Re: Animation budgets

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Posted by Dave on May 31, 1999 at 21:29:21:

In Reply to: Re: Animation budgets posted by McClenahan on May 31, 1999 at 10:32:26:

: I believe it was Charles who brought our studio into this discussion, and so the comments were directed more toward answering those points, than trying to confuse TV animation budgets with feature budgets.

My mistake then.

: Now, I'm not certain about what you mean when you say "people no longer want full animation because of the cost ..." Are you talking about doing feature-quality animation in TV series? No toy or cereal sponsors could EVER pay for that.

Well actually TV commercials are another realm as well since they occasionally do full animation even thought the deadlines are short. The point is that budgets are determined by producers (no matter which avenue you take) . You seem to be talking about only TV work .

:Again, the discussion was made to answer points made about our studio. You continue your discourse with observations about Jimmy Wong, so the discussion about TV budgets seems to be appropriate again.

Your web link raised the question of the cost of animation and feature is what I do , so are you speaking only of TV animation . Perhaps I was not clear on the area you are specifically talking about.

: You guys wrote an article on this site entitled "Empowering the Union."

I had nothing to do with writing any article that I know of. Itís my feeling that we should mandate the union. Give it goals that reflect sanity and economy as well as keeping it on the track to enriching the future lives of its members.

: In it you say all the things we agree on ... except that you seem to be advocating that it can be done with the present union. It's like saying, "I would really like that red motorcycle if only it were a silver porsche." You want the UNION empowered by taking away its union qualities.

Evolution is the only thing that saved the union and it should evolve more. Maybe we should just stick to stereotypes and only follow rigid guidelines so that it looks something more like a typical union . I mean, that way it will give people a better target but Iím afraid that just wont happen. A union should be there to serve the needs of itís members, not the other way around. There should be no absolute rules otherwise we are inflexible. We wore earth shoes back then as well. I think itís alright to look back and laugh.

;StarToons was receiving "Bugzburg" footage when Filmation closed its doors ... an attempt was made to strong-arm me into joining the MPSC. You say they shouldn't have done that, but that's what unions do!

I donít know your exact situation but here you have a forum to openly explain what you mean by *strong-arm*. Iím very interested. What year was that as well ? If I am correct you gained the work of totally union shop that was promised that it would continue by the purchasing company. Were they bitter ? Were they mad ? Were they lied to ? Of course. If that is as far back as Filmation closing that was a different union then.

Now as to what a unions do. There has been none of those actions since that I know of in fact smaller companies that couldnít afford to unionized were left alone. I know heads of those companies.

:You say they shouldn't force young recruits to pay the exorbitant fees

I never said that but I donít agree with any exorbitant fees. When I entered the union I paid at a far higher rate than any first timer since I was entering as a skilled animator. I have no regrets. It was tiny compared to my own costs had I done those things myself.

: ... but again, how do you think any organization runs? Those medical benefits you enjoy, what do you think pays for that?

We do but it is agreed upon. I wasnít blind entering the union and I donít think anyone who joins one is.

: We're NOT a group of freelancers, either. We are a business. There's a BIG difference. In fact, we are the kind of business you advocated: animator-owned and run studio. Based on management concepts borrowed from overseas studios - which in turn had been borrowed from early Los Angeles-based studios (Hanna-Barbera). TV animation budgets have to be controlled. It's controlled with piecework rates. If you want to call them widgets, so be it.

Well the point was that there isnít just a single dimension to producing work. It involves human beings so just being the highest producer doesnít speak at all of the conditions they work under.

:Our clients like our widgets - at least more than those of most of our Asian competitors (although when it comes to TV animation, it's hard to consistently beat TMS' quality). The viewers seem to prefer our widgets. They can't compare to feature animation, no.

I have done series work so I know generally the difference but I do know that it can be pretty brutal producing 200 ft a week for a couple years. TV animation was taxing in a different way but just as taxing.

: But if you want a happy, healthy community of animators, you need the bread-and-butter of ongoing TV animation production. Work on features and commercials when they're available - keep a couple of hundred people busy at once. But in between features - or even concurrent with them (dream with me, here) - happy, productive animators with an endless backlog of work, some that they enjoy, some that they don't, but always providing jobs and security.

Just having work is great but if that is where we end then Iím not sure I call that healthy. Busy, occupied, learning but it speaks nothing of whether they can afford to do this for a living or whether it has any future.

: I really don't believe that you've lived your life in my world, because you equate free-lancing (an individual in business for himself) with running a studio.

Done it. I told you I was old.

:No, even if you COULD run the business, you wouldn't want to. I don't.

You will notice Iím here in LA now . I know just what you go through. Iíve signed checks, bought equipment, balance books handed out work , shot others scenes , corrected inbetweens animation and layouts, tracked work flow and was faxing the company (at 3:00 am in the morning) we were farming from all at the same time as animating my own scenes. It nearly killed me but then I did it totally on my own. Ten animators , ten key clean up and ten inbetweeners. They were the best paid crew .

: I long for the day when I can stop promoting and wheeling and dealing and hacking and slashing and meeting and greeting and kissing up to proud, arrogant clients ...

Not easy.

: AND kissing up to proud, arrogant artists that work for me and believe they could do a better job but never actually set out on their own and do it. When we were a very small shop, it was manageable. I could set aside one day each week to do the payroll, send out invoices, pay bills, pay taxes, fill out endless forms, and make sales calls. But as we grew, it became a job onto itself ... and I wanted to ANIMATE! So we HIRED a GM and an office manager to do that stuff. I was so happy when we got them! I do LOVE my craft. I started this studio in Chicago because I didn't want to move to LA and there was no alternative here.

Iíve found that the best way to deal with artists is to offer them that chance to understand what you have to do. You are not taking about arrogant artists, you are talking about ignorant artists. I know exactly what you are talking about.

: But when it comes to our employees, not a one of them isn't thankful for the opportunities we have created here in Chicago. A prominent LA director who worked for us a short time ago, had been making about $12,000 a year when we hired him. His first year with us, he made about $35,000. The next year, $45,000. When he left us two years later, he was up around $60,000. Sixty grand can go a long way in Chicago. Currently one of my directors is making more than $100 grand a year. And that's strictly turning out your widgets. Yes even our directors get production bonuses. Maybe it doesn't impress you; it worked for them.

That money sounds decent. . If you donít mind me asking , what does an animator make there in an average week ?

: But that kind of boasting means nothing to cartoon fans or potential clients who might visit our web site. I'm glad if you like anything on there, but frankly, it's neither here nor there.
I need potential clients to like it, to have a reason to use us, rather than contract their properties out to one of the "pseudo-producers" you talk about.

I understand. Sales is a part of running the business and the site is great in that way. It tells the client how you became what you are and what they can expect. A wise move.

:Without blowing our own horn and selling ourselves as distinctive and viable, we can be nothing but an expensive alternative to the cartoon brokers we both detest. Every frame of animation we do here in Chicago is work we've stolen from Asian studios, creating (and, I wish, starting to rebuild) an industry that American artists had previously given up on. We're fighting windmills for Dulcinea over here, unless we can create a meaningful movement.

Yes, Im not sure what the need is in TV series work these days or what would be a good selling hook otherwise. You deal with them so you know better.

: I don't know what a union animator makes, but let's say it's on the order of $80,000 a year. Would that animator be interested in making $100,000 or more (frankly, I don't consider the aforementioned director of mine to be exceptional, especially by your standards)? But it would require constant 8-hour days and self-discipline.

Well here in LA (if you are talking feature) the days are lot longer. 60 or more of the same kind of discipline in a 6 day week. The people who get away with shorter 8 hour a day weeks are pretty rare from my experience.

: I'm not saying anybody would be lazy, but there is an attitude adjustment that needs to be made. I've hung around big LA studios, and frankly it was hard to find many people busy at their desks.

Iím not sure which studio you are talking about but I havenít seen that.

: Cynicism, anger, frustration ... prevent them from enjoying themselves. The union contract protects against productivity bonuses. So what reason could there be to keep your nose to the grindstone? I wouldn't either, given your situation.

Well, here is a bit of my experiences with* productivity* bonuses. I have seen more work trashed through with little regard for who has to follow it through based on the desire to hit those bonus levels. Maybe you have a way of maintaining a standard I donít know of but it just has been my experience. When you send a message that artists are to focus on speed alone you get what pay for, speed. There is always a trade off from what I have seen so it depends what you need.

: Tell me this: if StarToons landed the kind of series work we're trying to land, would you guys be interested in working on it for fixed rates (widgets)? I'll rename the studio "The West Coast MPSC Local 809 Memorial Studio" if you like. We could transfer the headquarters to Sherman Oaks or Van Nuys or wherever you like.

Hehehehehe. Why of course. Iím not sure you would see any animators who need work turning it down. This union wants us to work union but they would know it would be silly to try and tell itís members to starve and Iím sure they wouldnít even consider saying it. Try it and see.

: Would you do the same for me? I don't care what you call your dream studio, once it's formed. Would you hire me to animate?

Union of course. Heheehehe. TV is a good topic since it is the producers who consider the animation too much to pay for but laugh when RugRats makes 100 million dollars domestically. Think about it. Marketing income alone is probably twice that. You know what I think . I think that so far, the marketing of animation has been so trivial that the shows that should be worthy of producing here arenít and companies like yours are put into race to see just how low you can go.

:I'll come work for you, in that case. I'll help advise you in any way you like, if you think my opinions would be helpful. Or tell me to shut up and draw - I'll gladly do it.

You know, I dont think anyone would tell you to shut up. I think your experience is the best you can have. Itís worth more than you think . To me, I am just exploring the avenues of thought on it and you have a very unique view. You think I donít understand your pain but I do. Iím not telling you to go union. A union is useless if you can already provide the same kind of benefits and pay people enough to be able to live normally. I just think that needs to be raised since we are humans and not just xerox machines. Producers dont have to think of the people who do this work so we have to.

: But the studio has to be viable! Somebody will have to wear a suit - know what I mean? If we have left-brain geniuses among our artists, fine. But somebody will have to do it.

Yes, you are correct. A villain must be picked, or do they.
I have met many producers. Many suits. The surprise to me is when I find one that understands the nature of people and how they function. How well they take pressure and insanity that comes from above and how that translates to how they deal with the crew. Is anyone perfect ? No, but if one must be picked they must understand more than just the number of feet to be produced. I think we have to ask ourselves what the goals are to be for a studio like that or we have no mandate for that suit. Artistically, and financially.
Can we be economic ? Sure but to this point it seems that has been the only goal in TV. The Pacific Rim proved that. You cant compete on those grounds. As artists , what do we have unique beyond that ? What do we have that they dont ? I think Ren and Stimpy proved that our own cultural insanity is so personal that we are special because of it . Joy. We can learn to be more than just producers of poorly written hack ideas and bad satires of live action characters. It isnít the complexity of the characters that we find interesting , itís the humanity. When it comes down to it, that is all we have.

Iím not sure how to weave this into the future. Iím not sure it can be, but I do know that there must be some ground where the two sides meet and work. Perfection isnít my goal or Iíd have quit right now. Itís not possible but I think itís possible to nudge it to workable.

: It HAS to be viable ... otherwise it's just another historical example of artistic hysteria. I don't want to be a part of that. But I'd love to a be a part of the power you guys represent.

Iím not sure where that came from, the hysteria I mean. I think it was one of those ďunionĒ things where people allowed themselves to take sides and villianize the other. I think we are less naive now, more aware of what blind faith in idea can do. We all have common ground, all of us. No one should hate you for being nonunion as you shouldnít hate people who are union. The misconceptions are on both sides and obscure the truth . I will tell you this though, we have been played, all of us. You , me , them. Basic psychological warfare is to divide and conquer. You have to create an enemy to defend against. Isolate and feed the ego of them both telling them they are better than the other. Whatever the others advantage is useless in reality. It is a path down a road that leads away from doing the things we really want to do. Really good work.
You tell me if it is possible to do that and be fiscally responsible. I think it is.

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