Rambling around the studios last week, it wasn't just the current strike that came up. There was also the issue of studios shipping animation work overseas.
An artist on a cigarette break out in the drizzle asked me about this. I explained that subcontracting work overseas (and elsewhere) has been an issue for decades, that the Animation Guild went on strike twice over it ('79 and '82, which was news to him) and that outsourcing hasn't gone away.
"So where do you think's going to happen with it?" he asked.
My answer was: "It'll continue. But the work isn't all going to China, or Taiwan or India, because when you ship work to other places you begin to lose control of quality, and studios want to have control.
Then there's the minor issue of the falling dollar and the changing economics. That also make it less appetizing to ship work to Timbuktu. And if a studio is being successful with their domestic model, they're usually not keen to change it in drastic ways. And of course companies want a reliable and skilled talent pool. That's why Electronic Arts has a large studio in Playa Vista and not Bangladesh."
But this globalization thing is a subject that often comes up. (It's been a subject for animation people since the early seventies, at least.) And my overall take on it is this:
In 1960, 100% of American animation was done in ... (drumroll) ... America. And most of that in Los Angeles. Disney did all of its features here. Hanna-Barbera did all of its t.v. work here, from boarding, to animating, cell-painting, post-production, everything.
But the total animation business in those long-ago days was not large, only a few thousand people, comprised of commercials, features, and television series.
And now here we are almost half a century later, and 100% of American animation is most definitely not done in the U.S. of A. Korea has a piece of it, Taiwan and the Phillipines have some of it, India and New Zealand and mainland China are in on the act. Yet despite that, there are nine or ten times the number of people working on animation in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a few other American cities than there were in 1960.
Now, how could that be?
Because the overall animation pie is one hell of a lot larger. Today "animation" is theatrical animated features, television animated series, animated features for dvds, animated visual effects, video game animation, animated commercials, and plenty of internet animation. (And I'm probably leaving a few things out.)
A lot of those things didn't exist when Fred Flintstone and Yogi Bear were gleams in Joe Barbera's and William Hanna's eyes. And animation's global success in recent decades has meant other countries are increasingly serious about their own animation industries. Like for instance:
NEW DELHI: It's going to rain animation movies on Indian celluloid, with all major studios and animation companies lining up a slew of releases to keep one entertained till 2009. According to industry estimates, more than 25 movies are up for release in 2008 and 2009. According to Nasscom estimates, the animation industry is likely to become a $950-million business in the country by 2010 ...
Let me point out that this is what India is making for domestic consumption, not the product it's turning out for American companies like Disney and the Weinstein Co.
The above is an indicator of why, despite outsourcing, the American animation industry grows ever larger. We might only have a fraction of the pie today, but the pie is monstrous compared to 50 years ago. And there's lots of talent in this neck of the woods that corporations desire to use.