Monday, April 06, 2009

Commerce vs. Art

There's an interesting article in the NY Times about how Wall Street is afraid that Pixar's next release, Up, will not meet their financial expectations. Disney, to it's credit, is defending the film's prospects. The article contains some interesting material on box office grosses and merchandising revenue.

Pixar’s last two films, “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille,” have been the studio’s two worst performers, delivering sales of $224 million and $216 million respectively, according to Box Office Mojo, a tracking service. Attendance for Pixar films has also dropped sharply over the years, suggesting that ticket price inflation helped prop up overall sales for “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille.”

Retailers, meanwhile, see slim merchandising possibilities for “Up.” Indeed, the film seems likely to generate less licensing revenue than “Ratatouille,” until now the weakest Pixar entry in this area. (“Cars” wears the merchandising crown, with sales of more than $5 billion.)
It appears that Up will be the last original Pixar feature for at least 3 years, with Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 in line as the next releases.


David said...

I wonder why in this New Global Economy™ the NY Times would only focus on the domestic box-office receipts for those films and not give the entire box-office cumulative gross from both the domestic and foreign release:

Ratatouille : $621,426,000

Wall E : $534,767,889

Cars: $461,983,149

So for the record (from Box Office Mojo) Ratatouille and Wall E have not been Pixar's "worst" performers at the box-office. Both made more money than Cars when the entire box-office gross is considered.

But Cars has made even more money with ancillary merchandise and I suppose that is where the real money is. (and the Cars characters/world can be ground up and churned out for sequels which is unlikely with Wall E or Ratatouille)

Jerry Beck said...

In an industry in which the majority of releases never gross $100,00 million dollars - never come near it - The NY Times sees a problem with a company whose every release grosses well north of that figure?

This highlights the "ghetto" animated features are still in. Every film needs to be a huge hit or we are dead. This rule does not apply to any other type of motion picture.

Yeldarb86 said...

Ignoring the fact that Pixar has two sequels (and two other rumored sequels) ahead, since when has their films been about merchandise?

It's like people are expecting the one animation studio that has been consistently successful since the beginning to fail.

Floyd Norman said...

Who gives a rat's behind what these Wall Street morons have to say about anything?

Thad said...

Floyd took the words right out of my mouth (which he does 99% of the time).

Bill Perkins said...

Hi Mark. Just to see how far we've come. I worked on the "Care Bears Movie" in 1984. It went out and became the highest grossing non Disney animated feature film to that date (predating "An American Tail" by about a year and one half )making approx 30 million against a production coast of 3 Million and for years was one of the highest grossing Canadian feature films ever made. Certainly the highest grossing animated feature film until the release of " The Wild". At the time it was a very big deal in terms of numbers generated and having that perspective I can't believe the carping if an Animated feature makes less then what 300 Million !!! I also can remember when the Non- Disney Animated feature film market was almost non-existent. Boy how times have changed. I also read your post "Peering thru the Fog" with great interest. I also follow economic news with a mixture of Interest and angst. Your comment about how Flash and ToonBoom having displaced job categories such as inbetweening and Assistant animation really hit me over the head. The job loss I'm most aware off and one that a lot of my peers have taken has been in sheet timing, but you are of course right. The traditional Animation hierarchy - the one that persons of our generation went thru really doesn't exist anymore. Sadly too is the fact that despite the abundance of animation out there fewer and fewer "older" shall I call them animation professionals are directly involved.

JPilot said...

"Ancillary merchandising: How to turn a complex, high quality, award winning, groundbreaking animated blockbuster into a 2 hour long toy commercial."

I am going to try typing that into's search engine and see what comes up.

Eric "Spillz" Angelillo said...

I still can't get over the irony of Wall-E merchandise being sold at Wal-Mart.

Interesting article.

Anonymous said...

Thad is still an idiot.

warren said...

@ Bill Perkins:

Sadly too is the fact that despite the abundance of animation out there fewer and fewer "older" shall I call them animation professionals are directly involved.

I'm curious about this statement. I've been at studios in Toronto where I'm an old man at the age of 34. Bill, what do you think is the root cause of this?

Bill Perkins said...

Hi Warren, I gave this a lot of thought because there is, in my opinion no one answer. Rather its a real witch's brew of a lot of factors. I was hoping my original comment might spark a response for Mark himself but I'll give it a go. Firstly I"m 54 and I'm speaking of a generation of Animation professionals that runs in age from about 60 at one end to about the middle to late 40's on the other - in other words, my peer group, the ones I've worked most closely with Thur the years. Secondly I should preface that these comments relate primarily to television animation production not feature animation. That said I started in the business in 1979 and was part of the first wave of the"new Generation" of animators trained during the 70's primarily at Sheridan in Canada and as well Cal Arts in the States. At the time ( 1976 Thur to 1982 ) there was a mini boom in the production of animated half hours in Canada due to a tax incentive given to persons investing
in Canadian film. This underwrote Nelvana's early television specials (A Cosmic Christmas)and as well the work of Atkinson film Arts in Ottawa (The Little brown Burro). Two things happened at one. The money was there and the talent was available. During this time two Animated feature films were produced - Nolana's "Rock and Rule" as well as "Heavy Metal" which involved several production houses world wide. Also importantly during this time all production from storyboards thru to Ink and paint and camera were "in House". In retrospect it was a pretty special time as it was to be the last chance to be part of the Traditional Animation Paradigm. In 1982 - the tax break was closed which "turned off the tap so to speak" and as well Nelvana was crippled by the box office failure of "Rock and Rule". At this point in time the studios were forced into television network production in order to survive. The work was either on the networks (ABC, NBC, CBS,) as part of the Saturday Morning schedule or done for the syndication market - "Inspector Gadget " being a good example of that. In this new environment, Animation Ink and Paint as well as camera was sent to studios in Japan, then Korea and Taiwan. The Inkers and painters lost their jobs although a few were retained for color styling. Background painters now painted background keys. Layout artists still had work and most animators went into storyboarding, sheet timing, character layouts etc. Directors now only directed the front end of the production and called retakes on color footage from the overseas studios as well sat in on editing and final mix. Although jobs were lost and certainly you could not "Train" to be an animator or become an Inbetweener or assistant animator this production paradigm to my thinking stayed intact till about the year 2000. During this time period lets say 1984 - 2000 there were for sure, fallow years and as my generation aged - married had families etc many of them left and went on other more stable career endeavors. I would say that was what comes to my mind as the first factor in the reduction of older work force, attrition based on economic realities. Up till 1999 however the chances of me going into a studio and meeting someone I knew were still quite high. The introduction of FLASH as the tool of choice in the production of television animation, to me was the real turning point.
With flash broad categories of what was until then the production paradym became redundant. Sheet timing, something a lot of people had gone into, was no longer required, as was character posing. The industry became "Flash based". In a few cases older professionals - as I believe was the case at Nelvana, were trained on the job, That investment in established talent however has been the exception not the norm. So Strike two. The layoffs experienced at Nelvana in 20000 took a lot of jobs, Strike three. And as well Flash simply has become the domain of "kids out of school" Those who are willing to work longer hours and for lower pay. I can't say for sure or why wages started dropping but they certainly did and as well there has been a reduction in the time allows to create for example a storyboard - both the time schedule and the amount of money allocated , has as i understand it, been being reduced for years. There are probably prevailing global economics at work here that I'm in no position to comment on but I would say that older workers have been forced out of the business by changing technology, a changed production paradigm. tighter schedules and reduced budgets occuring at a bad time in their life's and they've been forced to move on. To be honest Ageism may also creep into the mix. In a nutshell things changed. You might be able to say failure to adapt plays into to this but i know many persons with access to the hardware, software and have learned the new programs that are still struggling.I realize that this is a long answer with a quotient of history but It was something I needed to articulate as the answer and contributing factors is spread over many years. Certainly I've seen more change in the last nine years then the previous twenty.
Mark... thoughts ?

Anonymous said...

Just look and see the mess the business types have made of everything they touch.
I'd ignore everything these idiots say.