Report from Disney Feature studio: “Grim” Report from Disney Feature studio: “Grim”

Report from Disney Feature studio: “Grim”

According to Local 839 business rep Steve Hulett, who visited Disney Feature Animation a few hours ago, “morale is lower than a dachshund’s belly, since most of the artists and technicians were given their notices in July, and layoffs now loom.” He also writes on the union blog that “Disney Feature Animation’s atmosphere, in fact, is a lot like it was in 2001, when hand-drawn animation was imploding and everybody working on Home on the Range knew they had four months before they got to go stand in the unemployment line: Grim.”

Tangled will surely turn things around.

  • Mesterius

    Funny how since Amid is the writer of this post, I have to read the last sentence as ironic. If it was Jerry, I might have believed the statement;)

    • Jonah

      It works better as irony.

      • Giovanni Jones

        I think it was “surely” as in “don’t call me Shirley.”

  • Rooniman

    Disneys heading toward oblivion if they don’t get thier heads out of thier asses.

  • Matt Sullivan

    Toy Story 3 is making big bucks…isn’t that enough to tide them over?

    • Disney as a company is doing okay… but Toy Story is under Pixar, completely separate from Disney Feature animation, whose last release, Princess and the Frog, didn’t do much to convince studio execs that 2d animation, as a box office cash cow, is dead.

  • What I’ve heard is that after Tangled and Winnie the Pooh, there really isn’t much else planned in development. So there’s this gap in the pipeline that kinda throws everything out of whack. Until they come up with something quick, the animation crew is left hanging.

    I really do hope Tangled does well. Since a lot of really great animation students are graduating next year (myself included), the last thing I want to see is the beginning of another slump in the industry like there was less than ten years ago.

  • The full-time studio gig for anyone in actual animation production is dead, I fear.

    It’s unarguably depressing for the artists involved, but I can see why Disney do the hire-and-fire approach.

    • Game Over

      The same approach is starting to be used in videogame development — not that it was ever likely to find a full time art development position spanning more than a handful of years or a couple of project cycles, but my own studio head sees this production model as the way forward. I’m part of a similarly grim, dead man walking situation at our studio, heading into autumn unemployment.

  • erlab

    Exactly. It’s hard to trace if there is irony there. How will Tangled turn things around? Anyone saying that about any other Disney feature since Home on the Range were wrong. It doesn’t look like any different film they made.

    About the topic itself, I’m glad reaching Disney is no longer a goal of mine.

  • JP

    Am I the only one who thought after a quick glance at the headline that the next Disney feature was something related to “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”?

    • Su

      Funny, since The Princess and The Frog is a Grimm’s Fairy Tale :P

  • Nathan

    Never before posted here but cannot stomach another anti-Disney post from Amid. What’s your problem?? Seriously!

    • How is news an anti-Disney story? Is Disney criticism taboo to you? Labor strife is a part of the company’s history. I remember working at an ABC radio station housed in the same building as its local TV station. At the time Disney was trying to bust the TV crew union. Drawings of Mickey wearing swastika armbands appeared on the walls, labeled “Mauschwitz.” Crossing that picket line was one of the reasons I quit, even though I wasn’t scabbing, being on the radio side. Fortunately, they couldn’t bust the union.

    • Rebecca

      Agreed. It’s getting to be a little too much. I love this site and as a student look forward to hearing about the industry as a whole. I think by constantly comparing every single movie that comes out of Disney to those of the past (Peter Pan, Pinocchio, The Lion King, etc.) your really limiting yourself on actually trying to enjoy the work that is coming out now. Give it s chance and don’t walk into the theater with a negative attitude. You might actually like then… Also, I don’t think the trailer for Tangled really does it justice. It kind of reminds me of the latest Sherlock Holmes movie. The trailer looked appalling and I wasn’t going to see it, but I eventually did and loved it! Bottom line: give things a chance and don’t go into a movie expecting it to be bad, because then it will!

      • Su

        Rebecca, I think you’re missing the point of Amid post. It clearly was more about the future management of Dinsey animators… how poorly some of the movies were are just facts that simply supports his statement; a situation that’s already happening.
        As nice as it is to be a Pollyanna, what’s going on here is bigger than liking movies.
        Bottom line: give things a chance and don’t go into a article expecting it to be bad, because then it will!

  • clark

    What’s the issue? There’s like a buzzillion stories and ideas to be animated? Is it just cost? Isnt Disney the biggest company in the world? Dont they have Muppets and Marvel characters now? I don’t get why there’s a problem? People like traditional and cgi animation. If you have a good story is what matters. can’t they make tv series or education stuff for schools? What about new Mickey Mouse club with new shorts and live acts? Goofys Standup with new shorts and family material comedians?

    • Andrew Riding

      I agree completely. As much as I’m a fan of Disney animation, they don’t have a monopoly on good storytelling. I do feel bad for the animators though, that is if they do in fact get laid off.

  • Pedro Nakama

    I believe Amid is not anti-Disney but anti-bad Disney Management. Everyone was raised on Disney films so basically Disney is part of our culture. And people don’t like to see their culture fall apart. Look at Disney… they forgot how to make animated films so they bought Pixar, a company that was using the old Disney formula that Disney forgot the recipe to. Tangled will never make a profit because it was in development for over 12 years. If Disney wants to hand out pink slips give them to the management team there.

  • David Zweig

    Is there a larger topic here? As a CalArts grad, I became shocked at the lack of communication happening within the industry about the fact that it no longer employs more than a few hundred artists on a continuous basis. Yet more and more people try to enter the industry to establish themselves in a career.

    I’ll never forget the day when, as a Character Design Supervisor, I was approached by a former story professor at CalArts and asked if I could get HIM a job. It was then that I decided to head for the exit.

    Fortunately for me, I’ve been able to fall back on my design training, and have found myself in a decent (full-time, salaried, not project-based) job as an Art Director.

    In other words, is it possible to get a job and keep it in animation? From where I sit, it doesn’t appear too likely. Sure would be interesting to see some kind of statistics on this from Local 839.

    • Tell me about it… I went to an East Coast school and studied to be a 2D character animator. I had hoped to (ha ha) break in as an in-betweener and work my way up. I don’t think there is one major studio in this continent that has a paid position for in-betweening… So I gave up, got a full time as an Multimedia Specialist for a community college out east and make my own cartoons on my own time. Art Schools only care about your money, not your reality perception. I lost any desire to work for the “industry” a long time ago. I think the best prospects for animated features lies in the basements and garages of independent animators working shit jobs by day.

      • Scarabim

        You are soooooo right about Art Schools, Rodger. All I got out of mine was a diploma (I made the Dean’s List a couple of times, big whoop) and a large load of debt. The place told me all kinds of lies. Hopefully kids who want to be in animation will find this blog and learn a few things here that they, sadly, will never learn in school.

  • So the 80/20 rule is actually better than what’s happening now? I was at the studio earlier this year, and it seemed rather dead in the animation building. I guess that’s why?

  • james

    F-em. Take your unemployment, make your own cartoons.. make your own movies.. We all love animation.. We love Disney.. but it is a BUSINESS. Disney just trained their competition. Go out, make something.. be a LEADER.. Don’t be a crybaby p*ssy because Disney just laid you off of your so called dream job. You were an ARTIST, long before you were a Disney employee, so make it mean something.

    • Easier said than done, don’t ya’ think?

      • Nick McCleod

        It works for some of us i.e. Matt Groening, Walt Disney, Mike Judge, Seth MacFarlane – you may not like all of their work but they did it so why can’t you.

      • erlab

        The amount of hurdles to go through in order to be successful in producing and owning your own cartoon is probably the biggest number in any kind of career. It IS INDEED easier said than done.

      • james

        it is definitely not easy, but it is a lot easier now than ever before. if it fails, so what. I can deal with failure, it is the not trying that drives me insane.

      • Torgin

        There is an old saying, “He who dares, wins.”

        And as Bugs would say, “I do dare.” And if you’ve got an idea you should too.

  • Elan

    So much mis-information in all of this.

    Steve likes to report sob stories because he’s a drama queen (and a failed artist, I might add. If he spent half as much time working as he has gossiping in his career…well, you know the rest)

    The fact is, the crew is largely returning to the size it was pre-Tangled. They hired a bunch of artists, and unfortunately, didnt have the next film ready for production and laid them off. Sure, that always sucks when that happens, but they kept their strongest artists. Well, mostly. Theres always exceptions, and they know who they are.

    But the other side of the coin is, that WDAS has not made a movie as good or as beautiful as Tangled since The Lion King. Sure, my opinion is biased, but I also call a crap movie “a crap movie” even when Im working on it. Tangled is NOT a crap movie. Its actually very, very good. The movies coming down the pipeline are also quite good and being led by strong directors. Its just bad timing at the moment.

    BUT, Amid and Steve like to report bad news, because bad news is fun to report. But just know that theres a good chunk of us who remain happy, and who are still working and pushing and trying to be the best artists we can be.

    Please go see Tangled when it comes out, it’s worth it.

    • RODAN

      I do hope that this is all true… noting would please me more…

      thanks for keeping it real (I hope)

    • Martin

      Elan, I *want* Tangled to be great, I really do. Your comments have raised my hopes, and I’ll be going to see it, for sure.

      So there ARE movies coming down the pipeline at WDAS? That’s good to know.

      As are others that have commented, I also graduate next year (in April, from Animation Mentor) and after spending all that money it would be good to know it’s at least possible to get studio work.

    • Kate

      I reluctantly agree on the TAG blog. There’s rarely anything useful posted other than Steve talking about how unhappy everyone is working in the studio, how many people work overtime for free out of fear they’ll be fired, and how damn depressing it is to work in animation. It’s incredibly unprofessional to be the public face of the guild and use the position to mope. I had to stop reading it so I’d stay motivated to keep working. Well worth it!

      I’ll definitely be seeing Tangled. It looks amazing and I’ve been excited for it for ages.

      • Texas

        Unprofessional to be telling the reality to the public? Do we want to now create some wacky illusion that everything is okay-dokey, heck conditions, good pay…that’s not essential! TAG is the only thing keeping studios accountable and maintaining a spotlight on the plight of the animator. It’s not being “mopey” it’s for your benefit that their being honest. If you want more positive posts maybe you should be looking to the studios not TAG.

        I also love the hypocrisy here- Elan gives his two cents and suddenly it’s all okay. False alarm guys! Regardless, now we just have two different opinions and it shows us we need more evidence. It would be grand folly for us as a Animation community to accept that a multimillion dollar company should be treating its workers like this.

        As for Tangled, may be beautiful to the hilt but I can’t get out of my head how Disney stands firm with a 1950s female character formula. Frankly ,it stank of mediocrity. The lion King was something to be proud of, original and respecting the female characters and the audience. This? A pathetic excuse for more merchandising and exploitation of the kids movie market.

        Prove me wrong, maybe the trailer was designed to look sexist, unnecessarily violent and cliché to surprise me in cinemas?

  • MichaelDair

    The problem with Disney, is the same problem with all corporate America. They’ve become so big and bloated that they can no longer see the foundation from which they were built upon.

    All the Disney suits worry about are profit, big profits. If it does not boost the bottom line, and pay out big dividends to the crazed stockholders it’s out. Yet they’ll pour 1.2 billion into a park they screwed up 10 years ago, but they wont put money into what made them what they are. How about pouring some money into some solid stories? Now is the time to produce, not to fall back on their heels.

    Another problem is that they tinker with stories to the point that they are so bland and insipid that they no longer entertain. I had high hopes for Princess and the Frog, but I was let down. If they are going to entertain us, they need to give the stories they tell a bite. If they are just going to focus on little girls, with princess fairies, they’ve cut out the rest of the family.

    If they are not going to make features, then they need to continue with smart, funny and entertaining shorts like “How To Hook Up Your Home Theater.”

    I don’t need BlueRay, and I don’t need 3D, all I need is a good story. Example: Would “Inception,” have been a better film in 3D? No!

    New ideas, new thoughts, new points of view are more lasting a souvenir of a great movie than a ticket stub!

    • Isn’t John Lasseter, the Pixar guy head of all things Creative at Disney?

      Regardless, I don’t think spending 12 years on something shows they have no desire to spend money on story. It shows a willingness to spend too much on story as long as the ones writing it also sign the checks.

      The problem is that those who sign the paychecks think they are creative. They give their two cents on everything and expect to see it on screen out of some misguided thought that leads them to believe their ideas are funny and/or original.

      Not everyone was meant to play quarterback. Not everyone can write a good story and not everyone can direct.

      Disney, like other studios, is no different than soap manufacturers and their salesman. The salesmen think their product has something to do with the reason their products sells billions.

      When in fact, they sell because its the only product on the shelves with billions of advertising dollars pushing them. So much money is spent on advertising that salesmen no longer have to knock on doors to sell it. The consumers come to them.

      And the salesman, who no longer has to knock on doors to hock their product has so much time on his hands that he begins to think he is creative and the product being advertised is selling well because of the salesman’s creative input.

      • MichaelDair

        Sounds like Daws Butler’s “Bloopers Soap”

    • Scarabim

      I agree about more shorts. What better way to introduce Mickey to a new generation and induce earlier generations to fall in love with him all over again? It’d be well worth the investment. Beats spending the money on &$^#!!! purchases like the Muppets!

      Me, I want another short like “Runaway Brain”. That was sheer wondrous glorious genius. Best role for Mickey since “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Come on Lasseter! You’ve got the freaking clout, now USE IT. Make Disney Company the WALT Disney company again!

  • tony mccarson

    It’ll be a bit better if they re-name the movie back from “tangled” to “rapunzel”.

    I refuse to move on!


    so terribly sad…They have no idea what they’re doing to the heart of the company.

  • Was my face red

    Amid doesn’t want it to be good because he likes writing the trollish little comments which provoke far more posts than when he’s actually advocating something. Apparently this leads the animation discussion, although he tends not to engage in that conversation much once it’s started.
    And if something turns out to be good he never mentions it again. Some of us are still waiting for that indepth piece about what he thought of How To Train Your Dragon in the end.

  • Depressing news. Not as depressing as those screenshots of “Gnomeo and Juliet” but depressing nonetheless.
    I wish there were more news of whats really going on over there on the internet. You’d think an anonymous blog run by one of the artists or something would have popped up by now. Ah well.

    • hey zekey..
      those screen shots you speak of are from tests done by various studios during pitches…one is i believe from blur studios and one is from uk framestore
      i can assure you ‘gnomeo and juliet’ does not look like that anymore.

  • Brad Constantine

    What ever happened to the Disney “shorts” program? I though this was supposed to season new directors and keep animators busy inbetween feature gigs?

  • As one of the “crazed shareholders” I’ve never been reluctant to be critical of my favorite company. And, I’m not here to bash animation because “Tangled” is great.

    Clearly there’s a problem, and Steve and Amid are not “enemies of animation” because they simply report it.

    The Mouse is currently expanding the Glendale campus, so I doubt they’re short of cash. So, what exactly is the problem?

    • erlab

      Great news about the Glendale campus.

      And I am still keeping my hopes high for Rapunzel.

    • MichaelDair

      I thinks that’s part of the problem, all Disney does is expand.
      Disney is so big and bloated that the company can’t see over it’s belly.

      Disney has a lot of smart boys and girls under it’s roof, it’s high time they finance them. Let the creative people create. And I would aslo give them time to work on projects that they want to work on too. This is how innovated and interesting ideas come about.

      As a crazed stockholder myself, I don’t need to see huge bounding profit growth, all I want is regular steady growth. The kind of growth that Roy O. Disney strived for.

      The idea was to make money, so they could put money back into the company, to make more films, and more entertainment. Not fill the the pockets of the of the board.

      There are to many cooks in the kitchen, and nobody has even looked at the recipe.

      • Scarabim

        It seems that Iger thinks the solution to keeping Disney solvent is to buy non-Disney properties, like Marvel, the Muppets, Playdom, Tapulous, etc. etc. etc. rather than invest in in-house creation.
        Which is really kind of sickening. If Eisner was a bean-counter, then Iger is the Mad Magazine caricature of a bean-counter. Roy Disney’s first instincts about him were right. I fear for Walt’s legacy. The company (which has dumped Walt’s first name from much of its product) truly isn’t his anymore.

  • Wait a minute…wasn’t the great John Lasseter and the mighty Ed Catmull supposed to fix Feature Animation?
    There is no industry wide slump. Lots of movies are getting made, many of them are making money. The only place that seems to be floundering is the very place that started the Feature Animation biz in the first place.
    I worked there for 11 years. I then worked at Sony for one year, Pixar for 2 and now Dreamworks for 3. Having worked at all those other studios, I have a pretty good idea of what is wrong and how to fix it.
    Obviously, a Walt Disney wannabe former artist in the position of President didn’t do a damned thing, so that idea is out the window.
    It is simple: Put someone in charge of the studio that has a track record for green-lighting entertaining movies. NOT an artist. Go watch that Frank Zappa clip on why the music industry sucks for my reasoning on this.
    It is also important that this guy not give a shit about the “Disney Brand”.
    Then, keep the budgets modest for the first few movies. Make small, Character driven films, and make them relatively fast with small crews on the front end.
    Hire creators like Genndy Tartakovsky, Chris Sanders (if you can get him back), Brad Bird, and empower them to make their movies. Empower them the way you would a live action director. Let them join the Director’s guild, even.
    Then, trust the process.
    This will NEVER happen.


      The Weinsteins publicly criticized Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but made it and marketed it anyway.

      I respect that mentality – supporting the creative even though you may not understand it.

      I also don’t understand the concept behind spending hundreds of millions of dollars on something. The more it costs, the more of it you have to sell to break even and turn a profit.

  • Brad Constantine

    What Happened to the Disney Shorts program? I thought that was designed to keep artists busy in between feature gigs and to train up new directors. In the old days, Walt would use the shorts to keep animators busy and to do R&D in between gigs.

    • Greg

      Didnt “Prep and Landing” (the abc christmas special) come out of the Shorts Program? I thought it did?

      I think people forget sometimes that Disney made this. To me, it’s more proof than any other film they’ve made that Disney has the capability to make cool stuff again.

      • Scarabim

        “Prep and Landing” was sooooooooooo awesome. I’m glad it bears the Disney name.

        But you know…it’s kind of a conundrum. If the Disney Studios makes CGI, and Pixar makes CGI…well, what’s the point of having both studios? I wish Disney Studios would focus on 2D animation and leave CGI to Pixar. Because when you get right down to it, CGI animation looks pretty much the same no matter what studio produced it. True, Pixar’s the gold standard, but when the other studios are on top of their acts, as per Universal’s “Despicable Me”, 20th Century Fox’s “Horton Hears A Who” and Dreamwork’s “Kung Fu Panda”, the production values are virtually indistinguishable. And I’d really like Disney Studios to have its own signature look…like Disney animation in general USED to have, in the days before CGI…

      • Greg

        Maybe, but I think Horton Hears a Who looks nothing like Despicable Me, Kung Fu Panda, or any other Pixar movie. I think certain studios do have a unique look.

  • The Animation Guild Blog would have more credibility if most of the commentors there weren’t “Anonymous”. They come off as a bunch of cowards afraid to lose their jobs.

    • i think if it wasn’t anonymous, the commentators would almost definitely lose their jobs.

      there’s nothing cowardly about telling the truth without telling your name.

    • Anonymous

      You have much learning to do, my son.

  • Mark Sonntag

    Unfortunately that is the nature of the game and has been even since the time of Walt Disney. Though I must admit I really wanted to love Princess and the Frog, but couldn’t.

    They’ll ramp up again, besides like one reader noted now’s the time to work on your own stuff while on downtime.

  • Oscar Grillo

    Disney Animation has been closed since 1967.

  • Joseph

    Wow its funny to read these art student comments, reminds me when I was in school. So full of optimism that when someone tells you the grim truth you don’t want to hear it. “Don’t be so negative!” they say. Well kids, get ready to have your dreams crushed! If you are expecting to work in 2D animation the only 2D animation in the US is Flash. And don’t expect to be doing some high quality work. What you’ll mostly hear is “thats to smooth, make it more Southpark”, or “thats not our demographic”.

    • MichaelHughes

      I’m not optimistic at all about the future of studios, but I am optimistic that animation can become more of a cottage industry enabled by computers to multiply the work of a few collaborators owning their own work and dealing with distributors. But I’m sure there will also always be studios run by businessmen making compromised work and employing people part time.

      That’s how I’m optimistic.

    • erlab

      Guess what. Flash even outsourced now.

      So yeah.

    • HB

      Honestly, it’s not denial or dreams that keep some of us art students hoping, but the ingrained, human desire to create. I don’t particularly care how things look in the industry. I will still practice this art. If I have to do it on a laptop in my spare time working 3 jobs, I will. I have to. This art is a part of me. I’d like to practice it professionally, but I understand if I can’t. The business may fail me, but the art never will.

  • Stephan

    Didn’t this site use to like cartoons? Reading through these posts, you’d think you liked one and hated the rest.

  • Perhaps Oscar Grillo has a point.

    Back in 1966 we made “The Jungle Book” with a very small crew, and had to completely turn around the story in less than a year – and it got done. Of course, we had a leader named, Walt Disney and no damn executives to get in the way.

    Today, the pictures cost a fortune and take forever to get done. Maybe the place did close in 1967.

  • Karen

    Jungle Book wasn’t that great–especially from a story perspective. I’d say they died a few years earlier with the first half of 101 Dalmations.

  • TIME TO REVIVE WALT! cryogenic freezers off…check!

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    The Jungle book is probably one of the most important animated movies for a whole generation of today’s established character animators. It inspired many kids from all over the world to become animators. It also showed that movie can totally live just on well executed characters and doesnt need an over complicated plot to make it entertaining.

  • Scarabim

    Yeah, I watched a few clips from “Jungle Book” a couple of weeks ago, and I found myself floored with the convincing, fluid movement from the characters – Kaa and Shere Khan especially. Beautiful character animation. As for the story, hm, still not sure why Walt wanted it played as humorously as he did, given the far-more-solemn source material, but it’s still very enjoyable. And thank god he cut out that rhino! :0

  • Clay Kaytis

    FYI, since the discussion started there, I posted my lengthy comment to Steve on the union blog.

  • Brian Kidd

    I have no connection to the Animation industry outside of a friend who does texturing and shading for a company up in Canada. I’m just a devoted lover of animation, both from major studios and determined iconoclasts. To me, animation is unique in that it has the potential to incorporate all of the traditional Art forms of Visual Art, Acting, Movement, and Music. It doesn’t have to include all of them, but it is the malleable nature of Animation that makes it one of my favorite things. I tell you all these things because I want any of the comments and thoughts I share to be taken in the spirit of having come from someone who loves good Animation, regardless of its place of origin.

    I can’t speak to what is in the pipeline at Disney. I can only comment on what I’ve seen. Even with extremely talented people working on a film, it takes someone who is a fantastic, objective, and creative gate-keeper to make sure that the finished film is as good as it can possibly be. Someone with the instincts to jettison what isn’t working, keep what is, and inspire the crew to always be looking for ways to improve. Walt Disney was dead long before I was born, but as I’ve learned more and more about him and studied the output of his studio during the time when he was actively engaged in Animation, I’ve come to appreciate how vital he was to the success of what we now consider the “Golden Years” of Disney Animation. He was upfront about the fact that he wasn’t a very good animator. His strength came from a passion for the Art form and the ability to inspire, criticize, and motivate those around him in order to create the best possible work of which the studio was capable. What Disney Animation lacks right now isn’t artistic talent, it’s a leader. A leader who has passion, motivation, creativity, and good judgment. What the Disney Corporation needs to understand is that the Feature Animation division needs to be allowed to do its job and it’s up to Marketing and Merchandising to support that effort, not to drive it. If the Animation department does its job well and the Marketing Dept. does its job well, the ancillary products will sell. However, if there is a weak link in the chain, it all falls apart. Goodwill for Disney’s past only goes so far. Good, but not great doesn’t stick in people’s minds. They have to be willing to take chances and fail on occasion. PRINCESS AND THE FROG was just shy of Great. They had much to be proud of in that film. I don’t think it was marketed well. I hate that it has been practically buried as an “also-ran”. It was the best thing to come out of that studio in years. I can’t comment on RAPU… um, UNBRAID… um, TANGLED until I see it. I really want it to be great. I love watching Animation succeed on both artistic and financial levels. If the film is as good as those of you close to the production say, then the trailer certainly isn’t doing it any favors. It’s manic, unfunny, and uninspiring. I hope, for Disney Animation’s sake, that the final film bears little resemblance to it.

  • I just realized how beautifully (and involuntarily) prophetic the last part of this post is!

    Amid: “Tangled will surely turn things around.”

    …You were RIGHT! :D