Thursday, January 14, 2010

State of the Industry and TAG

It's been a roller coaster year for animation.

Up at some feature studios. Down at some television animation studios. (And it changes month to month.) Walt Disney Animation Studio, after laying off much of its The Princess and the Frog crew last summer, hired animators, compositors, lighters and others as it ramped up for Rapunzel at the end of 2009. Universal shut its doors. Warner Bros. laid off part of its freshly hired staff when show development had a major hiccup. (Warners plans to rehire artists at the end of this month.)

Today I talked to an animator who's been struggling. He was laid off months ago because he wasn't able to keep up with quotas, and he's now working outside the industry.

That's the story of many animation veterans: the studios are increasingly demanding, and artists need energy and stamina to keep up. And companies are walking back higher salaries. Last week a DreamWorks staffer told me:

"Friends of mine came over from Imageworks after getting cut loose. They like DWA, but they were making three thousand a week at Imageworks, they're making hundreds less here. Sony just wasn't going to keep them at their old rates. Sony doesn't have the work ..."

Sony Imageworks, like other animation studios in Southern California, hires when it needs talent and lays off when it doesn't. With the exception of DreamWorks Animation, the business model now in force across the industry is "project to project." That operating philosophy is reflected in the revised charts below ...

Employment of TAG members at TAG shops, January 2007-January 2010

Employment picked up in the first seven or eight months of 2009 (as we reported back in October), with a majority of the new hires at DreamWorks and ImageMovers Digital; since then it's dipped a bit due in large part to the shutdown of Universal Animation Studios and the temporary layoffs at Warner Bros when Laff Riot was shut down for retooling.

Employment at TAG shops by studio, January 2010

The figures in square brackets are the number of people employed at each shop. The Disney number is inclusive of both Walt Disney Animation Studio, Disney Toons, and Disney Television Animation (aka Disney TVA). It includes people employed both under the TAG contract and the IATSE/TTL agreement -- which TAG represents.

(You will note that a few large studios dominate, with several small studios having narrow slices of the chart. It's been this way since TAG was invented in January, 1952.)

Click on the chart thumbnails for a full-sized version.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sony Imageworks, like other animation studios in Southern California, hires when it needs talent and lays off when it doesn't. With the exception of DreamWorks Animation, the business model now in force across the industry is "project to project."

And thats why DW has most of the best talent now.

Anonymous said...

The posts endlessly alternating between 3D animation box office records and sad sack TAG animator stories is getting really old.

I mean REALLY old.

Floyd Norman said...

Hey, it makes perfect sense. We're all getting really old as well.

I mean, really old.

Anonymous said...

ha. we can always count on your wisdom floyd...

We should shift from thinking about animation as a craft based on billable hours because the fact is that work is mostly production to production with a lot of down time in between. The people who are working 24/7 year round in VFX and 3D production house situations are apparently not organized with TAG (not saying that this is acceptable...)

Animation is as creative as what an actor or writer provides and could be compensated in the same manner, with additional residuals earned to provide during the slow times. Yes, we have health benefits for 6 months to help, but there needs to be more to account for the erratic ebb and flow of the business today. We need to evolve with the times. The billable hours template does not take into account the big picture.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
Thanks for this blog, and for helping us out when we give you a call.

And keep the blog entries coming! Never mind anonymous at 9:47 AM. I certainly don't like the current trend of project to project gigs, but I think its important to see what's happening in the industry as a whole, and the pie charts, graphs, and stories that Steve posts are helpful.

I like what anonymous at 11:05 AM is saying, but do we have the leverage to negotiate for additional residuals? Is it a pipe dream? Or can we realistically negotiate better terms?

Anonymous said...

Project to project is nothing new, its just finally being realized by more people. Animation is very much like live action when it comes to this area, but the anim gigs are longer.

you don't see too many live action studios holding crews film to film. People that like to work together will seek each other out and potentially have a more united team for a show then just rolling into another one.

I think the concept of choosing which project you want to work on, far outweighs working on something very hard that you don't believe in.

I embraced project to project long ago, it has just as much if not more stability than working at one shop and waiting for the next shoe to drop.

A priest goes into a bar and said...

Naaah. I'd take job security over project to project if the choice was available. Moving around from town to town also gets old very fast. It's fine when younger, but we get old and some of us want/desire to settle sometime.

Steve Hulett said...

The posts endlessly alternating between 3D animation box office records and sad sack TAG animator stories is getting really old.

Try averting your eyes.

Reality is what it is.

Anonymous said...

personally, i agree with the priest ... hunting for a new gig is hard work in and of itself, especially these days

Anonymous said...

if you can't stand the heat.
get out of the kitchen.

Lucifer said...

"if you can't stand the heat.
get out of the kitchen."

Screw you! It's my privilege to wish/fight for better employment standards. Otherwise well end up like the chinese in their sweatchops!

Anonymous said...

Gig to gig blows, but its supply and demand. As long as the schools continue to churn out 4 or 5 times the amount of people that are needed, the power is going to continue to mount on the employers side. Which means longer hours, less money and less job security.

That said I think it shows in the work, if your compare the work of Sony and Bluesky (studios that routinely lay everyone off) to the work of Dreamworks and Pixar he retain most of their staff, its night and day.

Anonymous said...

The actual animation coming out of Sony and BlueSky is of a higher quality than what Pixar and Dreamworks produced in 2009, in my opinion.

Ice Age 3 animation beat UP, and Cloudy beat MVA. They pushed more comedic styles (both cloudy and IA3), took more risks (cloudy), and overall felt more organic (IA3)

PS) Blue Sky still hires/fires temps, but their staff positions (about 40-45 bodies) are as stable as a rock.

Lucifer said...

remember the EA wife story a few years ago, well, take a gander at this!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that at least the wives of Rockstar games have come together.

To be effective, and to truly change the work conditions of "neverending cruch" at Rockstar, two things should be done:

1) Re-write that essay. It is horribly worded with passive voice, obscuring its message and rendering it difficult to read.

2) Organize the studio with a union. Only the legal firepower of a union and collective bargaining have the strength to force Rockstar to start paying overtime for work over 8 hours. If they have to pay for it, they will probably curb it. Currently, it's cheap to make their employees work 14-hour days.

Anonymous said...

They produce really disgusting games, what can you expect?

Anonymous said...

"SweatChops"? lol....
sweatchops. Lucifer has a lisp or something... :)
Besides, I think most of the sweatshops are now in India. Thank you Disney, Dreamworks and Rhythm & Hues.

Anonymous said...

WHEN WILL ALL THE ASS KISSING STOP!!!!

Anonymous said...

Ole' chuck zimbellas is up to his paranoid rants again:

"Then they call you names, then they start secret email campaigns against you, then they go to other forums and blogs and put you down...

And that's what happens from individuals we considered friends. With friends like some of the people we've known in the past, who needs enemies."

Then you become so paranoid and whiney until you realize you just don't matter.

Anonymous said...

Ole' chuck zimbellas is up to his paranoid rants again:

It's always fun to read his rants, so I poked around his site--but I couldn't find the rant you're referring to. Could you post a link?

Anonymous said...

That nut is obviously off his meds. Boy, talk about someone who needs some help!

Anonymous said...

speaking of animation nation...
here are some fun stats.

http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/animationnation.com#trafficstats

http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/cartoonbrew.com#trafficstats

Anonymous said...

Ah, found the post on his website, and indeed he is off his meds again. Still bitterly railing against "enemies" and so forth, and imagining all the "good" that his website has done "for the community".

What's really funny is that he obliquely concedes that he has alienated everyone in the industry, and is now relegated to a viewership of students and fans.

I rarely go to Animation Nation anymore, as there's never any pertinent posts. Princess and the Frog came and went with hardly a mention, and certainly nothing from those who actually worked on it. Well...it USED to be an interesting site nine years ago.

Steve Hulett said...

Time never stands still.

Anonymous said...

"What's really funny is that he obliquely concedes that he has alienated everyone in the industry, and is now relegated to a viewership of students and fans."

Maybe if he apologized for taking himself so seriously all would be well. But he expects people to bow down before him as though he were anything more than just another person in the industry.

Anonymous said...

BUT he is not in the industry and was barely ever in the industry. He started a school to scam money of animation wannabes when the boom was happening and now he somehow views himself as animations savior because he started that school and a forum that no professionals inhabit.
He's not untalented (but not as nearly as talented as he thinks he is), but his personality and schisms keep people from using him.

Site Meter