Wednesday, March 05, 2014

London Hybrid

"Paddington Bear" teaser.

The hybrid animated/live-action feature biz used to be in the L.A. area. Sony Imageworks did Smurfs, and Rhythm and Hues (you remember R & H, don't you?) did a number of them -- everything from the Alvin and Chipmunk extravaganzas to Illumination Entertainment's Hop.

Seems like only yesterday. ...

But here in 2014 that's no longer the case. Paddington Bear, teased above, will be done at Framestore in London. And other features like The Lego Movie are being created in Sydney, Australia. As Visual Effects jobs have melted away in Los Angeles, so have animation jobs in hybrid features, and that presents a problem.

Because although Disney Animation Studios and Pixar remain in California, the talent pool from which they draw is steadily shrinking. So production employees who used to work on a Disney or Pixar or DreamWorks Animation feature and then swing over to a hybrid animated production or visual effects project when they got laid off, don't have those secondary options anymore. And this presents a problem for the Diz Co. animation studios in Burbank and Emeryville. It's also no bed of petunias for DreamWorks Animation/PDI in Glendale and Redwood City. What are these places going to do when there are no local hires to draw on during production peaks? How do they plan to staff up?

They can, of course, always hire from outside the state, but what level of talent will want to relocate for a six to ine month gig? There is also the "immigrant employee on an H1-B or O-1 visa" option. Or ... they can uproot the studio the way Sony Imageworks has, and hope that the Vancouver ... or Montreal ... or London tax subsidies don't get taken away. (This is what Disney-owned Industrial Light and Magic apparently plans to do.)

But there's long-term downside to these things happening. If California's talent pool permanently shrinks, then the studios that remain (presumably DreamWorks Animation/PDI, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios) will have slimmer pickings when staffing their facilities. Of course, they could always decamp to a geographical location that offers a generous corporate dole, but I tend to think that they're resistant to that at the present time. Because ...

Number One: Tax subsidies can always go away.

Number Two: The Big Three likely aren't predisposed to fix what isn't broke. (They've got award-winning, high grossing studios in place. Why would they risk lousing up that happy reality?)

Even so, Diz Co. and DreamWOrks Animation are going to have some challenges ahead.


Ryan Summers said...

The flood of new blood coming in from iAnimate, Animation Mentor, and Animschool doesn't seem to be slowing down, if the crowds at CTN are any indication. And there are tons of skilled animators in the LA gaming industry ready to make the leap as well.

I think the LA "brain drain" is happening for sure, but I think it's going to hit what little is left of the VFX scene here first.

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