Sunday, August 19, 2012


Several recent events have reminded me of the risks involved in animation.

Brenda Chapman's dismissal as director of Pixar's Brave is old news, but she recently spoke out  about being fired.

Henry Selick's untitled film with Disney was cancelled, forcing the layoff of over a hundred artists at the Cinderbiter studio in the San Francisco area.

Finally, and this won't be as well known, the CEO of the Go Go Gorillas operation, Christopher Turner, is under investigation for fraud.  Further details here.  I've written about John Celestri in the past.  John's a friend and former co-worker who was looking for an alternate financial model for animation and connected with Christopher Turner.  The company was attempting to use a restaurant/arcade to fund animation.  That's the reverse of the typical approach where popular cartoon characters are used to brand other enterprises like theme parks.  In any case, it is doubtful that the company will be able to move forward or survive with this shadow hanging over it.

The important thing to realize is that risk is unavoidable and the above events are not the result of malice.  While the people who have been affected by this will suffer, there was no intent for that to be the case.  Pixar would have been better off not hiring Chapman rather than deal with the public relations problems of taking her off the film.  Disney expected to release Selick's film or it wouldn't have bothered to invest in it to begin with.  Time will tell if Christopher Turner was a businessman who got in over his head or whether he deliberately planned to defraud, but there are much quieter ways to steal money.  Ask Bernie Madoff.

There's no shortage of studios that have lost projects in mid-production or been forced into bankruptcy by creditors.  The artists at those studios have fallen victim to forces beyond their control.  If Chapman and Selick, who were working for the largest animation company in the world, couldn't avoid risk, no one can.

That's the moral.  No matter how solid things look, they never really are.  It pays to plan for losing your job.  Can you survive financially if you're laid off?  Are you in touch with enough people in the industry to find your next job?  Are your skills up to date so that you can easily fit into another production?  If the answer to any of the above questions is "no," then you're more vulnerable to risk than you should be.

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