Saturday, October 1, 2016

When Will We Start Getting Cars 3 Information?

© Disney/Pixar

Is it only me, or is anyone else wondering when the Disney/Pixar marketing machine is going to ramp up for next summer's Cars 3? I can't wait for this film, and there's been so little information. It's killing me!

To be fair, there's been some information and light publicity for the film. First, we have the brief synopsis from Pixar's official website:
Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician with her own plan to win, inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet, and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!
Then, in late May we received some more story details regarding Lightning's new trainer, Cruz Ramirez, and the young upstart racer Jackson Storm, plus some gorgeous concept art by Noah Klocek (shown below).

© Disney/Pixar

Plus, there's been some social media activity. First, during the Toyota - Save Mart 350 race at the Sonoma Raceway on June 26th, Cars 3 director Brian Fee, Cars creative director and franchise guardian Jay Ward and supervising animator Bobby Podesta held a live Facebook video chat to talk about the Cars franchise. You can watch the video on the Cars Facebook page, or read about it in an excellent write-up by the Pixar Post.

Also, in late July, Jay Ward held a live video chat with automobile designer Chip Foose. Foose is well known for his car designs and has been involved with Pixar since the first Cars film. In addition to designing the flames for Ramone and Lightning in the Cars films, Foose provided some of his design flair to Ramone's House of Body Art and inside the Radiator Springs Racers attraction in Cars Land at Disneyland.

Finally, Pixar has released a set of fun animated episodes on YouTube called the Cars Die-cast Series. Each episode is only a few minutes long and take the Cars characters to different, real world environments. They're fun, full of detail and you may spot some Easter Eggs hiding in the backgrounds.

© Disney/Pixar

And just this week, we learned that long-time Pixarian Dave Mullins was directing the studio's next short film, Lou, which will play in front of Cars 3.  I loved Dave's quick sketch and am looking forward to learning more about this film, and seeing it in the theater next June!

So when will we get our first trailer for Cars 3? Your guess is as good as mine. It seems obvious to have a teaser trailer attached to Disney's Moana, which comes out November 23rd, but perhaps Disney will surprise us and attach it to Doctor Strange, being released on November 4th. And could we get a full-length trailer with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? What a great early Christmas gift!

Cars 3 is directed by Brian Fee and produced by Kevin Reher, and hits theaters on June 16, 2017!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Toy Story 2 That Never Was

It's not often we get to see or hear about Pixar's film projects that don't make it to the big screen. newt is a rare exception, as there was plenty of pre-production artwork released before the film was finally shelved. But otherwise, I think there's a number of projects that get started and cancelled or put on hold that we never hear about.

At one time, Toy Story 2 was going to be released as a 60 minute, direct-to-video sequel. But in November of 1997, during a showing of the story reels to Disney executives, they were so pleased with the results they requested Pixar to expand the story and make it into a 90 minute theatrical release. Toy Story 2 went on to be a huge success, bringing in over $485 million worldwide and was the 3rd highest grossing film domestically in 1999 with almost $246 million. Many people consider the film to be the best of the Toy Story trilogy.

Wouldn't it be cool to know what the direct-to-video version would have focused on? I've read a few things on the web regarding the original plan and script. It seems the idea of Woody being kidnapped was a core premise from the beginning, but otherwise I haven't found a lot of other information.

I was recently re-reading Pixar's 1996 and 1997 annual reports (what, doesn't everyone read their annual reports?!) and came across some great nuggets of information and pre-production artwork for the film. In Steve Jobs' letter to the shareholders in the 1996 report, he explained that work on the direct-to-video movie began in the summer of 1996 and would be released in the fall of 1998. Besides being excited to revisit the Toy Story characters, he gave no information on the premise for the film, but there were some storyboards, shown above. As you can see,  some of the artwork (Buzz with Mr. Spell, Buzz in the what looks to be the elevator shaft) lived to make it into the final film. But you have to wonder about some of the other boards - Buzz holding Woody out of the back of the car, and what looks to be Buzz "kidnapping" Woody. And don't you love the design of what I assume is the original Zurg (with both Buzz's) - pretty creepy if you ask me!

By the time the 1997 annual report came out (in early 1998), it had been announced Toy Story 2 would be released as a theatrical film and had been pushed back to the 1999 holiday season to give the team time to expand the story. As Steve Jobs wrote in his letter that year, Toy Story veterans Ash Brannon and Colin Brady would be directing with John Lasseter serving as executive producer. Again, Jobs was tight-lipped about the plot of the film, but there was one piece of artwork. Looking at the expressions of both Buzz and Woody just makes me chuckle!

I'm not sure how the direct-to-video version would've differed from the final film, but I'm happy they saw its potential and upgraded it to a full theatrical release. It ranks as one of my favorite Pixar films!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Disney Pin Celebration 2016 Pixar Party

As is probably no surprise, not only am I a Pixar fan but also a Disney fan, especially of their theme parks. So when the worlds of Pixar and Disney collide, I get very excited! I attended Pixar Weekend held a few years ago at Epcot, but sadly, this is one I probably won't be able to participate in. The Walt Disney World Resort is holding their Disney Pin Celebration 2016 Pixar Party at Epcot on Friday, August 26th and Saturday, August 27th (why the party isn't about 3 weeks earlier when I'm in Disney World, I don't know!). This party will celebrate Pixar's 30th anniversary and will have pins honoring their feature films, short films and characters. I was just checking out the merchandise catalog and wow, it's full of lots of unique and awesome pins and sets.

The celebration is a hard-ticket event – besides admission to Epcot, admission to the party will cost $140/person. This covers admission both days, trading board games (4 vouchers/day), auctions for pre-production and artist proof pins, artist signings, the ability to pre-purchase select party merchandise and some limited edition commemorative gifts including a welcome pin and goodbye pin set. Plus, every guest will receive a $30 Disney gift card, so that may make the cost not seem so steep.

Besides the 2 day party, you can also sign up for the Little Chef Pin Breakfast, which will be held before the party starts Friday morning. The price for breakfast is $45/person and will include Pixar-themed food such as Flick's Fresh Fruit Picks, Radiator Springs Hubcaps and Oil, Remy's Whisked Eggs, Ratatouille Style Vegetables and Mike (Cinnamon) Roll-zowski! In addition to the food, breakfast goers will also get early access to the party and a limited edition commemorative gift pin.

If you're a Pixar fan and pin collector, this looks to be a once-in-a-lifetime sort of event! Tickets went on sale in late April, so if you're interested, head over to the official Disney Pin Celebration website to buy tickets and get more information.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

This Day in Pixar History: Pixar's 1998 Annual Report

As I am fond of doing, let's step back about 17 years to early 1999, when Pixar released their 1998 annual report. 1998 was an exciting year for Pixar. Early in the year it won an Academy Award for its short film Geri's Game, and in November they had released their second feature length film, A Bug's Life. The film was an immediate success, opening at #1 in late November with over $33 million and going on to be the 4th highest grossing film of 1998 with over $363 million worldwide. But looking at the annual report you might not believe it - revenues declined almost 59% to $14.3 million from $34.7 million in 1997, and net income dropped over 64% from $22.2 million to $7.8 million. This was because Pixar hadn't received any revenue yet from A Bug's Life, and according to the Co-Production Agreement with Disney, Disney was allowed to recover all marketing and distribution costs before any remaining revenue was shared equally between the two. Pixar didn't expect to start receiving money from A Bug's Life until the second half of 1999.

Annual reports are full of lots of interesting details. Here are a just a few in Pixar's 1998 report:
  •  As of January 2, 1999 Pixar had a total of 427 employees.
  •  As of March 19, 1999, Steve Jobs owned 30,000,001 shares, or 65.8% of all outstanding shares of Pixar. John Lasseter, the Executive Vice President of Creative Development owned a little over 1 million shares (2.3% of shares outstanding) and Chief Technical Officer Ed Catmull almost 613,000 shares, or 1.3%.
  • Pixar was busy working on its new Emeryville headquarters. The company had spent $21.2 million through 1998 on the new studio and expected to spend another $38 million in 1999 and $19 million in 2000.
The annual report also gave a nice summary of Pixar's filmmaking process, stating the process was very iterative and required continued re-working of each film. The report stated the process was divided in 4 stages: Creative Development, Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production. It also discussed their digital backlot, which they equated to a traditional movie studio backlot. For Pixar, it encompassed a database of their digital models that Pixar stated could be used multiple times in future films and other animated products. They also went into their core technology components, consisting of:
  • Marionette - The in-house developed system used for modeling, animating and lighting. Also known as Menv, Marionette was replaced by Presto, which was first used on Brave.
  • Ringmaster - A complex, distributed system used for scheduling and tracking their animation projects. A key piece of functionality in Ringmaster was its ability to coordinate and schedule the processors in Pixar's render farm.
  • RenderMan - The company's award-winning rendering system. Not only does Pixar continue using RenderMan, Pixar licenses it to other studios and third parties, and it has become the de facto industry standard for rendering. RenderMan licensing generated revenues of approximately $3.8 million in 1998.
If you've never read an annual report, companies always include a section on the risks involved with their business. Pixar was no exception, and the report detailed how difficult it was to be successful in creating animated films:
It is rare for animated feature films to achieve extraordinary box office success. We believe, based on available information, that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that of the more than 40 animated feature films introduced since 1990, only two films generated domestic box office revenues greater than A Bug's Life and Toy Story, and both of those films were produced and distributed solely by Disney.
I actually found 3 Disney films that had been released in the 1990s and had done better than A Bug's Life and Toy Story - Aladdin ($217 million), Beauty and the Beast ($219 million) and The Lion King ($423 million).

While also demonstrating the risks involved, this next quote shows just how powerful the Disney and Pixar films were in regards to their competition:
During at least the last five years, we believe The Rugrats Movie is the only fully-animated feature film (other than Toy Story and A Bug's Life) produced or developed by a studio other than Disney that has achieved more than $100 million in domestic box office revenues.
The Prince of Egypt also was released in 1998 and went over the $100 million threshold, making a little over $101 million. The report pointed out though that the animated world was changing and competition was intensifying:
While the release of A Bug's Life was extremely successful, achieving domestic box office revenues over $160 million as of March 28, 1999, Antz, The Rugrats Movie and Prince of Egypt achieved domestic box office revenues of over $91 million, $100 million and $99 million, respectively. These three films were released during or near the 1998 holiday season and directly competed with A Bug's Life. Each of these films was more successful than any preceding animated feature film not released by Disney or Disney and Pixar.
Another section of risks covered availability of key personnel and the possible impact to the schedule of upcoming films:
In addition, John Lasseter, who, while directing A Bug's Life, was providing creative oversight for Toy Story 2 in his role as Executive Vice President, Creative, has now transitioned to the role of Director of Toy Story 2. Using the personnel of future films to meet the immediate deadlines of films nearing release, as we have for both A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2, may have the long term impact of pushing out the targeted release dates of future films, increasing film budgets, and adversely impacting our ability to generate creative concepts for subsequent films on a timely basis. [. . . ] Although we cannot provide any assurances that Toy Story 2 or Film Four will be released on schedule, the targeted release timing of mid 2001 for Film Four is particularly uncertain.
Film Four referred to Monsters, Inc., whose name had not yet been officially announced, and it in fact did end up getting delayed until November 2, 2001.

In all, Pixar spent 14 of their 71 page report discussing all sorts of risk factors in investing in the company. And this is for a company I consider fairly straight-forward to understand and analyze! I love a company with a simple-to-understand balance sheet that actually has a significant amount of cash, not one with millions of dollars of goodwill or intangibles. A company with a straight-forward cash flow statement where cash from operations exceeds net income. Granted, there were risks in investing in Pixar, but to me, the largest of those risks was easy to understand - Pixar revenue was driven by film releases, and since they weren't releasing films on a consistent basis it led to very lumpy earnings. I could look at the income statement and immediately understand why revenues in 1998 dropped 59% from 1997 - the majority of film, video and merchandise revenue from Toy Story has been collected, and revenues for A Bug's Life hadn't started flowing in. So while this "lumpy" behavior might scare off analysts and people looking for consistency, to me it made sense. With their sizable stockpile of cash, there was little risk of going bankrupt. It was just as unlikely that people would all of a sudden stop wanting to see family friendly films. To me, the only question was, would their future films continue to be successful? From what I had experienced, read and heard, that question was easy to answer. I had confidence Pixar would continue to generate excellent films, I just had to be patient. And in the periods between films, if the stock price began rising too much, like it did in the summer prior to the release of A Bug's Life, I could take some profit. Or, if the price dropped like Pixar would never create another film again, like it did immediately before the release of A Bug's Life, I could buy more shares. Pixar was not a company for investors looking for consistency but one for the patient investor. It was one of my most enjoyable investments, and actually still is as I continue to own the Disney stock I received when Pixar was bought out by them.

One of the best parts of being a Pixar investor in the early years was the cool merchandise the company sent with the annual report. As I mentioned in my post for the 1997 annual report, I received a VHS copy of the short Geri's Game. For 1998, I received 2 posters, one celebrating the release of A Bug's Life with Flik floating on a dandelion (shown at the top of this article), and the second teasing their next film, Toy Story 2 (shown below). These posters were large and beautiful, I think 16" x 40". Even after only 2 films, I had become accustom to the extras Pixar put in their works, such as the bloopers at the end of A Bug's Life. So as I analyzed the poster trying to figure out the roles of the new characters (remember, back in the late 90s, in-depth coverage and fan sites weren't as common as they are now!), I noticed tiny Flik waving from the grill of RC!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Alex Mandel's First Solo Album "As Long as We Breathe"

I wanted to give a quick shout-out to Alex Mandel and his first solo album titled As Long as We Breathe. In case you're not familiar with Mandel, he wrote the music and lyrics for Touch the Sky and Into the Open Air for the film Brave. He also did the music for a couple of short films such as Your Friend the Rat and Mr. Incredible and Pals.

Alex has been with a couple of bands such as The Echo Falls, but this is his first solo effort. Mandel utilized Kickstarter to help fund the album, and I had been eagerly waiting for it to be completed and delivered. My excitement only grew when the CD arrived last week and I saw the gorgeous cover! I've been playing it quite a bit this past week and recommend it to anyone looking for a nice mix of music that spans a number of genres.

If you're a fan of Brave's Celtic music, then I think you'll enjoy the opening number, Way to Go, an upbeat and inspirational tune. Speaking of Brave, Mandel joined up with Julie Fowlis (the voice on both Touch the Sky and Into the Open Air) for The Road - the combination of Alex's guitar with his and Julie's voice is beautiful. Both Helping Hand and Happy sport an electronic/rock edge while In My Arms is a slower, more reflective song. I also got a Paul Simon vibe on both City and the Bay and Domino.

I not only enjoyed the music on this 15 song album but many of the songs lyrics caught me by surprised and left me thinking about finding our purpose in the world, love, despair and spirituality.

All in all, a wonderful album! I strongly encourage you to go to iTunes, Google Play or Spotify and check out As Long as We Breathe for yourself!