Friday, October 23, 2009

DreamWorks et Disney

I wasn't planning to go to multiple studios today, but sometimes you do more driving than you want to.

At Disney By the 134, The Princess and the Frog, I was told by a Top Dog:

"We're completely done now. We just finished the color transfer, we've finished the music. Now we wait and see how the picture does. We're sandwiched between Avatar and the Chipmunks, so it's up to the audience now for how it does ...."

I told him I thought The Princess would open with good numbers. I am a positive, optimistic person ...

Elsewhere at the hat, a still-disgruntled animator wanted to know why the company was cutting artists' salaries the way they were. My analysis:

1) Because they can.

2) Because they've made the judgement that there's a big enough talent pool to draw on if somebody quits in a snit (i.e., the recessionary market will support the cuts ... because there are qualified folks out there who will work at lower wages.)

3) Because Pixar salaries are lower (based on available evidence) and management is trying to align the labor costs of the two studios a bit more.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but those are the ones I rattled off.

At Dreamworks, wandering through the story department, I found out a new factoid. Pacific Data Images, DreamWorks' studio outpost in the Bay Area, has its own story department.

Stupid me. For the last eight years I thought all the storywork was happening in Glendale. A board artist related:

"PDI has had a story group for a long time. We used to go up there for meetings. It's not real big. I think they have maybe fifteen artists ..."

One of the features that PDI story artists are now working on is Madagascar 3. It's in the early stages, but there are roughly equal numbers of artists working on the new installment up north and down south.

Have a fun-filled weekend.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that Disney is having a very hard time finding new animators to go and work on Rapunzel. The talent pool has dried up since the glut of capable animation mentor students (and other colleges of course) has finally leveled off to a trickle.

And experienced, professional animators are avoiding Disney since they heard what they did to their people on Bolt, and they know they'll just get laid off when it's done.

Hopefully...HOPEFULLY Disney will learn from this hiring experience that there is VALUE in keeping and cultivating a team of artists long term. But they probably wont.

someone who knows said...

Exactly! There was a whole slew of talented people from Bolt, AND Frog that got let go-- fortunately, Disney's plan is backfiring which is one of the first steps to potential change. And yes, people are in fact beginning to avoid the studio. Disney's loss--

Anonymous said...

The folks running Disney feature animation don't care about animation talent! They DO care about the films, and how well they do. They're business people and accountaneers. Don't let anyone fool you. With Ed Catmill likely to retire in a few years, and Lasseter spread very thin, you can bet there are sniping executives in the wings ready to pounce if things don't turn around soon, financially. And that new Ross fellow knows nothing about film making--he's a tv executive whose experience is programming, not creation.

Nothing has changed. It's every man for himself.

Anonymous said...

They DO care about the films, and how well they do.

Then they should care about their artists, seeing how their morale/output/loyalty has a direct influence on how good the film looks, and ultimately, does.

Anonymous said...

What would you do: Disney employs you, you are proud to work there you and you bust your ass along with everyone else to do your very best, as they DID do on "Bolt"-a very underrated film.

But among a few other crucial issues the marketing is terrible and although the animation staff-that is, the artists-complain loud & long about it all during production at company meetings fearing exactly what DID happen, everyone including JL shushes them with "we know what we're doing".

But they didn't.
A not-mega-vast-in-scope BUT super-enjoyable, funny, even lovable film gets marginalized and let down. The crew is let down. Not only that-they're laid off. Laid off with a bunch of stern, eye-rolling speeches from management: face facts guys: YOUR film didn't perform, so YOU must pay the price.
Your reward for the insane amounts of OT and blood, sweat & tears to make a renewed dept. viable is pay cuts, layoffs, no security(not even the most minimal of contracts as other feature studios in town offer)...and did we mention layoffs? Around Xmas? How about right after Xmas? and every Friday thereafter.

But that's okay because of COURSE they'll come scuttling back the instant we need them, even if they've been laid off for months or a year. There's no way they'd rather work anywhere than Disney, right?

Except WRONG. Anyone who was burned by that deal would probably rather have a life and a reasonably secure career working on, yes, some also good films somewhere else for more money, contracts, perqs, good morale...and best of luck with rebuilding a once-superb staff at a snap of the fingers again.

There are absolutely top people there in animation who were never laid off but kept, no question. There just aren't enough of them to finish an entire feature in 18 mos, every time. And the people who made a huge amount of OT on Bolt aren't as keen when the offer on Rapunzel is very little OT, since the base -rate expected work week is now 50 instead of 40 hours-or 56. That kind of deal with not even a contract. Week to week, "at will". "Friday's your last day". Not again, oh, no.

There's more than one way to kill a golden goose. Disney seems to have invented about 69 of them. Oh well-the Company doesn't really need two large animation studios in California, does it?

What a bloody shame!

Anonymous said...

I think the true example of what kind of "thinking" is going on at Disney these days is those Volunteer-For-A-Disney-Day ads. First of all, the ONLY people who are going to be interested in that are those living in California and Florida (for one lousy day at the parks, it only makes sense if you live nearby). At least with get-in-free-on-your-birthday promotion, people weren't asked to WORK for the free admission. Second...what the HELL are the Muppets doing in those commercials? What happened to the REAL Disney characters? Like um, oh, what's his name OH YEAH Mickey Mouse. It really makes you cringe to see him upstaged by puppets from the '70's. Iger has got his head firmly up his ass if this sorry promotion is his idea of clever marketing.

Anonymous said...

Actually the new base rate for Disney employees is 45 hours, not 50. The same weekly pay as before, but you have to work 45 hours to get it, not 40.

A bit of advice I received from someone very recently who is absolutely in a position to know--if Disney calls you offering a job, NEVER accept their first offer. It's a lowball, an attempt to get you to accept less money than they're actually willing to pay. They may try to make it sound as though there's no room for negotiation at first, but the truth is--they do have at least a little wiggle room.

Reject their first offer and ask for a few hundred more per week. They will concede every time.

Anonymous said...

How do folks like JL even consider not fighting for animators' salaries? They were animators themselves for crying out loud. What a shame.

They've gotta learn at some point that treating fellow animators like crap isn't good, right? Why doesn't the animator's guild not vote for a Disney film to be nominated for the academy award for example? Lasseter and co. seem to love those so much, I think they might start thinking twice if they got denied their prize possession because they've pissed off too many animators.

Anonymous said...

JL has gone on record as being anti-union, specifically because unionization causes wages to go up.

This can also be seen in Pixar's wage policies. A new animator at Pixar, even one with industry experience, can expect to be paid 30% less than union minimum.

The Pixar folks make damn good movies, and have had very stable employment. But they are not fans of paying their labor a lot of money.

Anonymous said...

It is true that Pixar generally pays their employees less. However, I don't believe it is 30% less than union minimums. That is a little extreme.

I have a sheet laying around somewhere with a list of yearly wages of various Pixar employees. I'll try to find it and post it here. Without the names attached of course.

Anonymous said...

curious, just a question: what would you rather have, steady employment for years or be the tallest grass that gets cut at the end of every show?

Anonymous said...

curious, just a question: what would you rather have, steady employment for years or be the tallest grass that gets cut at the end of every show?.

That's a false choice. Both Pixar and Dreamworks have been highly successful, and both have had very stable employment, generally speaking. The difference is that Dreamworks offers much higher wages than Pixar.

Disney has had much less stable employment in recent years NOT because of high wages, but because of compacted schedules, long downtimes, and poor performance at the boxoffice.

Anonymous said...

from above:

"Why doesn't the animator's guild not vote for a Disney film to be nominated for the academy award for example? Lasseter and co. seem to love those so much, I think they might start thinking twice if they got denied their prize possession because they've pissed off too many animators."

...and that is why I don't watch awards shows anymore, its all about politics.

Anonymous said...

The Animator's Guild has nothing to do with who or what gets an Oscar nomination. Relatively few Guild members are Academy members.
It's the Feature Animation and Short Film Branch of AMPAS that nominate what films get nominated and then the entire Academy votes for the winner.
Actually the nomination committee is made up of half Branch memebrs and then half other AMPAS members. I believe it's usually 50 and 50.
The nominations are handled with a rating system where each film receives a rating from 6 to 10 and the highest rated films receive the nominations (3 or 5 depending on the year). Branch membrs need to prove they've seen a majority of the films for their votes to count.

On a side note, in recent years it has been almost impossible for TAG members to join the Academy as most have been shut out for one reason or another (it's always been dificult to join, but even moreso lately). Pixar members seem to have an easier time getting in - you do the math (it might have something to do with JL holding a lot of sway over the board...?)

Anonymous said...

So are you guys saying that if Disney Animation were to have a string of box office hits, that Disney wouldn't be so stingy with their salaries and hiring?

What's with all the things I hear about Pixar being stingy and everyone wanting to leave it for other studios then? They've had a lot of hits as well.

Seems more like a management decision to me than profits at the box office.

Anonymous said...

RE: Pixar wages vs DW wages

While I don't have all the salaries to compare at DW and Pixar, H1B visa salaries are public information:

Pixar H1B wages 2008:
http://tinyurl.com/yztrgnz

DreamWorks H1B wages 2008:
http://tinyurl.com/yfcpsor

Pixar does indeed pay it's workers 30+% less.

Anonymous said...

Those are interesting numbers. Clearly Dreamworks pays far more than Pixar.

What's also interesting is that, at both studios, with few exceptions, the more technical the job description, the higher the pay. The more artistic, the lower the pay. Animators seem to make the least of all.

Quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

This is a sad comment on the state of animation. While yes, there are some very talented technical people, they most often do not understand story or character, or how to put THAT on the screen (I expect flames). That doesn't mean what they bring the collaborative effort isn't important, but the idea that the "visual effects" or "technical" approach to making animation films is better/more efficient is a fallacy bourne out by the lack of proof on the big screen (and the box office). The ARTISTS drive the boat, and technical is brilliant support. This is why the role of "visual effects supervisor" or "technical director/producer" on animated features doesn't really work.

Anonymous said...

"This is a sad comment on the state of animation. While yes, there are some very talented technical people, they most often do not understand story or character, or how to put THAT on the screen"

This is an either or argument. The market is rewarding those who are artistic and technical. There are purely technical people who are getting paid less also.

To have the creative ability to know what the character needs to do to drive the story and the technical ability to achieve that goal then you are probably part of the more successful group of people working in the industry today.

Anonymous said...

Pixar pays less because YOU pay for the "privilge" of working there. That is not a Joke.

g said...

What's with all the things I hear about Pixar being stingy and everyone wanting to leave it for other studios then? They've had a lot of hits as well.

I dont hear about this much, and Ive been in this industry a decently long time. Pixar and Dreamworks definitely have a low turnover compared to Disney, Blue Sky and Sony.

Anonymous said...

Pixar pays less because YOU pay for the "privilge" of working there. That is not a Joke.

That was Walt Disney's thing as well. It was an honor to work at Disney, so you don't have to be paid as much.

Another Disney tradition Pixar keeps alive!

Known Bandit said...

Consistent box office success is another Disney tradition that Pixar keeps alive.

I don't hear many people that work there complaining. When WDAS starts making hits like them you'll hear less complaining from the Hat Building.

Success has a way of doing that.

Anonymous said...

yo G,

>Pixar and Dreamworks definitely have a low turnover compared to Disney, Blue Sky and Sony.<

That's because of the proprietary software business model.

g said...

Really? Hmm. I never really thought of that. That's actually very interesting.

Maybe Disney SHOULD switch to menv.

Anonymous said...

That's because of the proprietary software business model.

I don't know if that's a major factor. Maybe a slight one.

I think the more significant reason is that both studios have done well financially, morale is high, the films are often good, they offer stable employment, and the workplace environments are very nice.

Blue Sky pays a paltry amount to its employees, works them too hard on compacted schedules, and has a spotty history of layoffs, so it's not too surprising that turnover is high. Disney has some of those problems.

Anonymous said...

Blue Sky pays a paltry amount to its employees, works them too hard on compacted schedules, and has a spotty history of layoffs, so it's not too surprising that turnover is high. Disney has some of those problems.

Disney has ALL of those problems.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't hear many people that work there [Pixar] complaining.

Depends on who you talk to.

Anonymous said...

"That's because of the proprietary software business model"

That's just SILLY! And not true, either. Proprietary software? Some. The reason they're more STABLE? Absolutely not.

Anonymous said...

Although I don't really agree, I think the person was trying to suggest that employees who are primarily familiar with a proprietary software system may feel reluctant to leave for another studio where they don't know the software, pipeline, etc. And that studios may exploit that reluctance to persuade them not to leave.

Again, I don't really agree that that is why Pixar and Dreamworks have low turnover.

Anonymous said...

I talked to a producer at Disney who admitted that they expect Rapunzel to be unsuccessful, and they just want to get it done and over with as cheaply as possible. If I were new to the industry and willing to work dirt cheap, it might be a great opportunity, but I wouldn't expect it to be a movie to be proud of.

JL and EC want only Pixar doing CG, but Iger insists on more CG product from Burbank. Meanwhile, neither JL nor Iger really believe hand-drawn animation can compete, so we'll continue to see traditional movies whose only real goal is to add to the Princess franchise or replicate past low-budget success, like the Pooh movie. A fish rots from the head, which is the real problem in Burbank.

I hate to say it, but resign yourselves to this half-hearted version of Disney Feature Animation for the foreseeable future.

Disney Employee said...

That's absolutely not true. You're talking out of your ass.

Anonymous said...

Keep drinking the Kool-aid. You don't even have to be an insider to see the pattern. The commitment to traditional animation is barely a fig leaf. Everyone knows that creating an African-American princess for the Princess franchise was the primary reason for making the 'Frog Princess.'

Have you actually been inside Disney? Have you seen the big board with ALL the various princesses of the world that will be rolled out over the coming years? There's at least a dozen of them, for every culture and spot on the map. Oh joy!

And another Pooh movie? Seriously? Of course, it's a guaranteed babysitter DVD (no need to worry about the audience for a Winnie the Pooh movie illegally downloading the movie!).

And then there's the way the traditional animators have been treated. "Hey, let's rebuild the Disney tradition by firing most of our veterans."

And on the CG side? Seriously? The contempt that Catmull and Lasseter have for the CG folks at Disney is shown by the way they treat those people. Their management style is pure lip service, and off with the heads of anyone who looks sideways.

The would have pulled the plug on Rapunzel long ago if they thought it wouldn't be a huge embarrassment by admitting what a fumbled project it's been (remind anyone of 'Dinosaur'?).

So yeah, I'm talking out my ass, because Disney is being run by asses.

Anonymous said...

Have you actually been inside Disney?

I work there, ya dummy.

Well, lip service or not, I feel John and Ed support what we're doing. Yes, we've had layoffs and things arent the best here right now, but I believe they DO want Disney Animation to succeed. Are they making the BEST choices, no, but they also dont have an unlimited budget. We gotta make a hit first, man. Bolt was almost there, but not quite. Im hoping for PATF and Rapunzel big time.

Call me a kool-aid drinker, thats fine. But I believe in us. Im an optimist.

r said...

Obviously Disney has run out of gas. It's practically running on fumes...

rufus.

Anonymous said...

Are they making the BEST choices, no, but they also dont have an unlimited budget.

I don't think it has anything to do with budget. It's about respecting people, and inspiring them. As you admit, they've made some poor choices, but worse than that, the culture of fear and doubt among the average animator and TD is worse than it was under Eisner and his lackeys.

How long has JL and EC been in charge, over 3 and a half years, going on 4? When's the turn around supposed to happen. It's a shame. Knowing how to build Pixar isn't the same as knowing how to restore Disney.

I'm sure this comes off as the whining of the disgruntled, but even the most wide eyed optimist has to admit that the place is a mess right now.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I know, Im a little concerned too. But Im still optimistic.

Will I be laid off next year? In all likelihood, yes. Maybe not. Who knows. I'd hate to be on the project that closed Disney's doors, so I refuse to get down about it so I can work my best. I may need to rethink after Rapz is done though.

Anonymous said...

John and Ed absolutely want what's best for Disney. The problem lies in that all creative power goes to John, and NO ONE makes great decisions all of the time. John is spread very thin, and I think we can all see that here at the studio. At Pixar he is more of an overseer, at Disney it's like "Oh, we have a problem... "John'll fix it!". I do not believe that John or Ed have any contempt for their artists. Yes, the lay off's have been down right disgraceful (in the manner in which they have been carried out) for Frog and Bolt. But none of that comes from John or Ed... honestly, what's going to restore Disney? A hit? possibly-- I was thinking more of a TOTAL REBIRTH. Total detachment from the Disney company, and reinvention of what Disney Animation means and is. There is a very popular line of thought around here that goes something like this... "we are Disney, people expect something specific from us." No offense, but the audience expects NOTHING from us at this point because of the garabage that has come out of here. In a way, this is a good start point for reinvention. Unfortunately we people, myself included, get frustrated is that we are simply rehashing the past. At all times when we could do anything we wanted... but that's a digression.
The way things work here are so messy because of the internal set up. We are part of a corporation, like it or not. Therefor we work in that construct and absorb all of the pitfalls (which are many) in our filmmaking process. For example, a massive part of our budgets goes toward paying rent on this stupid building that we already own. This was set up by corporate. Or also for example, Disney Animation sees no profit from the films it generates. All that mega money from Lion King went straight to the "company", not animation. So we live on an allowance from Corporate.
All this to say that John and Ed are not at all vindictive, though some may feel that way. They have inherited many many problems wrapped up into the name of Disney Animation. And yes, there have been some bad decisions. But they've made a whole slew of good ones that never get brought up either.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there have been some good decisions. No doubt. But JL is so busy accepting awards and having his ego stroked that I think he's forgotten the process that led to the development of Pixar. Four more years of this and I think even Iger will be ready to shut it all down.

Anonymous said...

No doubt Ed and John want what's best for the division and the company. They're being paid a good deal of money, so it stands to reason they do.

But it would be helpful if there was more honesty in meetings with crew. When management says there won't be layoffs, and then there are layoffs, morale declines. When management says that personal service contracts are being eliminated to give employees more freedom, and then employees are reprimanded for moonlighting on other projects, it's a bit disingenuous.

Most employees understand that PSCs were eliminated to cut labor costs and provide more corporate flexibility. It would be good if this was admitted. Cynicism would be less.

There is also little effort to retain staff between projects, although lip service is paid that retention is the goal.

John and Ed both have proven track records, and are good at what they do. But ultimately they have to take responsibility for the bad morale of Disney Animation, they brought it up when they arrived, and have dragged it down since.

Frankly, it's hard to believe that "John and Ed" have no responsibility for the method of layoffs. They're in charge, so OF COURSE they bear responsibility.

Who are you going to point to, Anon 10:55? Andrew Millstein? Andrew is the ultimate survivor, he's had a bunch of horses shot out from under him (DreamQuest, The Secret Lab, Disney Animation Florida) so everyone knows he will do what he's told to do. He's not an independent operator.

Sorry, when you are in charge of the place, you get to take credit for the victories ... and the blame for the defeats. To say that John/Ed aren't to blame for the current state of affairs is simply wrong. Fish stink from the head down.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:24
I certainly could be wrong... and believe me, I am in complete agreement with you on the current state of Disney Animation. Particularly when it comes to morale and the retention of staff. Sometimes I just question how much is within their decision-making ability in terms of having the time to make all of those decisions themselves without delegating it to others. As I said, I could very easily be wrong, but I do wonder--

Anonymous said...

I think John and Ed show how much disdain they show for artists by how little they pay even their Pixar employees. There's no reason why they couldn't pay as well as DW, but obvioulsy they feel they don't need to so they don't. If they don't care about their own precious Pixar 'family' then why should they care about those bastard step-children at Disney?

I have no doubt that if the decision to lay off artists isn't theirs then they do nothing to prevent it.

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