Animation Guild Membership Explodes

Two years ago I wrote a post observing a huge milestone: Membership for the Animation Guild hit an all-time high with 2700 active members. They’ve kept track of these numbers for 25 years and this week the guild announced a new record: There are now 3,354 members.

Opponents over the years argued that unions were expensive and with cheap labor in Asia, membership would fall as more and more VFX work at cost sensitive studios like Disney and DreamWorks would be shipped away.

The evidence shows that there isn’t necessarily a zero sum game. Yes a chunk of work gets done in Asia, but a much larger amount of work gets done in the unionized facilities here in Los Angeles. Also, as I pointed out before, Frozen was one of the biggest films of all time made with unionized VFX artists at a major studio with no subsidies. The same could be said for other big hits like How to Train Your Dragon, and the Shrek series. The bottom line is you can have unionized VFX artists without subsidies and studios can make an award winning profitable product.

While the trends have been good for animation, the VFX industry has been decimated by a subsidy race. Why have animation studios like Disney and DreamWorks avoided the subsidy war while VFX vendors have not? I believe the reason why is that animation studios are exposed to the costs of trying to chase subsidies while live-action studios are not. If DreamWorks Animation wanted to open in Vancouver, they would have to front all the costs of opening there which would negate any gain from the subsidies there. For a live action studio like Warner Bros., they aren’t exposed to those costs because the VFX vendors do all the heavy lifting of opening facilities in those locations.

While my membership with the Animation Guild was only 2 years, I gained greatly from their benefits. One of their benefits was the Individual Account Plan. If you are a current or former member give the guild a call and ask how much is in there. As you can see below it was a nice chunk of change that many forget about!

iap iap2

Soldier On.

6 Responses to Animation Guild Membership Explodes

  1. steve hulett says:

    Thanks for the kinds words, soldier. I would say the reason that animation has remained robust in Southern California is, the present set-ups are quite profitable to our fine, entertainment conglomerates, and they tend not to fix what isn’t broken.

    To your points above, both Diz Co. and Pixar opened Canadian studios in the recent past, and all three facilities were closed within a few years. (My guess for the closures: California has highly a skilled animation work force, and Disney decided it was better off using it than maintaining outposts in Canada.)

  2. gj says:

    Individual Account Plan? I haven’t worked for a union studio since 1999. Did they have those then? I could really use some dough…or better yet, a union job.🙂

    • Earl Grey says:

      @gj – I worked at Warner Bros Feature Animation in 2004 under a Local 839 contract. I did not get a chance to work union since then. The IAP was in place then, so it may have been in place in 1999.

      Last year Steve Kaplan pointed out that because I had been on honorary withdrawal for so long, I would be able to rollover my IAP to my IRA at Vanguard. So I did.

  3. Lord Farquaad says:

    ” and the Shrek series.”

    Are you sure that the people who worked on the Shrek movies at PDI were part of a union?

  4. steve hulett says:

    Coupla answers: The Individual Account Plan has been in place since ’79, so yeah, there might be a bit of money in it.

    PDI/DreamWorks, in Redwood City, is outside of the Animation Guild’s regular jurisdiction, which is in L.A. (Not saying we couldn’t organize it if there is sufficient interest, but it’s not part of the family now.)

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