Monday, January 05, 2009

The L.A. Times' Animated Vision of Tomorrow

The main Los Angeles paper had this to say about toons' future this morning:

Through Facebook, Mass Animation invited the public to create scenes for its first short video, "Live Music." The company supplied the animation software, the story, backgrounds, characters and audio. Animators whose work is chosen will receive $500 per scene. All told, the project will cost about $1 million and take six months to complete, a fraction of the money and time required for a comparable Hollywood project.

So, what's going on here? Why, an internet company is inviting animators from far and wide to spend time working for them for free! And if Mass Animation likes the work these good folks do, Mass Animation will pay them the princely sum of $500.

Putting aside the fact that the money is from hunger, and no money will be forthcoming if MA doesn't like the work, let's consider this possibility:

If the scene is long enough, some bright enterprising soul could be working at minimum wage! Maybe even less!

And what's the payoff for our go-getting internet animator?

... the project will cost about $1 million and take six months to complete, a fraction of the money and time required for a comparable Hollywood project.

Ah, I see. The animators, some of whom get five hundred bucks, some of whom don't, will help Mass Animation make "Live Music" for not very much money, thereby insuring that MA has a really good profit margin! Neat!

So ... who's behind this great idea?

Mass Animation was founded by Yair Landau, who ran Sony Pictures Animation while he was a top executive at Sony Pictures.

We point out to the Times that Mr. Landau, despite all his great ideas, is no longer working at Sony Pictures Animation. But it's wonderful to see another entertainment exec leave his corner office and sizable payday for the fertile fields of entrepreneurship. We need more like him, don't we?

He [Mr. Landau] tends to run ahead of the curve, having pushed Sony to develop a downloadable movie service years before online piracy became rampant. His new company is trying to do for animation what YouTube has done for video, namely, exposing far-flung talent.

Except that Mass Animation, if the editorial reflects reality, is keen on owning the content, making the animators low-paid sub-contractors.

But the L.A. Times, to its credit, pulls it head out of its large intestine long enough to admit:

Granted, the online movie service Landau championed hasn’t revolutionized the film business, and his latest effort probably won't upend professional animation.

But you never know, maybe Mr. Landau has seen the future, and it will soon be 1910 all over again.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The story is absolutely horrible. Go watch the boards and see if you don't agree.

And of course, like you mention, it is really taking advantage of artists. Par for the course I suppose. :sad:

Anonymous said...

Yair did something like this similar to Open Season 2, the direct to dvd sequel. They originally planned to do it all in India, but when that fell through they went to DNA in Texas. DNA is going to do the lighting for this Mass Animation project.

This is just a proof of the concept that a pipeline can be created to have artists all over the world working on the same project. (and for free!!!)

Fantastic idea when you consider how similar animation is between a complicated character like Beowulf and a guitar with a bend deformer on it!

Anonymous said...

I guess he is banging on the notion that the public cant tell the difference between the work. As long as i moves and it's on model . Will he also let the sound or editorial work be done by sending out all the pieces and asking editors to submit their edits and pay $500 for the one he likes .

rufus said...

I watched the short and it was way too long and boring. And the concept reminds me of those merry melodies from the 30's.

Sounds like Steve Vai on guitar as well.

A couple of scenes do look like they were done by an animator. 500 per scene is ridiculously low....

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

Just a note - the company that is doing the lighting and involved in this project is ReelFX not DNA. ReelFX is now a corporate entity not owned and operated by artists. Although DNA is now defunct I don't believe the owners (who were artists) would have jumped on a rickety wagon like this - they had much more respect for the art form and animators.

Animator/Dreamer said...

Aside from the obvious downfall of Massanimation's approach.... what if a percentage of the gross earnings of any film made this way was shared by the artists and technicians that worked on the film? I suspect everyone would change their tune from negative rants to outbursts of halleluja! (or would I be singing alone?)

sick of it said...

That's the least he could do. What is Landau trying to prove, anyway? That it's possible to exploit people for profit? Didn't we cover that one with the Civil War? Did he get lost on the way to his plantation? That's the dark underbelly of our system. People who get rich taking advantage of people think they deserve it just for having had the audacity to think of the scheme in the first place.

Anonymous said...

In spite of what's been reported, Mass animation has paid (gasp) a few people to work on things. Why aren't they explaining that to people? Yair is not forcing people to work for him. He's putting it out there and seeing who bites. How is that different from anyone else having a pet project and paperclippping it together with the help of friends and strangers?

Yes, he WAS head of sony animation & imageworks, but not anymore. Not saying he's poor, but he doesn't have Sony's money either. Why not give him props for trying to find a way to stay in this miserable business when so many people jump ship & go straight to live-action where the "real" money is?

Steve Hulett said...

[Landau's] putting it out there and seeing who bites. How is that different from anyone else having a pet project and paperclippping it together with the help of friends and strangers?

Difference is, most folks who have friends work on their project, offer a percentage of future revenues.

In this case, it seems people are getting a flat rate for a goodly amount of work.

Alexander said...

The way I see it . . .


The Mass Animation project is aimed for animators who are either currently still in school, learning the craft, or are just getting their start in the industry. The rest of you may have forgotten, or maybe things were different for you when you first entered this industry, but this is no longer an easy field to get into.


I just recently graduated this past June, right about the time many studios started making cuts or just falling apart all together. Gearbox, Barking Lizard, and Element X are but a few who have either cut their animating staff in half or have not had enough work to expand. Ensemble Studios got the axe. With all of these experienced animators now back on the market, due to all of these cuts, what does this mean for me? An animation job is a hard thing to come by.


What options am I left with for expanding my demo reel while the bills need to be paid?

Freelance: most postings for this seem to be by people who have no understanding of how the animation process works, or how much it can cost. I have been asked to draw up a storyboard, concepts, create models/rigs, textures, lighting, and animate by myself all on a single project. What was the offered pay for all of this? A whopping $10/hr! Don't even ask me about the unrealistic timeframe involved.

My favorite quoted pay from freelance postings has got to be "Unpaid position, with pay potential in the future", with a minimum expected work-week of 20 hours. THIS is the untenable scenario, unlike what MA offers.


WHAT DOES MASS ANIMATION OFFER ME? . . .


A computer, plus $500 for a selected shot. Let’s not forget the word "opportunity". I was not turned away from this project, because I have no industry experience. It's open to anyone who might wish to give it a try:

I have been given the opportunity to work with professionally built rigs and have my work credited in a short animated production.

I am given notes and tips by supervising animators, from within the industry, who are in charge of judging the animation on this project.

I have networked and made contacts with other fellow animators in my exact position from Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and India; all of us aspiring to make our way into the film industry.

. . . and what's more, I have been given the opportunity to come straight out of school and work under a reputable staff, who you all know by name.

I know what the industry pay scale is. That doesn’t make me any less grateful for this foot in the door to what is becoming a highly competitive industry.

Anonymous said...

Freelance: most postings for this seem to be by people who have no understanding of how the animation process works, or how much it can cost.

The blog entry as well as the post immediately above yours (and 15 days prior) was from The Animation Guild's business rep himself. I doubt anyone knows the industry better. Get a clue.

That doesn’t make me any less grateful for this foot in the door to what is becoming a highly competitive industry.

I've ben in this industry longer than you've probably been alive. Other than a brief period in the 1990's wherein even a chimpanzee could get work for a year or two, it's never been easy to get in to animation. Very few people possess the right blend of talent, skill, and temperament to make a successful go of it. Is it possible that you just don't fall within this range despite your expensive education? Again, get a clue.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of having a system whereby mere mortals can get into the art of animation, but I hope this isn't one of those capitalist type operations whereby they get chumps to work for free at something they could have previously made a living at. Especially if other studios decide to follow suit, thereby destroying peoples careers. BTW as far as I know since Walt Disney's day the standard practice I think was to pay someone a salary (usually dirt if you were not high up the pecking order i.e cel painters) and all the work you did was the property of the studio, so you recieved no royalties and sometimes not even a credit!

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