Friday, May 09, 2008


* definitions of "winner" may not be valid in all states

Has anyone ever actually started a successful and sustained career in the animation business as a result of winning a contest? I don't know of any such person, although it's likely that someone, somewhere, can trace their ascension to the professional ranks of the business from winning a blue ribbon and a handshake for their early efforts.

In recent years contests have become big throughout the entertainment biz, whether it's American Idol and its many photocopies, or the 267 screenplay contests to be found here. And with that explosion has come an increase in complaints about exploitation of contestants and winners, and the problem of contest rules ignored by the very people who wrote them.

The most recent controversy has risen over the AniBOOM website's music video contest based on a Radiohead song. The rules for Round One of the contest required entrants to submit "new, original and unique" storyboards, and prohibited entrants from submitting copyrighted materials.

The Round One semifinalists were announced earlier this week, and some of the entrants, amateurs as well as professionals, were amazed to discover that at least three of the semifinalists had allegedly submitted re-edited clips of previously produced animation, at least one of which was allegedly made from material for which the animator editor did not hold the copyright. As one of the frustrated participants expressed in an e-mail to us:

... what has come to pass is that a site which claims to be devoted to the production of independent, cross-platform animation, has awarded semifinalist positions to at least four established industry professionals who did not create original animation, and submitted re-edit projects, as though the music in question was totally arbitrary.

And what is worse, is that even after promoting and advertising this contest heavily to amateurs and music fans, including television ads on Adult Swim, and after claiming that it's purpose was to not only build the site's community, but also encourage and develop submissions from aspiring unknowns - AniBOOM has awarded the meager $1,000 in funding for semifinalists to professionals to whom it will not in any way be substantial ...

There have been several threads on the AniBOOM site on the subject, one of which resulted in some responses from AniBOOM management [all verbatim]:

once again, i can't speak on thebehalf of others. the chosen movies are all great pieces of work, and so were most of the non winners of the first round. i don't want to keep om writing things that will not ease your mind.

we didn't answer nything about that movie [one of the semifinalists that used copyrighted material without permission], because right now there is nothing to say. the movie was chosen by the jury, and other people that were a very important voice in this contest so far, so if they will have something new to tell you, i'm sure they will [...]

your videos were kick ass, so it was hard to choose based on concepts. so we decided to just play it safe by funding videos that were already finished and made by people who already have production teams. round 2 due date is coming up, so just have faith that we will do the same thing once again, so waste your time working on a fully rendered animation this time.

The misspelled ramblings of the contest rep notwithstanding, neither the Guild nor this blog are taking any position on this particular controversy. To those of us not in the middle of it, it might seem like a tempest in a distant teapot.

But it does point to a real problem we have always had with animation contests. "Spec work" – work that is performed without pay on the promise of future compensation pending approval and/or funding – is a violation of our collective bargaining agreement. And at the end of the day, that's all these contests are – an excuse to solicit free work on the distant promise of compensation/glory/fairy dust. And believe me, in the real world $1,000 isn't much compensation for the amount of work this contest is demanding.

So maybe the issue isn't really whether these contests are being run fairly or whether rules are being changed in midstream, but whether the very premise of an animation contest – that $1,000 and 300 seconds of fame is sufficient compensation for the work that goes into these projects – is inherently unfair.

And as if organizing animation isn't hard enough, how in the name of Art Babbitt do you organize a contest?


Anonymous said...

Alex Kirwan is an example of someone whose career was launched because of winning a [storyboard] contest. He's the example rather than the rule.

But hasn't Hollywood always sucked people in with visions of a quick rise to stardom?

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine got started in the biz 12 years ago due to Hanna-Barbera & Animation Magazine's storyboarding contest and has enjoyed a healthy career as a board artist ever since.

Steve Hulett said...

There are a zillion routes into the cartoon biz. Most folks, however, don't enter via a contest.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it wasn't $1000 compensation for 300 seconds of animation. It was $1000 for an early storyboard, with which you make 60 seconds. Thén you could get $10,000 to finish it.

I think that's what probably bothers me most about what's happening. They put up a contest that actually thinks about how the process works, and then they decide to "play it safe" by giving the money to people who are already pretty much finished with their work, and then tell the others they just should've done the same.

Unknown said...

I would like to clarify that Dany Saadia almost certainly has some rights to the footage he submitted, as the director of whatever project it came from, but he almost certainly doesn't have exclusive, free and clear copyright and publicty rights, as the terms and conditions of the contest submission agreement required.

He has made at least one claim that this footage was not included in his film "3:19", but has also not given credit to any animator for creating the footage, even though it was submitted to an animation contest on an animation portal. Whether it is a commercial distributor, or an animation studio we are talking about, someone certainly has, at the very least, publicity rights to that footage.

I was personally unaware of the "on spec" collective bargaining situation, and that is good to know. It makes me curious now if any of the entrants in question belong to the guild, or other unions that may have prevented them from submitting "on spec" work, forcing them to submit pre-existing work.

Of course, that still doesn't explain why they would take out their howitzers against amateurs and starving artists, showcasing the production values of their pricey hardware and software, and winning token funding and gauranteed advancement in a contest which does not even necessarily result in an "official" Radiohead music video for the final winner.

I know a contest may not seem like a valid means of establishing one's self in the industry, but the ability to add a winning, or highly rated, which has the Radiohead name attached to it, to a portfolio could mean an awful lot in getting some one a job, or in garnering freelance work.

Anonymous said...

Not to bring up one of the most popular/incendiary issues in the industry, but what of the 'spec work' that is handed out at union studios every single day of the week in the form of twenty page long storyboard tests?
Isn't there a distant promise of fairy dust (in the form of steady employment) being dangled in front of a hard working artist when they are asked to work for free as a simple formality in applying for a job that may very well be already filled?

At least in contests, the premise is your own and not from four pages of a previously used script.

Asking artists to work pro bono on unreasonably long tests to just be considered for employment at a studio is an issue that the union will do nothing about. I couldn't think of a better situation where the union flexes its muscles to better a bad situation for artists - wait, does the union even HAVE any muscle? Any leverage? Anything?

Jeff Massie said...

My correspondent who alleged copyright infringement was not referring to the Dany Saadia video, but to another entry that allegedly used material from a Japanese production company. The contest rules prohibit use of material that "might present third party copyright or publicity rights issues."

tbrunojr said...

I'm an animation professional who joined the competition not as a means to anything... I'm just a fan of Radiohead, and was inspired to stretch my creative wings. I'm very sensitive to these type of contests attempting to get 'something for nothing', but the multi-teared nature of this particular Animboom contest seemed exceptional ( i.e... asking for storyboards only in the first phase, etc) I also took solace in that the 'client' was Radiohead, who has a documented history of championing artists rights issues (as well as many environmental/political issues that I also agree with).

I have to admit, I AM disappointed with the panels' choices (and even more so now, having read their supposed reasoning) but at the end of the day, all of this complaining and finger-pointing is really just sour-grapes. I'm STILL hoping to become a finalist through one of the three 'Golden Tickets'. There's a ton of work left to do on my piece (most of the actual animation) between now and June 9th when the voting for the finalists begins. Even if I DID win the $10,000 prize, it surely wouldn't even cover my hourly rate for the amount of time spent. This is a labor of love. The people making the most noise about this might want to re-examine their motivations/expectations for entering the contest in the first place.
You can check out my entry here.

Anonymous said...

no no no. Please. Its not sour grapes its the principle of some of the finalists cutting together old work and slapping some music over the top... Plus the second stage is to produce 1 minute of final animation..something which many of the semi finalists have already what exactly are they going to submit for stage two? The whole thing is a complete farce not least because the only person that was answering questions on the forum to begin with was "Ranzen" who was of absolutely no help at all. If this is kind of thing is allowed to go unchecked it will happen again and again.

Site Meter