On Wednesday, October 8, 2003, NBC and Vivendi Universal made official the merger of their entertainment businesses. Newly named NBC Universal joins the ranks of Time Warner, Disney and Viacom. The new mega-conglom will control a broadcast network (NBC), various cable entities (USA, CNBC, Bravo, MSNBC, Telemundo, SCI-FI and Trio), a film and television studio (Universal Pictures and Television) and theme parks (Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando).
Disney president Robert Iger divulged on Wednesday that he has come up with a compromise to stay in partnership with Pixar Animation Studios. In a video conference with business analysts, Iger said he has offered to revise the terms of the current 50/50 profit split with Pixar in the hopes of forging a contract renewal. Disney would provide an ownership stake and greater share of the profits on Pixar's next two computer-animated features, THE INCREDIBLES and CARS, in exchange for a greater distribution fee, as reported in THE NEW YORK TIMES.
The buzz coming out of MIPCOM has CINAR Corp. close to a sale of the companys assets to Michael Hirsh and Toper Taylor, former Nelvana co-founder/ceo and president of international distribution, marketing and consumer products respectively. Because Hirsh is Canadian the deal would ensure that CINAR could continue to receive Canadian tax credits.
Antefilms Production has announced that it has acquired France Animation, which was previously a Wanadoo subsidiary. Each company will retain its individual identity, but the deal will allow France Animation to ramp up its production line and merges two of Europes largest animation libraries of more than 1,600 half-hours. As part of the deal, Antefilms gains France Animations established marketing and licensing prowess.
In what has now become the longest running lawsuit in the L.A. Superior Court, the case of POOH heirs, the Slesinger family, versus Disney has received a new judge, according to a report in DAILY VARIETY. The man in charge of complex legal suits, Charles W. McCoy, will take over for Judge Ernest Hiroshige, who requested the move. The first hearing in the next phase of this mega-suit is October 22, 2003.
Lombard, Illinois-based Big Idea Prods has announced that the company will go up for auction on October 28, 2003. As AWN reported on September 4, 2003, two days after Big Idea filed for bankruptcy, the company had announced that it had reached a definitive agreement with Classic Media LLC to purchase the companys assets for $7.5 million.
Just as Disney announced the closure of its Tokyo-based animation facility, word leaked out in Japan that Sony Pictures Entertainment would unveil its own animation division in Tokyo specializing in original local-language productions. And just like that, 103 animators and staffers that will be cut loose from Disney after wrapping the WINNIE THE POOH spinoff, THE HEFFALUMP MOVIE, may soon find a new home at Sony.
The Walt Disney Company announced the launch of its MovieBeam on-demand movie rental service, allowing consumers instant access to recent DVD and video releases, as well as a wide variety of popular films from almost all of the major studios. The service will first launch in Jacksonville, Florida; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Spokane, Washington. MovieBeam has agreements in place with DreamWorks SKG, MGM Studios, Miramax Films, New Line Cinema, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox Studios and Walt Disney Studios.
Comic and licensing company Marvel Enterprises is mulling over entering the world of film production on their own, confirms a company representative. Since the overwhelming success of its characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil on the big screen, the company is contemplating middle budget theatrical or direct-to-video productions based on some of their lower-profile characters. The films would have a budget range of between $8 and $50 million.
In further belt-tightening, the Walt Disney Co. plans to shut down Walt Disney Animation (Japan) in Tokyo. Part of DisneyToon Studios that specializes in DVD-premieres (101 DALMATIANS II: PATCH'S LONDON ADVENTURE) and smaller-budgeted theatrical releases (PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE, THE TIGGER MOVIE), the Japanese facility employs about 100 animators and will cease operations after completing the WINNIE THE POOH spin-off, THE HEFFALUMP MOVIE. Work for 2004 and beyond will quickly segue over to Walt Disney Animation (Australia), which recently made JUNGLE BOOK II.
Z Animation (www.zanimation.tv), a new animation production house specializing in television commercials, has opened with offices in Los Angeles and New York City. Founded by exec producer Peter Barg, the company features a roster of 16 directors, graphic artists and illustrators.
Gearing up for its work on the 3D/CG animated feature VALIANT, Vanguard Animation has opened a full-scale, computer-animation studio at London's Ealing Studios. The production is taking over a newly renovated, 10,000 square foot site. The storyboarding, character design and production design to date has been created in L.A., with many of that crew coming to London for the commencement of the full animation production. Starting with a crew of 75, the production will finally employ more than 120. The film plans to be in production over the next 18 months.
As anticipated, the board of directors of AOL Time Warner Inc. has voted to rename the company Time Warner Inc. The name change also includes the adoption of a new stock symbol: TWX" -- Time Warner's symbol on the New York Stock Exchange from before the merger.
"We believe that our new name better reflects the portfolio of our valuable businesses and ends any confusion between our corporate name and the America Online brand name for our investors, partners and the public," chairman and ceo Dick Parsons said in a prepared statement.
Following the demise of Egmont Imagination earlier this year, the company's former U.K. managing director, Tatiana Kober, has launched Bejuba! Entertainment, based in Toronto with an office in Los Angeles. The company will specialize in financing, exploitation and distribution of intellectual property rights across all key markets and platforms.
Newark, New Jersey-based Digital Production Solutions (DPS), the animation unit of IDT Media, continues its buying spree, having signed a letter of intent to acquire a controlling interest in Mainframe Entertainment, Inc., a leading Canadian creator of computer animation for TV and direct-to-video products.
"It doesn't look good," remarked a Disney insider when asked about the prospects of renewing its partnership with Pixar Animation Studios. "It's not a slam dunk, but that doesn't mean it won't work out either," remarked another studio insider. Now THE LOS ANGLES TIMES reports that Disney and Pixar are far apart in their contract negotiations, which Disney co-chairman Michael Eisner would like to conclude by the studio's next board meeting on Sept. 23, 2003.
A federal judge dismissed a shareholder lawsuit against Walt Disney Co. on Sept. 9, 2003 that claimed the company had defrauded investors by hiding potential damages at stake in a separate legal dispute over WINNIE THE POOH merchandise, REUTERS reported.
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) continues to expand its global cable and satellite networks portfolio with the launch next month of AXN in six European countries -- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. As part of that expansion, Tom Davidson has been named new network's gm, based in Budapest, according to Darren Childs, svp of international networks, Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI).
The partners behind the summers surprise hit 28 DAYS LATER, Fox Searchlight Pictures and DNA Films have announced a five-year, $50 million joint production and distribution deal, reported the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. DNA Films operates on unused U.K. lottery funds and first needed approval by the U.K. Film Council before the agreement could be signed. The new joint venture will remain with the name DNA Films and producer/exec Andrew Macdonald has been hired to head up the company.
Big Idea Prods has announced an agreement with Classic Media LLC to purchase the companys assets. As required by the deal, Big Idea has filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Opponents of the FCC approved changes in media ownership regulations got a reprieve Sept. 3, 2003 when a federal judicial panel temporarily blocked the rules from taking effect as they were scheduled to the following day, Sept. 4. A three-judge panel of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania issued a stay order preventing the regulatory agency from loosening ownership rules pending further proceedings.
Former EYE Animation creative director Ian Bird has opened Bird Studios, a CG/3D animation production studio in London. The studio is working on various feature film, commercial and music video productions. It recently wrapped on the animated video for Iron Maiden entitled, WILDEST DREAMS. Bird Studios animation team storyboarded and animated the video from director Howard Greenhalghs script. The team at Bird is comprised of award-winning animators and illustrators with backgrounds in film, BBC, documentaries, history of art and classic comic illustration.
Whamo Ents partners Joseph Szew, Fernando Szew and Mar Gaya, along with PorchLight Ents Michael Jacobs and Anchor Bay Ents George Port, have formed Mar Vista Entertainment, reported DAILY VARIETY. The new company will produce and distribute family and children's productions. Joseph Szew will serve as president/ceo and his brother will be managing director. Based in Barcelona, Gaya will be the director of European operations. Jacobs, former svp of worldwide sales for PorchLight, will serve as president of production and distribution.
It took a while for AWN to hear from animation and vfx people in New York City and areas in the U.S. affected by the massive power blackout on Aug. 14, 2003. Between downed power grids, tied up telephone lines and the subsequent attack of the BIG computer virus, communication is just now returning to normal. However, a few brave souls managed to share how their shops were disrupted in our increasingly power-hungry industry and lessons they learned for the next outage.
Dae Joong Kim, a veteran animation director for 36 years, has joined Cyper Entertainment Inc., subsidiary of JRE Inc., based in Seoul, Korea. Considered one of the top OEM animation directors in Korea, he has worked on many different animated TV shows such as SUPER MARIO, FUTURE BOY CONAN, CAPTAIN HARLOCK, GALAXY EXPRESS 999 AND NADIA, among others.
"Mr. Kim is a valued addition to our team as we prepare for several large film and television productions. We are excited to have him in our service," said Duk Jim Jang, president of JRE.