Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Indian Connection

After hunkering down in my office for the past week (no point in going to studios; nobody there between Christmas and New Year's) I journeyed to one of our signator facilities and dragged my bag of 401(k) books up and down various stairs.

In a second-floor hallway, I was button-holed by an artist who said:

"You know, they are sending some of our television work to India now. They used to say it was just going to be commercial work that went out. Now I hear some sequences for one of the features will get done in Mumbai. In four years, they'll probably do a whole feature in India. ..."

The "It's All Going to India" meme will be hovering over us forever, like some giant bird of prey. But outsourcing has been part of the animation landscape since Jay Ward sent Rocky and Bullwinkle work to Mexico in the 1960s, and Bill Hannah discovered the oys of Korean-Phillipine-Australian sub-contracting in the 1970s and 1980s.

And don't think it's only television. I pointed out to the concerned artist that Disney sent work on Little Mermaid to Shanghai in 1988-89, Hanna-Barbera's Once Upon a Forest was done mainly overseas, and Astro Boy and Alpha and Omega were Indian-American-Chinese co-productions, neither of which did gangbuster business at the world box office.

The days of the American "protective tariff" are long gone, and not likely to be revived anytime soon. But I'll state here what I said earlier today: Outsourcing has built-in limitations. Sub-contracting studios are about doing jobs for a price, which mostly conflicts with ambitious employees focused on doing the best work possible. ("We don't want it pristine, we want it Monday ..."). An ambitious, hard-working animator, modeler or designer on the sub-continent won't stick around to continually beat his head against frustrating glass ceilings. He or she will move on to Europe, Canada or Burbank, California.

Don't misunderstand me. Short of 1901-style importation laws, outsourcing isn't going to wither away and die anytime soon. Pixar now has one studio in Canada (where Disney Television Animation earlier opened -- and closed -- two.) DreamWorks Animation uses Mumbai facilities, and Disney's Touchstone Pictures is about to release Gnomeo and Juliet, a feature animated in Toronto. And the non-signator Illumination Entertainment created the high-grossing Despicable Me in Paris.

So what does the future hold? More animation work, but sizable pieces of it spread across the globe.

Animation studios in far-away lands, with a few doing high-level work while most grind out television-quality half-hours and low-rent, direct-to-discount-bin features.

Ultimately, animation production won't remain stateside because conglomerates have some patriotic yen to employ Americans, but because spotty foreign work and rising costs for product that is not spotty will make the employment of U.S.-based production crews not just a smart business move, but a necessary prerequisite for high theatrical grosses across the globe.


Anonymous said...

Yep. Ilm does it. R&H does it. DW does it. Disney will be doing it, and probably Pixar, too.

Anonymous said...

DW's facility is actually in Bangalore.

Ironically, H-1B rules mean that there are people that don't have enough education and experience to qualify for hire in the US, but you can bring them to India and hire them there.

Anonymous said...

Wouldnt it be great....if there was some sort of group of people....that banded together.... A Guild if you will... That could do something about limiting work being sent overseas?
Ah...to dream.

Is it just me, or does the tone of this article sound like, "Yeah, its unfortunate...but its going to happen anyway....oh well."

Anonymous said...

Actually, the tone of the article is, "It's been happening for decades, and usually it hasn't been terribly successful, and you're a fool to think producers won't keep trying it."

Now, do you have some actual suggestions on how your protectionist scheme might operate? I mean, TAG went on strike in 1979 and 1982 over the issue. Are you suggesting another strike? Political action? Come on, we're counting on you to do more than just grouse.

Anonymous said...

Thank you last poster. You forgot about the strike in the mi 1990s, the Pirate Hat Rebellion. The only action is bringing in union dues. No protection, job resources or security.

What point do you ever have going to studios? Oh yeah, lunch with your old friends and studio heads.

Can't wait for the Easter prints.

Anonymous said...

There was no strike in the mid-'90's. Protectionism has been a dead horse for decades. Only dinosaurs and those who can't get a job long for it. Meanwhile, there are more union jobs now than at just about any time in the history of animation. That's more jobs with good pay and benefits no non-union studio can touch.

Two thirds of my long union career have been at union studios. There's no comparison with how much better my family and I are for those union years. I had a sick child during one long union stint. We would have been cleaned out if I'd been at a non-union shop.

I've been at non-union studios where I was let go without notice, where I had to threaten legal action to get paid, where I never got severance pay, and where I had to scramble for my own medical coverage and take care of my own retirement. None of that shit ever happens at union studios, and it's because of people like Steve Hulett constantly making his presence felt.

You can troll and snark all you want, but you don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

Nobody is complaining about the Benefits of working in a Union House...its Top Notch.
What we are complaining about is the lack of strength beyond that of Medical Benefits and Severance Pay.

There's a No Strike clause between the studios and the Guild, so what sort of power do we have? There was a Strike in the mid 1990's? Hmmm...Dont remember that one.

Didn't think it was up to me to devise a method or plan to keep Union work from going overseas. I thought that was the collective action of the Guild, of which I am a member.

The more and more work goes overseas, the less and less Union workers they will need here to receive the good Benefits and Conditions.

Currently, there's no plan in place to stop that bleeding.

Anonymous said...

That's right it wasn't a strike in the mid 90s, just a threat and some picketing. Pirate hat on TV news made us look real serious.

As long as the Guild brings in new members and get their initial dues that's all that matters to them. Work one season and move on, get new members, get dues, move on. More money and no benefits/pension have to be paid out if you just keep new members for a few months.

Oh, but the glorious overtime pay that is so protected.

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