Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Animation Caucus

Here in Boston on Tuesday, TAG held an Animation Caucus for IATSE Convention delegates. Summarized, the caucus presentation included:

* A brief history of unionized animation:
* One of first attempts to unionize an animation studio -- the Fleischer Strike (New York) in 1937.
* First Hollywood animation studios organized -- 1940-41.
* Local 839 formed -- 1951-52. Today represents 80% of L.A. animation employees in t.v. and movies. ...

* Theatrical animated features are the most profitable type of feature.

* In 1965, The Animation Guild represented 1500 animation employees.
* Covered 95% of television animation.
* Covered 98% theatrical animation in L.A.
* Covered 97% of t.v. animation based in L.A.

* In 2013, The Animation Guild represents 2670 animation employees.
* Covers 75% of t.v. animation in L.A.
* Covers 88% of theatrical animation in L.A.

* In 2013, far less of the animation industry is based in Los Angeles than in 1965, but the U.S. (and global) animation business is far larger than in 1965. (The reason that TAG's total membership is larger.)

* Visual Effects was mostly unionized prior to digital effects. Miniatures and matte painting were produced on studio lots by union employees, or at unionized (analog effects houses). Work was photographed on film.

* Since the early 1990s, when effects went digital, VFX work has left studio lots and unionized companies and become non-union, sub-contracting work.

* Today, the business model for visual effects is a sub-contracting model:
* Studios/conglomerates put visual effects work out for bid to sub-contractors;
* VFX studios low-ball their price to secure work;
* As a result, many VFX sub-contractors have gone out of business.

* Visual effects are no longer part of the unionized production process.

* Experienced CGI employees, in great demand in the 1990s, no longer command the wages and benefits of eighteen years ago because the labor supply has caught up with the market's demand. CG work is still expanding, but the talent pool is much larger. More abuses (and lower wages) for CG employees have resulted.

* CG animation, live-action visual effects, and video games are all produced on the same hardware and software, by many of the same employees, [to wit:

... Even as major studios cut back on the number of movies they release, the growth of the video games sector has been a welcome reprieve for California's visual effects industry, which has been hard hit by outsourcing and global competition. Two of California's most prominent visual-effects companies filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors in the last year, at least in part because of reductions in work from the major studios.

But the fast-growing video-game industry has been picking up some of the slack, creating new growth opportunities for local effects houses. Their services are increasingly in demand as game companies look to create more realistic, movie-like images in response to consumer demand. ... ]

* High-end animated features, while being the most profitable movies, have been high cost.
* In the late 1930s, Disney features were, minute for minute, among the most expensive movies made.
* Snow White cost $2.2 million and ran 84 minutes. Adventures or Robin Hood cost $2.25 million and ran 110 minutes.
* Pinocchio cost $3.25 million and ran 86 minutes. Gone With the Wind cost $4.25 million and ran 3 hours, 42 minutes.
* Today, high-end CG animated features cost from $74 million (Despicable Me 2) to $185 million (Brave). Minute for minute, they are still high-cost productions.

* Visual effects workers were libertarian in the 1990s, and saw little need to be in a union. In 2013, wages have fallen and abuses have grown. Many CG employees are abused. The CG culture and outlook has changed as market conditions have changed. Today CG employees are more receptive to unionization, although labor unions have a long way to go to organize the industry.

* The game industry is another area that could use labor unions; however, TAG and other unions have less leverage in games than they do in television and movie production.


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