Vanessa Morrison, longtime head of Twentieth Century Fox Film’s animation division, is moving into a new role at the studio. She has been named president of Fox Family, a newly-created division that will develop films aimed at younger moviegoers and their parents. They include both animated films and films with live action elements. Her appointment is effective immediately, and she will report to Chair Proman and CEO Stacey Snider and Vice Chairman Emma Watts.
Fox said it will announce a replacement for Morrison in the coming days. The move comes as Snider is shaking up Fox’s animation arm with the goal of releasing at least one animated film a year. Snider recently signed a multi-year production deal with Locksmith Animation. The goal is to augment the films that Blue Sky, the makers of the “Ice Age” series, creates for Fox. The studio owns Blue Sky.
Snider believes that animated releases are an increasingly popular genre and that Fox needs to be a bigger player in the space. There’s certainly a lot of competition. Disney continues to dominate the market thanks to its Pixar division, Warner Bros. and Sony have upped their number of family releases, and Universal’s parent company Comcast made the decision in 2016 to shell out $3.8 billion to buy DreamWorks Animation.
In addition to her movie work, Morrison will also oversee the studio’s family animated television business. That division makes holiday television specials based on existing film properties. Fox is also making film features based on its small-screen efforts, such as a “Bob’s Burgers” film. Morrison will oversee those productions, as well. “Vanessa has for many years championed the studio’s efforts to take a more wholistic approach to the family entertainment space, and this new role will empower her to execute on that goal,” Snider and Watts said in a joint statement. “We are thrilled to have her leading this initiative, and as this segment in the marketplace continues to grow, the creation of this new division will strengthen our footprint as we look to create the best possible films for families across our entire company.”
Morrison has headed up Fox Animation since 2007. In addition to the “Ice Age” franchise, Morrison oversaw the production of the likes of the “Rio” films, “Peanuts,” and “Book of Life.” She also worked on “Ferdinand,” Fox’s next animated release, which hits theaters in November.
To cultivate kids’ deeper interest in history and inspire them to feel their own significance in the present and future, stories about distinguished men and women including the Tuskegee Airmen Chief Civilian flight instructor Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson, the history-making commercial airline pilot Stephanie R. Grant, animator and Disney legend Floyd Norman, and physician, role model and activist Dr. Myiesha Taylor, will be presented as part of Disney|ABC Television Group’s “Be Inspired” interstitial series during Black History Month on Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior.
Paul DeBenedittis, senior vice president, Programming Strategy, Disney Channels Worldwide, said, “As television programmers, we work every day to better serve our kid viewers by reflecting the diverse and varied world they live in, and our ‘Be Inspired’ programming is designed to give them access to stories that can spark their deeper exploration into the rich and celebrated history of African Americans.”
The initiative begins with the story of acclaimed African-American pilot Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson Sr., known as the “Father of Black Aviation” for his brave and innovative leadership as Chief Civilian Flight Instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen. The story, hosted by Nathaniel Potvin (Disney XD’s “MECH-X4”), originates from the non-profit Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Compton, California, and includes the museum’s founder and executive director Robin Petgrave, Ted Lumpkin of the Tuskegee Airmen 100th Fighter Squadron, and Kimberly Anyadike, the youngest African-American female to pilot an airplane across the United States. Geared toward kids age 6-14, the interstitial began airing Weds, Feb 1, on Disney Channel and Disney XD.
For younger viewers (age 2-7), Doc McStuffins, the title character from the acclaimed animated series, introduces notable women and men in a series of interstitials to be presented on Disney Junior. They are Stephanie R. Grant, a pilot who led the first all-female African-American flight crew to operate a commercial airliner; Disney legend Floyd Norman, one of the first African-American animators at Walt Disney Studios during the 1950s; and Dr. Myiesha Taylor, an emergency doctor and founder of the Artemis Medical Society, an organization comprised of over 4700 women physicians of color from around the world. Disney Junior and Disney Channel will debut the interstitials beginning Weds, Feb, 8.
After a theatrical run in USA theaters that kicked off in late August, the documentary “Floyd Norman – An Animated Life” – an intimate journey through the celebrated life and career of the legendary animator Floyd Norman, the first African American animator at Disney – is now streaming on Netflix.
Directed by Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey, the crowd-pleaser recently won the award for Best documentary at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con. Born in 1935 in Santa Barbara, Norman’s love of animation first came when his mother took him to see Disney’s “Bambi” and “Dumbo.” By the time he was a high schooler, he knew his goal was to be an animator at Disney Studios. After graduation, with the help of a friend, Norman got an appointment at Disney and he walked into Disney Studios, portfolio in hand, for an interview. But instead of getting a job, he was told to go to school, which Norman said later was the best advice anyone had ever given him. He entered the Art Center College of Design and two years later, got a call to go work for Disney. He dropped out of school and started working at the studio the following Monday.
He worked on various features including “Sleeping Beauty,”“The Sword in the Stone,” “The Jungle Book,” and several short subjects. He left Disney after Walt Disney died in 1966, and, with Ron Sullivan, formed AfroKids Animation Studio. Among the other properties they created was the first “Fat Albert” television special which aired in 1969 on NBC (the later more well-known Fat Albert TV series was made by Filmation Associates, not AfroKids). But starting in the early 1970s, Norman returned to Disney to work on projects like “Robin Hood.”
First Lady Michelle Obama is joining forces with Disney’s animated young children’s program about a veterinarian for toys, “Doc McStuffins.”The first lady’s appearance will coincide with Child Health Day as she invites Doc and her friends to the White House.
This special episode of “Doc McStuffins” premieres Monday, October 5 (9:00 a.m., ET/PT). During Doc’s visit, Obama appoints her the official toy doctor of the White House. To see a clip, watch below:
Where would black cinema be in the 21st century without the films of NYU’s Spike Lee (“Do The Right Thing”, “School Daze”) and Dee Rees (“Pariah”, “Bessie”), or USC’s John Singleton (“Boyz N The Hood”, “Poetic Justice”) and Rick Fukiyama (“The Wood”, “Dope”), to name a few famous African-American film school graduates? From New York to New South Wales, the list of film schools below earn accolades for their filmmaking, television and animation programs, and may interest African-American filmmakers of the future:
American Film Institute Los Angeles
AFI’s Conservatory is training 260 Fellows that are all, per the school, “worthy to watch.” The school’s participants create between four and 10 movies during the two-year program, and 37 alumni have received Oscar nominations in the past decade alone. An additional 118 have participated in award-winning projects ranging from “Boyhood” to “Mad Men.”
Art Center College of Design Pasadena, Calif
The venerable private college’s film and graduate broadcast program continues to establish itself as an influential entity through its immersive curriculum and close working relationships between students and faculty. Its list of celebrated alumni includes director Zack Snyder and conceptual designers Ralph McQuarrie (“Star Wars”) and Syd Mead (“Blade Runner”).
Boston U. Department Film & Television, College of Communication Boston
2015 saw the establishment of a one-year MFA program, as well as the Spelling Scholarship, named for producer Aaron Spelling, that will benefit up to 10 students. Nora Grossman is the latest BU alum to receive an Oscar nomination with her best picture nom for producing “The Imitation Game.”
California Institute of the Arts Valencia
Generations of top animators and live-action filmmakers have benefited from CalArts’ diverse educational spectrum. Film/Video alum have won nine Oscars for animated film between 2003 and 2015, while domestic and international box office grosses from animated features helmed by alum directors rose to more than $31 billion.
California State U. Northridge, Department of Cinema and Television Arts Northridge
CSUN’s Film Production alum have amassed an array of laurels from the screen industry, including awards from the Cannes Film Festival, DGA and Television Arts and Sciences Academy. The TV production program, too, has prepared students to work on series ranging from “The Amazing Race” to “Law & Order: SVU.”
Chapman U., Dodge College of Film and Media Arts Orange, Calif.
Chapman’s Dodge College continues to provide both production and business-oriented culture to students interested in all facets of film, media and digital arts. Its production company, Chapman Filmed Entertainment, saw its first theatrical release, “The Barber,” open in theaters nationwide.
Colorado Film School Denver
Colorado Film School hosts just 500 students, but produces more than 1,000 films yearly at its facility in Denver. It’s also one of the few institutions to offer a fully accredited university BFA professional training degree in production, and has partnered with ICM and top advertising agencies to offer internships.
Columbia U. School of the Arts New York
An impressive array of film and television figures have received training from SoA’s MFA programs, which include visual arts, theater, film studies, writing and sound arts. Among its acclaimed alumni are directors Kathryn Bigelow, Nicole Holofcener and James Mangold, while past faculty includes producers Barbara De Fina and James Schamus.
Columbia College Chicago Chicago
Practice and theory are emphasized at Columbia College Chicago’s Cinema Art + Science program, which offers nearly 200 specialized courses – the most comprehensive curriculum of any American film school. Students can also take advantage of its Semester in L.A., the only such program situated on a Hollywood studio lot.
DePaul U. Chicago
The university’s School of Cinema and Interactive Media offers programs on every aspect of filmmaking, from directing to post-production. Students can take advantage of its exceptional digital media production equipment, and gain practical experience through its partnership with Cinespace Chicago, the largest film studio in the Midwest.
Emerson College Visual & Media Arts School Boston
The Boston-based communications school further established itself as a direct conduit to the entertainment industry with its state-of-the-art Emerson Los Angeles building on Sunset Boulevard, which offers undergraduate, post-graduate and professional studies, as well as crucial internship opportunities. Alumni include Norman Lear and former MTV Networks president Doug Herzog.
Florida State U., College of Motion Picture Arts Tallahassee
The film school’s selective admittance policy has paid off handsomely for FSU. Film school participants have won more Student Oscars and College Television awards in a single year than any other school — and the DGA recognized its “distinguished contribution to American culture through the world of film and television.”
Ithaca College, Roy H. Park School of Communications Ithaca, N.Y.
Park School students are treated as industry professionals through close interaction with alumni and a full range of production scenarios through the student-run Studio, which allows them to develop, fund and distribute their own content. Student films have screened at or been honored by the American Society of Cinematographers, among others.
Loyola Marymount U., School of Film and Television Los Angeles
LMU’s School of Film and Television is flush with impressive numbers, from the 400 partner companies who have hired alumni, including Disney, Sony and NBCUniversal, to the $1 million contributed to the local economy from 792 student productions — 41 of which were shot on the Red One digital camera.
New York U. Tisch School of the Arts New York
The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television offers training to undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of cinematic storytelling media, from dramatic writing and interactive telecommunications to photography and imaging. Its prestigious roster of alumni includes Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Joel Coen and Ang Lee.
Northwestern U., School of Communication Evanston, Ill.
Northwestern’s multidisciplinary arts education has produced major figures in nearly every aspect of film and television production, from three-time Oscar-nominated writer John Logan and Emmy-winning actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus to “Arrow” and “Flash” producer Greg Berlanti and such acclaimed producers and executives as Sherry Lansing, Jason Winer and Ken Kamins.
Pratt Institute New York
The Brooklyn-based arts college has significantly increased its presence by relocating into a 17,000-sq.ft. space in Clinton Hill that will add 150 students to its 50-person film/video department. New additions can take advantage of Pratt’s expansive media curriculum, as well as the abundant internship opportunities inherent to New York City.
Relativity School Los Angeles
The academic training arm of Relativity Media is a throwback to the studio system’s finishing schools, but with a significant difference: it benefits from both direct funding from the studio as well as an active production facility that offers students access to soundstages and production facilities on its 20-acre campus.
Ringling College of Art and Design Sarasota, Fla.
The private, non-profit college has become a talent pool for studios seeking up-and-coming computer animators and designers. Ringling alumni captured Oscars for both animated feature (“Big Hero 6”) and short (“Feast”) at the 2015 ceremony, while students have won 11 of the past 13 student Academy Awards.
Rhode Island School of Design Providence, RI
A diverse array of film and television talent, from Seth MacFarlane to Gus Van Sant, has graduated from RISD’s film/video/animation program, which is the largest in the state. Students study all three departmental disciplines in their sophomore year, which alumni have credited with expanding their visual and storytelling skills.
Sarah Lawrence College Yonkers, N.Y.
Intimate seminar and workshop environments, an expansive and comprehensive program that incorporates screenwriting and media arts, and one-on-one mentorship with faculty advisors are among the high points of Sarah Lawrence’s film program. Notable graduates include J.J. Abrams, Peter Gould (“Better Call Saul”), Joan Micklin Silver and producer Amy Robinson.
Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, Ga.
Opportunities for prospective film and television students at SCAD are plentiful. The school features state-of-the-art technology and facilities, including a 60,000-sq.-ft. Digital Media Center and Savannah Film Studios; the annual Savannah Film Festival, which is the largest university film festival in America; and workshops and presentations with television professionals at TVfest.
Stanford U. Palo Alto, Calif.
The lauded university’s film and media studies program is anchored in the visual arts. True to its reputation for selectivity, the MFA in documentary film and video admits only eight students per year, preaching artistic expression, aesthetics and social awareness as well as endeavors into new media.
Syracuse U., College of Visual and Performing Arts Syracuse, N.Y.
Budding filmmakers in animation at Syracuse can look to celebrated alumni for inspiration, including directors Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and Henry Selick (“Coraline”). The program’s ties with the Syracuse Intl. Film Festival open doors for student involvement.
UCLA, School of Theater, Film and Television Los Angeles
Consistently considered one of the world’s best program’s, UCLA’s film program has hatched a platoon of filmmaking legends, from Francis Ford Coppola to documentarian Alex Gibney. Jeff Skoll’s recent gift of $10 million for the Skoll Center for Social Impact Entertainment refocuses the school on promoting social change through entertainment.
U. of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts Los Angeles
This beacon of excellence in filmmaking education continues to grow and expand. In Aug. 2013, construction began on the IMAX lab/theater space, which features two full-size IMAX projectors. This march, USC was voted best game design school in the country.
U. of Texas at Austin, Moody College of Communication Austin
Moody College’s prestigious department of Radio-Television-Film offers a curriculum that focuses on the intersection of production, screenwriting and media studies. Home to the country’s first comprehensive 3-D production program, nearby festivals like SXSW provide inspiration and opportunity for both students and alumni.
Vanderbilt U. Nashville, Tenn.
Located in the country’s homegrown arts mecca, students of the Nashville school’s Cinema and Media Arts program can hone in on a smorgasbord of topics like soundtracks, digital cinematography or 16mm shooting. The Vandy Meets Hollywood spring break program transports students to L.A. for studio visits and alumni networking.
Wesleyan U. Middletown, Conn.
A leader in undergraduate film studies since the 1970s, the recent establishment of Wesleyan’s College of Film and the Moving Image has only expanded the umbrella program, which includes Wesleyan’s department of film studies, its cinema archives and the student-run film series. In April, the College of Film and the Moving Image announced a $2 million challenge grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Yale U. New Haven, Conn.
Offering both undergrad and graduate degrees, Ivy Leaguers at Yale are trained in film history, theory, criticism and production. Students can also take advanced screenwriting courses, use resources at the university’s Digital Media Center for the Arts and study abroad at Prague’s famed Famu.
One Tumblr artist struck a nerve when she re-imagined the main characters from “Frozen” as Black girls. Here’s why haters need to find their chill.
Earlier this week, I saw some “Frozen” fan art from Brazilian artist Juliajm15 that gave me all of the warm fuzzies. It depicted the sisters Queen Elsa and Princess Anna as young Black women in remixed scenes. Julia didn’t just dip the original characters in chocolate, either! She gave her recreations afro-centric features and gloriously curly hair. Not only that, but that art style was so close to Disney’s traditional animation that it looked like concept art for film. It. Was. Everything!
When Buzzfeed posted the pieces online, it pointed to the “absolutely stunning” pics as an example of racebending. For those unfamiliar with the word “racebending,” it’s a term born of the egregious white‑washing in M.Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.” It was based on Nickelodeon’s hit cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and the main characters that were obviously meant to be Brown and Asian were played by Caucasian actors. Shocker: all of the villains were Brown people. It’s not that M.Night couldn’t cast Asian actors that would better resemble the characters on the TV show, though, because he had plenty of them running through the background.
Anyway, many from the digital community have put the idea of racebending on its head by creating ethnic versions of their favorite characters from books, film and TV. It’s a fairly common practice among online artists. Julia, in particular, has gone on a run of re-doing Disney heroines with an Indian version of Rapunzel and a Latina incarnation of Merida from “Brave.” Her work is flaw-free. Go check it out. You will live for her human version of Nala.
It’s all for fun, but some Disnephiles are not feeling her vision. There are grown people having full-on conniptions over someone drawing the characters as Black. The problem for them, supposedly, is that her art is not accurate to the fable’s Scandanavian origins. There will be privilege-laced arguments–nasty little flame wars–all to defend the idea that the characters should remain as originally created…which is White. To that, I say, “Girl, bye.” God forbid anyone should use their creativity to imagine the beloved characters as an under-represented segment of society.
Julia’s not suggesting that Disney should re-do the movies to include Black people. She’s creating a reflection of herself (and many little girls that love Disney movies) that is missing from the cultural landscape in a fun little project. People want to see a piece of themselves in the art that they enjoy. In an odd way, it’s a form of validation that people who look like you matter, and that you can be an important part of a larger narrative. And in the case of Disney films, there has not been a great track record of having Black characters in their feature animation films. It took Disney 72 yeas to put a Black princess on screen. When we finally did get one with “The Princess And The Frog,” they turned her into an animal for a majority of the film. I love the movie, but WTF! That’s only after having two movies set in Africa with not one Black character in them (“The Lion King” and “Tarzan”).
However, this is not just a problem limited to Disney. It is still a huge surprise when people of color (whether Black, Asian or Latino) are present in the main cast of anything. Whenever a new project is announced, I find myself looking to see if there are any Black characters in the cast. Not that the lack of having a Black person on the cast will keep me from seeing the project, but there is still a twinge of disappointment when I do watch.
There is a new Black superheroine coming to the small screen thanks to the minds over at DC Comics. Vixen, a character that was intended to be the imprint’s first Black female superhero, is getting her own animated series by way of the CW network this fall.
The CW network has enjoyed major success with the hit show “Arrow” and the spin-off series “The Flash.” “Vixen” will take place in this same DC Comics universe, which differs from what can be found in the comic books. The announcement for the show was made earlier this month at the Television Critic’s Association press tour. Arrow producer Mark Guggenheim will serve as the executive producer for the series.
The story centers on Mari Jiwe McCabe, a descendant of an African warrior named Tantu. Tantu asked Anansi the Spider to create a totem that would grant the powers of the animal kingdom to whoever wore it. The powers were to only be used to protect those in need and Tantu became a hero. The totem was passed down his family line until it reaches Vixen.
McCabe grew up in a small village in the fictional African nation of Zambesi, M’Changa province. After her family was killed by her uncle as a result of the Tantu Totem, McCabe moved to America to become a model in New York. After becoming a popular star, McCabe returned to Africa and took back the Tantu Totem from her uncle and thus became the Vixen. The character debuted in 1981, and she has been a part of the Justice League and the rouge Suicide Squad.
The Vixen series will are on the CW’s Seed offshoot, which is the online portion of the network. Appearances from the Arrow and the Flash are expected according to a promo shot. There has not been an announcement on which actress will voice the character.
LOS ANGELES — “The Wizard of Watts,” a coming animated television musical, was conceived two years ago as a big, fat gob of raucous entertainment wrapped around a nugget of racial commentary.
Then, with the musical’s animation already far underway, Ferguson, Mo., became a flash point, starting a national debate about race, overzealous policing and the need for officers to wear body cameras. Then came the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” and the broader protest against police brutality.
Suddenly, “The Wizard of Watts,” with its devastated black neighborhoods and army of pigs, took on greater weight. How the musical will be received by viewers at a racially charged cultural moment is anyone’s guess. But when it arrives on Cartoon Network’s after-hours Adult Swim block on Saturday, “The Wizard of Watts” will at the very least become one of those eerie instances of art accidentally mirroring life.
The primary villain in the Magical Land of Oz-Watts, where the story takes place, is a vicious pig clad in riot gear. Water does not neutralize this Oz villain; instead this baddie gets melted with a camcorder. “Oh, no! Not an irrefutable visual record of my illegal actions!” the anthropomorphized pig wails as he turns to mush at the musical’s climax.
Even Carl Jones, the director of “The Wizard of Watts” and one of its writers, was surprised at hitting such a cultural bull’s-eye.
“I take pride in tackling things with my gloves off, but animation takes such a long time to produce that you usually don’t end up being all that current,” he said.
Mr. Jones had noticed on social media how African-Americans were increasingly using cellphone cameras as “protection from police, like as a weapon,” he said.
“Nobody was talking about it and so I decided we had to take it on,” he said.
Jade Goss, age 2, looks as if she just stepped out of the wildly popular “Doc McStuffins” cartoon. “She has the Doc McStuffins sheets. She has the Doc McStuffins doll. She has the Doc McStuffins purse. She has Doc McStuffins clothes,” said Jade’s mother, Melissa Woods, of Lynwood, Calif.
“I think what attracts her is, ‘Hey, I look like her, and she looks like me,’ ” Ms. Woods said of the character, an African-American child who acts as a doctor to her stuffed animals.
With about $500 million in sales last year, Doc McStuffins merchandise seems to be setting a record as the best-selling toy line based on an African-American character, industry experts say. Its blockbuster success reflects, in part, the country’s changing consumer demographics, experts say, with more children from minority backgrounds providing an expanding, less segregated marketplace for shoppers and toymakers.
But what also differentiates Doc — and Dora the Explorer, an exceptionally popular Latina character whose toy line has sold $12 billion worth of merchandise over the years, Nickelodeon executives say — is her crossover appeal. “The kids who are of color see her as an African-American girl, and that’s really big for them,” said Chris Nee, the creator of Doc McStuffins. “And I think a lot of other kids don’t see her color, and that’s wonderful as well.”
Nancy Kanter, general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, which developed “Doc McStuffins” — and who suggested the character be African-American in the first place — said Doc’s wide-ranging fan base could be gleaned from a spreadsheet. “If you look at the numbers on the toy sales, it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t just African-American families buying these toys,” Ms. Kanter said. “It’s the broadest demographics possible.”
Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Hillary in the TV show “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” is raising funds for a new animated short about Janet Collins, the first black prima ballerina and soloist to ever perform at NYC’s Metropolitan Opera. In Collins’ journey, she overcame many great obstacles; at the age 15, the young dancer was asked to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but only if she performed in whiteface.
After refusing to dance in whiteface, Collins went on to become a renowned Prima Ballerina, winning awards for her performances on Broadway. In 1950, Collins was honored with the Best Dancer of Broadway title, making Collins a pioneer in this industry for paving the way for other black dancers and companies such as Alvin Ailey and the Dance Theater of Harlem.
The short story will be narrated by actor/comedian/producer Chris Rock and presented by Parsons’ founded award-winning organization Sweet Blackberry, whose mission is to educate kids on the achievements of African Americans with inspiring true stories.
So far, the project’s Kickstarter page shows 18 days left to go in the campaign, with over $16,000 already pledged of its $75,000 goal.
For more information on Sweet Blackberry, click here to see the Kickstarter video and contribute!