Insight and discussions into Disney's decision to slash animator salaries.
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Forum Insights: Disney Animation Layoffs
Below are insightful posts from Digital Media FX forum posters on the subject of Disney Layoffs. This discussion began after news of Disney slashing animator salaries became public. Some posts have been edited for length or spelling and grammar.

Post by Penanimate on April 2, 2001:
The cuts that come after Eisner's bonus remind me of when the Mouse gave Mike Ovitz his platinum and diamond-encrusted parachute for his 13 months of hard work, at the same time they were offering 2 and 3 percent increases to the front-line folks in the Florida parks. There's a huge disconnect between the front office folks and the rank-and-file, and animation is no exception. Even though the output of Feature drives practically everything else the company does (park attractions, toys, books, stage shows, etc)., there's no understanding of this at the management level.

But Disney is a business, after all, and they know there is a lull in animation right now. I'm sure they feel confident that if the current animator balk at their revised salaries, they'll be able to replace them from the ranks of unemployed professionals in L.A. and the legions of talented wannabes currently parking cars at Epcot...


Post by emeraldas on April 2, 2001:
I hope that Disney will realize soon how valuable the animators are to them. All the merchandise they sell, the theme parks they run - basically everything that makes them money - is possible because of the animators. Without animators to animate the characters in the feature films, there can be no merchandise for the films. Yes, they probably make more money on auxiliary stuff, such as the theme parks and the merchandise and whatever else they do, than they do on the movies themselves, but cutting animator salaries is, to me, a bit like if movie theaters were to stop showing movies because the candy and popcorn is what makes the real money. I realize this is a slightly faulty analogy for several reasons, but I think the logic behind it still holds.

Disney hasn't been making as much money as it used to lately, not because they're paying the animators too much, but because the quality of the films has gone down. I can only hope that Atlantis, Lilo and Stitch, and the other films Disney's planning are better than some of the others they've made lately. And I hope that it makes Disney realize how valuable their animators really are.


Posted by Fried Egg on April 3, 2001:
Doesn't Disney films make tons of money, not only through ticket sales, but through video releases, merchandising, Happy Meals, etc, no matter how 'bad' the movie is? Are they loosing money? Are they cutting back on production? Didn't they promise to release a new animated featured every year? Don't they have 3 television stations (two cable and ABC) that carry Disney cartoons exclusively? Did the stock go down? Aren't they union? Are they going to rely on Pixar to take on the bulk of the animating? Something's not adding up.

Maybe a strike is what the animation industry needs to help turn itself around. The strike in '41 lead way to small animation studios opened by disgruntled animators.


Posted by Penanimate on April 4, 2001:
the strike in the early 80's is what led to most non-theatrical production moving offshore. It's a different ball game these days; you can't compare what went on in the 40's to what's happening today.

Ironically, the 80's strike may have something to do with this fiscal tightening. The Tigger Movie was produced "offshore" for significantly less than Emperor (they came out roughly around the same time). Tigger generated more revenue relative to its cost than Emperor did, and those sorts of things open the money boys' eyes really quick.

Sorry to beat the same drum over and over, but don't forget Disney is a business. If they think there's more profit (despite lower revenues) from offshore production, then that's where they'll head. They don't care one whit about art quality or "legacy". Those are quaint notions ascribed to the "artsy" types. As long as we let them drive our thinking, the business types will always have it over us.


Posted by Fried Egg on April 4, 2001:
The lull in animation employment is not due to the lack of interest or need for animation. There are more programs being produced than ever before, including international productions, multimedia, web, educational, commercial, and so forth. When I was in college in the late ‘70s, I was told by professors that ‘animation was dead’ (how different a ball game can you get?). The strike in '82 was about the subcontracting of television animation to foreign subcontractors, (known as "runaway production", which obviously they lost).

If there was a strike at Disney, I could see more studios being opened and a new era beginning, just as a new era started after the strike in ’41 and the introduction of computer assisted animation. I wasn’t comparing any era with another, just that I think a strike would change animation and for the good. (Hopefully). I would like to see smaller studios (like bitter films) get more recognition, a greater acceptance of independent animators, and Disney lose a hold of the monopoly they hold so tightly in their fist. I agree it all comes down to numbers, and a business is a business, I would like to see it spread around a little more evenly.


Posted by Slim Shinji on April 24, 2001:
The animation division has been on the brink of destruction at least twice before that I can think of....once in the 60's when they were saved by Walt who "felt that he owed it to them", and again in the 80's when Roy stepped in and saved the day. But this time.....what's gonna happen? Will feature animation be dismantled in favor of letting the TV division spew farmed-out productions onto the big screen? Of course The Tigger Movie had a huge profit margin.....they spent crap to make it! But when you spend crap, you get crap.


Posted by D.E.E.P. on April 24, 2001:
Disney is running itself into the ground. If they really wanted to save the company, they'd be spending MORE on the feature animation division.

How can they make any sort of profit when they lay off all of their prominent artists and cut the film budgets down to bits? Don't they know that low quality films like The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis don't make Lion King sort of profits because they suck? And for how long could they strive on second rate DTV sequels? Eventually, their reputation will go down the drain and nobody's going to want to work for them at all. Maybe they should turn to Pixar (a smart company which puts quality first) for advice on how to run a business (and make good films)...


Posted by Mike 2D on April 25, 2001:
I'm sure Disney would be doing a little better if they weren't spending so much on their features. Not that I don't mind the cool effects and newer technical aspects that they've added to boost animation, but that's where a ton of money goes into these features. If they'd just kick back on the budgets and set the concentration on, oh, I don't know...the story...., they would probably turn in much greater profits and still maintain the quality.

...The company needs fewer Tarzans and more Iron Giants. I know that might sound like a bad example, but even though Iron Giant was a disaster at the B.O., any doofus who saw the film, myself included , knows it could have been a huge success if any marketing had been pushed on it at all. And it was cheap. The film was brought in on time and under budget. And what was the core, heart, and soul of that film? THE STORY! The first and foremost important aspect of any film, regardless if it's live action or animation.


Posted by Evil_Phil on April 26, 2001:
I'm sure I'm right in thinking without the animation department there wouldn't be much to the company. Its animation which made Disney what it is today. Surely cutting back on animators and salaries is just going to lower the standards even more.

Why revolve around Winnie the Pooh and the success of the Tigger Movie? No wonder its such a success when its rubbed in everyone's faces from the day they are born... I just wish Disney would give it a break instead of running what were a selection of decent enough characters and stories into the ground.

I can't believe what Disney is doing to themselves. I've got to agree that Pixar should be wary of the way things are going. I think that if they did sever all ties with the company when their contract finishes they will have enough money and talent to succeed on their own.

I thought when DreamWorks entered the picture Disney would start to buck up their ideas, but....no, instead they continue to belt out cheap crappy DTV and TV versions of what is looking to be virtually all their 'Classics'. I think they should think about what they are releasing and when they are doing it. I think it could be a good idea to stop trying to release a feature every year- alternate between computer and 2D. At least that way we may start to see films worth watching, that have a good story and are well animated. Disney shouldn't need to be pushing for an 'classic' every year, they have enough other areas in the company to rely on.


Posted by bighead72 on May 2, 2001
Didn't Disney ramp up it's staff of animators in recent years in order to meet Eisner's plan of two animated features released each year?

If you look at the past two years, there have been four animated movies released...

Tarzan - June 1999
Fantasia/2000 - Jan 2000
The Emperor's New Groove - Dec 2000
Atlantis: The Lost Empire - June 2001

Before June 1999, Disney movies were released once a year all the way back to Oliver and Company in 1988. the only variation was a longer pause between Aladdin in Nov. '92 and Lion King in June '94. Based on the future movie schedule, it appears that Disney is scaling back to only one movie a year (on average) again. Technically, they should be losing almost half of their staff since there is half as much work to do.

Granted this doesn't really explain the pay cuts - but it seems to me that staff cuts make sense if Disney is not wanting to produce more than one feature a year. What would they do with all of the staff? I guess I tend to give Eisner a bit of credit for trying the accelerated schedule - but for whatever reason it didn't work out.

If all of this is true, the quality of the films is NOT going to go down. They would simply be on the same production schedule as many of their previous movies. I think you could make a strong argument that the quality of the films may in fact go up due to more focus on a single movie.


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