Zahra Dowlatabadi takes a look at where the jobs will be in 1999 by examining the health of several major players in the feature, computer graphics (CGI), television and direct-to-video animation markets.
With a record number of features produced in 1998, the majority of the films enjoyed a healthy box office along with critical acclaim. New television series incorporated multimedia and computer graphics, while home video sales continued to soar. In order to wrap up the year, and explore what lies ahead, we have contacted a select number of animation studios working in features, computer graphics (CGI), television and direct-to-video. Our profile of each animation studio includes the significant events of 1998, projects in development and production, the studio's interest in acquiring new properties, and present recruiting needs. For a more detailed listing of job opportunities, we suggest that you check Animation World Network's Career Connections and the specific studio's web site.
Fox Family Entertainment
Future production goals for Fox Family Entertainment include the completion and release of two features. The first film is an untitled space project which is currently in animation at the Phoenix studio. The next title is Monkeybone directed by Henry Selick and produced by Chris Columbus. Written by Sam Hamm, this feature will combine live-action and stop-motion animation. Primarily talent driven, Fox is aggressively developing original products that are fresh and exciting. Not restricted to a specific budget, medium or genre, the studio is eager to create features that are unlike any other works completed to date. The studio has an internal development team, but is open to hearing external pitches as well. While they are eager to encourage new creative talent, they are not currently accepting unsolicited material. However, they remain open to material submitted through artist managers, agents and legal representatives. An agent can submit work to two producers: Lori Forte and Tim Hauser. Since Fox Family Entertainment is part of a larger corporation, including a number of production divisions such as Fox Broadcasting Television, there are many opportunities for artists with strong concepts whose work may be suitable for either features or television.
The last animated feature film to be released in 1998 was DreamWorks' highly anticipated The Prince of Egypt. The film delivered the 3,000 year old religious text utilizing all-star voice, musical and animation talent, along with state-of-the-art special effects. Aimed at an adult audience, The Prince of Egypt broke many conventions by tackling a bigger-than-life story which is both serious and dauntingly religious. In October, DreamWorks in co-production with Pacific Data Images released Antz. The CGI feature benefited from a strong box office attracting and entertaining audiences of all ages. Antz has been an extraordinary success for both DreamWorks and PDI beating the box office numbers for all non-Disney animated features released to date.
Currently, DreamWorks has three feature films in different stages of production. The first is The Road to El Dorado, due out Christmas 1999. The next film, Shrek, is another CGI project to be co-produced by PDI and DreamWorks and is in the early stages of production. The third traditionally animated project in pre-production is Spirit. In addition, DreamWorks is co-financing and distributing (in the U.S. and most international territories outside of Europe) Chicken Run, a film from Aardman Animations. Both Shrek and Chicken Run have an expected release date in 2000. The creative team in most studios focus on developing a number of projects from which one is selected for production. At DreamWorks, however, only projects that are approved by Jeffrey Katzenberg are developed, and when ready, go on to production. As illustrated by Antz and The Prince of Egypt, the mandate is not to use animation as a formulaic genre, but as a film technique. The philosophy for DreamWorks is to push the boundaries of animation, and tell stories that are yet to be told.
Warner Bros. Feature Animation
In the past year, Warner Bros. Feature Animation successfully finished and delivered its first full-length feature, Quest For Camelot. Even though the film fell short of the expected box office goals, it has had the very positive effect of redirecting the studio towards its own heritage of irreverent humor and comic properties. Committed to producing either a partial film or full-length feature every eighteen months, Warner Bros. has almost completed production on Iron Giant (directed by Brad Bird), which combines traditional animation with CGI. This film has already drawn unanimous praise for its amazing production design and extraordinary acting. The release date for Iron Giant is yet to be determined. Presently in pre-production, Warner Bros. Animation will be producing an animated segment for a mostly live-action film starring Jim Carrey entitled Incredible Mr. Limpet directed by Steve Oedekerk. For this feature film, the studio will be recruiting 3D animators and technical directors. Another leading project in development is Osmosis Jones to be directed by Tom Sito and Piet Kroon. It will be the studio's top priority to develop these projects fully before entering production.
COMPUTER GENERATED IMAGERY
Pixar Animation Studios
In 1998, Pixar's Geri's Game won numerous awards at film festivals in Asia, Europe and North America, including the Academy Award For Best Animated Short. This is Oscar number 11 for Pixar. Quite an impressive track record for a company only twelve years old. By attracting top notch talent, this studio continues to be a leader in the industry, both in the development of software, and the creation of films that are not only commercial bonanzas, but literally eye-opening for audiences and filmmakers alike. In many studios, there is a chasm between the animators and technical directors. At Pixar University, however, animators are taught how to become technical directors, and technical directors are educated on how to animate. This type of formal training allows staff members to have a better understanding of each other's needs, and at the same time appreciate their colleague's creative and technical savvy, thereby producing a highly collaborative and innovative environment. Grossing US $46 million on its opening weekend, A Bug's Life placed itself directly behind Lion King, as the second largest box office debut for an animated film. This film could only have been produced at a studio like Pixar where compelling storytelling and advanced technological feats go hand in hand. Now in a ten-year partnership with Disney, Pixar will create and produce, while Disney will be responsible for the marketing and distribution of five feature films starting with A Bug's Life to be followed by an unnamed feature in 2000. Toy Story II -- not part of the five picture deal -- is scheduled for Thanksgiving 1999. At present, Pixar is not recruiting. Future job opportunities will be listed on their web site. Pacific Data Images Released in October of 1998, Antz is PDI's and DreamWorks' first full-length CGI feature. Both studios took an enormous risk by creating a film that was tailored for a mature audience, but the rave reviews and the film's tremendous box office success is solid proof that it was a move in the right direction.
Shrek is the next feature for PDI and DreamWorks. This film, which is in the early stages of production, is expected to be released in 2000. The third feature will be Tusker, and is currently in development. PDI also produces feature special effects, commercials and shorts. At present, PDI is finishing the special effects work on DreamWorks' live-action feature, Forces of Nature, directed by Bronwen Hughes with Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck. In 1999, PDI anticipates releasing at least five animated shorts through the studio's Shorts Program. The studio supports individual in-house artists to develop their own projects. This unique approach has produced an extremely artist-friendly environment resulting in the creation of many innovative projects on a grass roots level. PDI has tripled in size in the last three years, and presently employs three hundred staff members. The studio is recruiting staff in the production management area and artistic talent, including Character Technical Directors, 3D Animators, Lighting and EFX Artists.
The past year was the year of accolades for Digital Domain. The studio won an Academy Award in the Visual Effects Category for Titanic. It was also the recipient of the British Academy Award in the same category for The Fifth Element. And this is just the beginning of the list of awards for Digital Domain.
Features recently completed include Armageddon, What Dreams May Come and Supernova. Among the films currently in production are: David E. Kelley's Lake Placid, Ron Howard's Ed TV, and David Fincher's The Fight Club. Digital Domain has also just finished a four-minute computer graphics short entitled Tightrope. The short was directed by Daniel Robichaud whose previous work includes animation supervision on Titanic and The Fifth Element. Digital Domain employs approximately 275 staff members. The number of freelancers hired fluctuates constantly depending on the projects in each division (i.e., feature, theme park, commercial and interactive media). The studio is always in search of different types of talent including 3D Character Animators, Senior 2D Digital Artists, and Compositors. Sony Pictures Imageworks Sony Pictures Imageworks completed visual effects work on an impressive list of films in 1998. The features include Godzilla, City of Angels, Snow Falling on Cedars and Patch Adams. Paul Verhoven's Hollow Man is the studio's current film in pre-production.
Venturing into CGI feature work, Sony Pictures Imageworks is collaborating with Columbia TriStar on Stuart Little. The challenge for this film has been developing performance-based photo-realistic CG characters that have human characteristics with a full range of facial expressions, costumes and fur. Developing and utilizing cutting edge technology, along with inventive storytelling techniques, is bound to make Stuart Little a ground breaking project. The studio is actively looking to identify, develop and produce feature films showcasing original digital characters. The in-house creative team is evolving, and the staff is augmented as necessary. Sony Pictures Imageworks is eager to hear outside pitches from writers that are represented either by an agent or an attorney. Present recruiting needs are for Senior Technical Directors and Digital Character Animators. For both job categories, it is essential for the applicant to have a balance of artistic and technical skills, along with 2-4 years of production experience. Animators who have a traditional background with one year of experience in CG production are welcome to apply. The studio is also looking for production artists who have expertise as matchmovers and compositors.
Nickelodeon currently has two untitled direct-to-video projects in production under Executive Producer Fred Seibert. The first is a contemporary version of The Pied Piper directed by Raymie Muzquiz. In an apt contemporization of this classic tale, Nickelodeon's Piper will draw on pop stars with a cult following such as Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan. The studio's second direct-to-video feature, directed by John Eng, is loosely based on Jules Vernes' Around the World in Eighty Days. In this adaptation of the novel, three animal characters search for the perfect habitat. The conflict begins when they presume that they are being chased, and in an effort to escape their hunter, the protagonists circumnavigate the globe. As of this date, there are no final titles for either project. Productions are expected to be completed in 1999 with early releases in 2000. In regard to future projects Fred Seibert admits to having a bias toward artist-developed projects, although he is not limited to this approach. His record of the past five years speaks for itself. Since 1993/94, Seibert has developed work by 75 artists and supported a number of highly popular and award-winning shows such as Dexter's Laboratory and Cow & Chicken.
Universal Family & Home Entertainment Production
Universal Family & Home Entertainment Production completed two direct-to-video projects in 1998. Hercules and Zena was released in February, and Land Before Time VI reached the video shelves at Christmas. The studio has had huge financial success with the Land Before Time sequels. Upon their release, the videos have consistently enjoyed several months on the top ten list of video sales, and remain popular today. Now busier than ever, Universal Family & Home Entertainment Production has just completed American Tail III, and is in production on three more titles: Land Before Time VII, American Tail IV and Alvin & the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein. As the pioneer in the production of direct-to-video animated features, the studio intends to maintain an aggressive presence in the video market, and increase output to three feature releases per year by 2000. Universal Family & Home Entertainment Production has a preference toward developing material that has title recognition and is an established product. Outside pitches are encouraged as long as they have a very strong commercial hook.
Klasky Csupo Inc.
In 1998, Klasky Csupo added yet another creative and entertaining project to its line up of successful television productions (Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys): The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald. In this series, there are six direct-to-video shows featuring Ronald McDonald and his McDonaldland friends as they go on harrowing adventures exploring themes such as friendship, bravery and honesty. The first direct-to-video was a Halloween release appropriately entitled Scared Silly. The next two titles are The Legend of Grimace Island and The Visitors From Outer Space, which are presently in production and will be released in 1999. Each video is approximately 40 minutes (10 minutes of live-action, 30 minutes of animation) and are sold through participating U.S. McDonalds restaurants. Klasky Csupo has also completed production on Runaway Reptor. This direct-to-video project was directed by John Holmquist, and will be released through Paramount in early 1999.
Landing an exclusive contract with CBS for the new Saturday morning line-up, along with expanding into the CGI realm, top the list of many accomplishments for NELVANA in the past year. The titles for the CBS shows are Dumb Bunnies, Franklin, Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend, Anatole, Flying Rhino Junior High (all five are based on popular children's books), and finally Birdz which is an original comedy-adventure series. Rolie Polie Olie is NELVANA's first in-house CG half-hour series currently airing on the Disney Channel. NELVANA continues to be the number one supplier of animated programming to the major U.S. networks with hit series such as Stickin' Around, Ned's Newt and Little Bear. The studio has also entered the primetime game with Bob & Margaret on cable station Comedy Central. The production slate for 1999 includes four new shows: Elliot Moose, George and Martha, Redwall and Really Rosie. In 1997, NELVANA produced 120 half-hour shows, this number jumped to 170 in 1998, and is expected to reach 200 by the year 2000. The studio has many projects in development for both 3D and traditional television and feature work. NELVANA is simultaneously working on a Puff the Magic Dragon feature and television series. Babar: The Movie is almost wrapped up in production, and is expected to reach the theaters in spring of 1999. Current recruiting needs are for directors with animation experience and overseas supervisors. In the upcoming year, the studio's focus will be on increasing production output in both 2D and high-end CGI format along with entering co-productions on proprietary shows.
Walt Disney Television Animation
For the 1997/98 season, Disney Television Animation took a substantial risk by attempting to reinvent Saturday morning programming, and it led to a remarkable payoff propelling the entire ABC lineup to its first season ratings victory since 1990. Disney's One Saturday Morning is the title of the two-hour program responsible for Disney and ABC's tremendous accomplishment. Now in its second season, Disney's One Saturday Morning has two hosts, Meme who is an upbeat, energetic young woman and her partner Jelly Roll, a 5,500 pound "talking" African Elephant. The two hosts lead the viewers through landmark virtual reality segments, imaginative and educational interstitials, and three half-hour cartoon series: Disney's Doug, Disney's Recess and Disney's Pepper Ann. These three shows have also been among the top rated programs in the U.K., France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Adding to the fun and adventure on ABC's Saturday morning line-up, Disney's Hercules premiered in September 1998. Using an all star voice cast including James Woods from the original feature, the series expands upon the Greek demigod's feats during his formative, hero-in-training, "high school" years. What's to come? Mouseworks will be launched on ABC this March. The 22-minute segments are comprised of brand new series of cartoon shorts featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and the other classic Disney characters. The shorts will include 90-second gag cartoons, 6 to 7 1/2-minute character driven cartoons and 12-minute story based cartoons. Starting in the fall, Walt Disney Television Animation will be teaming up with UPN to air two hours of programming in the afternoon. Recess and Hercules will be part of this line-up. On the topic of projects in development, it is worth noting that both Recess and Pepper Ann were pitched by creative talent outside the studio, and they were subsequently hired to perform as executive producers on their respective shows. Walt Disney Television Animation is looking to develop more shows that children can identify with, such as Recess and Pepper Ann.
Columbia TriStar Television
With the continued strong performance of Men In Black: The Series on Kids WB!, and the success of the Godzilla: The Series on Fox Television, Columbia TriStar has maintained its position as one of the largest suppliers of independently distributed children's programming in the United States. In this studio, the doors are open to new artists who have strong drawing skills, want to learn on the job, and are team players. Significant contributions have already been made by artists with backgrounds in graphic design, architecture and commercials. The in-house development team is working on approximately a dozen different series. The main objective for Columbia TriStar Television is to sell two series per year, and sustain the shows currently on the air such as Jumanji and Dragon Tales. Film Roman Diversifying into new territories, Film Roman has started a CGI program which will produce 13-15 short films ranging from 3 to 5-minutes each. There are three goals attached to this program. First, Film Roman plans to create mini-pilots that can be used as potential sales tools for future television or feature work. Next, the studio is constructing a forum dedicated to exploring different CGI styles. Finally, Film Roman is vigorously soliciting new ideas, characters and concepts. Co-producing with Hasbro, Film Roman has also delved into live-action with the television series, Mr. Potato Head Show. This production utilizes puppetry, special effects and computer graphics as it chronicles the daily life of Mr. Potato Head who is now a network television star. Focusing on the development of features and direct-to-video projects, Film Roman is presently working on There Goes the Neighborhood, starring Dustin Hoffman. The film will be combining live-action and animation in a similar style to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The studio has added two new prime time shows, Family Guy and The Downtowners, to its already hugely popular animation slate of The Simpsons, and King of the Hill. The studio is recruiting artists for The Downtowners in the following categories: storyboard artists, animation timers, character designers, character layout artists, BG designers, BG Layout artists and Prop Designers. Zahra Dowlatabadi started working in animation in 1986. She has worked for several studios including Universal, Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera and Walt Disney. She is presently co-writing a book with Catherine Winder entitled: How To Produce Animation.