The Dreamworks Factor

In 1994, another major development in animation occurred. Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenburg teamed up to form Dreamworks SKG. A huge commitment to animated entertainment was made. Katzenburg, formerly the top hat at Walt Disney Feature Animation, took the wheel at Dreamworks in the same capacity.

An elaborate studio was constructed in Glendale. Artists were fed well for free while working on the animated feature length masterpiece, "The Prince of Egypt".

By this time, Warner Brothers was pouring millions of dollars into the development of their own feature length unit. Fox Studios set up shop in Phoenix, Arizona. Turner Entertainment got things up and running locally. The race was on for animation talent. Animation artists were suddenly in great demand. Spurred by the enormous box office success that the Walt Disney Company was enjoying, the rest of Hollywood was eager to cash in. Artists were being signed to contracts. Salaries were their highest in history. Employment was at an all time high. Union membership expanded. For the first time, animation artists were approaching the kind of money they should have been making long ago. It looked as if the creative community had finally come into its own. Artists were working year round and studios were reluctant to lay anyone off in fear that another studio would snap up the talent and enhance their own production capabilities.

The emergence of Dreamworks was a tremendous boost to the industry. It created competition for talent that forced the players in animation to significantly raise their stakes.

At Walt Disney Features, artists were paid bonuses as well as incredibly high salaries for some of the studios top animation talent.

In 1995, it was reported that Dreamworks was on the verge of closing a deal with ABC Television which would have virtually given the studio the network's entire Saturday morning line up of animation. A few short weeks later, the Walt Disney Company announced the acquisition of Capital Cities Corporation, the parent company of ABC.

It was a tremendous setback for the burgeoning television unit of Dreamworks Animation. Without a distribution outlet and compounded by problems with extraordinarily poor management, their television unit has never been able to get up and running in any meaningful way.

In an ironic twist, DIC Animation was a Capital Cities company. Now Disney owned it.

"Space Jam" and "Quest For Camelot" marked Warner's entry into the animation arena. While the former performed well, the latter was a disappointment. With unqualified production executives running the show and leading to the departure of the film's original directors, Bill and Sue Kroyer of Fern Gully fame, "Quest" became an uninspired undertaking. A monument to the outright stupidity of the animation ruling class.

A victim of the merger between Turner Features and Warner Communications, "Cats Don't Dance" was a charming, well animated and entertaining feature. It suffered from poor marketing and became an also ran, but it received great acclamation within the animation community.

Fox released "Anastasia" to positive reviews, but the Walt Disney Company saw fit to fight it with the re-release of "The Little Mermaid". Thanks, guys. Despite their attempts to quell the competition, Fox did well with the movie.

Then came the rest of the pack: "Antz" from Dreamworks and "Rugrats" from Klasky Csupo. "Mulan" and "A Bug's Life" from Disney and for a final touch, "The Prince of Egypt" from Dreamworks.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday of 1998, the top two motion pictures in the United States were both animated feature films. Another historic first.

In television, Nickelodeon had opened a huge production facility in Burbank. Animation was everywhere. Warner Brothers was having continued success with "Batman" and "Superman", "Animaniacs" and "Pinky and the Brain". Then they decided to do 65 half hours of "Histeria" and only finished 52. The production went so out of control and so over budget that a large number of artists were laid off as a result, but none of the executives who blundered were released and none of their management staff was affected as far as I've been able to ascertain.

Other studios decided to follow suit. Suddenly, there was widespread unemployment and the entire nature of the industry changed.

Charles Zembillas © 1999
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