There are two dynamics going on in Animationland just now. And they're pulling in opposite directions.
On the one hand, there's a lot of employment. It isn't centered in the formerly booming area of television, but in c.g. theatrical features, visual effects, and digital games, which explains why I'm getting a cascade of calls from television production board artists and designers complaining about lack of work at the same time TAG receives 2-3 foreign visas per week for jobs in theatrical c.g. animation.
It seems borderline shizophrenic, but here's an example showing why it's not:
Advancements in animation technology and consumers' insatiable appetite for stylized robots, animals and monsters have propelled the industry. The momentum isn't likely to slow down anytime soon, industry watchers say.
"If you look worldwide, there are 45 or 50 fully 3D feature-length, computer-animated films in production today, ready for release over the next couple of years," says Terrence Masson, an industry veteran who has worked at George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic and consulted for Disney and DreamWorks.
See what's going on? At the same time production rockets upward, the fierce competition for production gigs amid a global recession have caused animation salaries to go south.
International competition in the visual effects industry is intensifying and ambitious German companies, exploding onto the scene with upcoming pics like Sony's apocalyptic thriller "2012" and Warner's "Ninja Assassin," are looking for a bigger piece of the action.
... Germans are used to working with "very low overhead. The money all goes into the work." ...
It's little wonder that, with the money squeeze and eagerness of hungry foreign contractors, the dynamics of the business are what they are.
Over the past three weeks, I've heard complaints about shorter schedules and heavier workloads. I've listened to veteran animators talk ruefully about their shrinking salaries, even as the projects on which they work make big money. Four days ago, a staffer at a well-known studio told me:
"They've let us know that when the current project is done next month, we're out the door. They don't want anybody to think they're going to be held over until the next project gets going. A bunch of us told them, 'Yeah, we know. You don't have to keep rubbing it in.'"
Day before yesterday, an IA representative said to me over lunch: "It's a damn good thing we've got contracts at most studios. Otherwise they'd be paying everyone eight bucks an hour."
The rep was talking about live action, but I knew what he meant. Nobody in the cartoon business gloats to me anymore about their weekly salaries at double and triple contract minimums. Most of those jobs have gone away.
Of course, a chosen few at the top don't have to tighten their belts. This is, after all, America.