Animated Features are Totally Fine

I’m a visual effects artist. I took out a bunch of student loans (got an art degree in computer animation) and I moved to California to work on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe in 2005. I’ve seen the film visual effects industry in LA wither and die (it’s not quite dead yet). Countries, states, provinces, counties, cities, etc. all have politicians that get suckered in by some guys from the MPAA that lobby them on how much money their area could get back if they subsidize the film industry. It impacts productions in more ways than just VFX; even the film scores. It’s not just film, but also TV.

I am not going to render a judgement about whether or not this should be happening. I will render a judgement that it upends the lives of the people making film, and TV projects if they are required to move themselves, and their families, to wherever the tax credits are the strongest. It is, however, the reality.

California politicians are starting to face this reality, but they can’t justify matching the tax credits that exist elsewhere. The new credits are tepid, and won’t lure any of the film VFX that was lost back to California. It did, however, give the MPAA an excuse to host a meeting about how other states can counter anything from the CA credits. It’s hard to blame them for not racing to the bottom and participating in a bidding scheme that drains financial resources for a profitable private industry.

Knowing all of these things, I can’t recommend that any one with Hollywood Dreams choose to learn to do anything involved with moviemaking if they expect some kind of stable life. If they’re onboard with moving, not just to Vancouver, London, or New Zealand, but to literally any place that might draft more lucrative incentives, then that’s fine. Travel light.

Unfortunately, to add insult to industry, the very sites that are supposed to cover the field I am in are ignoring it. It makes more financial sense to cater to the desire to learn this craft — dare I say this art? — but it often feels like the sites can see only as far as their own belief in their own, for-profit training programs.

Amid Amidi, writing for Carton Brew, a site that posts the best about the animation industry, posted this lazy critique of visual effects yesterday:

While computer graphics and visual effects may have once been a California specialty, the largely technical nature of the accomplishment made its replication by foreign studios a foregone conclusion. That’s different from the feature animation industry, which is a more balanced marriage of technical and creative artistry. In the nearly 80-year-history of feature animation, no foreign studio has been able to consistently package globally-successful animated films with the winning formula used by American studios. If the state of California wanted to bolster any part of its film industry, it would have done better to double down on feature animation where it remains the clear and undisputed global leader.

What a load.

“Largely technical nature of the accomplishment” is so utterly disrespectful I have a hard time looking past it to the other erroneous statement that California should just throw money at animated productions. Need I remind Amid that almost everything is shared between live-action visual effects and animated productions? Need I remind him that people go back and forth between these roles for live-action and pure animation? To suggest that animation itself is somehow independent of visual effects houses is laughable. Foreign houses have also been able to do this work because they’ve hired people from California. All of those job postings are not strictly filled by residents of the country doing the work.

Also laughable is the suggestion that the animation industry in California is going to keep leading the world. Let’s break it down: There are three animation houses making feature-length work. Sony moved all production to Vancouver, and retain only story positions in CA. Disney Feature Animation, Pixar, and Dreamworks still make movies. Two of those are owned by Disney, and the third was is in such poor financial shape that it was shopped around and bought by Softbank. To put animation on a pillar independent of visual effects is, frankly, ludicrous. Disney is not a whole, healthy industry.

It is no small coincidence that Cartoon Brew hosts job boards for animators. Notice how many of their current listings aren’t even in the US, nor are they for any feature film company. How Amid came to his conclusions completely escapes me.

2014-10-28 2:17:17

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