The other day I get a concerned email from a reader:
I just found out my friend got laid off from Dreamworks animation. Also saw a message board that mentioned that this was happening since last weekend. Is this a result of doing them doing more work in India, or not having the Box office performance they want?
It’s a common thing I hear when someone gets laid off: “My job got outsourced to India!” If you work in the VFX industry there is a good chance that you know someone that works at DreamWorks Animation and you probably heard that there were some layoffs mostly because of The Croods being pushed. That led to a gap in production and now layoffs. Furthermore, DW is a standalone public company that is dependent on not just good movies, but mega blockbuster expectations by wall street analysts.
I passionately argue the reason why we need a union and why so many others in the film industry are unionized is this: Work is project based and you need some sort of mechanism that provides you with portable benefits. DreamWorkers, Disney workers, and others have that mechanism: The Animation Guild. Even though DreamWorks is making healthy profits, if you don’t have a project to go on to, you might get laid off. While that sucks, at least the union benefits can dampen the blow by providing continuing health coverage for their families for up to 18 months.
However let’s also address India. Dreamworks and Technicolor have a partnership where some work is being done at Technicolor India. In fact 2 sequences for Puss N Boots were supposed to be done in India. Well it turns out that much of that work had to come back to Glendale because they were unable to finish it.
This is nothing new. I’ve posted on the problems with VFX work going to India and just this week an Indian news site reported on the issue. You should read every word of this article called “Does Indian Animation Need A Monkey Wrench?“:
To read media reporting on the Indian animation industry is to be buoyed with a sense of rainbow-hued goodtidings, much like the sunny commentary surrounding the country’s GDP. It is reported, for example, that by 2012, the industry is headed for a turnover of $1 billion, comprising a 1 percent share in the global animation industry. Much of it to give way to a home-grown army of animators exercising their (now) matured talent on Indian characters, telling Indian stories to Indian children in an Indian way. The trouble with that narrative is that it’s a decade old and hasn’t come true. Animation is an intense mix of high creativity and hard labour.
RAM MOHAN, chairman of Graphite Multimedia and an industry veteran of 54 years, says, “Even in the outsourcing market, we are nowhere close to the competition. Korea and Singapore produce 10-15 seconds of work per day per artist. China produces 13 seconds. The average Indian animator’s output on a high quality work is 0.5 seconds per day.”
This ineptitude is in large part due to training. Says Mohan, “It’s a mercenary approach. Take money and hand out a certificate. Often the guy who’s passed out the year before is your teacher this year. Young people are misguided by the hype surrounding animation. They have been given the impression that all you need is a 6-8 month course in software.”
Again, this is just another piece of information that leads me to believe why VFX artists shouldn’t be concerned about outsourcing to India. They should be concerned about illegal subsidies.