Globalization and Animation: Is it Really a Good Thing?

Via: The Daily Mail

Last night was the first meeting of my class this semester, Globalization and International Business. It’s a fairly typical class for an MBA student such as myself and in this day and age, even a little knowledge of what globalization is can be very beneficial.

I bring this up because here in the US (as anywhere) globalization is often brought up as an issue that needs to be tackled and defeated. Americans are losing their jobs, companies are traitors, etc. etc. etc. It doesn’t matter who you talk to (left or right) they all seem to agree that jobs going abroad is a bad thing, despite the fact that it often creates jobs at home. An often overlooked (or under-reported) fact, is that almost everyone who has been laid-off from say, a GM factory, end up finding alternative employment.

Animation is not immune to globalization, in fact, animation has benefited greatly form it. Now Steve Hullett over at the TAG Guild Blog may disagree (it’s his job to protect his member’s employment after all), but by shifting the tedious, time-consuming and most expensive part of the animation process abroad, overall costs for films and TV shows have come down, meaning that there are more opportunities for the likes of writers, designers and storyboard artists at home.

Yes, it is greatly upsetting to know that there is someone in China or Korea who is willing to do your job for barely a fraction of what you are paid, but that is an unhealthy attitude. It is much better to focus on the positive side of things. So you lost, I dunno, your position putting Post-Its on the timing sheets, well just because that’s all you’ve done doesn’t mean that’s all your capable of, right? You might have seen hundreds if not thousands of timing sheets in that time, you might now a thing or two about them that no-one else does. Why not see if those skills are in demand. Better yet, why not use those skills to acquire some new ones, and combine the two to find another job?

I suppose I’m not the best to be talking about this kind of thing, I am a civil engineer after all, and they way the regulatory environment works, I can’t foresee my job being dispatched overseas any time soon. Is that a good thing? Well for me, yes, yes it is. For the state government whose indirectly paying my wages, that’s bad. There are literally hundreds of thousands of civil engineers in China who will gladly do my job for (no joke) $3,000 a year. I know this because I was once offered a job there and your man told me I’d be earning triple what the Chinese guys would be, so it wasn’t that hard to figure out.

I’m not one to stir the pot when it comes to topics such as this. It’s important to remember that cost is only one factor when it comes to producing animation. Sending a show or film off to Korea may have cost benefits, but it also means that everything must be perfect before it leaves the US, otherwise a heck of a lot more time and money will be spent trying to rectify errors, which of course negates all the benefits that should have been reaped in the first place.

My point is: don’t be mad that someone, somewhere else came and ‘stole’ your job, they didn’t. Just because your position moved “off-shore” is no reason to assume that everything can and should be made in the US. What I’ve learned thus far is that the benefits of globalization pay off in ways we normally don’t think about (cheaper food, clothes, better choices, etc.). So for animation, remember, Hanna-Barbera and The Simpsons may have shifted the labour-intensive stuff overseas, but by doing so, were able to create many more “other” jobs at home.

As always, I am not the be all and end all of any discussion, if you feel the need to comment, please do so.

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Mark Evanier on "Voice Over Matter"

As much as I try and read all, or at least a majority of Mark’s posts, when time is not on your side, you often have to choose which posts you read based on their title. As soon as I saw “Voice Over Matter” however, I knew it was worth a look. In it, Mark recalls the story of how a famous voice-actor (Mark Elliott) came in to do some work and was there a grand total of 3 minutes, for which he was paid a tidy sum. It’s not a long piece, and while I recommend you check it out, the defining quote is this:

One of the crew guys grumbled a bit and said, “You paid him all that money for three minutes work?” Before I could say anything, the director said, “No, we pay him all that money because it only takes him three minutes.”

It makes me wonder why some studios insist on using celebrity voices when there’s clearly no advantage (cost or otherwise) to using them.

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Post a Day 2011: Challenge Accepted!

It’s time to knock it up a notch for the new year. I mean seriously, I’ve been blogging every weekday for what, 8 month now, and I thought I was doing pretty good. Turns out I wasn’t, there were a whole bunch of weekend days I was missing! Well, no more! I accept the challenge of posting at least something every day for the remainder of the year, let’s see how it pans out 🙂

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The Start of a New Year

After an all too brief holiday, it’s back to the grindstone this morning with 5lbs and some change being the price I paid for a week of relaxation. Thankfully, it was well and truly enjoyed, hopefully, you had some time off too.

The start of a new year brings a lot of hope and anticipation from everyone along with their desires to see a joyous and happy year. I am no exception, of course, with lots of hope for the animation scene this year. For one, we have a host of films slated for release this year with a ratio of good to bad that looks about the same as last year.

We also have the Annie Awards scheduled for February 5th and the 83rd Academy Awards following on February 27th. With 2010 being such a banner year, both these ceremonies and their requisite nominees promise to provide much debate in both the run-up and aftermath.

Besides the theatrical film, there will also be plenty of shorts and tons of books coming out this year. I have no info on either, but suffice to say, we are unlikely to be disappointed.

There is much to look forward to, but this is the first day back at work (and at the gym at 5am for that matter) so that’s just about all I am able to write for now. Tomorrow, we’ll return properly to your regularly scheduled programming.

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The Legal Pitfalls That Animators Must Navigate

I would love to go into much more detail on the topic but unfortunately, I don’t have that long a lunch break to knock one out. So instead, here’s a quick run-down of what animators should be aware of when it comes to their work.

For the record, I am not a lawyer and the following should not be construed as legal advice. If in doubt, consult a legal professional, preferably one with a Bar Association logo on their newspaper ad.

When it comes to animation, there are a variety of laws that animators must concern themselves with. Perhaps most prominent is contract law and labour laws, which naturally help determine how long you work and how and when you are paid.

I read numerous stories that pop up fairly frequently regarding various setups that invariably involve the production of animation without pay. These can take the form of a competition, test or and “internship”. I use inverted commas because no internship as defined by law allows the intern to actually undertake anything even resembling work without due compensation.

Another aspect is overtime. Again, it is worth having an inside-out knowledge of your working contract. Bear in mind that for some, this may be in the form of an agreement that the union may have with the company. I’ve found that the TAG Blog to be a good source for explanations in this regard.

Besides the various labour laws, the second big grouping of legislation that animators run up against is copyright. In general, if you create work for a studio or otherwise entity that compensates you for the work created, you do not have rights to said work. In other words, it is created under a “for-hire” arrangement. For most studio employees, this is the nature of their work.

If you are creating your own stuff, then it is owned entirely by you unless you sell or otherwise transfer ownership and/or rights to another party. This would be the case of you pitched a TV show idea to a network who subsequently purchased it.

It is important to remember that you are responsible for monitoring your work. In other words, if someone is plagarising your work, it is your responsibility to notify the responsible party in order to rectify the situation. A while back, an animator I know had issues with someone on YouTube outright copying his work without due recognition. After failing to rectify the situation through communication, he simply contacted YouTube and had the video removed.

having said that, keep in mind that fan-art or personal art featuring personal interpretations of copyrighted material may still fall under trademark law, where the rights are assigned to a particular character and not the individual piece of work.

In today’s modern, internet-crazed age, many animators are rightly eager to get their films online for all to see. This is encouraging, yet I wonder how many are familiar with the single most important law regarding the internet and copyright? In the US, it is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (wikipedia link) and it outlines certain conditions regarding the uploading and availability of copyrighted content on the internet.

For instance, it outlines the concept of safe havens for ISPs and website owners in relation to user content and outlines the nature by which content can be considered infringing. Animators should be keenly aware of this, especially if you would like to upload films you produced under contract, studio employment or otherwise “for-hire” work. It should be especially noted that even inclusion in a demo reel is grounds for a takedown notice. A few months back, Berlin-based David OReilly found this out when the U2 video that he made was yanked off You-Tube for copyright violation by Universal Records. This should serve as a stark reminder that although he posted it as a way to inform and display his own talents, the copyright owner thought differently.

If in doubt, get everything in writing and consult with a legal professional before signing any contracts. Read through any contracts and be aware of your obligations before signing, you will not have any excuses later on. If you are considering putting a video online whose copyright or other rights do not belong to you, get clearance first or better yet, negotiate a clause in your contract that allows you to publicize your creations.

If anyone out there has any other advice, please add it to the comments. This is all I could come up with in half an hour.

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Working From Home or In A Studio: Which is Better?

Being in the civil engineering profession, I am blessed/cursed in that I generally must conduct my affairs in the office. Our use of CAD software, large files and the overall collaborative nature of the work often necessitates working closely with co-workers. There is, however, the rare opportunity for working outside the office, such as a visit to a project, or making a delivery/pickup of plans. There is also the rare-as-hens-teeth days when I am able to telecommute.

Now granted, I only live 10 minutes from the office (5 if I hit every traffic light just right and ignore the speed limit on the Beltway) so its not that big of a deal for me to travel to work every day. Last week (and by extension, this week) have been one of those high-pressure, “I need it yesterday” kind of fortnights, and as a result, I had to do some work on Saturday morning.

Through the magic of Netflix Citrix, I was able to do everything from my computer at home. I could have stayed in my pyjamas but I opted for the more mature choice of tracksuit bottoms.

Long story short, the whole experience got me wondering as to which is better: working at home or in an office environment. For studios (and companies in general) there are certainly many advantages to having employees work off-premises. Money can be saved from rent, equipment, electric, heat (if a smaller office is used), coffee, etc. For the employee, there is the option of working in your pyjamas, getting a cup of tea whenever you feel like it, and (if it is available) of working hours that suit them.

Freelancers have known about the many benefits for years now. In fact, a large minority of artists whose blogs I follow tend to be freelancers who work at home, and they all enjoy it!

That is not to say that working from home is for everyone, it does come with its own set of disadvantages after all. For example, in the modern digital age, if your computer decides it just can’t take it any more and gives up when the deadline is tomorrow, you have to be your own IT department or its your neck on the chopping block.

A studio offers the social atmosphere that makes an office and enjoyable place to work. There is the comradery, collaborative element and the ability to collectively inspire each other. At the same time, there is also office politics to consider and if your boss is a bit of an eejit, being as far away from them as possible is preferable. Yes, sadly there are people out there who have absolutely no business being in management and yet they do exist.

At the end of the day, it will come down to personal taste as much as the willingness of the project manager to let you work remotely. For some projects (such as The Secret of Kells) it worked wonders as everyone was talented and experienced enough to simply get on with the job with the direction given from Ireland.

With the increase in internet speeds and the proliferation of cloud computing and so forth, it is more likely that companies (especially smaller outfits) will seek to lower overhead costs by allowing employees to work at home, thus shifting heating, electric and plant costs to them. Ideally, everyone should be given a choice as to which they prefer.

So, the real answer is: neither. Both systems play to equal strengths and weaknesses and both have their champions. Personally, I like the interaction with co-workers. Your mileage may vary.

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Accounting in Hollywood

I read this article on Wikipedia the other day and found it quite amusing. As I’m currently studying for my MBA, I have to take a few accounting classes and suffice to say, the teacher never explained this to us!

I’ve known about not accepting net terms on a Hollywood contract ever since Freakazoid! told me not to way back in the day but the levels that it seems to go to are extreme. It’s safe to say that the major animation studios are involved, they too, after all, play in the same sandbox.

At one end, it is necessary, with so many fingers trying to grab a piece of the pie. At the other end, it is dishonest and misleading. Why distributors feel the need to secure a slice of the gross is beyond me, surely they’d be much happier with a flat fee thereby removing the risk element involved, no? It’s beyond me, but not beyond self-styled Hollywood Economist Edward Epstein. His blog provides a great insight into the financing machine that is the movie industry and is well worth a read.

I’ll elaborate more in a future post.


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Stephen M. Levinson's Blog – Off to Cali!

Frederator Studios Blogs | Stephen M. Levinson’s Blog | Off to Cali!.

There’s the link to the personal story of Steven Levinson and his quest to get admitted to the California Institute of the Arts. The reason I’d encourage you to read it is that Steven originally got rejected from the school, but instead of taking that as an affront to his skills, he sat back and realised that there was more to it than that.

Being the smart lad that he is, he immediately began taking classes to sharpen his skills and further his knowledge before re-applying this year. It’s no surprise that his hard work over the last year has paid off.

Steven is proof that if you have a dream, you can absolutely achieve it, provided you work both hard and smart to achieve it.

I am in no doubt that we will be seeing much fantastic work from Steven in the coming years.

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