Nervous animators still are waiting to hear whether they’ll be among the 250 or so DreamWorks Animation staffers to be pink-slipped at the company’s Glendale campus. Studio officials say it’s their intent to have “all employees informed of their individual statuses within a few weeks.”
The layoffs were announced January 22; the next day, Steve Hulett, the longtime business rep of the Animation Guild, headed over to gauge the mood of the workers there. “There were groups of subdued artists talking quietly,” Hulett wrote on his blog. “Most everyone I encountered was waiting to hear whether they would be kept on. Demeanors were subdued, but attitudes were remarkably good. Maybe it’s simply stressed people showing a stiff upper lip, but I was impressed.”
The studio, he wrote, “started talking to individuals who were getting laid off a week and a half ago – at least, that’s when the Guild started hearing about it. … Management has told me they’d started interviews with employees the past week, and that those interviews will go through the middle of next week, at which time all employees should know if they’re leaving or staying.”
As part of its restructuring, the studio announced that it would also be shutting down PDI/DreamWorks, its computer animation production company in Redwood City, California. Half of PDI’s 450 workers will lose their jobs; the others will be offered positions at the DWA campus in Glendale. Hulett couldn’t say much about the future of those animators, as they’re not covered by the Guild’s contract.
Animation historically has been a boom-or-bust business, and Hulett’s seen a lot of it firsthand. “I’ve been through a lot of hiring sprees and mass layoffs in the time I’ve been associated with the animation business, and the hiring sprees are one hell of a lot nicer,” he said. “My father survived a big layoff at Disney in the late 1950s; my wife survived two in the early 2000s but not a third. I was tossed out on the street in front of Filmation in 1989 along with 150 other artists, writers and executives because the new owner closed the company’s doors the day after purchase was finalized. The animation business is a roller coaster and always has been. Market forces push it up, then pull it down. In recent times, tax subsidies foreign and domestic have distorted it into ugly shapes. Still in all, making cartoon entertainment is an exhilarating business. I just wish it wasn’t so damn heartbreaking at the same time.”
Tom Sito, the guild’s president emeritus, sees it the same way. “With the layoffs at Sony and DreamWorks,” he blogged, “some animators fear this is ‘the End of All Things.’ But layoffs are just another part of being in animation. I was laid off many times. When I first arrived in LA, the biggest, stablest studios were Hanna & Barbera, DePatie Freleng, Filmation and Filmfair. Today all of them are footnotes in film-history books. And we are still here. And animation went on. After the failed strike of 1982, so much work left town, a recession, Disney’s Black Cauldron in trouble. Everyone thought that was the end. And we are all still here. And animation went on.”
The lesson, he said, is “Don’t put all your hopes in any one studio, but always in your own talent, and in your fellow artists. They will always be there for you when all the promises fail and all the fancy talk doesn’t pan out. Your best job security is in your fingers, and in the respect of your peers. They’ll never let you down.”