Yesterday, word is trickling out of Rhythm & Hues, India, alleging that they’ve laid off all but two animators currently working on Prana animation projects from their studio in Mumbai, and most of their animators in Hyderabad. Bouncers are said to have been brought in to handle any potential trouble during the actions at both studios, despite assurances that the Hyderabad studio would remain in operation. Only 35 people remain employed in the Mumbai facility in all, with the entire HR and recruiting department there having resigned en masse. In Hyderabad, management and production staff were laid off in addition to the animators, but no exact figures were available at press time.
Rhythm & Hues was one of the pioneers of sending work to India when in 2001 it opened one of the first VFX facilities in Mumbai. Could you imagine anyone 15 years ago predicting this? Massive layoffs in low-cost labor locations like India, while hiring in expensive locations like Vancouver. All this, even with the Indian labor was much cheaper than the subsidies.
Most who have lost their jobs in CA will admit it wasn’t India they lost their jobs to, they lost their job to a location offering massive government subsidies like BC or the UK. Surprisingly, while VFX in California is hemorrhaging, Animation is thriving, especially at unionized facilities.
The latest Animation Guild membership numbers have exceeded last years all-time high with VFX artists at Nickelodeon Animation voting to join. This despite the fact there were massive layoffs at DreamWorks Animation earlier this year. Most of those union members let go are working at unionized Walt Disney Animation which has been doing some massive hiring. Morale at Disney is incredibly high with many projects (and parties!) in the pipe. Things are looking up at Dreamworks Animation too. It’s stock is trading at an all-time high and while it took a hit earlier this year, it’s television deal with NetFlix is going to lead to a higher amount of employment according to Steve Hulett.
Ain’t that something? All this is happening while all 3 unionized companies do some work in India. You see, the mistake many doomsdayers made was that work between India and CA was a zero sum game: eventually all the work would go to India as CA artists cost more.
I’ve wrote for a long time that much has been overstated about India. The work didn’t all go to Imageworks India. It didn’t all go to DD owner Reliance India. It didn’t all go to Rhythm India. And here I am, waiting for India. How different would things have been if CA VFX artists recognized my call years ago that the biggest threat to them wasn’t India, it was the subsidies.