Animation work in Southern California is booming, hitting an all-time high last year and showing no signs of slowing down. Jobs data collected by the Animation Guild shows that more than 3,350 people were working in its jurisdiction last year, more than ever before. “We’re in an upward jobs spiral,” said Steve Hulett, business rep of IATSE Animation Guild Local 839. “As more animation product is created that makes money and profits, more producers want to get into the act, and producers already in are increasing the amount of work they’re doing, so you have more work created and more employment.” Steve Kaplan, the guild’s organizer, said about half the work was on animated features, which saw their biggest box office ever in 2013, with four of them — Frozen, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University and The Croods — combined to pull in about $3.5 billion worldwide.
Jobs in TV animation are also on the rise. “The work has really increased on the television side,” Hulett said. “There’s more storyboard work and design work, and it’s all driven by animation’s profitability. Animated television shows have been a great cash cow and profit stream for the conglomerates. They can make them for at a competitive price, and they have a long shelf life.” New media is also creating jobs for animation workers, he said, noting that DreamWorks is producing Internet content for Netflix. Hulett noted that the good times in animation are creating many good-paying jobs for other workers in the industry as well, including voice-over actors, editors, and sound technicians. “The growth here,” Hulett said, “is coming from all the preproduction work – the storyboards, layout, animation scripts, character design and key backgrounds.”
Many TV animation production jobs, however, are still being shipped overseas where labor costs are much cheaper – a trend that began in the 1970s. Those foreign workers do much of the heavy lifting in TV animation – the frame-by-frame animating and all the “in-between” work that moves the characters from one frame to another. “That work is still being sent out to the Philippines, China, South Korea and Japan,” Hulett said, “and to Canada.” Tax incentives in Canada have lured many animated TV shows – and jobs – north of the border, where “Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill for these American mega-corporations,” Kaplan said. Other low-budget animated TV shows are running off to Georgia to take advantage of tax incentives and a non-union workforce. Even so, most of the work – and the talent – has remained in Los Angeles. “We have jurisdiction in Southern California,” he said, “and happily for us, that’s where 75 to 80% of the work is that’s done domestically, and there’s a large pool of talent here to do it.”