Monday, October 09, 2006

Big Meetings

Big meetings today at Disney Feature Animation. Ed Catmull, Andrew Millstein, and Ann Le Cam rolled out the animation division's new blueprint for feature animation employees in the hat building's first floor theatre, talking about changes that will be coming...

Feature Animation will be undergoing some downsizing. When "Meet The Robinsons" wraps up, the division will be casting employees for "American Dog," the next animated feature on the production calendar. Some of the staff that doesn't roll onto that picture will be given sixty-day notices, and at the end of those two months, laid off.

Artists who talked to me understand that some of their peers -- and maybe them -- will be looking for work other places after the first of the year. "It's kind of the way of the entertainment industry, isn't it" one sighed. "Nothing's forever."

The mood around the hat building was subdued, but many staffers were glad that upper management called them into meetings and told them what was up. "What I like about Ed Catmull is he doesn't beat around the bush," another said. "He tells you what's going on, even when the news isn't great. It's better to know than not."

A few employees told me they thought Feature Animation would be stronger after the layoffs were over. But wherever I walked on the first and second floors, things were, ahm, somber. And the oncoming changes were the prime topic of conversation.


Anonymous said...

Guess this explains why the stock went up.

Anonymous said...

Is this something that is going to happen after every film? where those who don't get on the next project get laid off?

I hate to see good creative people lose thier job, or anyone lose their job. but i guess thats the way it goes?

maybe a smaller, tighter WDFA is what would be best. a smaller crew of the best of the best they got. is that where they are going with this?

Anonymous said...

I think the idea here is to separate the cream from the milk. But of course, who gets to designate the "cream" and who the "milk?" That would be the execs, and sometimes their judgement is less than perfect.

Someone related that Mr. Catmull acknowledged this.

Anonymous said...

what if your lactose intolerant? crap I must be screwed!

Anonymous said...

That makes perfect Disney sense. After all, didn't they just announce the Disney Animation Online Job Portal the other day.

Anonymous said...

This is the natural course of the animation business cycle. you cant expect Disney or any other studio to keep a large burn rate going when there isn't any work. this is sadly nothing new and we as artists have to adjust and except this as part of our industry.

Anonymous said...

My understanding was that the FA division was already down to a pretty bare bones crew, hardly a "fat" staff at I mistaken? And is there any indication where--or from which group mainly--the picture to picture layoffs will happen? Animation mostly? or story, too?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...even though this is the current state of the industry, there's still a part of me that says that it should be management's resposibility to have enough work lined up, to keep the crew employed...

I suppose this is increasingly difficult with the number of new smaller studios opening...

Anonymous said...

Ahh the beauty of not having contracts....

Anonymous said...

Even those with contracts will not be spared.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear this, but I guess it's the way business has to be run these days.

I was lucky enough to work in the animation industry when one could still have a life long career at a studio. Looks like those days are over forever.

Anonymous said...

Management's responsibility to have worke lined up?! How long has Rapunzel been hammered on? 4 maybe 5 years, and you know its already built quite a fat production tab for all the new technology developed for it. Do you think its cheap to keep running development projects like that? The last time I went out to Disney there didnt seem to be a lack of development artwork on the walls. And when are folks going to realize there is and will never be a sure thing, the job that will last forever. Remember Disney Feature Animation in Florida and Paris? Ummmmmm last time I checked they were shut down, and a lot of artist, managers, etc lost there jobs. In fact you look thru the history of animation there were people always losing jobs, the big shots were usually the only ones who kept going. It simple economics and the day everyone realizes that, everything will be much easier. Work hard learn a lot and make your own future, if you sit back and try to fool yourself into believing you will work anywhere forever, you'll find yourself in the boat with no paddle.

Anonymous said...

Well it seems that they also looking at portfolios and such. This does suck for the ones being let go, but we have all been through it and especially if you have worked for Disney, this is the life. I think it is more of a keeping people on only for what they are needed for and that is the smartest thing. Artists need to remember this is a business after all. People sitting around for two plus years on Tarzan without work was definately the worst thing they ever did, and that wasn't the only film that happened on. I personally worked on 3 films before going onto Tarzan and watched my neighbors in cubicles doing nothing but collecting a huge check. This way sucks for us, but in the long run it will be better.

Anonymous said...

"I think the idea here is to separate the cream from the milk. But of course, who gets to designate the "cream" and who the "milk?""

The folks who laid off many great artists in the FIRST place and replaced them with folks who might know the computer but don't know how to make a movie (or tell a story) are now gone. Now it's time for Disney to hire back the creative talent that will drive the CREATION of the films, not just the execution of them (pun intended). And I think everyone would agree that they'd rather Catmull and Lasseter seperate the cream from the milk than the folks who created the mess in the first place. At worst, the layoffs are temporary until Feature Animation gets back on it's feet.

Steve Hulett said...

A little history:

In '58, Disney laid off 80% of its 1200 person animation staff. From '61 to the middle '80s, a core group of 120-200 turned out a feature every 2-4 years. People got laid off at the end of a production; rehired when the next one got up to speed.

In the early seventies, Disney began recruiting new blood to replace the aging animators who'd been there since the '30s.

In the late eighties, Eisner and Katzenberg expanded staff again. They weren't being generous or magnanimous, they were responding to bigger profits in animation from product like "Roger Rabbit," "Oliver and Company," and "The Little Mermaid."

The good times rolled on to the middle nineties, when costs rose and box office declined. Then the layoffs started. Management wasn't being nasty; management was responding to market forces.

And now we have a new management team in charge of Disney animation, and they are remolding the division closer to the model located in Emeryville. And I'll make a prediction: if profits are big, staff will expand. If profits are small or nonexistent, there will be a retrenchment.

That's the way the animation business has worked since the 1930s.

Anonymous said...

> laid off many great artists in the FIRST place
> and replaced them with folks who might know the
> computer but don't know how to make a movie

This is one of the more ignorant comments I've read in the TAG blog commentary. The last round of layoffs at Disney nicked some great 2D artists AND great 3D artists (yes, there is such a thing as the latter). Great 2D artists and 3D artists were also retained, and left to make the most of their situation while those in the executive ranks made rash business decisions (abandoning 2D) and capricious story decisions.

Get your facts straight, and don't trash your colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Does this happen at Pixar too? if that is the way the business goes?

Remolding WDFA closer to Pixar in Emeryville I would think is a good thing. I think Ed and John know what they are doing here, so overall I'm not too worried.
hopefully they will get rid of the over-bloated executives (the bad ones, of course. I'm sure there is a few good ones in there)- something tells me that is the only way Ed and John's big changes are going to LAST at Disney.

Anonymous said...

It doesnt happen at Pixar as much because it is about Business and Economics. Pixar has been on top for years, their movies MAKE MONEY!! They have the model down on how to make a movies with a solid leader, story group, and seasoned CG animators who are supported by some of the best technology around. So yes its about Business.


Anonymous said...

Wondering how ‘Frog Princess’ is coming along? Maybe some people could jump on that. – Is it still the plan to do it 2D with a cleanup crew?


Anonymous said...

Actually, Pixar just did a substantial round of hiring, and those hired were told that their positions weren't likely to be permanent. There are widespread expectations that there will be layoffs in Emeryville next year.

Anonymous said...

re: Frog Princess
It won't be ready for production til American Dog nears completion.
Definitely 2D.

Anonymous said...

Yes, is part of the industry, BUT, there is such a thing as missmanagement though!!

And some people seem to be in denial and hide behind the argument "it's the state of the industry"... lay off artist with the catch frase "it's nothing persoanl! It's business"...

But when an artist jumps ship, then management takes it personal!?! Suing and what now that the artist finds a better deal, is that not business.

Anonymous said...

Dude when you sign your contract, you sign your life away, thats the risk you take working for big animation companies. You take this whole thing to personal. It is just business and the artist will almost always have the weaker hand. You sign a contract and in there it sates you cant jump ship, so if you do and they sue, thats the price you pay. Theres lots of work out there you dont want to sign a contract that grabs you by the cojones then go freelance.

A big company is in the game to make money, therefore be in business. THey are not there to push the artistic medium or help any of us find ourselves as individuals. Get that frame of mind and everything else will be gravy.


Anonymous said...


i toldly agree with you. for the big companies it is purely a business. even Pixar is a business. they just happen to have verycreative minded people running it. that is the real difference.

the new recruits at Pixar have been brought on to finish next years film. Pixar never had or has any contracts and most artists like it that way. it is work at will.

except for John L who is the only employee that has a contract.


Anonymous said...

Well it looks like some people get it and understand it. While others are still trying to figure it out.

The business is cyclical. Thats it. Period.

Anonymous said...

"laid off many great artists in the FIRST place and replaced them with folks who might know the computer but don't know how to make a movie"

Facts are straight, and you need to learn how to read.

The comment was on how IDIOTIC the layoffs of EXPERIENCED FILM MAKERS was...and a whole lot of them were, in fact replaced by ignorance in management who knew even less about film making than they did about what to look for in hiring. This is just a simple fact. Apology accepted.

Steve Hulett said...

The script for "Frog Princess" was given to Lasseter yesterday.

Yes, the film is "hand-drawn." Rumor is that some of it will be outsourced to James Baxter Animation in Pasadena.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's see what films are ultimately green-lit and put into production. The new management team isn't going to turn the ship around and head a new course in fifteen minutes. It'll take a while.

Anonymous said...

> Apology accepted.

None offered, a-hole.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve,

That's Ann "Le Cam".

Third time's the charm. ;-)


Anonymous said...

"None offered, a-hole."

Poor unfortunate soul. I pity you.

Anonymous said...

> The comment was on how IDIOTIC the layoffs of
> EXPERIENCED FILM MAKERS was...and a whole lot
> of them were, in fact replaced by ignorance in
> management who knew even less about film making
> than they did

Hmmm, let's see...

Emperor's New Groove: $169M worldwide
Atlantis: $186M worldwide
Home On The Range: $104M worldwide
Treasure Planet: $110M worldwide
Brother Bear: $250M worldwide

Chicken Little: $314 worldwide

Yep, looks like you experienced 2D filmmakers really had your fingers on the pulse of the audience.

Anonymous said...

Guys, dont beat yourselves up over 2D and 3D. the best 3D is built on the principles of 2D. And the best 2D will utilize 3D in its technical process. dont get hung up on that stuff. because now the average 3D film this year is returning 45M, so what?

just be artists, do the best you can and support each other as well as the industry. nobody wants to work with hotheads.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Steve Hulett, for your kind info on 'Frog Princess' - It's very useful -


Anonymous said...

But when an artist jumps ship, then management takes it personal!?! Suing and what now that the artist finds a better deal, is that not business.

I've been involved in disputes with "artists jumping ship," and by and large, companies take the following tacks:

If an artist bails on a "run of picture" type contract, the company generally gives the person a tongue-lashing and lets them go. Legally, the company doesn't have a lot of choice, since most "run of picture" PSCs are "at will" agreements -- meaning that the company can lay an artist off "when her/his services are no longer required." (This language is almost always in the PSC.)

And who determines the requirement of said services? Why, the company, of course. BUT...if a company has the right to lay an individual off when it chooses, then the individual has the right to leave when SHE chooses. Now, companies often don't like this, and will threaten and bluster, but in the end, the employee has the legal right to depart.

Occasionally this departure will mean the company won't hire the "renegade" back. Blackballing seldom lasts a long time, however, because it's usually some manager who holds the grudge. When that manager departs, the institution mostly has amnesia about the earlier transgression.

At least, that's been my experience of dealing with this stuff the last sixteen years.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the information and I'm really sorry for the talent folks not only in the art department but also technical areas whom might find themselves without work in the near future. Lets hope some other great opportunities will present themselves for everyone affected very soon afterward.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve for your insight on the "jumping ship" issue.

Personally, I like to post inflamatory comments just to see how some people will react.

Call it 'inmature' if you will, but the responses and the retorts are often interesting. I like to see how other people see the issues, but some get into insulting others for having a different opinion...ce la vie!

Anonymous said...

i must agree, Chicken Little was a dissappointment.

the last really solid film Disney did was probably Lilo and Stitch, that was over 4 years ago. artistically TP , AT and HOTR had some nice vis dev but they were all weak stories and didnt make any money. i was surprised they closed Florida, it seemed profitable and original with Mulan and Lilo...

its a changing industry for sure.


Anonymous said...

> i must agree, Chicken Little was a dissappointment.

It kept the studio open.

Anonymous said...

Everyone try to remember one thing and one thing only - It's called SHOW BUSINESS for a reason.

All of us artists are in it because we love it and it makes our mortgage payments.

Studios are in it because it makes their mortgage payments, too.

Animation is a commerical art - it's a profit's game that also happens to entertain.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Kevin for that info.

if its true Chicken Little kept the Disney Feature Animation studio open these past years, then i am ok with sitting through it when i did. My $9.00 went to a worthy cause indeed.

i did not know.


Anonymous said...

Disney is not the most relevant studio right now. Not even the second. Not to the audience, and not even to the artists.

Pixar is and everyone knows it.

And it IS because Disney's management have put more enphasis on the business part of Show-business. They have tarnished the brand with cheapquels and such.

Anonymous said...

If you think that Disney is not the most relevant studio right now, then you're not paying any attention. :-)

They own Pixar, they have an impressive slate of in-house digital features coming up, they have a 2D feature in the works helmed by Ron & John, they're discussing a stop-motion project with Tim Burton, they're cutting a deal with Zemeckis that will encompass performance capture, and they're pushing the envelope on stereoscopic films. Eric Goldberg's in the house, Glen Keane's in the house, Chris Sanders is in the house and Andreas Deja's in the house... to name a few.

Disney will be re-defining animation across the board over the next decade.

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, the Frog Princess script isn't done yet. it's still being worked on.

Anonymous said...

Yes Disney definitely has the BIGGEST PAYROLL in the animation industry and has spent BILLIONS of dollars to try to be the best. But we still need to see a good film come from them sooner than later.

i have my hopes up for Wilbur but it looks like an expensive Rolli Polli Olli.

I am hopeful for the next decade at Disney as i am a share holder.

Anonymous said...

"Yep, looks like you experienced 2D filmmakers really had your fingers on the pulse of the audience."

Good god, how can you blame the animators on those films?? It was the executive/management staff that gets the credit/blame for those films. Thankfully they are now gone.

Anonymous said...

"Thankfully they are now gone."

For now.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it helps, but Laika up in Portland is on a hiring roll for all sorts of creative positions including story, art and animation.

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