Comcast Acquires DreamWorks Animation

May 1, 2016

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Are people still reading this thing? Well, It’s been a year since I’ve posted on this blog and after the end of the ADAPT effort I took a long hiatus. As disappointed as I was, the post-VFX life has been great. New opportunities, I got a home, and even fooled a wonderful woman to spend the rest of her life with me. Maybe I’ll write about it some time if you’re bored.

Anyways, I figured I’d come back if there was something interesting to write about and this week there was some big news:

DreamWorks Animation has been acquired by Comcast.

The Animation Guild’s Steve Hulett and Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi gave their thoughts on the situation.

In my view this is terrible news for DWA as we know it.

Everyone has always known that at some point DreamWorks would have to continue without Katzenberg but who would replace him and garner similar success? This was a CEO who heavily invested his time and belief in DWA products while also being a world player: He commanded the presence of Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Under JK, DreamWorks achieved what every VFX facility would consider the gold standard: A profitable stand-alone studio that owns intellectual property and produces high quality animated films with it’s own digital production unit. However what we’ve witnessed is that isn’t enough for Wall Street’s insatiable appetite for monster profits.

For a short time, it seemed everything was going to be okay with Hasbro potentially buying DWA but instead Comcast, which already has an animation division with Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, has agreed to purchase DWA for $4 billion. This is a huge success for Katzenberg and he deserves it. However for the employees at DWA it’s a vastly different story because Comcast will subscribe to Mellandri’s feature animation production model and not the production model of Katzenberg.

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Wikileaks Creates Searchable Database For Sony Leaks

April 16, 2015

From the press release:

Today, 16 April 2015, WikiLeaks publishes an analysis and search system for The Sony Archives: 30,287 documents from Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) and 173,132 emails, to and from more than 2,200 SPE email addresses. SPE is a US subsidiary of the Japanese multinational technology and media corporation Sony, handling their film and TV production and distribution operations. It is a multi-billion dollar US business running many popular networks, TV shows and film franchises such as Spider-Man, Men in Black and Resident Evil.

In November 2014 the White House alleged that North Korea’s intelligence services had obtained and distributed a version of the archive in revenge for SPE’s pending release of The Interview, a film depicting a future overthrow of the North Korean government and the assassination of its leader, Kim Jong-un. Whilst some stories came out at the time, the original archives, which were not searchable, were removed before the public and journalists were able to do more than scratch the surface.

Now published in a fully searchable format The Sony Archives offer a rare insight into the inner workings of a large, secretive multinational corporation. The work publicly known from Sony is to produce entertainment; however, The Sony Archives show that behind the scenes this is an influential corporation, with ties to the White House (there are almost 100 US government email addresses in the archive), with an ability to impact laws and policies, and with connections to the US military-industrial complex.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange said: “This archive shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation. It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geo-political conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there.”

Soldier On.

Why The VES Should Recognize Scott Ross For VES Fellow

April 14, 2015

The other day I got an email from the VES asking members to suggest nominees for title of VES Fellow:

The Visual Effects Society is asking for your suggestions for nominees for title of VES Fellow, which is a member who has maintained an outstanding reputation and who has made exceptional achievements and sustained contributions to the art, science or business of visual effects, as well as enabling members’ careers and promoting community worldwide for a period of not less than ten (10) years within the last twenty (20) years.

Previous VES Fellows recipients include: Jonathan Erland (2010) Dennis Muren (2010) Doug Trumbull (2010) Ed Catmull (2012) Richard Edlund (2012) Ray Feeney (2012) Carl Rosendahl (2012) Mark Stetson (2012) Bill Taylor (2012) Phil Tippett (2012) Richard Winn Taylor II (2014)

VES Fellows nominations, must include (2) two letters of recommendation for each nominated person. Please have this information available when submitting for this award as it is required.

If you’re surprised to learn that I joined the VES, it was in the hopes of lobbying their members to support ADAPT. Since that effort has ceased I will probably not renew, as the organization is restricted to only doing charitable and educational work.

Before I deleted that VES email I looked at that list of fellows and thought: Why isn’t Scott Ross on that list? He helped build two of the biggest VFX companies as General Manager of ILM and CEO/Founder of Digital Domain. He employed thousands, gave many their start in the industry, and hired many of today’s superstars.

If you’ve been an avid reader of this blog you might be surprised to read that. When I started this blog in 2010 as an anonymous VFX professional, I wrote strongly about my disagreements with Scott and the VFX business. Over the years, we would have a lot of debates back and forth in the comments section of my blog. I would hear about others who had, sometimes illegitimate and sometimes legitimate disagreements and opinions about him.

However, as I got to know Scott personally over the last two years after revealing my identity, I had a chance to see a person who cared incredibly about the VFX industry and the people who work in it. If anyone deserves to be a VES Fellow, it’s Scott.

Here’s why I strongly believe that. We officially met in person over 2 years ago when I wanted to go forward with a legal effort on subsidies and help start the short-lived trade organization ADAPT. It was an immense effort that would require me and someone else to put our necks on the line publicly and do it without compensation.

I wasn’t sure if Scott Ross was up for this immense task. He was relatively better off than most of us in VFX and attained success as a former CEO. Why would he take that risk with me? What I quickly learned is that no matter how deep the disagreements we had in the past, Scott put that aside to stand with all of us in an incredible effort to try to fix a broken industry.

When the big day came to announce our effort and reveal my identity at a demonstration during President Obama’s speech at DreamWorks Animation, Scott joined us and marched with us for hours in the sun. Afterwards I could see that Scott was dehydrated and tired but his spirit was enthusiastic.

As we drove back home and exchanged thoughts about what went down that day, I thought to myself: What former VFX CEO would do what Scott did that day? What VFX person for that matter, would do what Scott did that day for us? It’s sad to realize this but in many cases there were professionals in our industry deeply affected by the issues who wouldn’t even bother to move a mouse to support change, but Scott Ross was willing to move mountains for so many of us.

This is the Scott Ross I came to know and the Scott Ross that should be nominated to become a VES Fellow. If you’re a VES member reading this I kindly ask you to click on the link above and nominate Scott Ross.

Soldier On.

Quebec Government Says Bon Voyage To Film Subsidies

March 23, 2015

I haven’t posted much on this blog but some recent news caught my eye:

Last week’s Godbout Commission report sent shivers up the spines of Quebec’s film and television production industry. The Quebec Taxation Review Committee, chaired by economist Luc Godbout, recommended phasing out the Quebec Production Services Tax Credit beginning in 2020.

If you’re a reader of this blog you shouldn’t be surprised by the news. Last year I posted how the Quebec’s austerity measures led to an immediate 20% cut to their film and games subsidies. At the time the government was paying up to 60% of resident VFX salaries.

This is pretty significant news as there are a number of European VFX facilities that have opened satellites there to stay competitive with subsidies offered in Vancouver. My guess is those facilities will have to open in BC and move their talent there. This is also the first time since my blog started that a major international location is planning a massive cut to their film subsidies. Ontario is also having serious conversations about the costs of these film subsidies.

Here in the US, many states have begun to curtail the use of film subsidies: Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Connecticut, Alaska, and Florida.

If you work in VFX, be always prepared to move to the next place offering the most amount of free money.

Soldier On.

Francis L. Camacho Memorial Fund

February 10, 2015

VFX artist Francis L. Camacho recently passed away in Montreal. His family has created a memorial fund that you can donate to.–X00.facebook

While I didn’t personally know Francis, I was familiar with him in various social media circles as an avid supporter of the blog.

Soldier On.

VFX Artists Pen Piece Claiming Industry Discriminates Against Women

February 4, 2015

TechCrunch posted an article by VFX artists Sonya Teich and Raqi Syed entitled Visual Effects: The Gender Bias Behind The Screen.

The authors present a case that the reason for the low participation rate of women in the visual effects industry and the lack of discussion for this disparity is due to a culture of sexism and gender discrimination within the industry. The evidence presented in the article to support this claim are examples involving the use of “booth babes” by some companies at Siggraph, a porn mailing list at an unlisted company (I assume this is ESC Entertainment which went out of business over 10 years ago but some are saying this is Weta Digital?!), and a jest by a director who started his career as a VFX artist. To resolve the gender disparity, the authors propose the VFX industry begin to report data on female participation rates, change hiring and evaluation practices, and institute a quota system advocated by actress Geena Davis that would add hundreds of women incrementally to close the gender gap over a 4 year period.

Teich and Syed seemingly glanced over an important fact: While the participation rates of females are low in the actual technical creation of visual effects, generally speaking participation rates are quite high in corporate, administrative, financial, and production roles at visual effects companies. Many recruiters and producers are women and intimately involved in the crewing of VFX personal. If the authors’ claim of discrimination are true, why then would a large number of females involved in the crewing process effectively discriminate against other women?

Is there a discriminatory bias in the visual effects industry or is there something more subtle going on?

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The Irony As DreamWorks Closes PDI & Sheds 500 Jobs

January 22, 2015

In the same week that ADAPT announced an end to its legal effort, DreamWorks Animation announced the closure of PDI and the shedding of 500 jobs. Sad news and you could cut the irony with a knife.

ADAPT’s legal effort to mitigate the use of subsidies started at DreamWorks Animation last year when President Obama visited to incorrectly tout job growth in the industry. We hoped to raise attention to a collapsing local VFX industry. Companies were being put out of business by massive price distortion caused by government subsidies and workers were losing their jobs and having to chase work around the world in subsidized locations.

Given the relative stability at DreamWorks as opposed to VFX vendors who don’t own the intellectual property they work on, it was no surprise our plight was ignored by many workers there. We felt what they were missing is that as good as things were at DreamWorks, it was common for places to go through downturns and that there was a need for a healthy mix of VFX vendors like a Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain, or Rhythm & Hues to pick them up. Not anymore, that ecosystem of work was destroyed by subsidies and ADAPT hoped to resolve the issue with a legal effort.

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