Posted by Jon McClenahan on May 27, 1999 at 08:33:44:
In Reply to: From what I can tell. posted by Charles on April 15, 1999 at 01:33:18:
: Some key artists at what was once Dreamworks TV Animation are close friends of mine. They were involved with that aspect of the studio from early in its history. What I've been able to piece together is based upon their first hand accounts. I will refrain from mentioning any names or identifying specific individuals while trying to describe what I know of their experiences.
: In my opinion, there were several factors involved in the collapse. The purchase of Capital Cities by the Disney Corporation in 1995 played a significant part as ABC is a subsidiary of Cap Cities Corp. Dreamworks was negotiating a deal with ABC that would have given the studio virtually every one of the network's Saturday morning cartoons to produce until the Disney purchase put that deal to rest. Regardless, there were still many opportunities for Dreamworks to emerge as a competitor in the market.
: Their big mistake was in losing sight of who they were and what they represented. Dreamworks was supposed to be something different, especially something different from Disney. Yet they hired almost the entire management staff of Disney TV Animation to head up their own TV animation unit.
: The problem this posed was monumental. To begin with, development at Disney TV is not the same as it would be at any other animation studio developing television product. Most of Disney TV's development happens at Disney Features. Many of the shows they air are spin-offs from their animated theatrical releases. Many more are reworks of some of Disney's classic characters. In my opinion, the Disney TV upper nmanagement team never really had to work at developing original concepts like other studios had to. They didn't have the same experience, nor did they have to deal with the pressure of coming up with an original winner. They simply retooled existing properties, with the occasional exception of shows like "Gargoyles".
: From what I was told long ago as it was happening, the transplanted staff spent their first few months waiting to identify "trends" in the marketplace, if you can believe it. They didn't have the sense to see that they were the trend and everyone was watching them to see what they came up with.
: Confusion and indecision played a big part in the order of things at the studio. Development artists were doing their best to come up with something that would appeal to their superiors, but to little or no avail. Experienced development artists who knew how to customize presentations towards the tastes of individual network executives were not listened to. I was told that a presentation was made to a network executive by one of the top executives from Dreamworks TV which consisted in its entirety of a black and white xerox of a cover from a comic book, the rights of which Dreamworks had failed to secure. If this is true, and I have little reason to doubt it based upon the source, it's no wonder they couldn't get anything up and running.
: In my opinion, "Toonsylvania" and "Invasion America" both got on the air because of Steven Speilberg's influence. Those were the only shows they were able to produce and neither lasted very long. It finally came down to the same old formula - rework a feature concept. Thus, the "Joseph" video that is currently being wrapped up, a prequel to "Prince of Egypt".
: The artists slowly started losing their morale and their enthusiasm. When a petition was circulated and signed by almost every single artist in the studio concerning their displeasure and lack of faith in a certain executive heading up the studio, the artists were reprimanded by Jeffrey Katzenburg. In my opinion, a very foolish thing to do and another big mistake. I alluded to this event in the text of Animation Nation.
: The artists at Dreamworks TV were motivated and dedicated. They were the last ones on Earth who wanted to see the studio close down, but they were helpless. No one heeded the warning signs. It appears as if the executives just gave up and let it drift away into oblivion.
: The closing of Dreamworks TV was nothing less than a disaster for our community. The spin that Katzenburg put on it in the press was only partially true when he blamed it on the fragmentation of the television market. I think that the studio would have succeeded if someone would have been open to what the artists had to say. Unfortunately, that was not the case and now they are history.
Hi, Charles, pleased to meetcha. I never worked for Dreamworks TV, but just a couple of points to share.
First, I went there to visit a friend who had been hired to begin developing properties for them. The story I heard from him was a nightmare, business-wise and artistically. Apparently nothing could be gotten past that genius of geniuses, Jeff Katzenberg. Nothing could get past him. Idead after idea was thrown onto the scrap-pile. They had some of the most talented people with terrific ideas, and the upshot was that after three years, they had only a list of ex-employees to show for it. And you know what? TV Animation A) isn't profitable enough to make that kind of overhead payoff - for ANYBODY, and B) if Katzenberg wanted to be a brain surgeon, why didn't he go to medical school like everybody else?
Secondly, I met with Gary Krisel earlier this year. He mentioned he had had something to do with the Disney take-over of the Australian (ex-Hanna-Barbera) studio where I used to work. He was remarking about that studio's quantity AND quality of footage, per animator - unbelievable, according to him. He wondered what the secret was. I told him. Hard-working, self-directing animators. Hard-working, to improve their craft and increase their weekly output. Self-directing, in that the exposure sheet notes were minimal, and from the beginning of their careers, they were expected to work from stick-figure placements of the characters, developing their own key poses (on-model) and act the characters out from there. Not just stupidly following the thousand-words-worth-one-picture instructions of directors who might be too pressured to get the best performance out of each and every scene cut. They took personal pride in their work. Today's overseas animator labors under the black cloud of overdirection by a man he has never met. You wouldn't enjoy it, and neither do they. Creativity is a wonderful thing (directors, execs, listen up!). From each mind springs its own ideas, marvelous to behold when allowed to see the light of day. Let your artists show what THEY can create, not just how they can follow instructions. Sure, they need guidelines. GIVE them guidelines. But as General Patton said, "Never tell someone how to do a job. Tell him what you want done, and he will surprise you with his ingenuity."
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