Animation World Magazine, Issue 1.11, February 1997

News -- February 1997

Medialab's motion capture technology in action.Medialab's motion capture technology in action.

Medialab Opens LA Studio. French company Medialab, a subsidiary of Canal + has partnered with US company Four Media to form Medialab Studio LA, a joint venture which is one of the first real-time performance animation studios to open in Los Angeles. After making a big splash with presentations of their work at NATPE 97, the new studio hopes to secure production deals with Hollywood studios, continuing the kind of service work they have been providing for European companies since 1989. Their proprietary motion-capture animation system can produce up to 15 minutes of animation per day, and has already been put to use to produce original animated characters for European television, such as a 3-D Bugs Bunny for RAI-TV (Italy), Bert the Fish for Nickelodeon UK, Donkey Kong for France 2's Donkey Kong Country, Digit for Belgacom (Belgium) for the and the virtual talk show host Cleo for Canal +, who is acting as the LA studio's spokesperson for promotions. In addition to their motion-capture technology, Medialab has produced 3D computer animation for TV series, commercials, and feature film effects, such as The Adventures of Pinnochio and Insektors .

Nelvana's forthcoming Donkey Kong Country
Nelvana's forthcoming Donkey Kong Country, made with Medialab's motion capture technology.

PDI Adopts New CG Application. Northern California computer animation company Pacific Data Images recently adopted Platform's LSF (Load Sharing Facility) software for corporate-wide deployment. As the studio prepares for production on Dreamworks' feature-length computer animated film Ants, they recognized the need for a system to manage the workload among their cluster of several hundred computers. The LSF software maximizes time and computing power by distributing the workload of rendering and processing CG images across all of the computers in the network.

Manga Entertainment Launches New Animated Shorts Division
The giant international distributor of Japanese animation has opened a new Animated Shorts Division, which will be based in San Diego, and headed up by animation veteran Jan Cox, former producer of the Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation collections for Mellow Manor Productions. Beginning this fall, the division will distribute a series of full-length theatrical compilations of original animated shorts to be shown in theaters in the US and abroad. "Manga Entertainment is in the position to provide the best opportunity for animators of independently produced short films by enabling them to have their work seen in theaters worldwide by the general public." said Cox, who is now accepting submissions for review. Animators who wish to participate should contact Cox at 964 Fifth Ave, Suite 3300, San Diego, CA 92101 USA.

Hollywood Celebrates Departed Animators. On February 1st, members of the animation community will gather in Hollywood's United Methodist Church in a non-denominational celebration to honor departed members of the animation community. The second annual "Afternoon of Remembrance" presented jointly by the MPSC Local 839 IATSE, ASIFA-Hollywood and Women In Animation will pay tribute to more than 32 people who died in 1996 and early 1997, including Saul Bass. Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster, Lillian Peel, Virgil Ross, and Clair Weeks. Animation World Magazine will publish a report from the event in next month's issue.

Beavis and Butt-head Win Marketing Award. The Hollywood Film Information Council has awarded Beavis and Butt-head Do America the Excellence In Film Marketing Award for December 1996. Against what some consider to be difficult odds, such as initial press resistance and having a teenage mentality film with "no promotable stars," the marketing team achieved tremendous box office success in the US, bringing in more than $51 million so far. Creative promotion techniques such as actually driving a painted Beavis and Butt-head bus across the country and airing pre-produced animated "interviews" with the characters on TV talk shows are acknowledged in the recognition of the award.

Soundtrack album cover from BambiSoundtrack album cover from Bambi

Disney to Release Limited Edition Bambi Home Video. Walt Disney's fifth animated feature, Bambi, will be released on home video on February 4 as part of a 55th anniversary limited edition package, available for only 55 days. Contemporary Disney animators Dave Pruiksma, Doug Ball, Mike Surrey and Ron Husband cite the film as being inspirational in their careers, featuring the contributions of several the legendary Nine Old Men animators who are still with us today, including Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

DirecTV To Broadcast Manga Titles. The Patlabor, Angel Cop, The Guyver, Appleseed, and New Dominion Tank Police are among the 30 Manga Entertainment Japanese animation titles to be offered on DirecTV's Direct Ticket Pay Per View satellite delivery service, beginning February 1.

Green, Will Vinton Studio's first female M&M character!Green, Will Vinton Studio's first female M&M character!

Vinton Creates Female M&M Character. There's a new face in Will Vinton Studios' most recent spots for the popular M&M/Mars ad campaign.....Joining the familiar Blue, Red and Yellow M&M 3-D computer-animated brand characters is an all new Green character (yes, "Green" is her name), the first female M&M character to appear in the campaign. The first Green spots, entitled Talk Show, Myth and Muscle Men premiered during the pre-game telecast on Fox prior to the Superbowl (January 26). Since 1995, Will Vinton Studio has created 16 commercials for M&M/Mars and BBDO Advertising.

Colossal's Pictogram spot for Coca-Cola.Colossal's Pictogram spot for Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola's Colossal Campaign. San Francisco's Colossal Pictures is back in the swing of things with two new commercials for Coca-Cola, one in live-action and one using computer animation. The spots are Drew Takahashi's most recent projects since resuming his focus as the company's chief creative director. Pictogram, the 30 second spot done in 3D computer animation, was designed and directed by Jill Sprado, while the animation and compositing was produced by Click 3 West. Pictogram will air throughout 1997 in over 192 countries.

Curious Captures Cap'n Crunch. In their sixth collaboration with Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, Curious Pictures presents a new 30 second spot for Cap'n Crunch Cereal using composited live-action, cel, and SGI computer generated images. The spot, entitled Treehouse, was directed by Steve Oakes and features a cel-animated Cap'n character as a roving reporter interviewing kids to get their reactions to the addition of blue and purple berries to Quakers' Crunch Berries cereal.

Weight Watcher's new ad campaign

A Sue Loughlin image for Weight Watcher's new ad campaign, produced by Acme Filmworks.

Weight Watchers Gets Animated. Acme Filmworks director Sue Loughlin created two 30 second spots now playing regularly on US national television. This campaign marks a new direction for the client, Weight Watchers, departing from spokesperson advertising for the season of increased business in the beginnings of the new year. Loughlin, creator of the festival-recognized short film The Occasion, has also created a series of three print ads as part of the overall campaign.

Bruce Willis to Star In Sony PlayStation Game. Shoot 'em up! Activision is currently producing Apocalypse, a new animated action-adventure game for the Sony PlayStation platform, featuring a "virtual" representation of Bruce Willis as a main character. Using cyber-scanning and motion-capture technologies, artists will create an entirely computer-generated 3D character based on Willis. This project will use Activision's new proprietary animation system and engine technology that they have been developing for two years. As part of his multi-million dollar package, Willis received an equity interest in Activision and a profit participation in the title.

Kids' World First Game Stars Howie Mandel. Kids' World Entertainment, a division of 7th Level, has released its' first interactive CD-ROM title, The Great Reading Adventure Starring Howie Mandel. Designed for children ages 6 to 9, the animated educational title features the voices of Howie Mandel (Bobby's World) as Lil' Howie and Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and the Brain, Yosemite Sam) as Stinky the Skunk.

Living Book's CD-ROM of Arthur's Reading Room.Arthur's Reading Room

Living Books Releases New Arthur Game. Living Books, the San Francisco-based producer of interactive educational entertainment for children, has released a new interactive storybook based on the popular children's book and PBS animated TV series Arthur. The product, entitled Arthur's Reading Race features animated characters in games designed to teach basic reading skills to 3-7 year old kids.

The following items are from AWN's January 21, 1997 Email News Flash:

California To Fund Education Initiative.
After much pushing from Hollywood digital studios facing staffing crunches, California Governor Pete Wilson stated he will allot $1.2 million of the state's 1997-98 budget to fund scholarships for students pursuing careers in digital animation. The funds will be matched by a number of the animation and effects companies seeking talent. Additionally, Wilson recently unveiled the state's Digital High School initiative, which will translate into $1 billion in technology for California's high schools.

Ottawa To Present Student Animation Festival. North America's largest animation event, The Ottawa International Animation Festival announced plans to host a new biannual event, the International Student Animation Festival of Ottawa (SAFO). Executive Director Chris Robinson notes "Students should have an opportunity to have their work screened more often and within a more supportive environment." SAFO will offer a showcase for the growing number of animated student films being produced, as well as spotlight animation schools and programs worldwide and offer professional workshops. To support the event, the Animarket trade fair introduced at Ottawa 96 will also take place at the new student festival, offering the talent-hungry studios and production companies an opportunity to get a peek at the industry's fresh crop of talent. The entry deadline for films in competition is July 1, 1997. For further information contact Chris Robinson at

Animation Celebration To Include Business Conference. The World Animation Celebration to be held in Pasadena, California March 24-30 recently announced details for its 1st International Business Conference of Television Animation. Twenty producers will be selected to give 10 minute presentations to all conference attendees, while another 10 producers will be chosen to present 5-minute videos at the breakfast symposium. Submissions are being accepted until February 15, 1997. For an application, contact Animation Celebration coordinators at

Absolut Vodka Launches Animation Web Site. Christine Panushka, Associate Director of California Institute of the Arts' Experimental Animation Department is subject of and inspiration for Absolut Panushka, a new on-line image advertising campaign for Absolut Vodka. With Panushka's designs as the doorway and centerpiece, the web site (, officially launching on Thursday, January 23, features additional artwork and animation clips by 24 international masters of animation, including Pritt Parn, Jules Engel, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Ruth Hayes, The DeNoojiers and others. Each animator was commissioned to create an original 10 second animated film including a visual of the signature Absolut bottle shape. The site is being promoted as an "on-line animation festival" with two of the films slated to premiere on the site each week. The films have already won a prize at the Holland Animation Film Festival ( for Best Applied Animation Campaign, and are making their US debut at the Sundance Film Festival this week. Produced by Santa Monica, California-based production company, Troon, the site also features an animation history overview by film historian William Moritz and a Java-enabled page which allows users to create their own animation on-line. "Animation will be the art of the Internet" predicts Panushka, who believes the medium will bring animator and audience together.

PBS Builds Home Video Arm and Partners With WebTV. On February 25, PBS' newly-formed division, PBS for Kids, will release its first home video product, a series of six tapes of The Adventures From the Book of Virtues, an animated series produced last year by PorchLight Entertainment. Meanwhile, PBS announced last week that they are partnering with WebTV Networks, Inc. to create customized on-line content for broadcast on WebTV's proprietary delivery mechanism, which allows users to access the Internet from their television set. The material will serve to promote PBS' TV shows, which can be viewed simultaneously through WebTV's system. "Our goal is to cybercast fully integrated, extensive on-air programming and PBS On-line Web content to a whole new population of Internet users," noted PBS President and CEO Ervin Duggan at a press conference last week.

Fox Kids Network Confirms Plans To Launch Cable Network. During the NATPE convention in New Orleans, Fox Kids Network CEO and Chairman Margaret Loesch met with broadcast affiliates to announce and discuss plans to launch a Fox Kids cable network aimed at rivaling existing networks, such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Loesch is currently working on a business plan for the venture, targeting a September 1998 launch. Fox Kids Network is attempting to attract affiliate support in advance by offering to give them a 50% profit participation. Talks have already taken place between the network's parent News Corp. and International Family Entertainment about taking a partial stake in IFE's The Family Channel, which is already available in 65 million homes. Loesch also indicated that the company is considering turning their general entertainment cable channel, fX, into a children's service.

FOX's New Animated Show Is King. Last week's Nielsen ratings showed that the premiere of Mike Judge's new animated series King of the Hill was watched by about 19.9 million viewers in the US, ranking it the top rated new show of the season and number 13 show of the week among total viewers. Just in front of King was The Simpsons which tallied in at number 12 with 20.4 million viewers, the shows' highest rating in 2 years.

Cartoon Network's Simensky Promoted / Program News. Linda Simensky has been promoted from Director of Programming to Vice President of Original Animation for Cartoon Network Worldwide. Although the titles may not define the significance of the change, Linda told AWM that her new role will involve much more direct development work as part of the restructuring of the merged Turner/Time Warner company. Responsibilities will include overseeing development of and production for shows produced at Hanna Barbera Productions, notably drawing on her nine years of experience at Nickelodeon.

As president of ASIFA-East, as well as a frequent visitor to international animation festivals, Simensky has a strong knowledge of short-form animation, which she has put to good use in curating a new program for Cartoon Network, O Canada, a series of compilations of animated shorts produced by the world-renowned National Film Board of Canada. The weekly half hour program will air at 9:30 p.m. (ET) Wednesday evenings and repeat each Sunday at 10:30 p.m. (ET). Showcasing more than 50 films in all, the series will include 1986 Academy Award nominee The Big Snit by Richard Condie and the 1953 Oscar-winning Neighbors by Norman McLaren. "This collection was actually one of my programming goals when I started at Cartoon Network," notes Simensky. She is also responsible for programming another unique short film collection aired on the network: a collection of the annual winners of the ASIFA-East animation festival which happens in New York every spring.

In other programming slots, Cartoon Network is adding three Kids WB! series to its Friday night lineup: Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs, Superman, and Steven Spielberg Presents Pinky and the Brain. This is just one of the many ways in which the merger of Time Warner and Turner is bringing synergy to animated programming. Cartoon Network president Betty Cohen commented that, "Now that we are a part of the Time Warner family, we will take advantage of every possible opportunity to promote the popularity of these classic and contemporary cartoon stars from both Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera."

Curiously Animated Nick Logo. Curious Pictures recently completed production of a dozen 3 and 4 second vignettes to serve as station identifications on the Nickelodeon cable network. Emmy-award winning director Mo Willems, known for his independent films and work on Sesame Street, directed the spots bringing to life the network's new computer-generated spokesperson Logobelly.

Ovitz Rich, Eisner Richer! Michael Ovitz resigned from his post as president of Walt Disney Co. in December, taking home a whopping $38.8 million in severance pay, plus stock options. This sum was reached after Disney was sued by a group of its stockholders for "waste of corporate assets."

Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co. chairman Michael Eisner just signed a new 10-year contract to stay with the company. Worth at least $300 million, the deal assures that Eisner will be a billionaire by 2006. One has to wonder... what do these guys earn per minute?

Quibble Over Rocky & Bullwinkle Royalties. Animator Ted Key has filed a lawsuit against Rocky & Bullwinkle current rights holders Ward Productions. Key claims that Ward did not honor his end of the deal to share with him 25% of profits generated from all sales of the Rocky & Bullwinkle show to TV, home video or licensing the characters for other media projects. Meanwhile, in a separate federal court trial, the ownership of rights to the Rocky & Bullwinkle show is still under debate by MCA, Ward and General Mills.

Storyopolis Announces Animated Projects. Software billionaire Paul Allen's family entertainment company known as Storyopolis unveiled several new projects last week, including several animated TV shows and feature films. Projects in development are all based on illustrated children's books. For television, they plan to produce a series' with Saban Entertainment and one with DIC. The feature films in development are part of a first-look movie deal with Warner Bros., and they include adaptations of the books Nicholas Cricket, as well as The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with Geena Davis as lead voice and co-producer, and Red Ranger Came Calling based on Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Berkely Breathed's recently completed screenplay, and The Iguana Brothers, a road movie starring iguanas for which modelmakers Mackinnon & Saunders are slated to participate in production.

Resident Evil To Become Feature Film. Capcom Co., the Japanese video game giant and creators of the Sony Play Station game Resident Evil, have announced plans to develop the game into a live-action feature film. The screenplay will be written by Alan McElroy, writer of the Spawn comic book based film.

The following items are from AWN's January 7, 1997 Email News Flash:

Saban Going Dutch?
Saban Entertainment is negotiating an agreement with Dutch media company Arcade NV to acquire a majority stake in the company's cable channel TV 10. This will likely mean an increase in animated programming for the channel, which is transmitted on 80% of Dutch cable systems. With Saban's recent formation of Fox Kids Worldwide with Fox Children's Network, pursuing interest in overseas cable operations fits into their overall plan to distribute their product on a global scale.

Scheimer in Deal With K-TEL. Lou Scheimer Productions has entered into an exclusive output deal with K-Tel to acquire family films for international home video distribution. Lou Scheimer, long-time animation industry player and founder and former CEO of Filmation, notes that he will be looking for new properties at NATPE next week.

Curious Pictures Creates Best Buy Campaign. Many of our US readers may have noticed the clever puppet-animated commercials for the Best Buy Company which aired over the holidays, and wondered who created them. The three 30 second spots; Monsters, Wrestlers and Three Little Pigs were created by Curious Pictures at their newly-opened San Francisco production facility. Director/ designer Denis Morella noted that the goal was to create a "Tex Avery/ Warner Bros. style animation, executed in 3D." Working with Morella on the spots were former Twitching Images staff, Animation Director Paul Berry, Art Director Graham Maiden and Production Supervisor Kat Miller, best known for their work on The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. (Berry, though, is perhaps best known for his short, The Sandman, which played on the festival circuit several years ago.)

Full Production Slate for Dreamquest Images. The Walt Disney Company's visual effects division, Dreamquest Images recently announced that they are in production on seven feature films; Mighty Joe Young, The Absent-Minded Professor, Con Air, George of the Jungle, Kundun, Jungle 2 Jungle and Deep Rising. Dreamquest recently completed over 400 visual effects shots for the upcoming release Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. Since being purchased by Disney in May '96, the studio's staff has effectively doubled to well over 200 employees, varying from project to project.

Disney Sets UK Video Sales Record. The top-selling home video in the UK this year has been Disney's 1961 re-release of the animated 101 Dalmatians. bringing the British home video sales market to a record high this year. Meanwhile, Disney's animated feature Toy Story home video sold more than 464,000 in the UK in November alone.

Role-Playing Games To Become Features. Sweet Pea Entertainment, producers of Walt Disney Pictures' upcoming comic-book based feature, GEN 13, has acquired all rights to the popular futuristic sci-fi role-playing game Traveler. The company is now developing the property into TV and feature film concepts in collaboration with Grand Design Entertainment. This and other projects in development by Sweet Pea will appeal to the virtually untapped literary market of role-playing game fans, for which there is an established audience of over 12 million players worldwide. Sweet Pea also owns rights to the popular Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game.

WB and Turner Synergy Begins. The merger of Time-Warner and Turner is becoming a reality as we enter the new year, as we were reminded with the Warner Bros. Christmas card featuring a group shot of characters from both libraries (Fred Flintstone standing right next to Bugs Bunny!). Over the holiday season, customers found for the first time Hanna-Barbera products for sale in the Warner Bros. Studio Stores nationwide. On the air, viewer are seeing Space Jam promotions and specials on Turner television networks. In production, many Hanna-Barbera staff are now working on WB TV animation shows, while Jean MacCurdy heads up Hanna Barbera Productions (she was formerly head of Warner Bros. TV Animation division). Turner Feature Animation's second and final product, Cats Don't Dance will be released this spring by Warner Bros.

AFI Offers Animation Classes. The American Film Institute in Los Angeles will offer introductory workshops throughout January, February and March, focusing on fundamentals of 3D modeling, computer animation for interactive media and photo geometry. For information call (213) 856-7690.

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