Shakes Up Toon Town
a time when jobs for traditionally trained animators are scarce
and getting scarcer, Jim Hill talks about how the huge long term
impact Dreamworks' not-so-lovable ogre could have on the animation
it would appear that Dreamworks SKG animation guru Jeffrey Katzenberg
is staying true to form. By that, I mean that he's still one of
the most aggressive executives currently working in the entertainment
back in the fall of 1998, when Jeffrey deliberately went out of
his way to try & torpedo Disney & Pixar's latest opus,
It's a Bug's Life? Dreamworks' first CGI feature -- Antz
-- had originally been announced as having a release date in March
of 1999. But -- in order to get the jump on Pixar's flick (which
was also built around a comic adventure set in the insect world)
-- Katzenberg ordered the folks at Pacific Data Image (AKA PDI
-- Dreamworks' computer animation arm) put production into overdrive.
As a result,
Antz was able to open in theaters on October 2, 1998 --
eight weeks ahead of A Bug's Life. That film eventually
went on to gross $90 million during its domestic release.
that doesn't look so hot in comparison to the $162 million that
A Bug's Life was able to rack up during its domestic run.
But there are still many animation insiders who insist that --
by releasing Antz so close to A Bug's Life -- Katzenberg
deliberately undercut the initial huge potential box office for
the Pixar flick. Which must have annoyed Jeffrey's old boss at
Disney, Michael Eisner, big-time.
last week's announcement that Dreamworks/PDI's big summer blockbuster
-- Shrek -- is going to be available for purchase on home
video & DVD in early November, it would appear that Jeffrey
is still working out of his old Genghis Kahn playbook ("It
is not enough that I succeed. My enemies must fail"). Sure,
the deluxe Shrek DVD -- with its two discs loaded up with
11 hours of behind-the-scenes stuff & extra goodies -- sounds
snazzy. But am I really supposed to believe that it's a co-incidence
that Shrek hits store shelves November 2nd, the very same
day that Pixar's latest feature -- Monsters, Inc. -- opens
in theaters nation-wide?
I know. The most important word in the phrase "Show Business"
is "Business." And companies that are in direct competition
with one another aren't under any obligation to be nice to one
another. But -- sometime -- I just wish that Mr. Katzenberg could
look past his short-term goals (Destroy the Walt Disney Company.
Burn the Burbank studio complex down to the ground. Drive Eisner
and his family -- weeping -- into the streets. Lather. Rinse.
Repeat) to take in the big picture.
these are very scary times for the animation industry. Thousands
of traditionally trained animators are currently out of work after
studios like 20th Century Fox & Warners -- who leaped into
feature animation back in the early 1990s with the hopes of landing
their own Lion King sized hit -- bailed out of the toon
biz after a few flops.
now we have Shrek. With its domestic gross now standing
at just shy of $260 million, that puts this computer animated
comedy solidly in among the top 15 highest grossing films in Hollywood
history. Which has obviously not gone un-noticed by the rest of
me? Then let's look at some production news announcements of the
past week or so. Imagine Entertainment announced that it now plans
to use CGI on its long-in-development Curious George feature.
And Universal -- after crowing that it had snagged Eric Goldberg's
service less than one day after the master animator had left Disney
-- announced that Eric's first assignment would be helming an
all-CG version of Where the Wild Things Are.
is obviously sweeping the animation industry. Even the folks over
at Disney -- who seemed to be getting out of the CGI biz earlier
this year after the Mouse pulled the plug on its Dinosaur
follow-up, Wild Life, and began shutting down its highly
touted Secret Lab facility -- now appears to be having second
thoughts. The folks behind Disney's wildly funny Emperor's
New Groove -- Producer Randy Fullmer and director Mark Dindal
-- have supposedly finally settled on a follow-up project. The
subject? A comic take on the tale of Chicken Little ... done totally
Is this computer
animated film (loosely based on a fairy tale) deliberately being
done in response to Shrek's success? God, I hope not. Particularly
since that Disney already had a wonderful fairy tale parody --
Eric & Sue Goldberg's Frog Prince project -- in development,
which Feature Animation head Thomas Schumacher declined to greenlight
earlier this year. Which directly contributed to the Goldbergs'
decision to ankle the Mouse House.
Fullmer & Dindal's decision to go CGI with their next project
does have Disney's traditionally trained animators somewhat concerned.
Of course, the same could be said of the crew working on Dreamworks'
next traditionally animated feature, Spirit: Stallion of the
Cimarron. It has not gone un-noticed among these folks that
-- while studio heads have been busy talking up all of their plans
to go forward with additional CGI features (Among the computer
animated projects that Dreamworks SKG currently have in the works:
Tusker, Madagascar and -- of course -- Shrek 2)
-- Katzenberg & Co. have yet to commit to a traditionally
animated follow-up to Spirit.
pressed on the matter, all that Dreamworks insiders will say is
that -- once pencil work is completed on Stallion of the Cimarron
-- most of the traditional animation unit will supposedly be laid
off for a six month period. A small story unit will then stay
on at the Glendale animation annex to try & develop a follow-up
feature, which will allegedly be built around the legend of Sinbad
of Dreamworks' traditionally trained animation staffers will ever
be called back to work depends on a lot of different factors.
Among these are how well Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron does
when it's released to theaters on May 24, 2002 as well as whether
Dreamworks' story staff can ever break the back of Sinbad's
story problems. (This film -- in various different forms -- has
been in development at Dreamworks Feature Animation for over six
cold blooded & methodical Katzenberg has been with his dealings
with his business rivals in the past, it's really not too far
fetched to believe that -- in order to achieve supremacy in the
computer generated animated feature business -- Jeffrey would
eventually be willing to sacrifice his studio's traditional animation
unit and put all of Dreamworks' resources behind its PDI CGI unit.
all's fair in love & war ... and Hollywood.
to those traditionally trained animators currently working at
Dreamworks: Now is *NOT* a good time to buy a new house or to
sign a long-term lease on an expensive SUV. A better investment
now might be in your education.
As in ...
now might be a really good time to sign up for a few computer
Just a word
to the wise.
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Jim Hill is
an award winning journalist who specializes in writing about the
entertainment industry. Hill's columns appear on Digital
Media FX on the 2nd and 16th of each month. Those subscribed
to the free Digital Media FX newsletter receive 24
hour advanced access to the columns before the general public.
of a log cabin hidden away in the woods of New Hampshire, Jim
is currently at work on an unauthorized history of the Walt Disney
World Resort. In addition, he writes for several online Websites.
He has a beautiful 7 year old daughter and three obnoxious cats.
You can email
Jim Hill at email@example.com.
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