edcatmull-noapologies edcatmull-noapologies
Artist RightsBusinessPixar

Ed Catmull on Wage-Fixing: “I Don’t Apologize for This”

The wage-theft scheme run by big animation studios is finally receiving some mainstream media attention after a significant piece was published today by Bloomberg News.

The most damning revelation in the Bloomberg piece again centers around Pixar and Disney Animation president Ed Catmull who has emerged as a central figure in the scandal and has allegedly been fixing wages in the animation and visual effects industry since the mid-1980s. Bloomberg has uncovered a previously-unpublished quote from Catmull’s January 2013 deposition.

No Apologies from Catmull

During the deposition, Catmull was asked about a 2007 email he had sent former Disney chairman Dick Cook in which he criticized Robert Zemeckis’s ImageMovers for paying its employees too generously.

In that email, Catmull told Cook that they’d “avoided wars up in Norther[n] California because all of the companies up here—Pixar, ILM, Dreamworks, and couple of smaller places—have conscientiously avoided raiding each other.” He also acknowledged a secret deal between Pixar and Disney that ensured the employees of the two studios “cannot be considered to move back and forth.”

wired-catmull-lasseter-cover-mainSee Also: Amid Wage Theft Scandal, ‘Wired’ Calls Ed Catmull A ‘Big Hero

When Catmull was confronted by lawyers at the deposition about these activities, which suggest both illegal corporate behavior and possible violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, he responded incredulously:

Like somehow we’re hurting some employees? We’re not. While I have responsibility for the payroll, I have responsibility for the long term also. I don’t apologize for this. This was bad stuff.

3 Lawsuits Against Animation Studios

Apologies from Catmull or not, the lawsuits against animation studios are piling up, with three already filed in hopes of a class-action settlement. These cases are inspired by the original High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation that involved companies like Apple, Google, Adobe and Intel.

While that earlier case still hasn’t been settled, it ruled in favor of the employees. “Once there’s a visible test case, you look around to see where else it’s happening, and the next cases are easier to put together,” law professor Orly Lobel told Bloomberg.

Studios Want Cases Dismissed

Lawyers for the animation studios being sued, including Pixar, Lucasfilm, Disney and DreamWorks, deny any wrongdoing, and claim that the new lawsuits are “belated attempts to spin off fresh litigation from a Department of Justice investigation that began more than five yaers ago,” and that it’s “now well over.”

At a November 5th hearing, studios asked the district court judge overseeing the litigation, Lucy H. Koh in San Jose, California, to dismiss the cases because animation artists waited too long to sue.

This Bloomberg chart gives a sense of the widespread wage-fixing in the animation and tech industries.
This Bloomberg chart gives a sense of the widespread wage-fixing in the animation and tech industries.

[h/t Sotiris]

  • Chicken McPhee

    The Godfather of the current Animation Industry has SPOKEN!
    Easy for this schmuck to say he doesn’t apologize for wage fixing, bet his income is way above his actual usefulness. How much does this guy rake in?
    Forget the poor SOBs at their fancypants studio trying to make ends meet, who are they? Good work rewarded? Nah, I don’t think so.
    What a crook.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Ed was the bag-man for Steve Jobs. That was the way Jobs did business.

  • Can my dreams get any more crushed?

  • Young

    Im so glad Ed Catmull is brave enough to decide what artists should be paid. If we didnt have people like him artists might be asking for “god knows what” wages. We wouldnt want a community deciding its worth. We need a rich white guy to do it for us.

  • Ted

    Sad to hear, but the same sort of thing is happening here in Vancouver too. One of the owners of a large 2D studio approached the producer at a new studio, after hearing about the higher wages being offered by the new studio. The owner, who is known for low-balling bids to get productions and then cutting wages on artists said, “You’re upsetting the ecosystem in Vancouver”. Disgusting.

    Time for the artists to realize that most executives don’t have their best interests at heart, and we’re completely disposable after a contract is up.

    • Frustrated

      I also work in the animation industry in Vancouver. I find it so frustrating that the studios under pay their employees. Ive been working in the same field for about 5 years and I still dont have a saving account because I cannot afford this stupid city.

      • Ross

        LEAVE THEN!!!! >:I Simple!!!

        • Picklefarts

          To where? America’s not better off and I don’t think anywhere else is better off either… T:

        • djm

          how can he with no savings?

  • Anonymous

    Ed sounds psychotic.

  • Googamp32

    Oh, GOD! This is STILL a thing? Well, hopefully these matters will be dealt with quickly so we can get back to matters that are actually important, like how trying to make CGI look like traditional animation is bad for both mediums.

    • Why do you say that? CGI’s voice has always been the bridge between live action and 2D animation. The only way to go further with 3D is just improving the technology to imitate real life even more. I don’t get why people are still surprised when they see hair texture improve movie after movie like it’s not to be expected; so Im glad studios are being creative and experimental with 3D, and there’s a lot to learn from traditional animation. There’s so much you can do with animation that it’s nice to ground ourselves to some realism, but too much of it sucks all the imagination out.

      • Googamp32

        It’s not that I think that animation should be too realistic. It’s just that stuff like the upcoming Peanuts movie and the shorts Disney made with the Meander software are bad, and we should focus on trying to work on making traditional animation more prominent and improve on CGI without combining the two to make hideous animated projects.

        • Tom

          Traditional, hand drawn animation is dead. I don’t think it’s ever going to come back in a big way. I’m sorry, but at this point it’s time to put down the drum and pick up a CG shovel.

          • Ryoku240

            Traditional animation is still alive and well in Japan.

      • GW

        I have to say that you’re wrong. Imitating live action is not the only way to go further with 3D animation. It’s the only direction that general audiences are likely to accept en masse but there’s other options. There’s plenty of ways to be non-realistic. One is to experiment wildly with forms that while fully realistically detailed, don’t conform to any set of physical rules. An example of that would be to experiment with 3D fractals.

        Another is to invent a world with its own physics. You can screw around with motion arcs and light. The rules you make up can be realistic in their own way or completely arbitrary and fantastic. You can have motion arcs that look like three quarters cut off an oval where you have to go a little bit backwards before you go forwards and where you overshoot the ending and fall a little bit backwards. Or you can have the arcs be a different sort of arc that doesn’t overshoot. For light, you can make certain colors visible only from a certain range from an object. I mentioned that one on Anipages already.

        And even if everything looks realistic in terms of the detail that doesn’t mean it has to behave realistically. There’s no reason you can’t change everything from eye color to hair and skin color. You can change the shape of somebody’s head or body, enlarge and shrink objects, and speed up and slow down time unevenly.

        This is my case for alternative directions of 3D computer animation. I hope this doesn’t stray too far off topic.

    • talos72

      I assume you are being facetious, because making CGI look like traditional animation is really at the bottom of the list of priorities for artists who are trying to make an actual living under the studio system.

      • Googamp32

        Nope! Dead serious.

  • Ed is trying to help the industry for as long as it’s in his favor, that is why he is an a-hole. He’s not doing it for the love of the industry or for the “long term” betterment of the artists. This pity party of trying to keep the industry above water he keeps throwing around has always been about his pockets and status, and the others who benefit (immensely) as well. That is not how the free market works, hence why it is illegal. The same rich people who want government to stay out of free market are themselves intervening and stunting its evolution to keep it in their favor.

    I fear that Bloomberg will probably be the most “mainstream” this news might get, because those companies own so many entities; magazines, tv networks, radio, etc. and they will bury this news just like they’re trying to bury the employees who have enough balls to fight back. I mean this has been out in the animation industry for months, but you still hear artists recommending Ed Catmull’s book, or students wishing to work at Disney/Pixar, or people going out and supporting their movies (which I understand is tough, since it does support the artists, but it also supports guys like Ed ten-fold.)

    • Ryoku240

      Well put response, there are a few points that I’d like to address though:

      “because those companies own so many entities; magazines, tv networks, radio, etc.”

      When you got Disney buying up Star Wars, Marvel, Nascar, at what point are they a monopoly?

      Also, I never understood why people feel that watching a film is going to really “support” an animation studio. With a little one it’ll do wonders, a big one, especially PixarDisney? They don’t give a hoot, you’re one in a billion!

  • Tom

    Well, screw him. Let’s hope the little prick goes to jail.

    • Bob

      I doubt he will… he’ll pay a big fine or pay someone off. Outside of animation this type of thing has happened every few years with hardly any consequences dished out because American justice is all about money.

  • Jaded Animator

    I wonder if Europe is any better, for animators. Or should we all just become freelancers and negotiate our contracts for ourselves, like other creatives in different industries? I am about to graduate from college in animation, and the companies I once looked up to are starting to look like a nightmare. I want to able to afford a comfortable life. Probably need to change majors.

    • Joris

      Europe has it’s own set of problems. As there’s not enough long-term work at most of the European studios, a lot of animators are freelancers here, hopping from studio to studio all the time, quite often throughout different countries. But budgets (and profits) are usually quite low, which means there’s not a lot to negotiate about…
      Edit: not to say that you can’t make a reasonably comfortable living out of it.. although I don’t think that’s really the issue with the whole wage scandal in the first place…

      • starc

        You just described being a CG artist in NY :P

  • otterhead

    Every large design/ad agency I’ve worked for or with has the same sort of handshake agreements with their competitors. They agree not to poach each others’ employees, and they keep an eye on who’s paying what so that they can both keep competitive and stay on the same sort of level.

  • talos72

    So, let me get this: according to the studios’ logic taking part in and watching artists get screwed out of their wages, the said artists should have sued earlier but now it’s too late because the studios got caught after so long. Frankly, as an artist who has worked in various studios I can care less if Catmull apologizes, but I do care that right is done by the artists by the courts making an example of the studios and never allowing them to pull this nonsense again. Maybe wishful thinking!

  • brownbox

    I can’t help but wonder if the irony is lost on him that he’s basically painting himself to be Mr. Waternoose from Monsters Inc. A proud and ambitious business man willing to do anything to keep his company and employees in business, even if it meant carrying out highly immoral secretive activities for his “greater good”.
    Makes me wonder as he gets dragged off to jail will we hear him cry: “I hope you’re happy, Sullivan, you’ve destroyed this company; Pixar Animation Studio is dead! Where will everyone get their affordable high quality animated films now? Animation will only get worse because of you!!”

    • Harrison

      That’s almost scary of how accurate your observation is.

      • Miles

        What’s almost scary is that most White Collar crime doesn’t result in any charges or jailtime.

    • Tre

      “I’ll dock thousands of animators wages before I let this company die!”

    • Jeffrey

      Good point! Maybe the story team was being subversive and calling out for help. Catmul needs to recognize that what he did was collusion and ‘un-capitalistic’. If you really believe in free markets, then you also believe that competition is good for business. He also has to acknowledge that things may have actually been better for the industry if (they) hadn’t violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Put the huge settlement in our Pension Plan.

  • Joe Alter

    “The truth?!! You can’t handle the truth!” – Ed Catmul? ;-)

    Not to pile on or anything, but the quote kinda has that same feel of someone who’s crossed the line so far he can’t remember where it is.

  • Hey Now

    “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

  • Toonio

    Now more than ever I can say I’m a decent person that lives comfortably without taking anything from anybody like many honest people in the animation industry.

    I might not be perfect and i don’t have to be loved and praised by everybody, but at least am not an ex-con like Martha Stewart, not a murderer like OJ Simpson, not a douche as John Lasseter and not an ass like Ed Catmull.

    Remember this article the next time you go to a Di$ney movie. Your money goes to the pockets of an amoral pseudo human being.

  • James VanDam

    so why isn’t he arrested yet?

    • starss

      Because he’s the head of one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates in the country and has a defense against getting arrested.

  • Delta

    I think everyone should check out this podcast with animator Tom Bancroft in it. I mean, wage-fixing is still not justified, and I haven’t formed a coherent opinion on the entire matter, but this is an interesting perspective on the whole matter coming from the animator:

    https://soundcloud.com/survivingcreativity/surviving-creativity-s1e13-animation-with-tom-bancroft

    • Jaaso

      Tom Bancroft sounds like he’s been drinking the koolaid. His involvement with Funnypages Productions, a small animation shop in Tennessee, clouds his viewpoint. Of course he’d be for cheaper wages when it benefits him.

      He thinks artists getting overpaid killed the industry? Jesus…

  • Landon Kemp

    This is just sickening to hear about. He should take responsibility for once in his goddamn life and confess to doing it. The further these schmucks get their comeuppance, the better.

    This news is especially unsetting for me as an aspiring animator myself, because I don’t want to be part of an industry where people can get away with crap like this.

  • Diogenes

    Are the wages of top management capped? No? Well, there goes that theory, eh?

    • Ryoku240

      Theres fewer people in top management then animators, or at least I would think.

      • Diogenes

        And there are fewer bank robbers than there are depositors. Your point?

        • Ryoku240

          Take a few minutes to think about my response, then maybe I’ll get back to you.

      • schmeka schmeka

        Ed probably earns more than all his animators put together. Times ten.

  • Anon

    Does it really change people or does it bring to the surface the person they always were?

  • Anonymous

    Ed Catmull: “I’m a not a crook”!

  • Switching from RenderMan to Excel would do that to anyone ;)

  • Well, scientific studies have shown that people who are more successful in politics and business jobs tend to show a decreased lack of empathy; a necessary skill in order to crush all the people you face on your way to the top.

    Basically, Science have shown the lunatics *are* running the asylum ;)

  • Tim

    Uncle Walt was the original purveyor of that “studio-as-family” metaphor. It led directly to the 1941 strike.

  • Eman

    The issue here is wage fixing and collusion go practically hand in hand.
    No one needs to worry about offering competitive pay if they all agree to keep it on the same level. That’s what’s unfair to the animators.

    I understand that the inverse of paying higher position jobs less actively discourages people to take those positions, but animators shouldn’t be the ones getting the shaft for it.

  • otterhead

    As I implied in another comment, while I’m no fan of so-called “wage fixing”, it’s commonplace in nearly every creative industry. Ed Catmull isn’t ‘being arrested’ because you’d need to arrest every CEO of every design and ad agency nationwide.

  • Ryoku240

    I agree, people should earn their salaries based on skill.

    The problem is that its difficult to really make your skill stand out when the modern animation industry is designed to hide it, its why we talk about studios but hardly individual animators.

    Its why more causal animation viewers glorify sappy stories and crooked studios, rather than animation wizards like Chuck Jones.

  • Ryoku240

    I see that so often it sickens me, if Hollywood could actually budget things film budgets would not only be smaller, animatorsVFX guys would get paid more.

  • Ryoku240

    Oh its still alive on TV, but exposition-driven stick-figures don’t really strike me as “well”.

    Then again its been a while since I’ve seen a well-written anime, if we need anything in animation its better pay, and better writing.

  • KW

    A film could easily do well without celebrity voice actors. I don’t know anyone, especially children, that goes to see a movie because who voice acted in it.

  • Dp

    I’m surprised how much these revelations have been dampening my perception and anticipation of their upcoming projects. :/ I don’t see fun projects being made by passionate artists anymore. Now I mostly see forced lifestyle suppression, working class families with a dad who feels grateful to work seventy hour weeks, and a ‘drink the koolaid or get out’ culture. Calling this relationship abusive is an understatement.

  • dglatour

    UNION.

  • Ryoku240

    I agree, but as far as I know the current studio system is designed to squash talent.

    Its set up to hire college graduates who’re in debt, lay off the older “good” animators if not avoid rewarding them, and due to todays demands of “realism” and “on model” the majority of any individual contributions or effort are squashed in a productions “fine tuning”

    Hollywood doesn’t see animators as artists, only grunts. And if they lay off a guy there will always be a thousand or so other animators to fill in their spot.

    This is why I recommend animators to go indie, work on projects that allow some degree of creativity. Less secure of a job but more respect.

  • Christina Bishop

    Do you want to steal some money?
    We can do it any day
    If we only took a little
    From the animator’s pay!
    (in tune to Do You Want to Build a Snowman?)