Writing these short little pieces, someone has called blogs, is at times a little daunting. I mean, how much is there really to say? And the word blog. What kind of word is this? When I was growing up my brother-in-law, not then but now, used to love the word junk. For some reason it made him laugh and he would smile at me when he said it as if it was some kind of rare pleasure just to utter it. In my case I just feel silly when I say I write a blog. Does this make me a blogger? I'm sure my brother-in-law would smile if he heard me say that..
Anyway, back to blogs and trying to write them on a regular basis. After awhile you kind of run out of steam, unless you're really a windbag, and even then there's a point where you wonder who still cares about your viewpoint? In my case I kind of muse more than write so after a bit I get mused out... Anyone with time on their hands who has read my blogs (there's that word again) will know my feelings about things in general and most likely doesn't need to read another rant against modernity or the phases of moon.....
So there are times when I write nothing and wait for a spark. In the meantime I do actually work for a living - I have clients and do stuff for them and take meetings, create budgets, read and evaluate contracts and scripts and at times even produce animation so the blog thing slips onto the back burner until I have some time and/or a spark ignites and I feel that irrepressible urge to share something with all of you blog readers.
That spark finally came last week as I was talking with a friend. They were telling me about a project they were working on where a major media company was allowing an offshore studio to produce a DVD featuring one of the company's branded intellectual properties. I would like to blurt out all the details but I was sworn to secrecy so I'm trying to be careful not to give too much away in the telling of this tale... Anyway to continue my narrative, my friend has been working with the offshore studio and has been acting as the point person here in Los Angeles. My friend was brought in after the original contact had been drawn with the deal outlined to establish that the offshore studio would put up the funds for the production and in turn receive distribution rights for specified territories. The company would retain ownership and all other rights not specially granted to the offshore studio. To simplify this, say you have an animation studio in Transylvania and you go to Dizzy Brothers Animation and tell them you want to make a DVD staring their Mickey Pig character and you will pay for everything and they can oversee and set standards for the quality of the animation and they will have full ownership and control of the property everywhere but in Transylvania where you will have distribution rights. And that's sort of how the deal was put together.
So my friend was brought in by the offshore studio to meet with the company's licensing division. This turned into a number of meetings about the character and how it would be transformed into CGI from 2-D and after a bit of time it was agreed that the offshore company would go ahead and start modeling the character.
My friend spent a lot of time talking to the company's licensing people and translating their notes into drawings and interfacing with the offshore studio. The weeks passed and after a number of adjustments (to a very simple character) the licensing folks finally thought it was time to present the model to the company's animation people.
The next meeting takes place and everyone was very friendly and said the model that the licensing people had tentatively approved wasn't bad, but they had a few small notes....
Well anyone that had been in a similar position knows exactly what that means. You've just dropped the soap in the shower. Ouch! Having been dammed by faint praise you are now about to be asked to make a number of changes that amount to a lot of busy work so the person requesting them can prove how important it was to have someone (like him or her) doing what they do. In other words what good is a critic if he or she doesn't criticize?
So, my friend makes the changes and then waits to hear back. And waits, and waits some more. The animation people seem to be moving as though they were wading through a tub (another great word) of Jell-O. It begins to appear as if they are not in any hurry and then finally they call and set up another meeting and guess what, more minute, teeny tiny, little piss ant changes....
Well, my friend who is a lot more even tempered than I (but then again who isn't?) understands that this is a well known and highly branded character so decides to make the changes with a smile as opposed to a grimace. After sending the character to the animation department there is another wait.. My friend begins to suspect that what was anticipated as being a two to three week task may not be completed before the year is out. Then just as dawn is about to break, word comes that the model is nearly there. But they add that after everyone signs off it must then be sent upstairs to the executives who also will have a say and must also sign off. My friend learns to grimace.
End of this story, at least for now, but it helps illustrate something else that I think is interesting and that is the bigger the company the more prone they are to waste. The little project that I mention above could and should have been done in less than a month with plenty of wasted time included. Converting a rather simple 2-D character model into a CG Image should not take forever nor should it take so many people to sign off... Some things are just not that complicated unless everyone is unwilling to take the responsibility of making a decision....
So what is all this meandering about really? Well it just struck me that the reason large companies spend so much making their animation is that no one involved in the actual work actually writes the check. Yes, they do have budgets but that's not the same. They are not expected, nor are they normally rewarded if they come in under the budget. It's far safer career wise not to change the status quo. Bad things can happen when your head pops up above the crowd, better to run everything through a committee or group and then pass it on up for additional insurance. It's how everyone learns (if they are to survive) to play the game in a corporate environment.
Hearing my friend's story made me think of what Bill Hanna or Joe Barbera would have done in the same situation. They would have called Iwo Takamoto and in two or three days (not months) the model would be finished. I believe the same could be said for Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott or David DePatie and Friz Freleng. Or for that matter Walt Disney.
The difference lies in motivation. When it's your money, not some faceless corporation's, you don't allow ten people ten weeks to make a decision that the right person could make in ten minutes. You don't bring on a staff of sixty people to do the work of a dozen. By God it's your money, so why would you throw it around like it came out of someone else's pocket?
It's not the corporation's fault, it's just the way they are wired - like the Scorpion and the Frog fable, they just can't help it, it's their nature. And the great irony is that those on the outside that can still produce good work in a cost effective manner are extremely limited in where they may sell or exhibit their work. And if they are fortunate enough to have some success, they will most probably be bought by a corporation soon thereafter. Then the cycle begins anew.
And so, yes this blog had turned into another one of my grumbles and mild rants against the establishment, so I suppose I must enjoy shaking my fist up at the sky and spitting into the wind. Poor me. Forget David and Goliath, this is the 1927 Yankees against the Bad News Bears. Joe Lewis against Steve Urklel. Custer against Sitting Bull.
But I do like a good scrap and once in awhile I even get a punch in here and there. Times have changed and I can't turn back the clock but I really miss all the small studios that were owned and run by people who actually made the films, not by some conglomerate with eighty other divisions and pursuits. I liked being able to call the guys that ran the company and talk to them. You got an answer right away, even if it's to tell you to get lost. Try calling the guy that heads any network animation studios today. Fat chance. Like my friend, try getting a decision in a reasonable time frame from anyone
So at the end of the day nothing is changed. My friend will sit and wait for a lot of people, many of whom are administrative staff not artists, to present silly notes and set up more meetings. My friend will accept the inevitable and having a temperate nature will get through this without having a meltdown.
On the other hand his story got me motivated enough to write another blog and so I suppose some good can come from a bad situation. Not that this is really a good blog but I had to write about something didn't I?
I promise to find something of real interest to write about next time... unless something pisses me off again and I have no choice... Stay tuned.