Dude, Relax. It’s Not `All Going To India`

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.

Soldier On.

15 Responses to Dude, Relax. It’s Not `All Going To India`

  1. DwaX says:

    The company policy this year at dwa is “go green”, it means cut the fat, trim the edges and say goodbye to your bonus that everyone received because you will either be asked to take a three to four month vacation or simply be laid off after Puss in Boots wraps. Those that continue will be under even more pressure to deliver on more aggressive deadlines and they will be asked to do so with limited resources and a pipeline that is literally lagging due to so much data being pushed to all the render farm servers.

    It’s getting worse if you ask anyone who works there, and the supervisors are simply production tools, they have no say who stays or goes the best they can do is make suggestions and pray they get the talent that can deliver shots on time.

  2. Marcus says:

    Wait, 10-15 seconds of output per day?

    • vfxguy says:

      There is no way those numbers can be accurate. If they were, everyone’s animation teams would be exclusively Korean.

  3. Vfx Jockstrap says:

    The situation at DWA has nothing to do with India.

    Crood’s pushed back a year in schedule which means there’s a few departments which are overstaffed.

    Its a matter of unfortunate timing. People who have their contracts up for renewal during this period or folks who decided going staff [aka. At Will] was safer then a multi-year contract are at risk of not getting picked up for the next films.

    It sucks for people who are off contract but that’s what you got to plan ahead for.. assume nothing when your contract wraps up.

    As for the “staff” folks, one thing SPI taught me it was always better to be contract than staff…

  4. vfxguy says:

    I assume you linked to the Bal Ganesh video so that we’re supposed to point and laugh, and say, “look at the crappy work those Indians are turning out! How silly of them for thinking they could do as well as Americans!”

    Otherwise, why didn’t you link to the other film that’s mentioned in the article, Delhi Safari, which was made for USD6million (that’s just 20% of the budget of Hoodwinked 2)?:

    All that aside, I was struck by the following paragraph. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

    “The training racket churns out an average of above 10,000 animators each year. On an average, the institutes charge up to Rs 3 lakh. In a market environment, where the lowest bids that get an outsourcing project are getting lower still, salaries have fallen (the starting salary of an animator today is around Rs 7,000 as opposed to Rs 11,000 in the early 2000s). Meanwhile, the mid-level animators are losing their jobs to newly minted ones because they will work for less. The result is a stasis four to five years after committing to the profession, living on contracts with no guarantee that others will follow.”

    • manama says:

      Great point vfxguy. It doesn’t matter where the work is, it’s just a continued race to the bottom.

      One quote from the article above stuck in my mind

      “They have been given the impression that all you need is a 6-8 month course in software.””

      Well that seems to be even the case here in North Amercia. I’ve met far too many people on the job here who have done 1-year ‘vfx/animation’ courses and all they’ve learned is how to push buttons and ‘use’ software. Some of these people come from reputable colleges too, I’m based in Vancouver BTW.

      They start in the biz with $50k worth of debt so they are desperate to work for any amount of money. The big vfx firms work with the colleges and formulate courses that fit the firms basic software/pipeline needs, but no real creativity is at work here. Some bright stars shine(but would probably have done so with the course) but most are lacking in basic understanding of composition, color and design, plus their relative thinking only stretches back to the last decade of blockbuster movies. (sorry for the rant, it’s a major pet hate of mine)

      In my formative years there was no expectation on the junior to know anything about anything, (I knew f’all when I started) all the training was on the job, what happened to being grandfathered in?

      • Ron Muren says:

        Well there is no more grandfathering into the system. All the seniors that made decent wages have left the industry or got frustrated with the way things have changed so rapidly.

        The economics have lead juniors to become seniors after only working less than 2 years on the job. It’s sad. I was at one company where this was the case that and a revolving door situation had occur.

        People would join the company then start dropping like flies due to the incredible long hours, egos from other young people, and high expectations on work to get done.

        Mind you a lot of the young people didn’t know better either. Some of the young superstars got super cocky and would suck up to seniors who were only 2 years into the business too.

        Sad. But this is case in many places where the industry has become a commodity, rather than a unique trade. It is now a young person industry and VFX are is no longer appreciated at all in films. When a person hits 30 in the industry, they are considered a senior citizen, when actuality they are just getting their feet wet in a business that requires years of on the job training.

  5. Animammal says:

    Dude, you sure about that? Paramount is opening a new Animation studio, think it will be located in LA? HA! Yeah right!!! I’m sure there are companies in Canada, London and India just throwing themselves at the heels of Viacom kissing their slave labor boot.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/entertainmentnewsbuzz/2011/07/paramount-new-animation-division-spells-likely-end-for-dreamworks-deal.html

  6. Fred says:

    India and outsourcing will most certainly succeed. Although the artists are infants relative to the US and European trained staff, they will get up to speed with the money influx coming from corporations in the U.S.. Anyone making the argument that it won’t go there, is really fooling themselves. Get up in front of the pipeline (planning and development), because the rest of it is going overseas in due time. It’s about the bottom line… I personally am treading water in L.A. to make ends meet, and I’m bailing into another industry as fast as I can. The animation industry in the U.S. has become a real joke, from an employment stand point. And I have actually been luckier than most. I almost laugh at some of the interviews I go on these days. The short term nature of the projects are laughable. Really, “what an f’n joke”.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Could you give some facts to back up your opinion? Could you site sources? The major Vfx studios in la have been doing work for over a decade in india yet the vast majority of it stays here.

  7. […] I’ve regularly posted about scams and most recently posted various opinions by those working in the Indian VFX industry here and here. I also posted reaction to articles on how Indian VFX is actually being outsourced to the US and other higher priced countries and the demise of the Indian Animation industry. […]

  8. […] wrote another post linking to an Indian article about the demise of it’s animation industry. The hope was that a new film called Delhi Safari would turn things around. It was supposed to be […]

  9. […] “it’s all going to India.” Just last year I pointed to another article: “Does Indian Animation Need A Monkey Wrench?” The article pinned the hopes of the Indian animation industry on “Delhi Safari” […]

  10. […] July of 2011 I posted about an article alluding to a crisis in India’s animation industry. The piece was unapologetically honest about the shortcomings of work being done in India and […]

  11. mahesh says:

    The movie Bal ganesh you posted above was done by around 15 to 20 freshers in an apartment with a budget that is less then a pocket money of an average college going kid in US…
    Plz also show good works done in India like Planes and Tinker Bell movies for Disney entirely done in India to name a few…

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