Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Pixar-Related Web Events for 2012

I thought for the end of the year it would be fun to list some of my favorite Pixar-related web events that occurred during 2012. There is so much great Pixar content out there and it can come from many places. I came up with the following list for a couple reasons; first, to give you an idea of the blog posts, interviews and web sites that really caught my eye and inspired me. And secondly, to hopefully introduce you to some alternate and different places that you can find not only Pixar, but animation, film and other related content.
  • Let's start with The PixarPost's #followrex hashtag and related posts. T.J. and Julie loved the new Pixar short Partysaurus Rex so much, they created their own Partysaurus Rex character, took him around town and tweeted about all of Rex's adventures! I had a blast seeing all the pictures of Rex and his crazy antics! They also of course brought Rex along for the Partysaurus Rex premier on September 14 with Finding Nemo 3D. Since then, Partysaurus Rex has done a lot more traveling, such as going to the World Series, partying with BT and even being sent to the Pixar Studios! T.J. and Julie were also able to interview Mark Walsh, director of Partysaurus Rex!

  • Along the Partysaurus Rex lines, William over at the A113Animation blog did an extensive interview with Partysaurus Rex director Mark Walsh. This is a great, in-depth interview covering the inspirations for the short and working with the Pixar Canada folks who did the awesome animation on the film. Make sure to follow William and A113Animation on Twitter!

  • I love the Disney parks, and love photography. So it's no surprise I love listening to the Disney Photography Podcast! In episode 25, they covered the re-opening of Disney's California Adventure this past summer which included the new Cars Land. Besides the photography tips and fun humor, Cory, Ryan and Tom's passion for the Disney Parks really comes through in their episodes. Even if you're not a photographer, listening to the podcast will point out many details that you might otherwise miss when visiting the parks.

  • Many of my favorite Pixar events had to do with the release of Brave. For instance, in episode 21 of the Animation Fascination blog, Marc and Matt interviewed Pixar animators Austin Madison and Chris Chua. Not only did they have some great Brave discussions, the podcast included their usual coverage of animation news, the latest trailers and home video releases. Get a list of all their podcast episodes and subscribe to it on iTunes!

  • On The Incomparable podcast, Jason Snell and his guests cover all sorts of media-related topics, usually tending towards the geekier side! Jason has discussed Pixar in a couple of episodes (take a look at episodes 49 and 50), and in episode 102, he and his guests give their views and thoughts on Brave.

  • If you consider yourself a Pixar fan and somehow are not familiar with or don't listen to The Pixar Podcast, well, you should stop reading right now and head over to the website and subscribe! Derrick, Greg and Johnny cover all the latest Pixar news and have done some awesome interviews, including ones with the owners of the Up house, composer and Pixarian Alex Mandel, and Michael Giacchino. Derrick was also invited to spend a couple of days at Pixar for the Brave Bloggers day and published the recordings from a number of the great sessions he sat in on. Here is the list of the episodes from that trip:
    • Episode 73 - Interview with Director Mark Andrews - "story is hard!"
    • Episode 74 - A walking tour of the studio's 2nd floor, which also provides a good overview of the steps taken to make a Pixar film.
    • Episode 76 - Simulation Supervisor Claudia Chung discusses simulating cloth and hair.
    • Episode 77 - Shading Art Director Tia Kratter and Production Designer Steve Pilcher talk about color scripts and lighting the film, what they learned from traveling to Scotland and what the details in a character's clothing can tell us about that character.
    • Episode 78 - Interview with Producer Karen Sarafian.
    • Episode 81 - Interview with Story Artist Louis Gonzales, who discusses the steps early in film development.
    • Episode 82 - Interview with Enrico Casarosa, director of the short film La Luna.

  • The Rotoscopers have only been doing their podcast since early 2012, but they've already done a number of great episodes and interviews! I particularly enjoyed their interview with Pixar technical director Chris Horne. I loved the nerdy discussion on lighting and rendering, especially how each character has its "posse of lights", and how one of the last scenes for Brave they needed was going to take a month to render but the film was due in only 2 weeks! Their podcasts, which also include reviews of animated films, are great fun and I really enjoy the interaction and humor between Morgan, Chelsea and Mason.
  • As a techie, I love getting into the technical details of film making, especially animation. That's why I loved the Chris Horne interview (above), and why I also really like fxguide. The fxguide is composed of a number of podcasts including the rc, the vfx show, fxpodcast and fxguidetv. Their podcasts and articles cover areas like digital cinema, visual effects and trade shows like SIGGRAPH. Much of their content goes way over my head but it's still fun hearing all the technical details about the films I've enjoyed so much. fxguide did a couple of great podcasts related to Pixar this year. In the June 22 episode, fxpodcast interviewed Claudia Chung on Brave simulations. Some of the information in this podcast was covered in The Pixar Podcast's episode 76 I mentioned above, but this one goes into more technical details. But as a big fan of Pixar history, if I could only pick one episode, I'd have to pick their podcast on July 6 with Dr. Alvy Ray Smith. If you're not familiar with Smith, you should be! He was at NYIT with Ed Catmull and moved with Catmull and others to Lucasfilm to create their computer division. With Catmull, he founded Pixar. This interview delves into the "early" days of Pixar and computer graphics, and covers many of the early computer graphic pioneers and inventions, a number of them created by Smith and which are still used in film making.

  • Pixar's next film will be Monsters University, to be released June 21, 2013. The marketing for the film has already begun with some great concept art and a fun teaser trailer. Disney/Pixar has also created a Monsters University website to help market the film. The site is a mock university website with everything a real university would have - information on admissions, academics, student life, classes and an actual university store where you can buy Monsters University apparel and other merchandise (I have yet to buy the 4-armed sweatshirt, maybe I'll get it for my birthday!). The site is also set up with a M.U. Net page where students, faculty and staff can log in. I'm hoping that as we get closer to the film's release Disney/Pixar expands the site and allows fans to obtain a M.U. Net user ID. Keep your eye on this site!
So that's my list! What about you? There's so many great Pixar bloggers out there, which ones caught your attention? Please leave your favorites in the comment section below, and have a great New Year!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 Animation Awards Season (UPDATED)

2012 was a great year for animation! This can be seen by the number of films that have won a Best Animated Film award from the different critics associations and award organizations. Out of the 60 or so award associations I follow, the following have announced winners for 2012:

Academy Awards: Brave
Alliance of Women Film Journalists: ParaNorman
Annie Awards: Wreck-It Ralph
Austin Film Critics Association: Wreck-It Ralph
British Academy of Film and Television Arts: Brave
Boston Society of Film Critics: Frankenweenie
Central Ohio Film Critics Assocation: ParaNorman (runner-up Wreck-It Ralph)
Chicago Film Critics Association: ParaNorman
Critics Choice Movie Awards: Wreck-It Ralph
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-ups Frankenweenie and Pirates! Band of Misfits)
Florida Film Critics Circle: Frankenweenie
Golden Globes: Brave
Houston Film Critics Society: Wreck-It Ralph
International Press Academy: Rise of the Guardians
Iowa Film Critics Association: Brave
Kansas City Film Critics Circle: Frankenweenie
Las Vegas Film Critics Society: ParaNorman
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Frankenweenie (runner-up It's Such a Beautiful Day)
National Board of Review: Wreck-It Ralph
Nevada Film Critics Society: Frankenweenie
New York Film Critics Circle: Frankenweenie 
New York Film Critics Online: Chico & Rita
North Texas Film Critics Association: Wreck-It Ralph
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle: Wreck-It Ralph
Online Film Critics Society: ParaNorman
Phoenix Film Critics Society:  Wreck-It Ralph
St. Louis Film Critics Association: Wreck-It Ralph (runner-up ParaNorman)
San Diego Film Critics Society: ParaNorman
San Francisco Film Critics Circle: ParaNorman
Southeastern Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-up Frankenweenie)
Toronto Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-ups Brave and Frankenweenie)
Utah Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-ups Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph)
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association: ParaNorman
Women Film Critics Circle: Rise of the Guardians (Best Family Film, tied with Life of Pi)

I will keep this list updated as more awards are announced.

Here is a count of wins for each film:
Chico & Rita1
Rise of the Guardians2
Wreck-It Ralph9

There are a couple of surprises here. The first is that the New York Film Critics Online gave the award to Chico & Rita, a film I am not at all familiar with. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature this year at the Oscars, and has an 86% rating on RottenTomatoes so I am happy it is getting some award recognition from the critics. The other real surprise to me is a film missing from the above list: Brave. On one hand this saddens me as I think it's a great film and very worthy of some recognition. On the other hand, I think this goes to show how strong the animation industry has become. Look at the studios represented by these films - Laika, DreamWorks, Sony (Hotel Transylvania has been nominated for awards, and the studio co-produced The Adventures of Tintin last year), in addition to Disney and Pixar. And last year's Academy Award winner Rango came from ILM. This is a good sign for the animation industry!

I'll keep this count up-to-date as award season progresses. If you're interested in seeing what awards Brave has been nominated for and has won, check out the Pixar Wikia Brave Award page.

UPDATE (12/31/2012)
I've updated the list above with 9 more award organizations. ParaNorman continues to lead in the awards with Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph close behind. Rise of the Guardians received another win, and Brave did receive runner-up recognition from the Toronto Film Critics Association, but it still has no wins. Likewise, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association gave a runner-up nod to Pirates! Band of Misfits. I don't remember a previous year where 3 films seemed as equally likely to win the major Best Animated Film award. It will be very interesting to see which films take home the award from the major award organizations, which will heat up in January! Stay tuned!

UPDATE (1/11/2013)
4 more critic organizations announced winners - the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (ParaNorman), the Critics Choice Awards (Wreck-It Ralph), the Houston Film Critics Society (Wreck-It Ralph) and the Online Film Critics Society (ParaNorman). That makes 26 organizations having made their winner announcements.

We're also getting closer to the top-tier nominations and winners. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) announced their nominations for the year on the 9th, which included Brave, Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. It is really a shame the BAFTA treats animation as a second class entity - it is the only category that has 3 nominations (the other categories all have 5). This means great films like Wreck-It Ralph and Pirates! Band of Misfits do not get the recognition they deserve. The Academy Award nominations were announced on the 10th and included the 3 BAFTA nominations plus Wreck-It Ralph and Pirates! Band of Misfits. Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees! All of these films are deserving of the Best Animated Film award, it will be exciting to see which one takes it home!

UPDATE (1/28/2013)
The Producers Guild of America gave the Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures award to Wreck-It Ralph!

FINAL UPDATE (2/27/2013)
What a roller coaster of an awards year it was! Both ParaNorman and Frankenweenie started off strong but fell off at the end. Conversely, Brave started slowly but ended up winning the majority of the "major" awards including the Best Animated Feature awards from BAFTA, the Golden Globes and this week, the Academy Awards! Wreck-It Ralph also did great, winning a number of Annie Awards, including their Best Animated Feature Award.

For a full list of all the awards Brave was nominated for (and won), please check out its wiki page.

Monday, December 10, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Pixar Earnings Report, 3rd Quarter 1996

I'm back with another post on Pixar's quarterly results from when they were an independent public company. In my previous posts I covered the first and second quarters of 1996. This post will cover the third quarter of 1996 (July - September).

Film revenues from Toy Story more than doubled from about $5 million last quarter to over $11 million this quarter. Remember that Pixar did not receive revenue until Disney recovered all of their marketing and distribution expenses. So even though Toy Story had been in theaters for over 7 months, Pixar's revenue from the film was finally being received. And according to the 10Q report, Pixar made clear that this may be the peak of revenues for the next couple of years. The document stated the next large window of revenue would be the Toy Story home video release, which occurred in October, 1996. It would take Disney a quarter before transferring the revenue to Pixar, so Pixar wouldn't start receiving home video revenue until the first quarter of 1997. After the Toy Story home video release, the next large event would be the release of A Bug's Life which would not occur until the end of 1998, and Pixar wouldn't see revenues from that for at least a couple of quarters. Pixar clearly states in the 10Q that until then, revenues and earnings would likely decrease as compared to 1996.

Besides film revenue, Pixar had revenue of $1 million from animation services, which consisted of short animation projects and television commercials. Animation service revenue increased 157% from the same period in 1995. Even with the large increase, Pixar had announced in July, 1996 that it would discontinue most of its commercial work after existing commitments had been fulfilled to focus on feature animation. It also stated that most of the 18 employees in the television commercial division had been moved to other projects.

Software revenues of $949,000 came from RenderMan licensing and royalties from Pixar's first CD-ROM, Disney's Animated Storybook, Toy Story. Software revenue increased 34% from 1995, primarily due to CD-ROM royalties of $350,000.

Patent licensing revenue was $700,000 for the quarter. Pixar had granted Silicon Graphics (SGI) a non-exclusive license to use certain Pixar patents pertaining to creating computer-generated photorealistic images. The agreement called for SGI to pay $6 million in cash to Pixar (which was paid in the first quarter of 1996), plus giving Pixar credits of $5 million to purchase SGI hardware and software over 4 years. The $700,000 in revenue for this quarter was part of the $5 million in purchase credits.

Overall, total revenue for the quarter was $13.8 million compared to $1.1 million in the 3rd quarter of 1995, the majority being the Toy Story film revenue.

I find it amazing how high Pixar's gross profit margins were. For the quarter they were 90%! This was due to margins of 92% for film revenue and 98% for software revenue, as there were no costs associated with the CD-ROM royalties. Also, there were no associated costs for patent licensing revenue. Animation service margins were only 16% due to higher costs from increased complexity in the animation projects Pixar had undertaken and increased market competition. I'm guessing the low margins had an impact on Pixar's decision to exit this market.

Although margins were very high this quarter, Pixar anticipated operating expenses would significantly increase as it was having to pay higher salaries due to competition for animators, technical directors and other creative personnel. It was also funding higher levels of R&D and expanding administrative staff.

Net income  increased to $9.6 million for the quarter from a loss of $1.3 million in the previous year. The net profit margin was 69.5%. For the first 9 months of 1996, net income was $20.7 million and net profit margin was 69%.

The great financial news was not doing anything for Pixar's stock, which sat in the teens throughout the quarter.  Investors realized that revenues would decrease, and with no obvious sources of new revenue until the release of A Bug's Life, most decided to sit on the sidelines.

According to their agreement with Disney, Disney paid for costs incurred in the development of the feature films. Even though A Bug's Life would not be released for another 2 years, Disney had already reimbursed Pixar $6.3 million and had another $1.3 million outstanding.

Also, it can be seen that Pixar was looking towards the future, as in September, 1996, they paid a $150,000 refundable deposit on the purchase of land in Emeryville for their new headquarters, which would not be complete until late 2000.