THE ANIMATED WORKPLACE: DREAMWORKS’ “SIX PACK” APPROACH TO BUILDING A CULTURE OF CREATIVITY
Small teams, extracurricular art, and an open approach to failure help Dreamworks get the best from its army of animators and tech wizards.
...DreamWorks Animation's films require intense work and long hours, replete with footage quotas for animators. So the standard creative company perks apply. There’s free breakfast, lunch, and snacks at various commissaries, and there are game rooms replete with typical tech company goodies like foosball and ping-pong. ...
But there are other things too. Like workplace quotas.
I've been at DWA a lot over the past month. First for the big round of layoffs, more recently to answer questions about changes to DreamWorks Personal Service Contracts. (It seems new California labor regulations have forced alterations to the company's overtime provisions in its PSCs.)
An animator told me:
We're going to be doing forty-hour weeks now. I was told the studio expects the same animation footage with forty-hours as with the longer weeks we did last year. ...
I responded if that was the case, then animators would maybe have to
1) Work faster,
2) Do gratis overtime, or
3) Ask for authorization to work more hours at time-and-a-half.
Free o.t. to meet television production deadlines has been an unhappy strategy for animation employees longer than I've done this job. (And it's been one of the bigger issues during the time I've done this job.) Free o.t. seldom rears its ugly head in feature animation, yet it occasionally pops up when production managers get overly ambitions ... or desperate.
Animation footage requirements at different studios has varied widely over time. Recently a veteran animator said the quota at UPA in the fifties was twenty-five feet a week (the same as at Warner Bros. Animation.) Frank Thomas told me that ten feet a week was expected on Disney shorts in the 1930s. (Frank and Ollie were doing eight or nine feet a week when I worked with them in the seventies.)
Ward Kimball bragged that he cranked out thirty-five feet of animation every week on Dumbo.
There are no hard and fast numbers. There's also no set amount of time required for producing an animated feature. Most of Dumbo was done in a year. The Fox and the Hound took three and a half years to produce. Wreck-It Ralph's production time-line was under a year, and Frozen looks as though it will be under the twelve-month marker as well. A Disney veteran said to me last Thursday:
Frozen is going to have a tight production schedule. The crew's told management they'd like to avoid lots of seven day weeks, but we know we're going to have plenty of six-day weeks. ...
Walt Disney Animation Studios (aka Disney Feature) has employed shorter production schedules with expanded staffs to get pictures completed on tight deadlines. DreamWorks Animation has used longer schedules with crews that were carried from project to project. That now seems to be changing.
Whether or not DWA ends up with a Disney-style production model will be known in the fullness of time.