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Posted by Bruce Woodside on June 09, 1999 at 11:53:49:

In Reply to: LET ME MAKE THIS PERFECTLY CLEAR posted by Brian Mitchell on June 08, 1999 at 18:57:45:

Brian Mitchell wrote:

>It wasn't a number pulled out of a hat. It was a
>number that referred to an average animated movie, >with some special effects, and good character
>animation. But, let me tell you, that I could do
>an animated feature here in the U.S. for almost
>half that price. I was using this number in
>reference to a movie that was animated overseas
>and still managed to come in over the above
>figures. Of course there are features that come in >well over that number, Quest averaged approx.
>$1,500,000. a minute and the quality sure showed
>huh? Price has nothing to do with making a great

Whoa, whoa, calm down there, Brian. I wasn’t questioning your numbers. I was simply asking you to spell out a few of your assumptions about what this sample feature production studio looks like. You’ve got to admit that where it is located, how it gets access to its talent pool, whether or not it has been set up to produce just one project or a long string of them -- these are important questions, and they impact the cost of what you produce. By asking these questions, I am not trying to justify the costs of the big studio productions (but I do wonder what that movie was that was animated overseas, the one you’re referring to as an “average”.)

What I’ve learned from feature production is that there is no “baseline” or average budget that makes any sense applied across the board. Just as there is no “per foot” cost that really applies unless you know specifically what you’re talking about: “What does a foot of animation cost?” can’t really be answered until you know what kind of animation you’re doing. Granted that your “$3000 a foot” figure was generous in the abstract, extrapola-tions from what animation used to cost really don’t hold much water. The nature of the business has changed (and is changing again, right now.) Nonetheless, there HAS to be some sort of upper and lower limits, determined by the marketplace.

Having said that (and I hope you’re still reading), I have to say that I am in (almost) complete agreement with you as regards the reasons for the extravagant waste of money that is taking place here. My last two conventional animation gigs were with Warner Bros. Feature and Twentieth Century Fox (on the aborted L.A. development of “Planet Ice.”) In both instances, the cost overruns were almost entirely due to management indecision in the development process and the almost pathological insistence on not trusting the artists (especially the director) to make a good film -- AFTER they’d hired us and sat us down in seats to perform that very function! Hell, they weren’t even sure if they even wanted to make a film, any film, and yet they were plowing money into all sorts of production set-up costs. At Warners, the decision to make a feature was even postponed six months past their original development deadline, simply because top management did not know what kind of a film they wanted to make, even though there was a fairly large studio workforce in place, ready to go (I had Effects Artists on my development crew!) and another in the works, in London. I have Warners to thank for literally squandering two years of my animation career. I suppose I should be okay with this; after all, they paid me. But I’m not. Because I am fully aware that there were other people being paid considerably more to KEEP ME from doing my job. They were called “development executives.”

>The trick here is to be able to produce a movie
>with a competent director, one who has a clear
>picture of the direction of his/her movie, and has >an understanding with the higher ups, that he/she >needs to do this movie with a single vision, and
>without the HELP of executive ideas.

Oh that it were so. What’s been suggested by you and others elsewhere on this site is that the production situation may be changing with the addition of digital techniques enabling access not just to the technology of the medium but to other labor pools in this country (and maybe even [gasp!] outside of L.A.!), keeping costs down to the point where a good deal more animation work could be done for the same amount of bucks. And I'm with ya. Nonetheless, as long as we have to look to big studios for contributory financing, distribution deals, marketing and ancillary merchandising services, our work is going to be subject to their oversight; and at present, sadly, there seem to be few if any viable alternatives to that with regard to feature production. I have a feeling (though I confess not to be familiar with the process) that something like this also holds true for TV production.

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