Spotlight on Russian Animation

Spotlight on Russian Animation

Last month, a new report dropped on Research and Markets about animation in Russia. In recent days we’ve also seen some activity and buzz surrounding the industry within the country, so it’s worth taking a closer look at how animation has evolved within Russia through the past up until today.

Flintstones - The Stone-Age Family Staying Modern


Earlier this week, it was announced that Dublin-based Salty Dog Pictures partnered with Warner Brothers to produce a new spin-off series based on The Flintstones. The title of the series will be Yabba Dabba Dinosaurs!, and at the moment 24 episodes have been ordered. It's a testament to the enduring legacy of America's favorite "modern Stone-Age family", a legacy worth remembering.


The Flintstones was the brainchild of animation giants William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The studio was enjoying some success with characters such as Huckleberry Hound and Quick-Draw McGraw. However, that success was primarily with children. They didn't have the same full-family appeal as something like their famous comic duo Tom and Jerry. The Flintstones came about from a desire to appeal to adults again. As a result, it took a lot of inspiration from the famous sitcom The Honeymooners, focusing on the day-to-day struggles that the titular family faced in the prehistoric suburbia of Bedrock.

Funnily enough, the show was predated by a short film from Dave Fleischer called Granite Hotel. Coming out twenty years beforehand, the short introduces the audience to a variety of "modern stone-age" characters, including firemen who ride in a sauropod to their jobs. While the similarities are apparent, The Flintstones definitely pushed the concept much further. It was the first animated series to feature in a prime time slot, and to feature a married couple sharing a bed (rather than separately.)


The first reviews were mixed, with many critics deriding the animation as "limited" and the plots as "derivative". However, it still proved a success with the public, with nearly a quarter of American households tuning in for the first season.  Much of that success drew from its constant use of anachronisms; appliances were operated by small animals, cars ran on footpower. It parodied the "American experience" that prevailed in the national consciousness of the time. The show lasted from 1960 through 1966, and ended up being the most profitable cartoon series ever; it only lost that honor to The Simpsons. By the time it lost that crown though, hindsight had already sweetened attitudes towards the show. It's now considered a classic, and in 2013 TV Guide ranked it as the second greatest cartoon of all time.


As happens to most successful franchises, the studio obviously wanted to take the franchise even further. The Flintstones have done a lot over the past fifty-eight years of its existence. There've been spin-off series, animated movies, live-action movies, even a fully built Bedrock in Arizona. At the moment, DC Comics publishes a regular comic series based on The Flintstones that focuses on social commentary and more adult topics, in a way preserving the grown-up focus of the original series. 

With the new series now on the horizon, we will see yet another perspective on the Flintstones and their home of Bedrock. Salty Dog Pictures is going to be one more step in keeping the modern stone-age family as modern as possible.

Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

New Studio from "Brave" and "Enchanted" Director Faces Uncertain Road Ahead


With all the talk of Walt Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox, most attention has been focused on big ticket items like James Cameron's Avatar franchise, or the remaining Marvel heroes being brought into Disney's umbrella. In the animation industry, many have been focusing on Fox Broadcasting's animation heavyweights like Family Guy or The Simpsons, and Blue Sky Studios. However, something else no less notable is getting shuffled into the mix here: a new studio coming from industry veterans Brenda Chapman and Kevin Lima named 'Twas Entertainment.

Chapman and Lima, a married pair, carry quite a long portfolio behind them. Chapman was an in-betweener on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, directed both The Prince of Egypt and Brave, and provided story art for titles like The Little Mermaid and The Road to El Dorado. She's had writing credits on Brave, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and more. Her experience with some of the leading feature animation companies will surely get name recognition for the new studio. 


Lima's filmography also contains very impressive titles. He directed A Goofy Movie, Aladdin, and Enchanted. Before that he designed characters for The Brave Little Toaster, The Little Mermaid, and The Rescuers Down Under. Between the two of them, they've had plenty of experience with some of the most high-profile movies to be released in the 1990s. 

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As for Twas Entertainment itself, there's not too much information so far. The pair has said that their goal is to produce "family films with big heart, infectious humor and genuine intelligence." We do know that it's going to produce a combination of animated, live-action, and hybrid films. We also have a first project: The Cartoon Touch, written by both, with no plot details divulged yet. It may be a while yet to see more details, but it's certainly a title to watch. 

However, all these plans may yet be disrupted. The cited story above dates from July 23, four days before shareholders of Disney and Twentieth Century Fox voted to merge. This matters because 'Twas Entertainment currently holds a first-look deal with Fox. Might that deal complicate in the looming buyout? It's tricky to say, but if everything works out we could have a few gems coming our way in the future from Chapman and Lima.

Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

Paramount's Long Legacy of Animation is Set for Renewal


Last week, Paramount Animation dropped the first trailer for it’s upcoming film Wonder Park, due March 15 next year. It boasts a colorful world and characters, but in true teaser fashion we get only glimpses of what the plot is going to be. Now Paramount Animation as a firm is relatively new, founded only seven years ago. However, Paramount Pictures’ role in animation has spanned nearly a century. As we look forward to Wonder Park, let’s take a look back at Paramount’s long and storied history in the medium.


We can trace that history back all the way to the 1920s and 30s. They partnered with Fleischer Studios, and produced shorts that came to be considered iconic. Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and the old Superman cartoons all came out of this era of collaboration. Over time though, the deal soured, and ownership of the shorts became (and continue to be) a legal quagmire.

More recently, Paramount also distributed films for DreamWorks Animation, a deal which started with 2006’s Over the Hedge and concluded with 2012’s Rise of the Guardians. In between they distributed such hits like Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, iconic and beloved films among critics and audiences. They’ve also collaborated with sister company Nickelodeon on various productions such as the Oscar-winning Rango. Paramount has had a powerful influence on the animation zeitgeist in the past, both distant and recent.

However, all of this production has been Paramount Pictures proper, the same studio that also produced live-action films. They had no specialized animation studio, until seven years ago. Since then, Paramount Animation has already had its hand in several productions. In early 2015 it made its debut with The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. The film was a collaboration again with Nickelodeon, and the results were good. It received critical praise, and earned over $300 million on a $75 million budget.


Unfortunately, the two other productions released since haven’t faced the same kind of success. The live-action Monster Trucks released in early 2017, already infamous for having taken a $115 million write-down before it even hit theaters. Earlier this year, the studio then released Sherlock Gnomes, a sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet. It’s made less than $89 million on a $59 million budget. Negative hype unfortunately brought down the films and limited their success.

Wonder Park, though, is going to be intriguing. Given their current filmography, it will be the first original animated film as a studio. Keeping with their history, production is being decentralized, with animation being done by Ilion, the studio that made Planet 51. This will be a chance for Paramount Animation to set up an IP that it can truly call its own, to perhaps make a mascot akin to Illumination’s minions or DreamWork’s Shrek. It will be facing a tough year though: it comes the month after the sequel to The LEGO Movie and only two weeks after How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. However, with no major animated releases scheduled afterwards until May, it will enjoy some breathing room on the latter end of release.


And where will the studio go then? We’ve already got four more films confirmed: next up will be a movie about Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, sure to draw in fans around the world. A third SpongeBob movie follows, with the title It’s a Wonderful Sponge. In 2020, though, is a particularly intriguing title: Monster on the Hill. It’s described as a world where monsters are tame, but enjoy wrestling for sport. A year later in 2021 comes Luck, a film about the battle between the forces of good and bad luck in our world. Certainly interesting and original premises for both films.

Paramount has a very impressive legacy in animation, and it’s good to see that they’re going to be strengthening it even more. Paramount Animation is on a “growth track” according to the parent studio; by 2021, we might just end up seeing them as a leading competitor in feature animation. There’s a lot of history behind them, but a whole lot more waiting before them too. Wonder Park may just unlock a world of wonder from Paramount Animation.

Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

The Legacy of DisneyToon Studios


This past week, news broke that The Walt Disney Company intended to immediately close down down DisneyToon Studios. According to IndieWire, the move will lead to the layoffs of 75 animators and staff. It's yet uncertain whether the company will hire them back through Walt Disney Animation or Pixar Animation. With the studio folding, why don't we take a look back at its eclectic history?

DisneyToon Studios was founded in 1990 as Disney MovieToons, a division of Walt Disney Television Animation. It would enable the company as a whole to diversify its output more. The first production came out later that year as a collaboration with Disney Animation France: DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. Over the years the studio worked on other projects such as A Goofy Movie (1995), the holiday anthology Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas (1999), and The Tigger Movie (2000). By working on projects separate from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney MovieToons provided an additional source of income for The Walt Disney Company (gosh that's a lot of Disney). They also produced movies that have become beloved, such as Goofy Movie which has seen a resurgence in nostalgic popularity.


Another key aspect of the studio's filmography was the Disney sequel phase. In 1994 they released The Return of Jafar direct-to-video, a sequel to the 1992 Disney Animation film Aladdin. They went on to produce the sequels of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, and more. It was during this rush that the company reorganized. Disney MovieToons was transitioned from television to feature animation, and renamed DisneyToon Studios in 2003. Now the sequels primarily faced a direct-to-video release, and as a result didn't have high budgets. They must have made money though, because a lot were produced. In the first half of the aughts, the studio released an average of four movies a year. In fact, in 2005, they released a whopping FIVE MOVIES within the calendar year.


Things began to change though after Disney purchases Pixar Animation. Leadership was shuffled around, and several pending sequel projects were canceled at DisneyToons. Instead, the studio entered a new phase: the Disney Fairies franchise. In 2008, the studio released Tinker Bell straight to video. Overall they've released six movies in the franchise, the last coming out in 2015, which was also their last release. They briefly returned to sequels with 2013's Planes, based off of Pixar's Cars franchise, and 2014's Planes: Fire and Rescue. 


The studio has had a long filmography, and while they've only been around less than three decades, they've certainly proved industrious in that time. So why did it shut down? Disney's been shuffling their studios around a bit following the departure of John Lasseter from the company, with new leadership taking over at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation. When it came to look at DisneyToons though, it has faced a tough market recently.

It's well-known for its straight-to-video productions. Video, however, has been facing a tough time lately. Digital streaming is more pervasive than ever. What's telling is that their last five movies have all been theatrical releases, even if only limited releases. Their last direct-to-video release was in 2010. Their primary market has vanished, and in a theatrical landscape dominated by "event" movies, there is only a small niche market for Tinker Bell: The Pirate Fairy. It's death by economics. There's a lot of talent there though, and it's worth seeing where they will end up and what they're going to do next.

Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

Apple Eyes Partnership with Cartoon Saloon


Last Thursday, major news hit the animation scene. Tech giant Apple announced its intent to produce a feature-length animated film. Apple has been starting to offer its own original content, and the news is that they're in talks with Cartoon Saloon for a production that could possibly even get a theatrical release. Not only does this signal a player with major financial resources coming into the industry, but it also demonstrates a trend of convergence happening among media.


Apple's brand needs no introduction: the smartphone/computer giant has been the talking point of the economy for decades. Cartoon Saloon, however, also has its own impressive accolades. The Irish studio has compiled a filmography including The Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner. All three films earned nominations for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, and won several other awards. Apple has not yet struck a deal with them; however, the fact that they are approaching signals that Apple wants to hit hard with this film. Partnering with a studio who produces such critical hits could help give them a reputation for quality.


Now this isn't the first time Apple has had connections to major animation projects. After leaving Apple in the 1980s, Steve Jobs famously bought the computing department of LucasFilm and converted it into Pixar. The studio just set the record this past weekend for the biggest opening of an animated movie with $180 million. Apple's imprint on the animation world is still being felt - and now they could be making another one if the deal with Cartoon Saloon goes through.

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This goes beyond just Apple and Cartoon Saloon though. This is part of a massive convergence of the media market. Distributors like Netflix have been making original programs for years now, and Amazon is planning to join in. Disney, a content provider, is preparing its own distribution network. Now Apple, the hardware company with two distribution channels to its name (iTunes and Apple TV) plans to step into the ring of content. It's a process of vertical integration: if firms can control each stage of the process, from content creation to viewer consumption, they can tweak the experience to be unique and exclusive. It's a key part of an industry unlike any other. Consumer goods can compete on cost and speed; media relies on selling an experience that no one else can match.

Apple's steps into animation aren't for sure yet, but even then they've made waves. Partnering with Cartoon Saloon could potentially give them a stellar opening into the industry. If all goes to plan, the film will release in 2019, a short timeline; if they manage a theatrical release, then 2020 could see an Apple-brand film submitted for Academy consideration. It also shows a new content producer coming in from distribution - and more content is always a boon for audiences. We should make sure to keep our eye on Apple, and see what comes of this potential partnership.

Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.