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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

LIMBO or How Low?

Word came through the Blogosphere this morning that the 'Disneytoons' studio in Sydney was to close sometime in the next few months, with staff layoffs of over 300 people.
This studio was originally a Hanna Barbera studio, which was then purchased by Disney's Television division which recently transferred them to Feature animation and gave them the name "Disneytoons".

They were doomed.

Features Management, like all American business today ever seeking the lowest level, only considers cost, not quality for its direct-to-dvd product. The audiences will never know the difference.

The Australians, with their excellent labor benefits and labor-friendly labor laws, simply can't compete in the 'global market' even when working long hours of overtime with no compensation.

It's nothing personal, a company spokesman insisted.

It's just business.

The Philippines and China can produce animation that looks the way the management likes it to look even if it may not move much, and they can do it for half the cost of the Australian studio. (Their quotas are 100% higher and they have cheaper real estate and no pesky labor laws.) There are eager Indian studios waiting in the wings to undercut them if they don't turn out even more work for less money.

Some studios in impecunious countries have been known to produce pilot films for free when submitting bids for series.

There's no way that a studio in any other part of the world can compete with subsidized outfits like this. "Subsidized" is the nicer word.

Where will it all end? The logical next step is to eliminate the artists completely. The cost-conscious Disney management doubtless will use the clever and terribly convincing cartoon motion-capture program described in an earlier edition of this newsletter to recycle the action from the original features directly onto the 3D figures. They figure that audiences will never know the difference, just as they haven't minded the obvious falling-off in quality of the animation in the direct to video products. These films were turned out four times faster than the equivalent feature animation product so it's amazing that some of them turned out as well as they did.

What amazes me is that this news should have come as a surprise to anyone. Disney has shut down all of its studios in countries where the currency has risen against the American dollar. Check the currency rates to see which country will lose the business next. The business news is a surer guide to the fortunes of your average animation studio than the artists' grapevine.

Australian Disney is the victim of their country's healthy economy and sound currency.

The last few direct-to-videos have also made far less money than the LION KING II: SIMBA'S PRIDE, which apparently is the grand champion of direct to video films. It's not a bad picture either. But perhaps it's the weak stories in some of the later pictures; perhaps it's just the familiarity of the product that breeds contempt--overproduction, overkill, competition--but the home video market is in a slump and has been for some time.

I'm also amazed that some animation websites feature artists wishing loudly for jobs from the very same people who are putting them out of work. Excuse me, but when someone is kicking you out the door, you don't offer to crawl back in through the sewer.
The big studios will not hire the artists back except on a temporary basis. They consider the artwork nothing more than piecework, easily turned out by machines or people trained to work like machines. Computer animation is better than drawings because it can be outsourced ANYWHERE and the characters will ALWAYS Look the way they should. That's the real reason for the death of so much cartoon animation production. Why worry about shaky lines and off-model animation when it can all be made mechanically perfect if you do it on a computer?

And management consider themselves the true creatives. Artists are just there to produce the brilliant ideas of the executives--and the executive's jobs are immune to outsourcing!
That is such a comforting thing to know.

If the artists want better treatment, they have to look for more pleasant working conditions and stop feeling loyalty for a system or a company that hasn't existed for many years now. There are decent places out there, some run by former artists, some by enlightened executives, that are doing something rather than sitting on their 'animator's spread' waiting for the crumbs of work to fall from the big studios' tables.

Artists should be reading the business news more often.

It's all just business now. The art part died a while back.