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Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Share your views on the state of the Animation Industry.

Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Rob Lamb » Tue Apr 03, 2012 6:46 pm

Original ANer, Bronnie, posted a link on Facebook to an article from Cartoon Brew about Digital Domain's plans. Thought I'd share it here.

An excerpt:
The blog VFX Soldier has obtained a speech that [John] Textor gave last November to investors in which he revealed how the company’s new animation school Digital Domain Institute will be integrated with the Tradition studio. Textor told the audience:

"Classes starting in the education space, what’s interesting is the relationship between the digital studio and the college. Not only is this a first in a number of ways that we’ve talked about, but 30% of the workforce at our digital studio down in Florida, is not only going to be free, with student labor, it’s going to be labor that’s actually paying us for the privilege of working on our films."

This take monkey to a whole new level.

Full article
http://www.cartoonbrew.com/cgi/digital-domains-john-textor-brags-to-investors-about-exploiting-animation-student-labor.html
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:10 am

I'm aware of the big stink that's being kicked up by this Rob. I was waiting for it to die down a little and bring it up after it played itself out in the gossip rooms but it looks like Amid is on one of his hypocritical rampages and wants to keep it going.

This is how I see it.

Although I don't condone exploiting students for free labor, as the owner of an animation school that has been using students and instructors for production purposes since 1998, there are many benefits to be gained from what Digital Domain is attempting to do.

The difference is that whenever I have or have had production going on, I compensate the students who are working on the project through paid internships.

If this Digital Domain stuff is such a terrible thing, giving students a chance to work on an actual film while still in school, then where is the outrage over unpaid internships at union studios in LA? They've been doing the same thing for many years now. Getting free labor through college and university students.

Although these students may be restricted from actually working on a production, many of them still do from what I'm told. And even if they aren't, why isn't Amid and the Animation Guild up in arms about these studios getting free office work from students?

Breaking into the industry straight out of school is a big hurdle for students. It was a challenge as far back as 1998 when I started the Academy. The problem is that studios want artists who have production experience, but how does a student get production experience if a studio won't give them a chance to get it?

It's a catch 22 situation which I resolved by bringing production into the school itself. Everyone involved with our projects eventually got hired at a studio because they got the experience they needed. That's why internships are so valuable.

This John Textor fellow made a mistake and used a poor choice of words in his explanation to investors. He should've known better. But his plan is actually a pretty good one and something I would do in his situation. And there should be compensation for these students in some way. maybe through a work study program. It's better to keep VFX work in the US by getting schools involved than shipping the entire studio to another country. I simply do not see it as such a horrendous thing as what Amid Amidi and this VFX Soldier guy and the Guild would have everyone believe.

The long term benefits would outweigh the alternative, which would be to lose it all. Who knows, some of these students could start a studio of their own and compete with Digital Domain in a few years.

I have more to say about this and will follow up.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:32 am

Here's some other perspectives on this.

First off, Amid Amidi is full of crap. He's a sensationalist who will embrace any kind of controversy or blow something so out of proportion that it will cause a big ruckus and drive traffic to his blog. He's done it over and over again. He consistently proves that animation authors can indeed be idiots. He takes things and makes things way too personal and half the time he doesn't know what he's talking about. My experiences with him have been beyond negative. I see him as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the animation community today. Do you think a truly great animation critic such as Charles Solomon would stoop to the levels that Amid has gone to over the years with his baseless accusations of racism, misogyny and anything else that will get him attention?

I did business with him years ago, advertising in his Animation Blast magazine and it meant nothing to him. I used to have a high regard for him. Do you recall what he said about the late Roy Disney when he invested in the Harlem Globetrotters? He called the situation a white man owning a bunch of black guys. How about his assessment of the settlement that got rid of Michael Eisner a year before his contract expired in 2005. He called the settlement a sell out. Yet this is what saved Disney and lead to the Pixar merger. Amid couldn't see the forest for the trees. In 2007 I sat through a presentation he gave in Portland, Oregon at the Platform Animation Festival. It was a farce.

Amid has to create controversy. It's what gets him attention. If he cared about animation artists and our community, if he really cared about improving things for artists in animation, then why has he boycotted and blacklisted AN for all these years? Why did he make a big scene and quit the AN forums over some stupid issue over something that I said that came off the wrong way?

Guys like John Textor aren't the only problem in our business.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:55 am

Then there's this VFX Soldier fellow, who's been on a campaign to salvage the Visual Effects industry in LA. I guess that's what he's all about. He or she, who knows. This is the person that brought the Digital Domain thing out in the open.

A brave soul. Doing it anonymously. In 1999 I put my name out for all to see when I launched AnimationNation. I knew that was it. That I'd be blackballed from the industry forever for this. And I was right. I knew cwouldn't get a job in animation ever again. Some of my best friends, my most successful students, my closest colleagues, they eventually distanced themselves from me for the great sin of trying to make things better.

I can't say I blame this person. They're smarter than I was. If you're anonymous you can go on with your life. I've often thought to myself many times, what would it have been like not to have put my real name on the articles that started AN. Not to have operated the forums under my real name.

I just can't take this seriously anymore. All the people in animation who write and comment anonymously. And on top of it, to be lead in a conversation by someone who exploits the community like a circus.

I don't see activists. I see the gossip driven fan boys, mysterious bloggers, but not many artists with the guts to stand up and make a genuine effort to bring change and unity and goodwill to our community.

This thing with Digital Domain is a melodramatic soap opera. Who knows, maybe the scandal that's being kicked up will force them to change their plans. But the way it's going down is very unappealing. I know it has importance but personally I feel it's a waste of time for me to follow it. I'll wait and see what happens.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Wed Apr 04, 2012 1:23 am

And then of course, there's The Animation Guild, and their call to unionize the visual effects studios. Lead by an organizer who on his very first post on AN, calls me a union hater. With no idea as to what I've done, what I've gone through, the energy, effort and resources I've put into trying to get us all together and make their union of theirs and our community stronger.

The only thing the Guild can organize is their Christmas party. How many FX studios in the LA area have signed on with them over the years? None? Thought so.

And they're gonna organize Florida? Lotsa luck.

It's mostly theater guys.

I regret being this cynical, but that's what's happened after all these years of trying to work with these individuals and groups. I've been on the other side of the curtain for too long. I've seen too much and experienced too much of their negativity and spite.

I don't believe in the Guild anymore. I don't believe in Cartoonbrew. I don't believe in anonymous bloggers who hide.

I believe in the art.

Creating in peace and happiness and helping good people achieve their goals is more important to me right now than dealing with the haters and liars.

Hope this thing with Digital Domain works out and a solution is found.

Good wishes to all, even to the jerks out there.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Rob Lamb » Wed Apr 04, 2012 5:02 am

Good morning, Charles.

I anticipated that the Cartoon Brew link would raise some hackles because of past history. I do not follow Amid's blog at all. Since Bronnie posted the link I thought I would check it out. You're right. It does smack of sensationalism.

My pet peeve is unpaid internships in any business. Minimum wage would at least cover gas and lunch money for students. But that's just me.

Animation Nation is my primary source for animation news, so I came here immediately after reading the article. I will keep an eye open here for further developments.

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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Thu Apr 05, 2012 10:51 am

Here's the latest in the school labor scandal that's rocking both Cartoonbrew and the Guild as they continue their assault against the idea of students working on movies through Digital Domain's idea of free labor, while many of the other inequities in the animation industry are passed over.

There's video that's been posted by the anonymous VFX Soldier.

In this video John Textor describes his idea of keeping production work in the US by utilizing students in the US as opposed to sending the work overseas. It ensures a higher quality result and of course, it trains college juniors and seniors through a real production environment, gives them production credit on the film.

Production internships involving free labor have been going on at many animation studios here in the LA area for years. Free labor through internship programs at the local studios in conjunction with local colleges and universities. So where's the outcry over the practice that's going on right here in town?



This idea of free labor through student internships is nothing new. That's at the core of the hypocrisy of this issue as far as both Cartoonbrew goes and especially the Guild.

The solution to this is simple.

Establish a work study program based on what colleges and universities already do. If you work at the cafeteria or bookstore, you get paid.

Pay your student labor force through a work study program Mr. Textor and you'll have the great satisfaction of not only doing the right thing, but shutting up these hypocrites.

They'll have a party celebrating their victory, but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that they don't have an issue to rally around and create a faux crusade while everything else that goes on in animation right underneath their noses gets ignored.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:33 am

Disney Features, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Film Roman, all of these studios within the jurisdiction of the Animation Guild, all of these studios and many more for years have been utilizing free student labor through internship programs coordinated with many universities and colleges.

There was a time when these programs did not exist, and it wasn't that long ago.

These programs used to be PAID training programs. Now those programs are all gone, replaced by free labor student internships, at UNION STUDIOS. It's a standard industry practice now folks.

In 1998 and all through the time when I was doing this through my school, I paid my student interns. When this trend to free labor started, I still paid my students and even union artists involved with my school who were helping out when they were unemployed.

All of this goes right by these two faced liars at The Animation Guild, who've done nothing to stop free student labor internships at their own studios in LA, and are now up in arms over what Digital Domain is proposing to do in Florida.

Is working free overtime considered free labor? Well then, union artists right here in LA don't seem to have a problem with working for free.

This issue with Digital Domain, while it warrants attention and scrutiny, is a maypole for Guild people who are dying to do something to show the world they're actually doing something, along with an opportunistic blogger who has his head so far up his you know what he can see the back of his teeth on a cloudy day.

Take the log out of your own eye before you take the spec out of someone else's eye.

When this trend towards free student labor began, I was a very outspoken critic of it. If you work at a studio, even under an internship, you should be paid. I've always felt that way and I still do, and I've practiced that philosophy since the beginning and I still do.

It's ironic that this issue I've been making for years about unpaid student internships, has been ignored and overlooked by both the Guild and Cartoonbrew as they've abandoned and blacklisted AN. The site and the movement that's been at the forefront of animation industry reform since early 1999.

See ladies and gents, that's what you get for hurting their delicate feelings and telling the truth about these guys.

This thing with Digital Domain would have had much more credibility if not for the fact that the same people who are fanning the flames of the outcry have been turning a blind eye to virtually the very same thing going on right in front of their faces.
Last edited by Charles on Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Thu Apr 05, 2012 12:14 pm

By the way friends... Disney Features, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Film Roman, and more, all of these studios I mentioned in my post above that my students have interned at for free over the years, they all broke into the industry and are having happy careers.

Most of these internships were coordinated through Cal State Northidge and Cal Arts.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Fri Apr 06, 2012 12:03 pm

AWN has picked up on the story...

............

Angry Public Responds to Digital Domain’s John Textor
By Jennifer Wolfe
Friday, April 6, 2012

There has been a flurry of discussion in the VFX industry around the recent revelation that Digital Domain CEO John Textor intends to fuel Tradition Studios, the company’s new feature animation studio in Port St. Lucie, Florida, with student labor.

The blog VFX Soldier has obtained a speech that Textor gave last November to investors in which he revealed how the company’s new animation school, Digital Domain Institute, will be integrated with the new studio. Textor told the audience:

“…what’s interesting is the relationship between the digital studio and the college. Not only is this a first in a number of ways that we’ve talked about, but 30% of the workforce at our digital studio down in Florida, is not only going to be free, with student labor, it’s going to be labor that’s actually paying us for the privilege of working on our films.

Now this was the controversial element of this and the first discussions with the Department of Education, ’cause it sounds like you’re taking advantage of the students. But we were able to persuade even the academic community, if we don’t do something to dramatically reduce costs in our industry, not only ours but many other industries in this country, then we’re going to lose these industries ... we’re going to lose these jobs. And our industry was going very quickly to India and China.”

AWN received a public reply to Textor from visual effects professional “tang1039,” that blasts the CEO for “Digital Domain’s unethical plans to turn a profit.” Read the full letter, below, and let us know what you think:


Mr. Textor, this is in response to the news that Digital Domain's new business plan is to now have up to 30% of their labor force be unpaid students.

I am a visual effects professional. I have been both an artist and a visual effects producer. I understand the economics of the visual effects industry and the extremely thin margin most visual effects studios operate on. I am empathetic to Digital Domain's situation. It has become increasingly difficult to turn a profit as costs rise and visual effects budgets are slashed.

As a visual effects producer, I cannot condone Digital Domain’s unethical plans to turn a profit. If the future of Digital Domain is students paying to work for your company, I never want to work with Digital Domain or anyone who continues to associate with Digital Domain. I will encourage every visual effects professional I meet, artist or producer, to boycott Digital Domain. And without visual effects professionals, what type of future does Digital Domain have?

Do you believe that students can create the same quality visual effects as professionals? Do you believe that our years of training, professional experience, and skill can be matched by a student? If Digital Domain follows through with this plan, then you will have to accept that untrained student work is the best you will ever get.

I will not work for you.

Those I know will not work for you.

No visual effects professional will work with you.

And do you really expect studios, directors, or producers to risk being boycotted as well for working with you?

As a lone individual, I know that I cannot damage your company. I know that I am just a cog in the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry.

Mr. Textor, when you attack all visual effects professionals’ ability to earn a living and provide for our families, you no longer have one cog to worry about, you should be worried about the entire machine crashing.

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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Tue Apr 10, 2012 1:31 pm

Now that the dust is settling on this issue, let's take a rational view of it.

Digital Domain's attempt, not an attempt exactly but rather a proposed idea, to recruit students as a free labor force for their production work, was doomed to failure from the beginning. Better put, very likely not to succeed. That's one reason why I didn't think it was that big of deal to begin with and more of an opportunity for grandstanding by the usual suspects.

About three weeks ago I met with an executive from Miami, Florida who was in town. He heads up a live action school down there and they tried the same thing. Using students to produce movies and they've since abandoned the practice cuz it didn't work. Their product was substandard and didn't get very far.

But it was a great learning experience for everyone involved.

I maintain that a paid internship program where some parts of a production could be farmed out to a school would be beneficial.

What this episode with Digital Domain underscores is a greater trend that animation pundits and frustrated union activists haven't quite grasped yet.

That is, the potential for animation schools and programs to realize they don't have to send their students off to other studios for employment. The day may soon be coming where colleges, universities and animation centric schools may realize they can be animation studios unto themselves. They may establish divisions or close associations with investors, distributors, what have you, that will enable them to function as studios.

Will this actually happen? Time will tell.
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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Thu Apr 12, 2012 9:49 am

Just published on AWN.com...

............

John Textor Defends Digital Domain
By Jennifer Wolfe
Thursday, April 12, 2012

The VFX industry continues to debate the recent revelation that Digital Domain CEO John Textor intends to fuel Tradition Studios, the company’s new feature animation studio in Port St. Lucie, Florida, with student labor.

As Daily Variety reports, Digital Domain has set up a college degree program in conjunction with Florida State University, and as part of that program, students will do CG work on some DD projects for college credit. Textor was caught saying that tuition-paying students would pay "for the privilege" of working for DD.

The CEO’s gaffe prompted a statement from the Visual Effects Society (VES):

“As a professional honorary society, VES has become aware of some unsettling comments from Digital Domain's CEO regarding its employment practices. We were shocked to hear how DD hopes to utilize interns to accomplish professional visual effects work. If the reality matches the remarks of DD's CEO, then we believe DD is not only denigrating the value of artists who do incredible work under trying conditions, but are also unfairly taking advantage of a difficult job market and will ultimately harm the ability of visual effects artists to survive in the future if such an imprudent business model became the norm.

However, and equally important to note, if DD's internship program is merely the same as those that exist in many schools across the country, and they're only guilty of having their CEO use ill-advised, self-boasting rhetoric that happened to be caught on tape, then we hope the recent loud reaction and unified voice of visual effects artists around the globe has caused DD to be more sensitive and appreciative of the plight of those artists who struggle to endure in an industry that is constantly redefining itself yet always seeks to maximize the ways it uses their art and magic to produce record profits for the entire industry.”

Textor responded to critics in an email sent to employees on Monday:

From: John Textor
Date: Mon, 9 Apr 2012 16:22:37 -0700
To: John Textor
Subject: My Comments On Our Education Program

Hi everyone,

I want to take a minute to speak to the discussion happening around the industry that started with comments I made about our education program. I chose my words poorly and the industry took me to task. More importantly, though, my remarks threw a negative spotlight on Digital Domain that the company doesn't deserve, and I want to apologize to all of you for that. I regret if I have tarnished in any way the reputation you have built over two decades with your amazing work.

I do want you to have the facts about our education model because it does a lot of good. It's a four-year program. Students dual-enroll in an accredited BFA program at Florida State University and a diploma program at the Digital Domain Institute. In their third and fourth years they have the opportunity to intern on real projects in a real studio in exchange for college credits.

We're still in the early days. The first BFA class starts this fall. The studio on the DDI West Palm Beach campus where students will have a chance to intern will open in 2015. The internship program will also expand as other companies and studios come on board.

I understand where people's reactions are coming from. It's not the program, but my glib comment. I wish I could take that back, but I can't. I can just apologize to you for it, and assure you that I know interns can never take the place of skilled artists and production professionals. What first attracted me to Digital Domain was your work, and when I came here in 2006, I realized that it was your pride in that work and in each other that makes the place special.

....................

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Re: Digital Domain's Student Labor Exploitation Scheme

Postby Charles » Fri Aug 17, 2012 7:50 pm

Remember the big cartoonbrew haha earlier this year over Digital Domain's plans to use student labor in their productions through a school in Florida?

Well, they're doing it... :o

Don't mention this to animation critics and historians and unions. They might call people mean names. :shock:

:D

From AWN.com...

..............



Digital Domain Announces Start of Inaugural Classes
By Jennifer Wolfe
Thursday, August 16, 2012
AWN News

Article

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL -- Digital Domain Media Group, the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts and the City of West Palm Beach announce the arrival of the inaugural classes of students to their pioneering public/private collaboration – an accredited four-year BFA degree program in Animation and Digital Arts. Student orientation begins August 22 in West Palm Beach, with classes starting August 27 in Tallahassee and West Palm Beach.

The joint FSU/DDMG program gives students a "best of both worlds" experience, with the opportunity to earn an accredited BFA degree from the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts and a Diploma in specialized areas of digital media production from the Digital Domain Institute (DDI). Students learn from professional artists and trainers working at DDMG studios and also have the opportunity to apply their skills in a practical environment, with the potential to earn internships on the production of the major feature films underway at DDMG studios. The goal is to provide a well-rounded education while at the same time equipping students with the skills they need to get an entry-level professional position in digital media.

Next week, DDI and FSU will welcome both the freshman and sophomore classes to the program simultaneously – 20 freshman who will be attending FSU’s Tallahassee campus for general education courses, and 30 sophomores who have transferred to the program after completing their freshman studies at FSU and other institutions. The sophomores will attend classes at the FSU/DDI West Palm Beach urban campus, where they will immerse in the Animation and Digital Arts curriculum. The new students will join dozens of part-time students who have been enrolled in DDI’s Essential Skills program since March 2012.

“We’re off to a great start,” said Frank Patterson, Dean of FSU College of Motion Picture Arts. We have 50 full-time students who have an impressive 3.92 average high school GPA, representing our inaugural class in the animation and digital arts program. And we are excited that our bachelor students will be walking into already vibrant classrooms -- they will be joining dozens of part-time students who are already taking courses at Digital Domain Institute’s (DDI) Essential Skills Program. We have created an excellent learning environment that promises to produce a new generation of film school graduates.”

Digital Domain Media Group Chairman and CEO John Textor said, “We are pleased to welcome our first class of degree students to Digital Domain Institute. We have created a unique partnership of our educational institution with an accredited university, and thus are able to offer our students a college degree. We also have formed relationships with other companies that need employees skilled in computer-generated graphics, so students have the ability to hone their skills on real projects not only in the film industry at Digital Domain but also in other applications. As a result, we offer our students not only a college degree but also the opportunity to build a resume that shows that they have acquired the skills necessary to get well-paying jobs.”
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