edwardcatmull-money edwardcatmull-money
Artist RightsDisneyPixar

Former Disney Artist Explains How Ed Catmull Tricked Him

As more details emerge about the industry-wide wage theft scheme operated by feature animation studios, artists are beginning to piece together the events of the last couple decades and understand how they were unknowingly manipulated by studio executives.

Not suprisingly, some of the most disturbing stories point back to current Disney Animation/Pixar president and bestselling humor book author Ed Catmull, who is allegedly one of the primary architects of the scheme, according to his own deposition statements from January 2013.

Animation Guild (Local 839 IATSE) business rep Steve Hulett has shared some new details about Catmull’s insidious tactics. According to a conversation that Hulett had this week with a former Disney employee, Catmull told Disney artists they were getting rid of their contracts to give them freedom to find better paying jobs at other feature animation studios. Of course, what artists didn’t know at the time was that Catmull had spent decades rigging the system so that better-paying jobs wouldn’t exist at other studios.

Here is the conversation that Hulett had with the former Disney employee:

Unidentified Former Disney Employee: When Disney Animation had personal service contracts, back six or seven years ago, management had us come into meetings. And Ed Catmull explained how they were doing away with PSCs because they thought it would be better for all us Disney employees not to be tied down.

Animation Guild business rep Steve Hulett: I remember. People at Feature Animation asked me about it. I said it was just a way for the studio to save money. Employees wouldn’t be locked into automatic raises in personal service contracts every year, wouldn’t be focused on raises because they’d be “at will” and more concerned about keeping their jobs.

Unidentified Former Disney Employee: Here was something else. Ed told us without the PSCs, everybody was free to go work someplace else if they got a better gig. The company wouldn’t stop people from moving on. But the companies out there were talking to each other and keeping wages down, so how could anybody go get a higher-paying job? And Ed knew about this when he was talking to employees. When he was pushing the “free to get a better deal” thing.

Animation Guild business rep Steve Hulett: Imagine that…

  • megadrivesonic

    how much deeper does the rabbit hole go!? No wonder Disney despises 2D animation, this would never fly back in the late 80’s late 90’s

    • Googamp32

      Disney doesn’t despise 2D animation. It’s just that people were dumb enough to see the Chipmunks movie instead of “The Princess and the Frog”.

      • Mesterius

        [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Stay on-topic. Comments are not a place to discuss ideas not directly related to the post.”]

  • Landon Kemp

    Ed Catmull is despicable. The more I hear about his involvement with this scandal, the more I want him to face the music and get his just reward.

  • Chicken McPhee

    Well, since when does a company want their artists to be able to ‘get a better deal’ unless they had something crappy up their sleeves?
    If someone said that to me, I’d start wondering WHY they didn’t want to keep dedicated employees. It’s pretty self-evident that it’s to keep the wages down.
    Now, I get that each movie gets a budget and that budget gets split across a bunch of people that aid the production, but how is it that animators, who are essentially actors in animated films, don’t even get percentages? Why is it that actual actors do, even if they just fart during the course of pre-production?

    • Hey Now

      Because SAG is a much bigger union with more leverage, and The Animation Guild is small and timid. Good heath care and 401k, but generally crappy contracts with the studios.

  • Hey Now

    I’m curious to know if Catmull has any interaction with his artists these days, or if he’s isolated. Can any current Pixar/Disney guys speak to this (anonymously, of course)? Is there noticeable tension around the studio?

    • thousands of employees between those companies and this article is the first I hear of an employee talking about it. And it’s a former employee too. Can’t bite the hand that feeds you I guess. Wouldn’t want to get blacklisted from working in the industry ever.

      • Johnny

        “Wouldn’t want to get blacklisted from working in the industry ever.”

        The fact that artists were saying they are afraid of being blacklisted if they came forward about being sexually harassed at work during that recent story with the creator of Clarence they don’t want to speak about anything.

        • Mike

          Sounds like a very toxic environment. I’m not in the field of animation, but I have to feel for the artists that exist in situations like that.

      • Fried

        Could just be that even if the employees know this, some of them are still happy they’re working there and have made many friends, sharpened their skill a lot, learned a lot, and have no regrets about working at these studios. They’d probably do it again if asked.

        I know people on the outside are constantly saying they should be outraged they’re not being paid in full what they’re worth, but you know, to the actual people in those situations, I think some of them would rather die knowing they were a part of Up!, WALL-E, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and so forth rather than die knowing they had thousands in their bank account.

        You may think that’s kool-aid talk, but how is it much more different than a person willing to shell out $30,000+ for art school and not having regrets when they graduate despite being in debt $100,000+ by the end of it?

        I’m sure they would LOVE more money, but experiences can be priceless, and I don’t think the majority of people working there are really up in arms over this news.

        • Lori

          I think it’s idealistic to say that the satisfaction of working on some successful films would outweigh your net worth as an artist. That satisfaction is not going to hold a roof over your head and keep your stomach full, let alone allow for a social life, or a life outside of work in general. I’ve learned some time ago to not derive all of my satisfactions from my career and the projects I’ve worked on, because it simply isn’t sustainable. It’s that attitude that allows for the cycle of out with the seasoned, reliable artists, and in with the idealistic, naive, fresh out of school kids that maintains a low wage. Especially when that low wage is manipulated over the course of years and years by the people who, if we’re being idealistic about it, really should give a damn about us as employees and content creators.

        • Lori

          I think it’s idealistic to say that the satisfaction of working on some successful films would outweigh your net worth as an artist. That satisfaction is not going to hold a roof over your head and keep your stomach full, let alone allow for a social life, or a life outside of work in general. I’ve learned some time ago to not derive all of my satisfactions from my career and the projects I’ve worked on, because it simply isn’t sustainable. It’s that attitude that allows for the cycle of out with the seasoned, reliable artists, and in with the idealistic, naive, fresh out of school kids that maintains a low wage. Especially when that low wage is manipulated over the course of years and years by the people who, if we’re being idealistic about it, really should give a damn about us as employees and content creators.

  • Toonio

    And never wonder why they moved operations to Canada. See, they are playing the fact Canada’s anti-monopoly laws are a shame and a joke at the same time.

    They knew the would get at some point, but they calculated their potential losses while getting everything ready north of parallel 49.

    So happy animating animation ex-pats (and buy some pre sale tickets to Inside Outand the Good Dinosaur with your $26/hr while at it, eh!).

  • Ryan

    That photo conveys such sophisticated journalism.

    • It’s hilarious. My favorite recent one after the image of Mickey happily standing in front of Hasbro and Dreamworks logo for the article when Disney stopped their merger. I love the sarcastic humor

  • rezz

    I always found it strange that pixar salary for a sketch artist were so low compared to other studios and in SF where the cost of living is incredibly high. I figured it was a case of “it’s a privilege to work here”, at the cost of saving for a future.

    It’s a shame because I just assumed it was greed…but manipulated greed is a different level of evil. Glad this came out because to many studios are taking advantage of the medium we love to work in.

  • Taco

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

  • George Comerci

    Filed under: Why I’m never working for Disney.

  • Mike

    As someone who, like a lot of people, grew up drinking the Kool-Aid of Pixar’s against-all-odds success story under its starry-eyed artistic founders, each layer peeled away from this scandal sickens me to the core. It’s hard to believe that the men who struggled as laymen for so long are so willing to throw the architects of their artistic successes, the people who they once were, under the bus so glibly.
    Who can we trust?

  • d.harry

    John’s a company man. He makes tens of millions a year to be that way.

  • Anon

    Lasseter not only knew but he was his partner in crime. It’s weird that Cartoon Brew never mentioned Lasseter’s involvement in the scandal.

    From Pando Daily’s report:

    Another internal Pixar email from a senior producer sounded more alarm over Sony Animation doing what companies legally can and should do — recruit talent, and drive up wages if that’s what the workers are worth:

    “I mentioned to JL [presumably Pixar executive producer John Lasseter—M.A.] on Friday night that we almost lost Chris Bernardi to Sony last week (thankfully he’s staying) and John was wondering if a lot of our employees are getting calls from Sony as it seems they’re on a hiring binge again.

    “John thought we should call Ed in Hawaii and have him call the Sony women (Penny and Sandy) and remind them of our gentleman’s agreement not to raid each other.”

    http://pando.com/2014/07/10/revealed-emails-court-docs-show-how-sony-stood-up-to-steve-jobs-and-pixars-wage-fixing-cartel/

    • AmidAmidi

      We’ve actually mentioned Lasseter’s possible involvement right here.

  • AnimationGuy

    I somehow doubt Dreamworks shareholders are grateful right about now.

  • Metlow Rovenstein

    Nichols’s review is not the only review on Amazon that mentions the scandal; this review from cgtitan (which happens to also be the only 1-star review of the book on Amazon) mentions it.

    Link: http://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Inc-Overcoming-Unseen-Inspiration-ebook/product-reviews/B00FUZQYBO/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_one?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addOneStar&showViewpoints=0

    • JodyMorgan

      Oops; I was going through the reviews in reverse chronological order, and didn’t go back far enough.

    • JodyMorgan

      Oops; I was going through the reviews in reverse chronological order, and didn’t go back far enough.

  • Diogenes

    Preserving the wage structure, for the good of all : http://variety.com/gallery/pixars-ed-catmull-lists-kailua-mini-compound/

  • Strong Enough

    i wonder what Jobs would say about this if he was alive

  • Production Peoples

    There’s a lot of focus rightfully on the high-earning artists but from experience in production moving between places when you haven’t left one place yet has been impossible. It’s pretty clear this wage-fixing/non-poaching scheme extended further below the line as well.