Monday, January 26, 2009

Movie Production Temporarily Shut Down? UPDATED!!

I've got a bad feeling about this...

Word is that Imagi is running out of money and has told employees not to show up to work today as they have temporarily shut down their operations. This is not confirmed, but several websites are reporting it.

If true, this could lead to the release date for the Astro Boy movie being delayed. Worse yet, it could also lead to people losing their jobs. Times are tough, and even though Forbes just recently reported that the movie had been rescued after securing $20 million that had fallen through, it could be that they are not out of the woods yet.

This is not a good sign, and I don't really feel that speculating here is the right thing to do. So, I will simply link to the sources reporting this news and wait (and hope) for when this situation gets all sorted out. Imagi Animation is Out of Money and Temporarily Shutting Down?

/Film: Has Production on Astroboy Shut Down?

TAG Blog: Imagi closing down temporarily?

Stay tuned to ABW for more as it develops. If anyone has more information about this story, please contact me at

*** UPDATE ***

Relax folks, things aren't so bad after all.

io9 has just been in touch with Imagi U.S. president Erin Corbett, and so some light has been shed on the situation.

Essentially, while it is true that production has been shut down for a week (employees are taking a "mandatory unpaid leave") due to lack of funds, a new round of funding was set to kick in next month. Some "bridge financing" was supposed to take care of things until then, but when it looked like that wasn't going to happen, the decision was made to temporarily stop. Things will pick up again next week, and they are still on target to deliver the film on time for it's October 23rd release.

This only affects the Imagi US offices. The Hong Kong office is also shut down for the week, but only because of Chinese New Year.

In short, we've had a bit of a hiccup, but we should still turn out OK. If the film itself turns out to be as dramatic and exciting as the saga of its creation, it'll be some awesome movie!

The article has some great info about what's going on with Imagi right now, along with a little about Gatchaman and Tetsujin 28! Read "Cool Your Boot Jets! Astro Boy Still Zooming" on io9 or click the link below to read an archived version right here.

Cool Your Boot Jets! Astro Boy Still Zooming
By Charlie Jane Anders, 3:00 PM on Mon Jan 26 2009

Rumors are tearing up the web that Imagi's CG animated Astro Boy movie has stopped production. But don't start a robo-gladiator stampede. We talked to Imagi U.S. president Erin Corbett, who set the record straight.

Astro Boy is the story of a scientist who creates a robot kid to replace his dead son. But the robot kid can't fulfill the grieving father's expectations, so he journeys off in search of acceptance, entering a netherworld of betrayal and robot gladiators. Eventually, he returns home to save the father who rejected him. The film stars the vocal talent of Freddie Highmore, Nicholas Cage, Eugene Levy, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland and Kristen Bell.

Earlier today, Slashfilm reported that Astro Boy had shut down production. There have been reports for a while that Imagi was having financial difficulties — in December, auditors Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu cast doubt on Imagi's financial resources going forward.

But Corbett says Imagi definitely has the money to finish making Astro Boy, which already has distribution with Summit Entertainment and a release date of Oct. 23, 2009. She says the film remains on course to make that release date.

In a nutshell, here's what happened: Imagi is funded by private equity firms, and the company had received some funding last year. A new round of funding was set to kick in on Feb 3, but in the meantime the company was counting on some "bridge financing" to cover expenses between now and early February.

When that "bridge financing" looked like it might not materialize, the only responsible thing to do was shut down the company's U.S. offices for a week, says Corbett. Everyone, including the animators, was put on "mandatory unpaid leave," until the new round of financing comes in on Feb. 3. (Union rules require the company to let everyone go if they don't have money on hand to pay salaries.)

Says Corbett:

"We had this money secured in the late fall. We had bridge money to take us through February, when we knew that bridge money was not going to [materialize]... we could not have people come in and not be sure [we'd be able to pay them.]"

This only affects the company's U.S. office — the Hong Kong office is closed down too, but that's for Chinese New Year, when everything in Hong Kong shuts down anyway.

So where does that leave Astro Boy? "Our number one objective is to get back on the rails," says Corbett. "We want to do everything to get Astro Boy out the door." The film is entirely storyboarded and planned out. The animation is about 50 percent rendered and completed at this point, and almost all of the film's vocal talent has already been recorded. Most importantly, the company already has enough money coming in, in February, to finish off work on Astro Boy.

Meanwhile, the company is continuing to raise money for upcoming projects. Corbett wants to put out a CG Gatchaman movie in November 2010. "We're trying to do a film every year to 18 months," Corbett says. Right now, Corbett is in Chicago working on sponsorship opportunities. McDonald's and American Greetings are already involved with Astro Boy, and she's pitching additional partners like Kraft and General Mills for Gatchaman. Astro Boy tie-ins will include everything from action figures to greeting cards.

Meanwhile, what about that trailer we showed you recently for T-28, the movie based on the franchise known in the U.S. as Gigantor? That was a trial balloon, explains Corbett. T-28 is a property that Imagi founder Francis Kao has been interested in working on for several years, and the company decided to release a teaser trailer to see if people would be interested in a full-length film. They were blown away by the interest, but there are no immediate plans to do a T-28/Gigantor movie.

Continue reading "Movie Production Temporarily Shut Down? UPDATED!!"...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Upcoming Sci Fi Movie Comics

Sci Fi Wire has a new article detailing comic books that are set to be released alongside some of this year's big movie releases. Along with the Astro Boy comics planned by IDW are fellow robot franchises Terminator and Transformers, along with Underworld, Star Trek, and more.

About Astro Boy, they say:

Comic Info: IDW has plans for two direct tie-ins for the fall animated family film, but Astro Boy will appear in a few other comic series before his big-screen debut.

Rumors continue to circulate about whether Imagi Animation Studios will remain a production company through the rough financial waters of the credit crunch, but everyone is certain that their CGI adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's classic manga and anime Astro Boy will be completed for its fall release. And as with so many other movies on our list, IDW nabbed the rights for both a prequel series and an adaptation whose format and release dates remain undetermined just yet. Although more than likely they'll resemble the company's efforts in the Terminator franchise.

However, since Astro Boy has been appearing in manga and other comics for more than 40 years, several other publishers have releases on tap for 2009 that capitalize on the movie's impending release and should prove entertaining for curious viewers. Dark Horse Comics already publishes 23 volumes of Tezuka's manga series and will combine the first two collections into one trade paperback book in September for an easily digestible introduction to the character and his creator. Perhaps more interestingly, American manga giant Viz plans on releasing Pluto—an acclaimed sci-fi manga set in Astro Boy's world by Monster artist Naoki Urasawa—in February, which should appeal to adult readers interested in taking their kids to the new film.

Worth a pick up?: You'd be better off getting the originals for your kids.
Read the full article "Will Star Trek and other blockbuster-based comics be worth your time?" on Sci Fi Wire.

There is some info here about what IDW might have up their sleeve. While I don't necessarily disagree with this article's final assessment, since people really should be getting the original Astro Boy manga for their kids, but it's a little early to be passing judgment on comics that we haven't even seen yet, isn't it?

Continue reading "Upcoming Sci Fi Movie Comics"...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weekly Osamu Tezuka

Here is a very cool announcement thanks to Anime News Network!

The Japanese public broadcaster NHK will launch a new television program
called Weekly Osamu Tezuka on April 10. The program will remake 19 works from Osamu Tezuka, the late manga pioneer and creator of Mighty Atom/Astro Boy, Jungle Emperor/Kimba the White Lion, Black Jack, Phoenix, and countless other characters. The 19 works will represent Tezuka's entire career — from his earliest classics to the works that were posthumously published. Despite the television program's name, only three works will actually air every month.
Wow! This is big! I wonder what stories will be a part of this program. The possibilities are endless. There is no telling how we in the English-speaking world will be able to see it, but I'll be keeping an eye on how it develops.

Continue reading "Weekly Osamu Tezuka"...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ashley Wood's Astro

Comic Book artist and illustrator Ashley Wood has posted some interesting new photos on his blog. Hmm... I wonder what he's up to?

Could this work-in-progress painting have something to do with IDW's upcoming Astro Boy publications? Or is it just for fun? We'll just have to wait and see! Sure looks like an awesome take on Astro though!

Check out Ashley's blog here (possibly NSFW). Individual posts: 1 and 2.

Continue reading "Ashley Wood's Astro"...

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Rescue of Astro Boy

Forbes Magazine has a new article about Imagi and the upcoming cg Astro Boy movie, focusing on the difficulties the studio has had thanks to the current state of the global economy. Imagi's chief executive Douglas Glen is interviewed in this eye-opening look at the company and the movie buisiness in general.

According to the article, some of the studio's funding fell through and things where looking dim for awhile, but the good news is that they now have the funding they need and Astro Boy will be finished.

The article also has an interesting look at the inner workings of Imagi, both the financial aspect and the office environment. They've got a face-recognition security system! There's a brief history of the company and a little bit about some of their upcoming planned projects too. All in all it's a mostly optimistic look at a company that has faced, and may continue to face, a few bumps in the road.

You can read "The Rescue of Astro Boy" on or read an archived copy right here by clicking the link below.

The Rescue Of Astro Boy
Robyn Meredith, 01.14.09, 06:00 PM EST
Forbes Magazine dated February 02, 2009

Amid the financial crisis a Hong Kong animation house with superheroic ambitions gets a reprieve for its exciting project.

Not far from a Hong Kong dock where Chinese cargo exports were feeling the pinch of a world financial crash, another kind of factory was humming. To get there, you must take a skyscraper's elevator to the 23rd floor and get past a locked door guarded by a face-recognition security system. Only then can you enter the darkened room where hundreds of young adults lean close to computer screens, bringing fictional characters to life. They are the 400-strong movie animation staff of Imagi, which aspires to be the DreamWorks of Asia.

One animator used his mouse to wiggle the onscreen nose of a character he's been programming, while next to him someone was tweaking the facial expressions of a robot dog in a movie called Astro Boy.

The staff, dressed mostly in jeans and untucked shirts, their workdays spent creating the imaginary world of Japanese comic book hero Astro, had no clue in mid-November that they were at risk of losing their jobs or that the promising movie they were working on might not make it to the big screen.

Their boss, Douglas Glen, Imagi's chief executive, had just come back from the American Film Market in Los Angeles, which was devastated by the gloom and doom spanning the globe. "If markets don't return to some semblance of normalcy, it is going to be difficult to keep operations going," an ashen-faced Glen told a visitor. Only two months before he had triumphantly secured $30 million in financing for his movie animation company. Then $20 million of it fell through.

Imagi wasn't the only moviemaker in trouble--the whole industry was crippled by the credit crunch. In November at the Film Market "it was absolutely bleak," says D. Jeffrey Andrick, managing director of Continental Entertainment Capital, a Beverly Hills company that serves as a merchant banker specializing in the movie industry. Continental brought to Citigroup The Spirit, the $50 million-plus Frank Miller film that opened on Christmas Day. "It may have been the worst environment I've seen at the American Film Market."

Indeed, Continental had a capital partnership with Citi, and after the subprime crisis Citi pulled out. Other banks, along with hedge funds and institutional investors, have dramatically dialed back their recent freewheeling backing for moviemaking, Andrick says.

But just like the animated hero of Astro Boy, Imagi has proved a survivor. In December it was promised $20 million in replacement financing, allowing the movie to go forward and the Hong Kong animators to keep their jobs. "At the last second we got untied from the railroad tracks," Glen says. "It's a little cinematic."

The substitute funding was arranged by Chicago private equity firm Prescient Advisors.

Imagi's first big hit came in 2007 with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie animation that grossed $100 million. Astro Boy, with a $65 million budget, is supposed to be released later this year in the U.S. on Oct. 23 and in Japan over the Christmas holidays. It is a classic Japanese comic book story of a robot designer in a world of the future who, heartbroken after the death of his son, builds an android to replace him. After Astro Boy's "father" rejects him, he sets off on a journey of adventure and redemption. "It's got a lot of promise," says Andrick, who's not an investor but saw clips of Astro Boy at the Film Market. It has a built-in fan base of those who remember the comic book--not just in Japan but also around the world. In the U.S. Astro Boy was the top children's syndicated TV show for three years during the 1970s.

People used to say the film industry was recession-proof. In the Great Depression even out-of-work people would scare up a quarter to see a matinee starring a tuxedo-clad Cary Grant or Fred Astaire acting out some fantasy. In this recession the demand is still there--but not the financing. "There was a great outpouring of funds available, and there's now a great shortage," says Jonathan Dolgen, former head of the Viacom Entertainment Group and its Paramount Pictures unit. He is now a principal of Wood River Ventures, a new firm that focuses primarily on media investments. "That's going to result in fewer films being made."

DreamWorks itself has run into trouble. After it assembled a $1.2 billion debt and equity deal in late September to split from Paramount, the equity piece, from India's Reliance Group, came through. The debt portion, which was to be syndicated by jpmorgan Chase, has run into delays.

While DreamWorks has Steven Spielberg, Imagi got into the movie animation business only after it got out of the business of making artificial Christmas trees in Chinese factories. Francis Kao, 32, urged his father, Michael Kao, to sell the manufacturing business and seek higher service-industry margins. The founder sold the tree business to the Carlyle Group and later retired, handing the company reins to his son, who is now Imagi's chairman and chief creative officer. The Kao family retains more than a third of the company, while another large backer is Hong Kong's Winnington Capital, with more than 20% of the company.

Imagi gradually built up a stable of computer graphics specialists and expanded into TV production work; it moved on to animate DreamWorks' Father of the Pride TV series on NBC in 2003. After the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit, with a big-screen gross more than twice the production cost, Imagi hired two executives from DreamWorks, Kenneth Tsumura and Timothy Cheung (the animator who brought Shrek to life), and brought them to Hong Kong to train a generation of animators in computer graphics. Imagi now has three films in production: Astro Boy, then the sci-fi ninja story of Gatchaman, planned for the fall of 2010, followed by Tusker, which will be reminiscent of Disney's Lion King, scheduled for the summer of 2011. "They are all heroes' journeys," says Glen, a former Mattel and Sega executive. They teach lessons gently, "like Flintstones vitamins--you make sure you package it in a way that's attractive to kids, but they're good for you."

What's attractive to investors--at least in normal times--is that Hong Kong is much cheaper than Hollywood for creating computer animation. Of course there are cheaper places: China, Malaysia, the Philippines and India. But lower costs are just part of the story, Glen says: "What makes Imagi magical is the combination of the story development in Los Angeles" with 120 employees there, "combined with the skills in turning those designs into pixels on the screen that you've got here in Hong Kong." That kind of globalization may enable this outfit to survive what is shaping up to be a nasty economic storm.

Continue reading "The Rescue of Astro Boy"...

Friday, January 9, 2009


We all know that Imagi has it's Astro Boy animated movie set for release later this year, as well as Gatchaman in the works, but it's looks like it's possible that one more classic anime franchise might be making the Computer Generated leap to the big screen thanks to those talented artists and animators in Hong Kong. And if you've been reading Felix Ip's blog lately, you know that something big is brewing!

Tetsujin 28, the classic franchise sometimes known internationally as Gigantor, could very well be one of the next animated feature films produced by Imagi!

Created in 1956 as a manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama (who also created "Giant Robo"), Tetsujin 28 is very first giant robot story. It has spawned multiple anime adaptations and a recent live action movie. This is legendary character who absolutely deserves a well done animated feature meant for audiences around the world.

To announce this potential project, Imagi has just unveiled a very elaborate website for the movie, complete with a teaser trailer. This animation is likely made just to drum up interest in the project and may or may not represent what the film winds up being like. Obviously the main character's appearance has been updated, but the robots have got that awesome retro look you would hope for. The website has story information and wallpapers, with concept art and more on the way. Pretty impressive for a movie that isn't even officially coming out yet! Looks like they are simply going with "T28" as the name of the film.

At the end of the teaser, there is a chance for you to say if you would like to see Tetsujin made as a movie by Imagi, and to write some comments. It is pretty much unprecedented for a film production to be this open to the potential audience at this point, so be sure to tell them what you think!

This is quite an interesting development because Astro Boy and Tetsujin 28 are products of about the same time, and are in some ways rival characters. I think it's so cool that classic anime characters like these are getting the chance to show how great they are to a whole new global audience, thanks to the same animation studio. Let's hope that the T28 film gets off the ground!

Continue reading "TETSUJIN 28 CG ANIMATED MOVIE?"...

Astro Footage at New York Comic Con

Those of you planning on attending the New York Comic Con this year are in for a treat!

Summit Entertainment will be holding an exclusive presentation where, for the first time ever, footage from the Imagi's upcoming CG animated Astro Boy movie will be screened! The presentation takes place at the IGN Theater on Sunday, Feburary 8th, from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM.

If anyone reading is planning on attending and can perhaps do some reporting on the presentation, please contact me!

Source: Anime News Network & MediumAtLarge

Continue reading "Astro Footage at New York Comic Con"...

Speed Dubbing

Sci-Fi Japan has got a great interview with anime legend Peter Fernandez, who is of course well known for his writing, directing, and dubbing work on the English version of Speed Racer. Before Speed Racer came alog, Peter wrote English scripts for the 1960's version of Astro Boy, and as he explains in this interview, was paid only $100 an episode for the work!

It's a fantastic interview that provides a great look at those early days of dubbing some cool classic shows. Check it out right here!

And while you're at it, take a look at Peter's MySpace page too!

Continue reading "Speed Dubbing"...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Extreme Makeover

For those of you currious how Imagi has changed Astro's appearance for the upcoming CG animated Astro Boy movie now that we've gotten a good look at him, this is for you.

The Star Online out of Malaysia has a great new article about the film, where Imagi's Ken Tsumura (Executive Vice President) and Tim Cheung (Vice President of Animation) talk the ways in which Astro's classic character design has been tweaked and updated, but how much of it has, at the request of the Tezuka estate, been retained. In particular, the size of Astro's... erm... bottom.

One thing that this article mentions is that Astro now looks more Caucasian, and that with was an unintentional result of Imagi updating the character. I disagree that he looks more Caucasian. I think he still retains the iconic, borderless look of Tezuka's artwork. There is nothing about Astro as Tezuka drew him that would suggest that he must originate from any particular part of the world. Imagi's animated Astro is a little different than Tezuka's manga Astro, but I still identify him as Astro more than anything else, and not as a Caucasian Astro.

You can read "Astro Boy’s makeover" on The Star Online or click the link below to read an archived version right here. Also check out their "What’s getting made" article for more about upcoming anime movies.

Sunday January 4, 2009
Astro Boy’s makeover

For the upcoming animated flick, the manga hero is unwittingly made to look more Caucasian.

WHEN they saw the initial designs for Astro Boy in the upcoming computer animated flick, the one thing that the Japanese owners did not fancy was the size of his rear end.

They found it too small.

Recalled Ken Tsumura, executive vice president of Imagi Animation, the Hong Kong company behind the project: “We had discussions of how round and curvy his body proportions are and we designed him more lean.”
Ken Tsumura, Executive Vice President, and Tim Cheung, Vice President of Animation at Imagi, the guys behind the upcoming Astro Boy animated film.

But this did not gel with the estate of Astro Boy’s creator, Tezuka Osamu, who wanted to keep some of the more recognisable aspects of the character.

Tim Cheung, Imagi’s vice president of animation, added: “By request, we needed to have a fuller rear and we added a control where we could control the size of his bum.”

Both men were in town for the recent Siggraph Asia 2008 computer graphics exhibition and conference, where they revealed that half of the animation work for the film, slated for release in October next year, has been completed.

In the 1952 manga, Astro is the creation of Dr Tenma as a replacement for his son who died in an accident. With his android powers and skills, Astro starts fighting crime and injustice.

Since then, Astro has become one of the more popular faces of Japanese culture. The hotly anticipated movie will have Nicolas Cage voicing Dr Tenma and British child actor Freddie Highmore of The Spiderwick Chronicles fame will voice Astro Boy.

Both Tsumura and Cheung admit that when a much beloved manga character makes a leap from 2D to 3D, some changes had to be made.

One of the more challenging aspects, aside from designing Astro’s larger head and arms with respect to his supporting characters, was revamping his kawaii portrayal, said the film designers.

Kawaii is the Japanese term for cute-looking and Astro, in his black spandex and red rocket boots, epitomises that quality.

“He has really big eyes and curly lashes and we had to make him less feminine in some way,” explained Mr Cheung.

That the beloved Japanese icon now looks more Caucasian was never intentional. It was a byproduct of ageing him and tweaking his looks.

Luckily, the Japanese team was open to some of the changes and the updated Astro Boy is now 12 years old, compared to the estimated six from the manga, and sports a shirt instead of being half naked.

Despite the effort to make the character friendlier to a Western audience, certain aspects of the original series, such as its themes of abandonment and acceptance, will remain.

“There are parts where it looks a bit heavier than what animated features deal with, but I think that was an important part of the Astro Boy story that needed to be told,” said Tsumura, who declined to reveal plot details for the film.

Imagi is also making a special 3D version of the movie for the Japanese market.

After Astro Boy is done, Imagi will be updating another Japanese icon, Gatchaman, also known as Battle of the Planets in the West. Since it is not as well known as Astro Boy, the project, about five super-powered teens fighting monsters, is open to interpretation.

Revealed Cheung, “We’re kind of making up our own version based on the original 1970s cartoon.” – The Straits Times, Singapore / Asia News Network

Continue reading "Extreme Makeover"...

Friday, January 2, 2009

New CG Astro Pics!

Happy new year everyone! Let's kick off 2009 right!

Twitch has got some brand new images of the upcoming CG Animated Astro Boy movie by Imagi , and they look great! There are some general marketing images of Astro and what looks to be some concept art of characters and sequences that will be featured in the film.

Check out our boy, looking sharp and dressed for success!

There's some artwork of a trashcan/dog robot and a mysterious girl character. Could this girl be the movie's version of the character Cathy, who Astro meets while performing at the circus? Or if it some other new character?

See all the pictures for yourself right here. Big time thanks to Twitch for bringing us the pics, and to Wolf from the Astroboy Online forums.

Continue reading "New CG Astro Pics!"...