Thursday, May 08, 2014

Soldier's Take on Guild Membership

VFX Soldier's analysis on recent Animation Guild growth.

... Opponents over the years argued that unions were expensive and with cheap labor in Asia, membership would fall as more and more VFX work at cost sensitive studios like Disney and DreamWorks would be shipped away.

The evidence shows that there isn’t necessarily a zero sum game. Yes a chunk of work gets done in Asia, but a much larger amount of work gets done in the unionized facilities here in Los Angeles. Also, as I pointed out before, Frozen was one of the biggest films of all time made with unionized VFX artists at a major studio with no subsidies. The same could be said for other big hits like How to Train Your Dragon, and the Shrek series. The bottom line is you can have unionized VFX artists without subsidies and studios can make an award winning profitable product.

While the trends have been good for animation, the VFX industry has been decimated by a subsidy race. Why have animation studios like Disney and DreamWorks avoided the subsidy war while VFX vendors have not? I believe the reason why is that animation studios are exposed to the costs of trying to chase subsidies while live-action studios are not. If DreamWorks Animation wanted to open in Vancouver, they would have to front all the costs of opening there which would negate any gain from the subsidies there. For a live action studio like Warner Bros., they aren’t exposed to those costs because the VFX vendors do all the heavy lifting of opening facilities in those locations. ...

As I say in Soldier's comments, studios that have a successful business model are not usually in a hurry to change it.

Until the last few years, any plan for creating wildly successful animated features included setting up a studio in California and tapping into the state's talent pool. (That's been altered by Blue Sky Studios successful run on the East Coast, and now Illumination Entertainment's newer business model having storywork done in L.A. and Paris, and production done in Paris.)

My take on why visual effects work has collapsed in L.A. while animated features have gone merrily on? They are in many ways two different animals. Most creators of cartoon features want production and development under one roof for better creative interaction and "synergy". Visual effects is a post-prouduction piece that has long been contracted out and will be plugged into this or that live-action film, so minimal synergy -- from the conglomerates point of view -- is required. (Obviously there are variations to this -- Avatar was as much animated feature as it was live-action. But this P.O.V. generally holds.)

My take, anyway.


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