be more like improve comics than actors. Just as not every comedian is funny when out and around, not every actor can simply "act" on a whim at public events. A good mascot can create business out of "nothing". They can utilize various objects and people around them to create scenarious and routines. Reminded me of when Disneyland decided the best way to enlarge the character department pool was to hire folks who were in the parade. Execs pointed out that they already knew how to dance in costume. So we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by folks who could dance at the drop of a hat, but otherwise just stood around. It was at that point, I was asked to join a group to create a training series and new hiring guidelines to increase the zoo crew (as we were called) members' ability to animate. After all, we would say, good mascots are people who can "animate" a suit. And when one is working in costume with someone who is a mascot animator, it is great fun for the audience and the other mascots. (11/10/08)

The election is over. I do think the "best" man won for a number of reasons. I now hope that we, as a country, can begin to move forward to better times and calmer heads. Sadly, in our state of California, less calmer heads prevailed as a variety of special interest groups (the politest term I can come up with at the moment) incited hate, bigotry and secret agendas to push through one initiative and quite possible another. The surest prop to win is #2, which purports to protect farm animals from cruel treatment but in reality sets the stage for disaster for anyone owning a pet. While the proposition talks of chickens in tight cages, the law can now be used to harass and fine any pet owner who may "confine" his pet to a crate for trips to the doctors or on airlines. This could affect pet shows, county fairs, zoos, people's pets at home and more. Sadly, all the fuss for one particular proposition made arguments for all other props mute. And even that much ballyhooed prop seems destined to pass. It is prop 8 which would change the constitution from a document to protect rights to a mandate of religion to repress freedom. Best known as the "gay marriage" prop, it seeks to strip rights from people. Period. The fanatical supporters shouted it would "protect" marriage. Protect it from what? Similar laws existed decades ago which "protected" marriage by not allowing people of different race to marry, just as unspoken laws "protected" marriage by not allowing people of different faith to marry. If these folks really want to protect marriage push for a ban on divorce, not a ban on who can and cannot marry. With any luck, when the votes are finally counted, it will not pass. (As of this time, the vote is too close to fully call.) Either way, with Prop 2 law and Prop 8 a maybe, we will still need to move forward. Times change. People Change. Laws change. Even dreams can change. I hope all the change is eventually for the better. (11/5/08)

Happy Anniversary, Rachel! - Today we celebrated our 12th anniversary. It has been 12 good years, and Rachel continues to be the focus of my life and spirit. Even after a dozen years she can surprise, amuse, and enchant me. We spent the day at Disneyland, where I proposed to her on the carousel, Christmas Day, 1995. It was a fun day of rides, characters and pin trading. We did our first "official" trading, by sitting at one of the tables set out for traders. Rachel's converted pin bag (an originally expensive Disneyland bag that had fallen apart - having been made of cardboard and glue) attracted great attention due to her art on its side. Game wise, she beat 200,000 at Toy Story Mania. Characters? Well, I added another to my autograph book - Goofy in skeleton costume. The visitors add craziness as one child chatted on her cel phone about the "boiling" heat (it was around 78 degrees), and an adult, seeing one of the ducks in the wate duck its head down for food, exclaimed, "that duck just fell over!" We keep thinking we should write down all the absurdities we hear and see while roaming the park. But, as usual, Rachel amused me most with her own musings of things. Today it was the aspect of names. As we waited at Toy Story, she wondered if Mr. Potatohead had a first name. We finally decided his wife would be Mrs. Ida Ho Potatohead. Also, she wondered what was the name of Captain Hook (of which so many kids were dress up as) before he got his hand bit off. Yes, after 12 plus years, she is still fun to be around. She is also someone I admire and respect. She has an artistic skill that continues to grow. She has a sharp mind that learns things quickly. She has a gift with animals that still amazes me. Finally, she continues to be a beacon of hope and positive energy in times, like the current, when the future seems so uncertain to me. When I begin to worry about things, she often will just smile and say "We'll get by." Just some of the reasons she is so special to me, and why I love her. Time to start year 13 now. (10/31/08)

Lots of things kickin' tonight. First, have added around half a dozen new suits to the Costume Character page. On the web, I have enjoyed the animation fan sites getting up in arms about the screening of Disney's Indian co-production ROADSIDE ROMEO at some Indian (ie multicultural) theaters. The sites are claiming Disney is "sneaking" in the picture. This is particularly amusing since even some of the pro sites are also kicking up dust. Guess once a fan always a fan. Seems none of them realize that foreign films have been "sneaking" into this country via specialty theaters almost since films were produced. I recall seeing Japanese animated features showing at theaters in Little Tokyo, and various European films showing only at "art houses" (as they used to be called). In fact, one site's co-owner used to book such foreign films into specialty houses. Don't think they felt they were sneaking anything in. On still another front, got a kick looking at starting rates for hourly employees at Disneyland. Found that only security guards start at a higher rate than characters! When I worked there in the 70s and 80s, characters were the lowest paid employees in the park. I remember how some characters would transfer to janitorial or food services (doing dishes) just to get a raise. At that time, one could get almost 2 dollars an hour more emptying trash cans than performing in costume. Nice to see that the experience needed to perform in suit is more valued these days. Course sad to see that the wages are low enough to make it almost impossible to live anywhere near Anaheim. And speaking of Disneyland, saw the new "Pixie Hollow". It is located where the old "House of Tomorrow" (50s-60s), "Alpine Gardens" (60s-80s) and "Triton's Lair" (90s-2000s) were - off Main Street between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. The area has been transformed to be a place to meet Tinkerbell and her friends. We peeked in through the fake grass to see multiple kids talking with and getting photos with the various fairies from the new Tinkerbell movie. Since the fairies were played by characters, I just wondered what these kids thought of a fairy that stood over 5 feet tall. Maybe it is no different than seeing Chip and Dale being twice the height of Donald Duck. But they are cartoon animals... and the fairies are... well, ladies. Bet the dad's like the Hollow as much as their little girls. Goodnight, Gracie. (10/27/08)

It seems that fast food kids' meals are going the way of the Crackerjack "prize" - down the path of cheapness. The other day I purchased a kdis' meal for a friend and found the toy to be a puzzle. A puzzle. As the burger king commercial says, "where are we? Russia?" In the 1980s and 1990s the kids' meal toy was a real treasure. I remember folks driving all over town to get the toys. It was particularly tough if the food chain with the desired toy was a lesser one - like Wendys or Dairy Queen. I can remember waiting in long lines to get Pokemon, Ninja Turtles and Beanie Baby toys. All the happy meals I ate probably took a year off my life. The kids' meal toy angle got so huge that Disney and McDonalds even signed an exclusive deal for several years. But as the noise over the healthyness, or lack thereof, in kids meals grew, it seems that the quality and even value of the toyes decreased. Today, most ads don't even mention the kids' meal toys being offered. One only hears about the fresh apple slices, or milk, or whole wheat something. Of course, just as the prize in Crackerjack has gone from rings and cars to riddle "books", the fast food kids' meal has mostly dropped from a source of collectibles to simple filler. What's a kid to do... (10/24/08)

"Sleeping Beauty, fair". Or so says the title song from Walt Disney's animated classic which has just re-appeared on DVD. I agree that the film is basically "fair", but mostly slow. Yet, it does have one of the best endings ever in an animated feature beginning with the escape of Prince Phillip. Many modern live action films can't boast such a well timed, cut and directed action sequence. Rachel was astounded that the dragon actually bleeds. It seems blood is not allowed in modern animated family films. From LION KING to POCAHONTAS to TARZAN there is no blood seen, despite ferocious biting, clawing, and shooting. In fact, off the top of my head, the only (family animated) film in the last two decades to show blood was ROAD TO EL DORADO... and that is only a scratch and self inflicted cut. However, like the infamous clues the Beatles gave to say that Paul was dead in the 1960s, I wonder if Walt was expressing a less than satisfactory opinion of SLEEPING BEAUTY. In the opening, Aurora's mother is referred to as "fair" (not lovely or beautiful). The three Fairies are "good" (not great or powerful). And the princess has to be "given" beauty and a lovely voice by the Fairies. Was she not born beautiful and fine of voice? The film, like SNOW WHITE and other Disney classics, is full of astounding animation, art direction and characters. It just seems tired. In fact, I recall when talking with some of the "Nine Old Men" about the rumor that JUNGLE BOOK was to have been Walt's final animated feature (which only due to his death, it was). Most agreed that they felt SLEEPING BEAUTY was going to be Walt's last animated feature. They said that Walt enjoyed how live action films could be completed so quickly. And more importantly, that Walt had become enamored by Disneyland and preferred to spend his time there instead of in the animation halls. Had it been Walt's final film, SLEEPING BEAUTY would have been a handsome end. Luckily it was not. (10/17/08)

Recently did a gig at a kids fair where I got to perform as Spongebob Squarepants. It may be the "most popular" character I have ever portrayed. The event was interesting because it was my first real time performing in front of a mostly kid audience since Disneyland. It was a pretty easy event. Since I was a "major" star, I was only doing photo set-ups. And that was fine, since the Spongebob suit is basically a box with legs. Most interesting was after nearly three decades, since being in a kid atmostphere, some things still haven't changed. For example, parents have not yet learned the fine art of picture taking with characters. They almost always ask the child to run up and "hug" the character, which the child will do with pleasure. Then the parents spend the next ten minutes trying to convince the child to "turn around" so they can see the child's face. Even back during Disney days, we wondered why folks didn't get the picture pose first, then let the child express their love. But more amazing is the way folks take the picture. In the 1970s, about one out of four folks would get the entire photo set and then go to take the picture... only to find that they forgot to wind the film. So all had to stand there while they cranked their film. In the digital era, I would say it is almost doubled so that 50% of the photographers have to delay the picture. Mostly it is due to them not fully understanding their digital camera. Over and over, I and the kids needed to wait while the parents tried to figure out how to take the picture. Sometimes it was due to needing to find a setting, sometimes the card was full and they needed to find some pictures to delete, sometimes it was due to the camera being set to video and not photo, and sometimes it was that no matter how they pushed the button(s) the picture would not take. Even teens could not quickly take a picture. So much for modern technology. Sadly, the event was disappointing due to the poor management. A management that wasted talent, suits and more. But will save that story for a future kick. (10/8/08)

Are animation directors a dieing breed? By "animation directors", I mean folks who were animators like Richard Williams, Ron Clements & John Musker, Tom Sito and Will Finn? These creators came up through the ranks of animation and eventually reached the plateau of director. I ask, because I am seeing more and more non-animation folks filling that position. George Miller, a "name" live action director (Mad Max), directs HAPPY FEET. Robert Zemeckis, a live action director (BACK TO THE FUTURE), directs POLAR EXPRESS. And even a choreographer Peggy Holmes, directs the animated LITTLE MERMAID 3: ARIEL'S RETURN. Of course, I have long advocated that actually being an animator (for generations referred to as "actors with pencils") is no proof of directorial skills any more than being an actor proves one can direct live action. In fact, live action is full of great directors, from Hitchcock to Spielberg who have no acting experience. It should not surprise that as films get more pricy, and studios continue to insist upon well known (ie high priced) actors for voice, it only makes sense that these studio execs would also want a well known name in the director's chair. Also, as live action films become more efx oriented, directors are more and more utilizing animation tools like storyboards and digital tests to build their film. Suddenly, the animation director of yore is slowly becomming akin to the 2nd Unit Director - the person responsible for shooting less key film sequences like pans, stunts, long shots and such. Any background will allow a person to direct animation as long as they have such a 2nd Unit Director. This will put more and more pressure to build films around name talent in directing as much as live action. The animation team will now become similar to the various efx houses used to create what the live action director envisions. No wonder so many "real" animation directors are pushing to get into live action. I recall hearing one very popular TV director/creator stating that he was trying to get into live action because he did not "want to spend the rest of my life just making cartoons." (The goal of many folks who took up this business.) Perhaps we are heading for a day when the only folks directing and making cartoons will be those who are proven successful at live action. (9/30/08)

As irony would have it, yesterday Rachel and I were discussing the CARS sequel. The article that started the conversation mentioned Pixar did not say if Paul Newman would be in it due to health issues. Today, we hear that Paul Newman has died. He now joins the list of movie greats like Orson Welles, James Stewart, Gene Kelly and Henry Mancini whose final feature film credit is an animated movie. Since so many animation creators are film fans, and since studio execs feel big names sell movies, it is not surprising that so many icons end up in animated films. After all, even when age makes physical movement difficult, the voice may remain supple, allowing such historic names to still create entertainment. The kicker is that frequently, media obits do not mention their final (animated) theatrical credits. So even though these creative greats were able to give audiences enjoyment up the end, the fact that the work was for a "cartoon" is often not merit worth noting. It reminds me of a comment Phil Harris, a hugely popular band leader/singer/comedian from the 1930s through the 1950s, said of animation. Harris had been cast as Baloo in the Disney classic JUNGLE BOOK. Harris told many an interviewer later that it was that movie that made him a known name to new generations. All of his years on hit radio shows, doing movies and recording records had been largely forgotten. But he recognized the power of animation would add a level of immortality beyond history books. As proof, I will add a comment from my step daughter years ago. There was an add on TV for a Cher concert. Having been born in 1989, I said I doubted she would know who Cher was. She quickly responded, Cher was the girl with Sonny on the Scooby Doo show. As a great playwright once wrote, "attention has been paid". (9/27/08)

Tonight was the first of the presidential debates. I missed it. I am sure they had all sorts of policy questions and clever rehearsed answers. What I really wish they would ask is questions to get an idea of how well they connect with the average person and the types of "values" they really have. They should ask what they watched on TV last night. What was the last movie they saw in a theater? They should be asked when they last shopped at a Kmart, Walmart or Target. They should be asked what the last thing they personally bought, and how much it cost. Ask which websites they visit every day. Ask when they last ate at a fast food restaurant... and what they ordered. Such questions would show me how much the candidates understand about everyday life for the non-millionaires. (9/26/08)

Happy Birthday, Rachel!
Love to you always (9/25/08)

Job hunting these days is very tough. And not just because of the current economy, or lack thereof. Government regulations and corporate caution has made the entire job process a complex labyrinth for most job seekers. When I first began looking for work, I would only need to contact the business I wanted to apply at and talk to someone. Whether I was looking for part time work at a grocery store or Disneyland, I merely went to the business, talked to a manager and, on a good day, was offered a position. If the company was large, I would then see someone in hiring who would have me fill in some paperwork. Even when seeking full time work in the 80s at such studios as Disney, Don Bluth and Film Roman, I talked to the person in charge of production (at Bluth and Film Roman, it was the head of the studio) and was offered a job and filled in some paperwork. These days, one cannot even talk to a human at most studios and companies. Having worked the system both inside (working at a studio) and out (trying for a job at a studio), I know it is difficult to really connect. Most studios do not even talk with folks on the phone. The rule is to direct them to either the studio website, or the human resource department - that will direct you to the website. These websites can be enormous. At one I recently applied at, I need to fill in information on more than two dozen screens! Not only did they want my resume, but they wanted me to answer question after question which merely repeated info on my resume. From working at studios, I know that one can no longer simply hire a good person. At my last few stops, there was a large chain of procedure to hire almost anyone. There were often several prior approvals needed from various departments above and below me. Then there were a variety of legal needs from multiple IDs to contractual agreements ranging from agreeing the studio owns everything you do in the building to rules about how to dispose of gifts received at the studio! More than once I found a viable candidate that was unable or unwilling to go through the increasing amount of hoops. I remember going to studios and being told that a recommendation from a key player was all that was needed to get employed. Over the past few months I have had major directors and writers recommend me for a position, only to still have to deal with websites, human resource departments and various studio departments. All leading to me still on the look out for my next production. Recently had lunch with friends dating back two decades. Several stated they would love to have me working on their productions... but that they really didn't have any pull at their current studios. I often hear creators complaining that production does not understand their needs and vision. Perhaps if the creators were allowed more input in their production team, there would be less trouble... less overages... less delays. Just like in the "good old days". A process that allowed me to hire a number of folks that some execs were worried about. Folks who, thanks to my support got the job and later went on to create hit series, run major studios, and direct features. A pretty good system. (9/24/08)

Folks in a specific industry are oft talking about things that "ruined" the business. Most of the time, such changes are not created by some insidious executive's plan. Usually it is due to a major success that makes other creators and executives desirous of such a success. I was reminded of this while watching a promo for the Broadway musical of THE LITTLE MERMAID. The scenes show the animated critters in the minimalist of costumes. So minimal, that if one did not know "what" the animals were supposed to be, one would not know what they were supposed to be. Such lame costuming is a result of the a major hit - THE LION KING. Disney's first (second) Broadway show, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST featured costumes that looked akin to ones seen at the amusement parks. For LION KING, the talented show person Julie Taymor went more abstract and came up with unique and exciting animal costumes from the extended masks for Simba to the puppet-like Timon to the toylike gazelles. The success of these unique costumes gave creators and producers the idea that audiences would accept representations of costume characters. Sadly, the other creators and producers did not understand the art of minimalization. (Just as a successful animation exec stated that BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD's success meant audiences didn't care about quality animation.) The first time I saw this phenomenom was in clips of THE BACKYARDIGANS stage show. I have seen clips from Disney, Hanna-Barbera and Dora shows. All used standardized mascot style costumes. But the BACKYARDIGANS show had folks in the equivalent of sleepers colored as the characters. They look similar to the halloween costumes sold at stores where one's face sticks out with the muzzle/nose is above your head. I cannot believe even young kids would accept these pajamas as the characters. Once again, success begets lameness. (9/12/08)

Was at Disneyland/California Adventure recently and saw the promo (trailer?) for BOLT. Found the designs to be pretty bland. An all white dog? Plus the story comes across overly familiar. But that doesn't hurt the Pixar films at the box office. What struck me is how the Disney cgi films all seem to have a similarity of tone, look and humor. BOLT looked to be of the same cloth as CHICKEN LITTLE and MEET THE ROBINSONS. Like Dreamworks films, they are loaded with wacky characters and dialogue. And like the Pixar films, they seem to be working hard to look good and offer character driven stories. But for some reason, they just cannot get the pieces to fit together. I constantly see blogs and forums berate the Dreamwork films. But the bottom line is that the films are generally amusing. I still think the first SHREK and first MADAGASCAR are well made films with decent stories, fun characters, some silly slapstick and upbeat dialogue and music. The Pixar films are well, less original in the story and character department, but still enjoyable films. The Disney cgi are just... well, flat. It really is a mystery. The last few traditional films (TREASURE PLANET, MULAN) are nicely done. For some reason the cgi films tend towards the disjointed storytelling of ATLANTIS and mis-timed humor of HOME ON THE RANGE. Will BOLT continue the tradition? Will their hand crafted FROG PRINCESS go back to decent story telling, characters and humor? Or is the studio now stuck in a loop? It is sad to think there was a time that the Disney films were just expected to be good, with an occasional "clunker" (ARISTOCATS, BLACK CAULDRON) being the exception. That honor now belongs to Dreamworks and Pixar. Maybe Disney lost more talent (artistic and management) during the "boom" than they realize. Kind of how under Walt, numerous "key" talents left the studio at times and never achieved the heights they had at Disney. And even Walt's output seemed a bit hollower. (9/9/08)

Just heard that Morris Sullivan has passed away. I worked with Morris for several years during the production of An American Tail and pre-production of Land Before Time. (See here) Morris was a truly sharp business person. We often had meetings about matters of studio business, animation history and production. In many ways, he was the ideal business person. As he worked tirelessly to make the studio money, he refused to get involved with the creative aspects. I remember more than once when we were talking that he mentioned how he was worried about one creative decision or another. He would then state how he was impressed with Secret of Nimh and other Bluth projects. The end of each conversation ended with him deciding to let Don and his crew do things their way. I can't think of any money folks today who would give such leeway to the creative team. He felt his duty was to be sure that Don and company could continue making the films they wanted. I spent a lot of time prepping materials for him to present to Universal to convince them that animated features could make money. (Universal was worried since the last Spielberg films - Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes were box office "disappointments".) Then I had to assist him with materials and information for the Irish government to show how setting up a studio in Ireland would be good for the country. After Bluth's videogame business collapsed, many felt the studio would fade away. It was due to Morris' business savy and devotion to the art of animation that An American Tail was completed. The success of Tail is arguably the start of the animation boom of the 80s that led to the animated feature renaissance (as it was oft called) of the 1990s. When folks speak of such 80s & 90s animation forces as Spielberg, Eisner, Lasseter and Katzenburg, Morris Sullivan should also be mentioned. Though I bet he would prefer to let Don and company take the credit. (9/2/08)

The boys have it when it comes to animation. At least two animation networks think so. Both Cartoon Network and Toon Disney are now aiming for the young boy market. This decision comes after years of trying to win over a female audience. I remember in 2000, Cartoon Network execs lamented how girls would watch cartoons aimed at boys, but boys would not watch cartoons aimed at girls. Networks from Nickelodeon to Disney to Cartoon Network began looking for ways to attract females. At the time, I suggested that Cartoon Network simply accept the fact and begin aiming more for the boys' market. However, Disney channel was gaining in raitings quickly with live action shows aimed at girls. Cartoon Network began picking up shows like JUNIPER LEE and HIHI PUFFY AMIYUMI to attract the female viewer. Other shows began adding more "strong females" (as the development folks like to call them). Eventually almost all the girl-toon shows faded as Disney and Nickelodeon built bigger girl demographics with live action shows and musicals. Hence the networks have decided that my original thought was a good one and to go for their own demographics - boys. After all, if cable can offer channels for women, Blacks, gays and other demographics, why is one (or two) aimed at boys a bad idea? Now if only I can get one to start showing "violent" cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Mighty Mouse and Casper. (9/1/08)

Forbidden films. We have quite a few. Not the type forbidden by public or special interest groups. No our films are forbidden as to the time we can watch them. It seems our kids get over enthusiastic about some titles and thus we can't really watch them once the sun has set. If there are noisy canines, Eagle, will rumble and bark at the screen. Like his mother, Star, he is very much a watcher of TV. And it is not just canines. For some reason he does not like lions - so many MGM films must be held until daytime. And if two people get into a violent confrontration, well, Eagle does not like angry people so that will also cause him to bark. We occasionally will put on a film for him that has lots of action so he can have fun talking to the screen. The canine factor is one we have known and dealt with for years. However the past year another cinema element has become a factor. Saber, our miniature horse, likes to talk to horses on TV. So films with lots of equine chatter must be noted. He usually will not respond to foley, but we never know what might sound "close enough". Boxer, the horse in the animated Animal Farm will get a response. The other night we discovered that Pegasus in Clash of the Titans is the talking-est equine of all. It contstantly is whinnying, naying, snorting and such. Saber instantly picked up on the "near by horse" and began calling back. On top of that, we had forgotten there is a two headed wolf in the film that snarls, growls and barks. A double threat. Oh well, another film becomes forbidden at night, and becomes an afternoon matinee. (8/25/08)

Today I put my father to final rest. The most distressing aspect was the amount of work it took to make his and my mother's final wishes happen. In another case of never being able to assume anything, my folks plans did not work as expected. They had wisely purchased a program over a decade ago. It was a good program. Wherever they went, all they needed to do was register with a local mortuary. If something were to happen, the local facility would handle all the details and make sure they ended up in the proper place. Well, as the years passed, the program continued to exist, but the place they bought their contract was no longer part of the program. Luckily, the local mortuary honored all the details. Yet, the original mortuary that sold them the program did not set everything up fully, so that it took weeks to have everything approved and finally happen. (When the problem first arised, the company that sold the policy suggested cancelling it, get the refund, and then start all a new!) Fortunately, I have had the time to keep on top of everything and go back and forth to sign this and locate that. I wondered what would have happened if the local place had not been so helpful... or if my mom had do all this after believing that it would all be simple. Originally, the idea of such a service seemed appealing. Now, I wonder how useful it will really be when the time comes. Guess no matter what one does or plans, death is not an easy option. (8/22/08)

Another week starts and the search for employment continues. It is interesting when I attempt to network, I am finding many folks who were in my line of work have recently moved to different careers. To be honest, I am not much of a networker. My network is small. In fact, it is probably more of a cable channel than a network. But the fact remains that folks of my skill and experience are finding it tougher to hold down work. Though I am always being told that production is going to "pick up soon", it really means another short term, tight budget project will need folks for a few months and then drop them. A tight budget will usually look for folks with less experience. After all, one good production person can work with a fairly large unskilled pool. I frequently was given new blood to train, which I did quite well. My proteges moved on to become full fledged producers and studio executives. And some of them are now moving to new industries. It does distress me a bit. When I was growing up and going to school, we were taught that if you were smart and willing to do your best, you would go far. These days, smarts and your best are not the most important attributes. Instead the desired traits seem to be economy of salary and a maximum of hours. But as Jack Benny would have said, "what's the point of looking back? You need to move forward with the times." Being one who likes change, I can handle that. After all, when I decided to leave the Tom Carter studio it was Scott Shaw! who paraphrased Auric Goldfinger on my "goodbye" card - "Choose your next career carefully, Mr. Bond. It may be your last." Considering the Carter studio closed down two months after I left, it seemed my change at that time was the right one. Here's hoping this one is as successful. (8/17/08)

It seems the theory that time is simply a large circle may have gotten more evidence as yet another bit of history repeats itself. Some recent movies have been opening on Wednesday causing at least one top exec to exclaim "Wednesday is the new Friday". Actually, the idea of movies opening on Friday is somewhat new. When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s movies opened a variety of days. The most common seemed to have been Wednesday. Of course that was when films were released on a local basis instead of the mega-nationwide-10,000-screen opening seen today. Once movies went "national" Friday became the day so that studios could report a big weekend box-office. As the weekends are getting more and more crowded, the brain trust has decided other days might make it easier to stand out and get some audience. And so Wednesday was chosen. Of similar "everything old is new again" vein is the recent promotion of Trix cereal announcing they are abandoning the fruit shaped cereal bits and going to round, ball-shaped bits. Anyone over the age of 18 will remember that Trix had always been round. The change to fruit shapes occured sometime in the 90s. What's next? Will they start releasing movies in 3-D to stop folks from watching things on TV like they did in the 1950s? (8/15/08)

Go green. That's the phrase appearing more and more on my bills that arrive. They all state that if I would pay online, it would be so much better for the environment. I could save all the paper used in a check, envelope and stamp. Some even suggest it will save energy since the Postal Service won't need to deliver my bill or check. Ironically, or perhaps "stupidly" these same suggestive envelopes come stuffed with all sorts of advertising flyers for life insurance, magazine subscriptions, personal check printers, and even collectibles for such things as cloned diamonds and newly minted coins. If the companies were so concerned about keeping the planet green, they would refuse all this extra paper that mostly ends up in the landfills. The added weight of the flyers may not increase the postage costs, but could increase fuel costs. And as for me being green by not sending out mail. Well, living in the mountains we do not have mail delivery. We have to go to the post office. Since the postal truck goes to their office everyday, it is not making any special trip for my checks. And since they most likely have to go to the billing center for computerless folks, no doubt they will also not be making any special trip for my stuff. I simply hitch-hike with those who do not use computers. And despite the safety of the internet, which I do use for buying stuff, I still hear tales of hacked credit cards, bank payments and such. So for the time being, I will stick with my paper trail. If the companies are so worried about the green factor, they could start making their envelopes pre-paid. Then I could save the paper and glue production used on stamps. (8/10/08)

Watched Andrew Lloyd Weber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA the other night. I had heard from others that the stage musical was not a great show, but a great spectacle. Seeing the film, I wonder if the stage version is as disjointed. Things just seem to happen and there is little sense of a timeline. The backstory of the phantom, the lady and the hero are almost nil. They just seem to be there because the current event requires them. The music is highly operatic, though the three hits do work well within the show. While certainly lavish in costumes, effects and style, there is no warmth, no character, no meaning. Guess spectacle is enough. Even on the stage. (8/7/08)

Today, in the early morning, my dad left us. He had been in and out of hospitals since December 2006, and in a hospice since Fall of 2007. The last few days he had stopped eating and faded away in front of our eyes. It was a tough time for all the family. As anyone who feels they had a great dad would say, my dad was the best. Born in 1923, he survived tough times and World War II. He and mom had a long and happy life together. He has too many accomplishments for me to cover here. He was a top manufacturer's rep in enough demand to have one company after another "steal him" from his current employer. He even pioneered the idea of having a major chain (Sears) put their name on another company's product - now common practice. Finally, he decided to become his own boss and ran a successful independent rep busines for nearly a decade. He was one of the greatest scout masters I have ever seen. He had an ability to earn the respect of the scouts and their parents, making his troop - Houston's 805 into a model troop that was as important to the community as any public service. If he had not been ill these past few years, he might never have retired. After sales, he moved into condo management in Hawaii, then when they moved to Florida, instead of a quiet retirement dad and mom were involved with animal rehab groups helping injured animals go back to their wild life. He also worked with local sheriff's departments doing patrols. On top of that, he was a top notch photographer. Having learned his trade in the military (where he was one of the first photographers to fly over Japan after "the bomb"), he became an accomplished photographer of scenery and nature. However, to me he will always be the dad who thought of his family first. Whether it was taking the family along on business trips (allowing us to see the country), or taking time at night to play card games, or just sitting around and talking with us, he was always there for us. It was sad to see such an active person slow down physically and mentally. But at least he is really at rest now. And I'm glad we were able to be there for him. And glad to have had Rachel's strength, care and support. (The last thing dad did was to reach up and hold her hand.) Have a safe trip, dad. (8/5/08)

Some things are better the second time around. I am discovering this is the case with many Pixar films. Two films that I was not thrilled by, INCREDIBLES and CARS, are not so bad the second, third, fourth and such time. INCREDIBLES was a collection of borrowed James Bond action scenes (down to a pseudo John Barry score) of the 60s and the family stuff was typical of films where a dysfunctional family becomes a team at the end. CARS was a meandering story taken from oh so many sports movies. However, now that cable has been running them (it seems like) every other day, I find them to be more comfortable. As I described a series I once worked on, these movies are "competent, safe entertainment". Having gotten used to their shortcomings, I am to the point of knowing when to turn away from the screen to do work and when to turn back. Full of nice little sequences of comedy, action, and heart, I am not delayed or disappointed as they ramble into trite territory. Sort of like some of the "corny" (as Rachel puts it) movies from my past. I can see past the lame effects, or flat direction, or cartoonish storyline and focus on just the charming bits. Wonder if repeated viewings of Ratatouile will make me think more of that film? (8/1/08)

The end of Harry Potter. Books, that is. We recently finished the final Harry Potter book - THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. The book is around twice as long as the original Potter tome - PHILOSOPHER'S STONE. Like the last two books, the concluding volume mostly maintained a tone of dark, gloom and hopelessness. There were occasional bright spots, but they were not enough to raise the book to the levels of the first few. There were two things that stood out in my mind while reading. First, how the books have become more cinematic. This tale is comprised of many action scenes that will no doubt become major sections of the films. (The book is to be made into two movies due to the length of story.) Second, the book strives to answer all the questions and issues raised in the previous titles. This means the last few chapters are extremly talky. I wonder how the filmmakers will work with this aspect. Though I don't want to create any spoilers by giving away the ending, I will just say that it was extremely... well... flat. After a decade of some clever storytelling and lots of rich characters, the series deserved better. (7/30/08)

The Circus comes to town. Went to the circus this week - Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey "red" edition to be precise. It was Rachel's first time, and perhaps mine. I don't really recall ever going to a circus as a kid. A rodeo, yes. A circus, no. Anyway, as Rachel commented, the circus was quite different from all the images one sees on TV and movies of years past. First, since around the 1960s most of them are held at indoor arenas, and not tents. But the show itself has "progressed" from the days of rings full of acts and ringmasters shouting out how astounding they are. Instead, the show we saw more closely resembled a Broadway show with songs, dance and "choreographed mayhem" as Rachel put it. The show was still fun with some very interesting acts. One of our faves was the miniature horse act that had over a dozen minis go through several routines. The "flying dogs" (frisbee catching canines) were totally "off" at our performance - missing more than catching. But the tigers and their trainer were great to watch. From the trainer showing "favorites" (actually patting one on the rear in appreciation) to understanding stage fright (by not pressing one tiger who obviously was not in the mood to perform). But not only was the tent gone. So was any real calliope music and standard clowns. Instead, there was a definite hip-hop feel to the proceedings. Sawdust was replaced with flashing lights, loud music and audio effects. An attempt to appeal to modern audiences - even including fart humor, sadly. As the saying goes, this is certainly not "your father's circus". It may or not be a better, hipper circus... but it is still fun to watch. And considering so many kids spend their days in the virtual world, a few hours with real animals, real stunts, real acrobats and real elephants painting pictures would be beneficial. More Broadway than Big Top, it was enjoyable and still original fun. (7/26/08)

$5 gas. It gets mentioned a lot. And it seems as if I am constantly finding new ways it affects life. I now know it will affect one career - professional mascots. We were recently contacted to do a gig in Lancaster. It was for an event that was to be televised with a major sponsor at a major store. The pay was fine, but Lancaster is around 90 miles away from the general Southern California area. We said we would do the gig... but would appreciate if some gas money could be included in the pay. The cost of gas would have cut our wage in half for the event. We quickly heard back that the sponsor (Kellogg's) would not cover any gas and decided to use an employee in the store for the event. So much for Kellogg's desire to make a splash at the event. Then, as I was perusing gigs at upcoming events, particularly the Comic Con in San Diego, I found that the price of gas would reduce my day's pay to around $20-25! I also found that "young, well built women - no experience necessary" would receive $250-400 a day, while professional mascot performers would earn between $15-20 an hour. But that is another kick. Mascot performers are not the only travelling entertainers. From clowns to animal acts to sports figures often travel from one event to another for their job. How many will begin losing out jobs to closer, perhaps less effective, entertainment? It just means folks will more and more rely on computers or TV for entertainment instead of live performance. And more and more, subtle changes are coming to the landscape of life and society because of the increasing price of petrol. "It's the ripple, not the stream that is happening." - Sondheim. (7/8/08)

Fourth of July weekend. Along with so many others, we found ourselves staying mostly close to home this holiday weekend. High temperatures and gas prices made travel down the mountain less than thrilling. On the fourth, we attended the annual picnic at the Lake where we hung with a group of folks that have therapy animals. (We are in the midst of getting Saber and Eagle classified. Eagle's dad, Roku, was so classified.) It was quite warm, but generally enjoyable as Saber attracted the attention of about all the attendees. On Sunday, we went to the annual fireman's pancake breakfast - a fund raiser for our firemen. Though the food is not usually great, the atmosphere is always friendly. Eagle got to spend time with children, fire fighters and even Sparky, the Dalmatian mascot. He enjoyed himself greatly. In some ways the weekend seemed reminiscent of the old fashioned Fourth of July Hollywood showed so often. In fact, on the 4th, TCM was showing THE MUSIC MAN. Perhaps there will be some positive to come from $5 gas. (7/6/08)

A recent interview with one writer of KUNG FU PANDA has once again erupted into a "writers vs animators" battle. It always makes me wonder why so many artists with images are antagonistic towards artists with words. At one time, all creators got along. I recall such folks as Bill Peet, Bill Scott and Michael Maltese speaking proudly of their writing skills. In fact, Bill Scott frequently stated how he disliked the term "gag man" during his tenure at Warners or UPA. Bill, one of the key folks behind Rocky and Bullwinkle, always insisted he was a "writer." I remember him telling how he was no different than any other writer. He created stories, characters and dialogue. The only difference was his work was usually illustrated rather than performed. I also remember while at Disney in the 70s talking with folks like Ron Clements, Randy Cartright and Ed Gombert about the lacklustre stories in current Disney features. They stated how they had been pushing to get "real writers" for the features (like William Goldman, Woody Allen and even George Lucas) to write the scripts for Disney features as a basis for the storyboard artists and directors to build on. At the time, they said it would not happen because the executives would not pay enough for real writing talent. They also admitted there were some in the studio who felt that only those who could animate could write, which they felt was as silly as saying unless you were an actor you could not write a live action script. Sadly, during the late 80s and early 90s animators began to harden towards any outside influence. These days, while many an animator is seeking a way to get into live action, they do not believe this route should be a two way street. I find it amusing to hear animators gripe when someone suggests animation is a genre. These folks are quick to speak up that animation is simply a way to tell a story and should be treated no differently than live action. Of course, these are often the same folks who instantly object if it is suggested that animation be produced the same way a live action film is. (7/2/08)

AB 1634. Just another law that most folks have heard nothing about. However, it is the type of law that shows just how wrong the entire political climate has become. Basically, the bill's author desires to rid the world of pet dogs and cats. Based on some twisted idea that by making it a law that all dogs and cats must be "fixed" by the age of 4 months, it will somehow decrease the surplus pet population that so tragically appears at local shelters and recues. Sadly, the time for discussing the law is over. No, it has not been voted on, but it has become such a political hot cake that the pros and cons have descended into the world of fear mongering. Those for it say it will rescue the thousands of pets forced into shelters and death every year. Those against it say it will cause the extinction of dogs and cats. In its current form, the law fines law abiding citizens who have un-altered pets. Should it force all pets to be fixed by age four, it does make one wonder where future dogs and cats will come from. No doubt a black market will erupt bringing pets over from other states. Also, legitimate, responsible breeders will begin vacating the state. In a world with any sense, such a law should not even get considered. But at this point it has passed a committee on a 3-2 vote. What 3 elected officials would vote for a law that removes the rights of a citizen to own and breed dogs and cats for show and or pleasure? Big name celebrities and animal rights groups wanting all pets fixed have raised lots of awareness and funds for their side. Those who just want the right to keep, show and breed their pets cannot seem to get the same coverage. Would these officials follow suit and say that all horses not be allowed to breed? After all, they also are found in shelters. However, I think the money behind horse racing is much bigger than that behind dog shows. And since money is really what makes the world, and government, go around, we may be looking at a pet-less future. And for the record, though California is the first state to be looking at this idea, a number of cities and counties across the country have already got similar laws on their books. So much for man's best friend. (6/30/08)

At a recent business conference, the experts stated that all a mountain community needed to succeed was to pull together. One suggested that a website be created that had links to each of the businesses in the community. There seemed little response from the audience. I don't think the experts understood the power of "internet divide". A basic website can be created with little expense, so many of those attending the conference already had their own sites. The concept of creating a master web directory went out with the phone book. One need only look up a community (or city, state, whatever) and there are already dozens of websites all stating to be the central or key website. Yet each is really just a starting point for their own personal goals - from real estate sales to vacation activities to webcams. If a "master" website were built for a community, it would not only have to be certain to link to every other website about that community, it would also have to rise above all the individual ones in a search engine to be at all affective. The late George Carlin had an entire routine based on the idea that government was able to control people by constantly highlighting what made people different and thus keeping them divided and powerless. Rather than a source for bringing people together, more and more the internet has become a dividing element creating an online 'every person/idea for themself' society. (6/27/08)

Collectibles. I have been buying and selling them since before Rachel was born. (eep!) I have bartered things via fan magazines, conventions and most recently eBay. I have seen the value of items go from iron to gold; and from hot to not. And despite any attempt to define trends, I could never completely predict what folks will pay or how quickly the market can shift. I was reminded of this when an item recently sold for a phenomenally high price. When doing conventions with my friend Jim Korkis, we were often asked "what" something was worth. Our usual answer was, "an item is worth whatever someone else is willing to pay for it." In our inventory we had a number of extremely rare Disney publications and recordings from the 1930s and 40s. And while they attracted interest and amazement, sales were often not found. (I used to say the items were as rare as those who wanted them.) However, a solid seller was a Mighty Mouse cereal box. I had found the product sold through health food stores - not a place one usually met animation fans. I bought the cereal for $3 a box. Ate the cereal. Then sold the box for $5. We could be certain to sell several every convention. So it is no surprise when I list an item that is a limited edition publication or a rare toy and get no bids, while a postcard from a restaurant creates a bidding firestorm. Rachel put it best - "It shows you should list everything, for you never know what will sell." By now I should know that. But it still surprises me. (6/21/08)

Got to wondering why there is so much more hate around these days. It seems hate is one of the most common of today's emotions. Of course there has always been hate... but I don't recall it being the feeling of choice as I was growing up. My youth was not a time of tranquility by any means. There were presidential assinations, the Vietnam war, flower children and various other divisive factors. However, in those days, folks just seemed angry. If your candidate did not win, you got angry... but you got passed it. If you didn't agree with another person's way of life or thinking, you might protest. You might campaign against it. But you did not immediately "hate" it. It seems today when you disagree with something you go on the attack with comments of hate and fear mongering. I seem to constantly hear and read how folks "hate" this show or that, this politician or that, this country or that. Maybe folks felt the same in the past, but didn't have a way to communicate it before today's technologies. But I know during the 60s at school, work, family events and just out in public I didn't hear the "hate" word... except in the cases of food, homework, and on rare occasions, one's job. The 60s and even 70s may have been decades of anger and/or frustration, but it seems since the 90s, most have moved into decades of hate. Really sad. (6/18/08)

Finally got around to putting up the rest of my development ideas. As I was going through them, I was often struck at what good ideas some of them were. Also recognizable was how poor they could be. Some show development presentation at its best. Others were ones that looked like they were spit out in order to do a pitch session... and at times they were. Overall, I still believe in many of them and think they have a good chance at being successful. Now if only the networks and studios were more open to story concepts and not just artwork. That is why there are so many shows and features that look "good", but lack decent writing. (6/10/08)

Went out and saw KUNGFU PANDA tonight. Though I have enjoyed many a Dreamworks film (and for the record think their films often hold up better than Disney films of the same period), I will pull away from the animated crowd and say the film is flat. I think my wife said it best when she stated this was THE INCREDIBLES of Dreamworks. Like that uber-popular Pixar pic, PANDA is nicely designed with some clever bits and nice characters. And sadly, like INCREDIBLES the film is sabotaged by a story that is copycat based. I cannot think of a single surprise or fresh touch in the storyline. In their effort to satirize the Kung Fu style, they resort to what I call "the Animamiacs school of satire". That is where, instead of coming up with a funny satire that pokes fun of the subject, the writers simply remake the subject with animated characters. As if remaking CITIZEN KANE with Elmer Fudd as Kane automatically makes the film funny. Due to the satire being such a remake, any chance for twists is denied as one kung fu cliche follows another. It is a shame that such good characters and fun action scenes just go flat as the story repeatedly avoids surprises and prefers to take the obvious track. (6/6/08)

I never would have believed I would see the day when paying $4.19 a gallon for gas was a bargain. But it is here... and most likely will be gone in a few weeks. I recall at each previous "gas crisis", experts always predicted when the price would level off. In the 70s we were told it would stop when gas reached $1 a gallon. In the early 80s, the figure discussed was $2 a gallon. This time, no one seems willing to predict any sort of leveling point. Instead, I am seeing ads for theme parks, restuarants and businesses offering special offers to compete for the shrinking spare change after a $100 fill-up. I am reading stories on the increasing number of folks running out of gas, acceptance of carpools, companies offering 4-day weeks, and how the cost of gas is raising the price of everything we use. It seems we are on the edge of a major shift on society the likes of which have not been seen in decades, perhaps centuries. Will the shift be as major as the discovery of fire or electricity or religion? Will it be as devastating as the great plague or a world war or drastic climate change? When gas finally does "level off", this world could be quite a different place. (6/4/08)

On Friday, May 30th, we put to rest Comet, our first born Merle Great Dane. Born in 2001, Comet, along with Eagle (Harlequin), DJ (mis-marked Black) and Phoenix (Mantle) comprised our first litter from Roku and Star. A simple, gentle soul, Comet lived a generally good life with his human companion. They shared a lot of love, and that is what I always hope for with our grandkids. However, time had not been good to Comet. As with humans, not everyone ages the same. It is never always clear why some are spry into their twilight years, while others become fragile, stiff and ill in early life. Comet had great difficulty standing, and was in pain when he walked. His face seemed fixed in a saddened, tired expression. That is until we made a stop by our house. Suddenly, looking down from the van, he began to smile and bark happily at family members he knew, and the home he had been born in. The brightness in his face showed he not only had one more time to remember the good things of his life, it also reminded me how important family and memories can be. Though I am saddened at his passing, I am glad that his siblings are still in good health. Goodbye, Comet. Say hello to your mom, dad, family and friends that you are joining. You will be missed, but like all of our family, not forgotten. (6/2/08)

eBay has quietly begun a policy that is really bad. It has eliminated the ability of a seller to give negative feedback to a buyer. The reason for the new policy is that eBay does not want buyers to be "afraid" of giving honest (i.e. negative) feedback due to fear of a seller giving negative (i.e. honest) feedback to the buyer. I have been a member of eBay for over 10 years, and have seen the small, and at times vicious battles that appear in the feedback forum. But by eliminating a seller's right to state that a buyer is slow in payment, or made unreasonable demands, or returned an item in damaged condition, or made outrageously high bids only to retract them now puts the seller at risk. The original system, of allowing both buyer and seller to complain is open to abuse. But removing one party's right to comment trades possible abusive for freedom of speech. A trend that seems to be growing more and more these days. (5/27/08)

A cold front and too many war movies made a trip to the vidstore worthwhile. All of our first choices were gone, so we settled on SURF'S UP and EVAN ALMIGHTY. I had heard many a good thing about SURF'S UP. But I should know by now when animation folks praise a film it often means the film looks great... and that is about all. For me, the film was rather flat. First, it must win the award for the most dialogue of any animated feature. Second, the theme of young hotshot learns from old timer that winning is not everything echoes the previous year's CARS. As for EVAN, it falls into that pot of films treated unfairly. Certainly no classic, it is still an enjoyable piece of fluff with some chuckles and lots of nice bits. A good family film that got drubbed by critics for not being "as good" as the first (BRUCE ALMIGHTY - which I have not seen). A real shame. I hope it gets discovered someday. (5/25/08)



Back To Main Page