Friday, July 31, 2009

The Convention Wraps

The IATSE convention at the World of Disney ended moments ago, five days of reports, politicking, and constitutionalizing. Two IA parties were slated for outdoors until the rain clouds took over and they were moved inside (It wouldn't be seemly to have a thousand-plus delegates electrocuted by lightning bolts and drenched by rain as they sipped their wine and ate their Cuban sandwiches.)

The highlights of the convention: Some stem-winding speeches delivered. Some new amendments added to the IA constitution. And all the IA's incumbent officers returned to office, from President Matthew Loeb to International trustee George Palazzo.

In TAG's small corner of the convention, we hosted a well-attended animation caucus that got positive reviews from participants ...

The caucus turned into an hour tutorial/discussion/question and answer session about the animation biz, where its been and how it's changed over the years. (And oh, how it's changed.):


* American animation (which is what we're concerned about here in the caucus) got its significant commercial start in Los Angeles and New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Disney and Fleischer were the animation biggies when artists started to unionize. Disney pretty much ruled the feature animation roost from the 1930s into the 1990s.

* 1930s-1990s --Animation is a narrow segment of the entertainment industry

(Hand-drawn cell animation -- theatrical features and shorts.)

(In the television age -- network shorts and half-hours; local and national commercials. First limited animation show: Jay Ward's Crusader Rabbit -- 1950 -- produced in the Bay Area.)

* Production centered in Los Angeles and New York. Disney is the big (almost the only) player in theatrical features. New York has a thriving commercials industry (1950s and 1960s). Hanna-Barbera is the biggest television producer.

* 1970s and 1980s: Television animation suffers runaway production. Production work moves offshore to Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. Two TAG strikes over the issue.

* Major changes in the 1990s: Hanna-Barbera fades. In television, network animation shows begin to disappear; giving way to syndicated animated shows ("Disney Afternoon"), then cable-channel animation. Disney dominates hand-drawn features until the mid-1990s, then major competition rears its head with Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Animation. CGI animation predominates.


* 2000s -- Robust Growth. New media. -- Theatrical features (cgi), television hand-drawn animation, commercials, network graphics, direct-to-video features, live-action visual effects, computer and video games.

* Production Centers -- Southern California: east San Fernando Valley; Culver City and Santa Monica (DreamWorks Animation, Disne Animation Studios, Disney Toons, Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues, others.) -- Bay Area: (Pixar, PDI, ILM, others) -- East Coast (Blue Sky Animation in Connecticut, some others) -- Texas: CGI in Austin, Dallas.


* Continued activity -- Theatrical 3-d animation, flash animation, television production, "webisodes" on mobile devices, increased visual effects.

We had a lively back-and-forth on the visual effects industry, about how companies grow and collapse, replaced by newer effects houses. We pointed out how the profit-margins for visual effects are razor thin, how the major studios opened effects divisions (The Secret Lab, Warners Visual Effects, Sony Imageworks, etc.). Only Sony Imageworks still stands, and it's anyone's guess how long it continues as a functioning entity.

Several aspiring cgi artists and animators asked about the best way to break into the industry, we said that there's a lot of different routes in, but working at small shops for experience is one way, just getting your resume and digital demo reel out to a lot of different employers is another. ("You can be turned down one week, then called the next if the company gets a big job and needs to staff in a hurry.")

We gave our standard manta: "To succeed in the business you need Luck, Tenacity and Talent. And if you have a lot of one of those things you need less of the other two."

All in all, it was a fine caucus.


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