illusion-icon illusion-icon

Illusionist Producer Threatens Animator who Worked on Film


Bob Last, producer of Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, sent a threatening email to one of the animators who worked on the movie because that animator had the temerity to promote the film on his blog. Animator Victor Ens posted a few pencil tests of HIS own work which prompted this ridiculous over-the-top letter from the producer:

Dear Victor

You have posted a number of linetests from The Illusionist on your blog and other web sites. These posts all infringe Django Films Illusionist
Ltd’s copyright and must be removed immediately. Please confirm that you have done so.

Please also note that to have these digital materials in your possession breaks the legal undertakings you gave Django Film Illusionist Ltd under the terms of your employment. You had no right whatsoever to remove these linetests from Django Films Illusionist Ltd’s studio and you should destroy them.

I look forward to your swift compliance with our requests above and meantime Django Films Illusionist Ltd reserves its right of further action against you to protect its copyright and enforce the contractual undertakings you have made.

Yours sincerely

Bob Last

It angers me to see a studio reprimanding an artist who was trying to promote a low-budget animation production with a limited marketing budget. It’s the type of corporate behavior that leaves a bad taste in the mouth and makes me NOT want to see The Illusionist. If anything, Victor should be commended for being so enthusiastic and doing what the studio itself should be doing in the first place, which is sharing pencil tests and other artwork on-line to promote their film.

UPDATE: Director and producer Patrick Smith wrote a brilliant comment below where he suggests how the producer could have handled the situation with a respectful tone that showed appreciation for the artist’s contribution to the film. With Pat’s permission, I’m reprinting his alternate letter as a service to anybody who wants to see a more productive way of communicating with artists:

Hi Victor, while we appreciate your enthusiasm for the film, and posting the clips, could you please please please take them down for the time being?? you see we’re trying to implement our promotional strategy, and don’t want anything out there at this time. in a few months, let’s talk! Thanks for your great work on the film btw! and I hope you are well. if you could confirm that you have taken the clips down that would be great.. mmm-kay? Cheers- Bob

(Thanks, Florian Satzinger)

  • Mark

    It is not an “over the top” letter. It is a statement of legal fact.

    However, I agree with you completely. It is good for the promotion of the film (which is good, if not great).

    But then, so again is this fake controversy.

    • amid

      Over the top or not, it’s the kind of behavior that dampens my enthusiasm for wanting to see the film.

    • dave

      A little heavy handed you got admit. I understand not wanting pencil tests up before release….but c’mon.

      And yeah. I’ll admit as much as I am excited to see this film it definitely made me grimace and think….maybe not?

  • rvs

    I agree. Those pencil tests were so beautiful too and did nothing but make me want to see the film more. Victor was a gentleman about it, but it’s a shame he had to take the work down. The producer also sent a letter to the Pencil test Depot blog as well.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Sad when these things happen. In the end, you always wonder who was right all the long.

    • Mark

      Well, legally, that answer is settled.

      And again, although I didn’t think the film was all that great, I agree with Amid.

  • That was not the ‘threatening’ letter it was hyped to be. Sure, ‘destroying them’ may be a bit much, but everything else seems like standard corporate fare.

    All good intentions aside, if you’re an employee of a company it’s generally understood (or should be considering you’re signing your name on the contract) that you don’t have any rights to material used in making the film.

    Just because they’re exercising their legal right to manage their own property doesn’t make them the bad guy. You’re throwing out the baby with the bath water if you’re boycotting the film because some suit rubs you the wrong way. Don’t hurt the artists because some exec doesn’t ‘get it’.

  • Jonathan

    “that kind of behavior” is perfecly normal for a producer, and I’m sure the director agrees with him.

    I’ve seen work agreements that authorized the employer to SEARCH YOUR HOME if they suspect you have taken their property. That’s over the top.

    Victor wasn’t so much promoting the film as promoting himself. And by forwarding the email to you, he seems even less reliable.

    Also, it’s reasonable for a creative enterprise to want to control how it’s work is presented to the public. It’s their right to manage their own “promotion”, and not allow artists to willy nilly give away whatever they feel like. I agree completely with the producer.

  • THE ILLUSIONIST is a great film. This and any controversy behind the scenes should not dissuade anyone from seeing the picture and appreciating its merits. The producer, Mr. Last, should be encouraging any and all efforts to promote and praise the production… especially during the Oscar consideration period where it will compete against the likes of TOY STORY 3 and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.

  • MichaelHughes

    Don’t you need to sign off with an employer to use that kind of material in your portfolio, let alone put it out online?

    • Depends on the Employer. I work at Nickelodeon and have tons of art in my portfolio from their stuff and older stuff thats on longer online. They have never asked me to take it down.

    • You can usually use it in your portfolio/reel, but can’t post it online, at least until after the projects is released. (Most studios have specific legal language written into your hire forms regarding this sort of thing) This can vary from project to project.

  • Too Angry

    This was a normal reaction on the producer’s side…unlike the animator, he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing. And I’m pretty sure any management at any company big or small would have done the same. And honestly, the trailer was enough of hit.

  • This artist knew what he was doing by breaking his contract, if he felt strongly about promoting the film through grassroots blogging of the ‘animation process’, he would have discussed this with the producers and gotten permission. Why must we assume that these pencil tests are most valuable to the film as a promotion? There could be a million reasons. Maybe the producers don’t want to give this behind-the-scenes stuff away for free on the internet because they want people to buy the Special Feature filled DVD’s? Maybe they just have to set an example so other employees don’t decide it’s ok to just break the contracts they’ve signed whenever they want.

  • Generally, an artist shouldn’t post clips until the film is released. Advance buzz is very important, and the folks doing the marketing need to be in control of what is released to the public and when it gets released.

    • Chris

      Agreed. The producer was within his/her rights to request the artwork be removed. I don’t think the “nicer” version of the letter would have been appropriate. Legal matters require direct language.

      Leave the marketing to the marketing department or pitch them the idea of posting pencil tests to a blog. If I just posted shit up “to generate buzz” where I work I would be fired, plain and simple.

  • The producer did their Job plain and simple.

    However it was still stupid. We live in a world where traditional marketing is a thing of the past and social network marketing is king. Companies can’y buy this type of promotion, one person leading and recommending it to another is the strongest form of persuasion. To issue this type of letter to an employee of the film who wants to hype it for you for free is just plain stupid. That aside I would think the French would have a little more sensitivity in the matter, this is more of an American studio tactic.

    • “…traditional marketing is a thing of the past and social network marketing is king. Companies can’t buy this type of promotion…”

      That is the conventional wisdom – but it was not the animator’s decision to make. The production hired a marketing team and it is their job to promote the film. Just because someone animates on a film, that doesn’t give them the skills, experience or contacts to professionally market the production. Animation is best left to the pro’s. So is the marketing.

  • w

    Any publicity is good publicity…I say.

    Some companies have more laissez faire than others. Django – not so much.

  • jamesT

    Whether the posting of the pencil tests was good or bad for the film is a matter of opinion and is not the point. The point is that posting them was against the agreement signed between those two parties – the animator and the producer. If you put your hatred for corporate suits aside, one person asked another person not to do something, and the other person promised that he won’t. Then he did it anyways. So the first person told him to stop doing it and reminded him of their agreement. Sounds fair? Oh, wait a minute, he is a suit! What an aggressive jerk!

    • amid

      JamesT: Even if there was a transgression on Victor’s part—and nobody knows because they haven’t seen his contract—the producer’s tone and threats of legal action are not the way you speak to an artist who has put blood and sweat into making your film look good. It’s a sad commentary on our industry when people think this type of behavior from a producer is appropriate or acceptable.

      • Julius Gryphon

        We don’t know if there was a transgression on Victor’s part? It seems to me the statement “Please also note that to have these digital materials in your possession breaks the legal undertakings you gave Django Film Illusionist Ltd under the terms of your employment” in the producer’s letter makes it pretty clear there was a transgression.

        What bothers me about your post of this news is your statement that Victor “posted a few pencil tests of HIS own work”. Sorry, but it is NOT his own work. Not once he signed up to do the work for somebody else. This is not a new concept in the animation industry or any other. And, by the way, why is this “not the way to speak to an artist”? Who is it the way to talk to? Do artists deserve preferential treatment for some reason? Should artists be somehow segregated from the rest of the population? To me, the implication is insulting to artists and non-artists alike.

        Maybe the guy didn’t mean any harm (and you seem to assume his motive was selfless promotion of the film). But, he did do something he shouldn’t have done. To me the letter is a straight forward legal letter to that effect. Could it have been couched in niceties. Sure, but I imagine the company would not want their legal rights watered down by sugar-coating them. You only read guile into the letter because you want to find it.

      • Chris

        The producer didn’t have a “tone”, it was a legal request. If you think artists deserve the right to use studio property for promotional purposes without requesting permission then you would therefore also agree that studios deserve the right to use artists property for studio promotional purposes. That would be horrible!

        The law protects artists just as much as it does a studio.

  • imdgman

    Just saw today where Chomet is signing all of the animators drawings and selling them at a French gallery for an average of 600 euros. Wonder if Bob Last is going to slap his hand for that? You can bet Chomet got that in HIS contract… …the least he could do is go half with the animators.

    Doubt that would ever happen!

  • The producer is living in the past. What a maroon.

  • Hal

    Can I get a HEY YAH! for faked controversy to generate interest? I mean, its not like Cartoon Brew posted the link to those pencil tests BEFORE this letter…

  • Hal

    GOD those clips on his site look amazing. Cannot wait to see this.

  • Hasn’t the film been released in a few cities/festivals?

    Anyway, studios need to wake up from their archaic legal permissions and NDAs and allow something like this to be presented and seen. What (or rather, who) exactly is this hurting? No matter what anyone says, showing penciltests are a form of promoting – whether for the animator or film, it’s all a part of showcasing something that they’re proud of. When I see such tests, I’m intrigued and encouraged by the craft of such animators – not to mention I get very inspired. But for studios to think that their workers shouldn’t and won’t take anything like their penciltests outside of the studio is utterly ridiculous. The nature of we artists is to share, isn’t it? Don’t we all own copies of copies of penciltests and modelsheets passed down throughout the years, all for us to enjoy and study? It’s not hurting any studio – if anything it only encourages artists & animators to get interested in the film.

    The irony in all this is that everything that the animator Victor had shown will probably be on the Extra Features on the DVD set anyway.

    • Chris

      I think that is the point. It probably will end up on a special feature DVD for which the studio relies on to make revenue. If an artist posts it on the internet it devalues the special features on the DVD.

  • jamesT

    Amid, I agree with you that the legal scolding tone is unpleasant, and it is a sad commentary on relationships between people in general, but it’s everywhere like this, not just in our industry. When people who you come into contact with do something that seems to be against the rules and potentially harmful, you are likely to be rather strict and protective, than focus on their otherwise wonderful qualities and achievements. Especially if you consider it to be a part of your job. One time I was yelled by a ferry worker for not driving where he was pointing, he neglected to take into account my initiative, creativity and good intentions. Hurtfully, his primary concern was order and safety.

    And yes, we don’t know for sure if posting the materials online before the film’s public release was against the legal agreement, but the letter clearly states so, and it’s a standard in the industry, so I would be surprised if it weren’t.

  • This guy should really cool his jets, all the animator was doing was trying to get this film more interest from the ground up.

  • the producer just lacks people skills.. dumb dumb man.. he could have gotten compliance without creating bad blood. here bob, next time write this you knob:

    “Hi Victor, while we appreciate your enthusiasm for the film, and posting the clips, could you please please please take them down for the time being?? you see we’re trying to implement our promotional strategy, and don’t want anything out there at this time. in a few months, let’s talk! Thanks for your great work on the film btw! and I hope you are well. if you could confirm that you have taken the clips down that would be great.. mmm-kay? Cheers- Bob”

    btw, this is a common problem in the business world. it’s amazing how many people don’t know how to get what they want from people:)

    • I agree. When trying to get people to do what you want on the internet, it’s better to ask politely first, rather than immediately wheel out the lawyers.

  • Klyph

    I don’t know how it works in the film industry but in the video games industry it is almost universally known to animators you never release your personal reel from a game until its on the shelves. I would like to think that if Mr. Ens released these pencil tests a month or two after The Illusionist was released (or perhaps was available on DVD) then there would be no problem. But seeing as how it’s unreleased in several territories he shouldn’t be leaking footage (unfinished at that) onto the internet. Mr. Last could have been less threatening in his letter but he has every right to be upset and not want these videos on the internet.

  • Flame boy

    The Illusionist is not a great film. It’s had a disastrous first weekend in the box office in the UK charting at number 15 one place behind Disney’s third tier Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue.

    By all means go and see it but be aware it isn’t very good at all with its out of date clichéd suicidal clown and drunken Scotsman joining Chomet hate for all things American. Once seen you will be questioning why you had even considered that it might be worthy of an Oscar selection. The story never develops and you never get to understand the relationship between the magician and the girl.

    The whole production of The Illusionist seems fraught in conflict because of its unprofessional production company.

    • Wow. I couldn’t disagree with you more. Was THE IRON GIANT a disaster to you? It too was a huge bomb at the box office.

      It’s a shame that there is so much behind the scenes nonsense regarding this film. The final result, the finished film, is (IMHO) one of the best films of the year.

      • Adam O

        And what ever happened to brave filmmaking? This definately sets out to break the mould…and it is a great film even if it’s not a blockbuster in the first weekend. How do you expect animation to gain the respect it deserves if we don’t attempt new things?

    • Steve

      Flame Boy, the low box office takings for the Illusionist are due to the film only being released in independent cinemas and a handful of the mainstreams. It is difficult to take the same amount of money and climb the charts when the film isn’t shown in any of the mainstream cinemas like Toy Story 3 or any of the major hollywood studio films are.

      The film may seem out of date because the screenplay was written in the 1950’s which I would say adds to the charm of the picture.

      • Flame Boy

        Steve, the out-of-date stereotypes are actually Chomet’s additions to Tati’s original 1950’s script.

        Do you not think the reason that it opened on such few screens was down to both Pathe and Warner Bros accepting through their expertise that it was not a good enough movie to attract a large enough audience to justify such a outlay.

        I saw it on the Saturday night it opened in a small theatre that was 60% empty with the audience never once raising an emotion in unison.

      • Steve

        Out of date stereotypes in a film set in the 1950’s? How would you expect a film SET in the 1950’s to be not out of date? Should they all have been kitted out with iphones or something?

        The film is about decline and the suicidal clowns and the other vaudeville characters all have a very important role to play in communicating that, I think they did a great job and were a superb addition.

        Yes I do think that Warner Bros and Pathe may have decided not to open the film in as many screens but that is the reason why it has had (in your words) ‘a disastrous first weekend in the box office’ Its through no fault of the film that a handful of distributers found fault with the film when there are so many fans out there. Perhaps the film is too different to the Hollywood stuff out there for the distributers to justify putting it in every screen across the land.

        The cinema I saw it in (Newcastle, England) was next to empty (but none of the films I have seen their have been packed out), perhaps due to lack of promotion, and those who saw it enjoyed it, there was plenty of laughter to be heard.

        The ‘unprofessional’ production company put together a marvellous film in my eyes. You clearly disagree.

      • Flame Boy

        “The cinema I saw it in(Newcastle, England) was next to empty”.

        Answered you own question really.

      • Steve

        If you took away as much from the film as you did from my comment no wonder you thought it was not very good at all. Try to see the full picture in future.

      • Flame Boy

        What point were you trying to make? Oh yeah that it should have opened on more screens even though it couldn’t fill a fraction of the seats in the minuet amount of screens which it did.

        It’s a over hyped shit movie, get over it.

      • Steve

        I was justifying its ‘disastrous’ box office results and defending the production company you are so quick to dismiss. they put together a great film. Thats not just my opinion thats the opinion of many critics and professionals alike, far be it from me to copy their opinion but I do agree with them, its a bloody masterpiece.

        Now forgive me if I am wrong but we are not commenting on Bob Lasts letter to Victor Ens and are therefore going against this forums rules so I no longer wish to justify a film that does not need justifying to a boy who clearly thinks his own opinion makes up for fact.


      • Flame Boy

        An amateur production company that had to slap the wrist of an employee who was actually doing a hell of a good job of promoting the only redeeming feature about the entire movie. However a few snippets of good animation does not make a good movie and just as they are positive reviews out there they is just as many negative ones.

      • Steve

        88% on rotten tomatoes now if it was 50% your ‘just as many negative ones’ prediction would be right.

        And if thats what an amateur production company puts together a film I hope the big-shots are watching how to do it.

        I hope we can agree that Bob Lasts comments were out of order. Maybe if he would have let the animators promote the film more the cinemas would not have been so empty! Ha ha ha

      • Flame Boy

        Using your own stats over on Rottentomatoes the RT Community, who must have been keen on it in the first place to find a cinema showing it, has it down at 69%. Hardly a conclusive classic and even less so when compared to Toy Story 3 critic rating of 99% matched to a community of 91%. How to train you Dragon scores 98% and 90%. Dispecable Me 79% and 82%. Critics can be bought; the public in general make their own minds up.

    • chomet

      I could not have put it better myself. This latest controvesy, especially when coupled with the issue involving the script and Tati’s remaining living family, only serves to highlight the gross negligence of the those companies involved in this film. The whole development could have been handled so much better. If any film ever deserved its fatal coup de grace then surely its this, and now it seems the box office is finally delivering it.

  • Was my face red

    Patrick Smith has it dead right. That’s the way Ens should have been written to. The animator has been a bit naive (and Amid too, but he would never let living in the real world get in the way of stirring up a little rage against the suits.) but he’s also shown a lot of enthusiasm for the film which should have earnt him a little comradeship, instead of such a heavy handed slap.

  • Judging from the strict tone of the letter we can be confident that Django Film Illusionist, LTD. scrupulously observed all labor laws in their locale and never asked any artist to work unpaid overtime during the course of the production and not one pound of the substantial tax subsidy they got to produce the film was misspent or otherwise not fully qualified for.


    • thinthong

      Indeed. As far as I know they weren’t so scrupulous about that…

  • Bob Harper

    If you think this letter is harsh, then you haven’t seen enough of these kind of letters. This is actually tame compared to quite a few I’ve read and received from other companies.

  • Alberto

    Saw the film on Monday. Beautiful to look at, with some fantastic animation. I would hang any frame from the film on my wall. Story-wise though, it has to be the most boring and miserable movie I’ve seen (endured?) in a long time. While having almost no dialog thing worked brilliantly in Belleville Rendezvous, in this one it just feels forced and unnatural. I went in expecting to love it and absolutely hated it.

  • pat

    Eh, it’s a standard letter of fact. This blog post disappointed me because it made me expect something outrageous.

  • To be honest, this guy was lucky he wasn’t handed his hat and shown the door. Breach of contract, especially an NDA, is very likely grounds for dismissal and in more severe cases even a lawsuit to recoup damages. Do I think that kind of thing is right?  Not really, but if you signed a contract before you started work on that project, then they have more than enough legal ground to stand on if you break it. 

    Sure it generated some nice PR for the film, but that’s not your job. It’s marketing’s job. Supopose he posted something that was taken out of context and it gave the film a bad reputation?  The company could have lost millions of dollars all because you just couldn’t wait to show your work on your website. 

    Now I know that the guy had good intentions and I can’t wait to see this film either, but that’s beside the point isn’t it?  The point is to work in this industry you have to be able to honor a contract. And as much as you may not like it, NDA’s are there for a good reason. They let marketing do their job of making your film money. 

    If you want to get technical about it, you’re really not even supposed to send out unreleased footage on a demo reel if you’re looking for work. It’s just something you’re going to have to deal with. Imagine if someone from Disney or Pixar had released an unapproved playblast or pencil test from an unreleased film?  That person would likely be in very big legal trouble and chances are have some real trouble finding his next gig. 

    The bottom line is that it’s just not worth it. Don’t post unreleased footage. Even if you’re really really excited about it. And don’t belittle the producer just for doing his job. All things considered I think he’s being pretty lenient, even if you don’t like the way he said it. 

  • Rooniman

    What a jackass producer.

  • Markus

    It’s not the artist responsibility to promote the film.

    It’s not HIS movie, so the producer has every right to promote HIS film the way he wants.

    Considering that the artist has violated the terms of the contract that he sing the producer was really nice to just ask him to remove them.

    I don’t understand how is this outrageous…

  • Nancy Beiman

    Since animation ends (and animators are laid off) before the color, compositing and final prints are finished, it is understood that the animators will show pencil tests when applying to other studios for jobs.

    There is a vast difference between showing the work to a few animators, and posting it on the Web for all to see.

    There is a ‘grey area’ since the film has been released in several countries…

    I don’t see how Mr. Ens’ posting his tests hurts the film at all; rather the opposite; but his producer has other ideas, obviously. There isn’t much that can be done. The tests are already online. Does anyone know if Django is going to produce another animated feature?

    • Uli Meyer

      The studio in Edinburgh closed down as soon as the film was completed.

  • cliffclaven

    You shouldn’t have to send letters like that — in a good working relationship a phone call should have sufficed — but sometimes it’s legally desirable to make a show of it, lest someone else cite it as a precedent.

    More to the point: If the wrong footage leaks or is seen in the wrong context, it can actually hurt the film’s prospects by being too unfinished, by implying a different kind of film, or by just offering a target. Imagine if the first anyone saw of “Lion King” was the goosestepping hyenas. Or if “Monsters Inc” was preceded by a leak of that test footage showing ugly versions of the two stars. Look at the sketches, production tests and deleted scenes from any film and imagine how some of them would play on — well, here.

    I enjoyed “Triplets of Belleville” and it would take a lot to turn me away from this one. And I’m trying to go in without knowing what I’m going to see.

  • I’m glad Amid posted this… this reminds me why I don’t seek to animate or illustrate for profit…

  • nw

    It seems controversy follows Mr Chomet whereever he sets up shop.

  • Flame boy

    Not surprised that Chomet has been seen in Paris signing other people’s drawings for 600 euros a pop; it’s hardly the first time he’s taken it upon himself to take credit for other peoples work.

    Was Victor, rightly or wrongly, not showing his work to the outside world to inform us of his contribution? If you go through older posts on here it would seem he and Chomet had a strained relationship while on this project. With Chomet saying he couldn’t animate yet nearly ever preview clip for the movie features heavily(and I’m sure others)the work of Victor’s?

    Jerry Although I’m quite fond of The Iron Giant I also know that like The Illusionist it did not deliver what it had promised.

  • S



    • OMG stop screaming!

      • S

        Somethings have to be screamed out LOUD!

  • The producer was just doing his job. The act of the animator, whether well-intentioned or not is a copyright infringement for sure and probably a breach of his contract.

    Perhaps it could have been worded better, but in order to maintain legal integrity of the copyrighted work, a letter which is closer to the one sent than the alternative suggested above was indicated.

    Online publications are vastly more serious and potentially damaging than a print publication since an online publication makes the work available in dozens of jurisdictions around the world. Laws vary from country to country, so the copyright holder is exposed to a vastly larger set of problems by an online publication than by someone signing prints in one country.

    I think that the producer ought to be cut some slack. I can see myself as an attorney telling a producer that a letter needs to be sent in such a situation.

    • Funkybat

      If this really is a matter of legal necessity ont he part of a production company, perhaps the situation could be handled in such a way that the legal matters are followed but a “human touch” is used as well. The producer, or perhaps one of his lieutenants, could have called or spoken to the animator shortly before the “official” letter was sent, asking them to remove the clips and explaining why this is a violation of his work agreement. Such a conversation might also include the more polite reasonings mentioned in the Patrick Smith “alternative.” Shortly thereafter, the artist will receive the legal letter, and if he hasn’t already complied with what was outlined, he would then do so. That way there exists a legal paper trail to keep everyone in legal happy, and cover their butts if for some reason the artist were belligerent or otherwise uncooperative. But before getting a nasty-sounding letter, the leaders of the production have already spoken to him “like people” and let him know to expect this in addition to their comments.

      And while I believe that production companies could stand to be more lenient with their artists in this age of viral/guerrilla marketing, I also understand the counterarguments made here against this kind of thing.

  • cougar

    this conversation is silly. every contract i’ve ever signed precludes me from publicly displaying any of the work i’ve created until the work itself is published (broadcast). if it hasn’t been published, permissions would have to be given by the owner of the property. this is not unusual at all. the tone of the letter could definitely have been better… but come on people… put yer big boy pants on.

  • The artist was out of line by posting work not within the limits of an agreed marketing strategy – specifically BECAUSE the film has a limited marketing budget. A film like that, without the support of established brand recognition, desperately needs to control the way it presents itself – it’s all part of the illusion making process.

    The guy was hired to do a professional job and signed a contract. Imagine if every employee who put ‘blood sweat and tears’ into a production did the same?
    The internet would be flooded with half finished work in varying quality and formats with arbitrary tagging, and the identity of the film would be completely lost – its online presence defocused and muddied until the common viewer no longer knew if they were seeing aspects of a commercial feature or some student film.

    Maybe the directors generous tone seems more politic than the producers letter – but maybe the producer shouldn’t have to expect to treat employees like small children? He sent an automated uncaring letter, for what should have been a no-brainer. Fair play.

    Stop blaming the producers for EVERYTHING.

  • I think its alright that he’s direct. The guy probably signed a contract stating that he’s not to share anything done whilst he was employed by company x, and he broke it. Fair enough. Please take it down.

  • Flame boy

    LOL S at 1:21 into the clip hosted on Ink Digitals website is Victor Ens name used as a car registration plate :)

  • MJ

    What if he put the pencil test to the ending of the film?

    I think the producer is right here…

  • Betty Bingo

    I can’t see what he did wrong.

    If anyone is a criminal it’s Mr Last for fraudulety profiting out of the suffering of others.

    However, according to Morrissey educated criminals live within the law.

    These people have made like bandits

  • McDoogle

    Methinks there are a lot of producers posting here today…
    Yes, the artist was wrong to post what he did, as he should have got permission first. However most of the shots posted were from the trailer/teaser trailer which was already released.

    The producer needs to learn people skills. He could have dealt with this in a better was than annoying artists all over the world, who will keep an eye out for his name. one thing is for sure, the artist will be more respected and hopefully he will land a few more jobs.

  • Oh, come on. With all due respect to the very talented Mr. Ens, there is nothing extraordinarily cruel or demeaning in this email. The producer was just doing his job. Mr. Ens broke conditions of his contract with Django Films by posting copyrighted material on his website without explicit consent. It’s not HIS OWN WORK. It’s work he was hired to do by the studio. He doesn’t OWN it, and he didn’t have the right to publish it. This is not news.

  • Maybe my english is not that great, but to my understanding that email from the producer couldn’t have the tag of : “THREATENING”.

    I think your title for the post is a bit OVERRATED.

    However I see your point, and Jerry’s.
    Encouraging an artist is better than Punishing .

  • Ben Price

    I received a letter similar to the one posted above almost a year ago, but this person was at least a little more civil about it:

    dated 11/08/09: –

    Hi Ben,

    My name is Evgeni Tomov and I worked as an art director and a production designer with Sylvain Chomet on all his projects so far. Currently I am not working with him, as I left the pre-production of The Illusionist in 2006 but I still kept some of the development images I did for the film and some of them are posted on my online portfolio / website.

    I noticed that you have posted one of them on your blog and this resulted in PATHE contacting me (we are talking lawyers now…) and requested that I pull down the images from my website too (at least until the release of the movie next year), as people are using them without authorization, although the copyrights are clearly indicated on them. While you might not be the only one who did this, I decided to contact you and ask you to remove the image in question from the web. May be unintentionally, you have contributed to my problem with PATHE now (they are the producers of The Illusionist). Being an animation professional yourself, I hope you understand my position well.

    Thanks and all the best,

  • So the producer was in the right in insisting the tests were removed, but used very little tact in his delivery. So the real issue here is “this guy is tactless, and he works in animation, slap his wrist.” I’m sure there’s plenty of buffoons and dicks in animation, as with any industry. Should we start a hate march every time a boss talks harshly to an employee?

    Then again, what was the harm in posting the tests?
    I’m turning tail, the post was justified!

  • Actually, what I find offensive in the letter is the insistence that he destroy all personal copies/duplicates of the work. He isn’t employed by the tax office. Nobody is harmed by him keeping a personal record of his work. sure, the posting online is an issue, but I’m sure any animator wishes to retain more from a project than paychecks and a complimentary dvd.

  • Several people have suggested that the animator should have followed accepted custom and ought not to have posted any of the rough pencil tests of his animation from “The Illusionist” until after it was released . But hasn’t the film actually been released in Europe ?

    • Actually most require you to wait until it’s released on DVD

  • Corey

    What? An animator getting treated like crap by a suit? What kinda crazy world is this??

  • timmyelliot

    I don’t have a problem with the letter.

    It’s a legal letter. It ain’t warm and fuzzy, but it isn’t insulting either. It doesn’t demand anything beyond what it has a right to demand.

    I’m surprised anyone has a problem with it. It’s a business letter. It’s not a customer service letter. Maybe if Victor and the producer were buddies, then that letter might come off as a little curt — but I don’t think it should be taken personally.

  • This is such a non-issue, I don’t know why I am even writing this comment. Like someone mentioned before, imagine if an artist at Pixar, Disney or Dreamworks did this? The producer’s letter was unbiased in tone and simply presented the facts.

    Nothing to see here people, move along.

  • The artist was under a work for hire and the producer can say and do anything he wants in any kind of mood he wants. No one knows what might have been going on between these two prior to this episode. The producer may have been on his last nerve and just went off on the guy. Who knows.

    You simply can’t post stuff that someone else owns. No way no how. Not in any real world job I have ever seen in any industry anywhere.

    If I were the producer I would be mad as hell too.

  • “The producer, Mr. Last, should be encouraging any and all efforts to promote and praise the production… especially during the Oscar consideration period where it will compete against the likes of TOY STORY 3 and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.”

    But he didn’t. What a maroon.

  • Pincushion12

    Ah, good old Cartoon Brew.

    Overexagerating and screaming their heads off, and sticking their necks where it doesn’t belong in regards to the matters of fake, drummed up so-called “controversy” and bleeding their ridiculous, and biased politicking of the animation world by attacking producers for simply exerting their own legal rights in normal and non-threatening way, solely for the sake of defaming a producer who did absolutely nothing wrong, and hyping a non-issue to make themselves look important.

    Stay classy, Cartoon Brew.

    Stay classy.

    • Anonymous

      I agree 100%!

      Execs don’t hop from job to job or work as independent contractors who have to pay taxes. Execs don’t move from one studio to another and look for roommates constantly. Execs actually have full time jobs and make lots of delightful, delightful money. Animators make executives out to be the “bad guys” because they’re jealous.

      Anytime an executive is bashed, it’s based on jealousy. Do executives necessarily know what’s good? Not really. But, they do work hard and their thinking is legal and technical — not creative. Most of them have Master’s degrees.

      Don’t hate on executives because they don’t have to donate plasma every 6 months. They’re giving you the opportunity TO work. Without them, there would be no animation industry. Should animators be treated better? Absolutely…but don’t BASH executives for the wrong reasons.

  • why are animators such prissy little princesses ?

  • rezz

    what an idiot…the only people for the most part, that are interested in the pencil test are artist.

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    It’s disheartening to see how most people jump on the animator for’ breaking his contract’. to get another animation job, this artists has to show the producers of the next project what he has done in the past. most producers dont even want to look at a dvd anymore, but only want a link to one’s website and showreel.
    The animator didnt put the movie online, just selections of his own work to help him find further employment.
    To put a few linetest of your own work on a movie on an animation specific blog in no way devaluates the movie at the box office. the few interested people, who look at it will want to see it in context , and or consider the artists for their own production.
    To call animators prissy princesses shows a total lack of understanding and knowledge of how we animators get our next work. once again, this whole thread shows me that a lot of the people posting here have never worked in professional animation and just like to rag on real professionals.
    Even given the producer the legal right to have these tests taken down… this could have been handled far better. these guys always count on the artists loyalty and enthusiasm when they want free overtime or try to justify low wages…this hardly ever goes both ways though in my experience.

  • …Can ONE promote ONE’S own work by showing ONE’S own example line tests in ONE’S own blog if ONE is in the job’s market? The unwritten rule is: Yes, after the film had been released. This film had been released.

    • Usually one sends a portfolio to specific employers, especially if it has material that may be in the gray area of being sensitive. This is publicly available on a website that anyone can see. That is the difference.

      Oh and by the way, on putting unfinished work made as an employee on a public website, the written rule is no – unless you have obtained permission from the rights holder.

  • The Gee

    This would not be a public issue if the artist had just asked when and what he could post. Perhaps he would have been allowed to publish some things that weren’t the pencil test.

    And, if he’s looking for work and wants to use the pencil test then he could have just put it up on his website (if he has one and doesn’t just rely on a free blog) and just not promote the that it is up.

    The problem seems to be that this entire affair is public and not just between the animator and the producer. Usually, we take care of these things directly between one another and not publicly in front of an audience.

    File this under: Silly Rabbit, Trix is for kids….

    That said, best to the animator while he looks for his next gig. And, best to the entire crew on The Illusionist doing well at the box office, and around awards time.

    To all of you, and I state this with all due respect: go create something and then keep on creating. Those who’ve posted have wasted as much time as I have just playing the clickity-clack on their keyboards…

    Go on now, create.

  • w00t

    My office used to be in the same building as the one where Bob Last worked, and our TD took down some misdelivered post to them and handed it in.

    Bob made him sign an NDA — for being able to see into the office.

  • JD

    Stop in the name of the pencil test police! Oh foul animator! How could you soil the marketing scheme and taint the good name of the company by posting a pencil test? Now the film will bomb for sure because of you. Bad animator (slap!), bad animator (slap!).

  • Dear all,

    let me say a few things to avoid further misunderstandings.

    1)The Film has already been released in several countries by now!!!
    2)I posted the producer’s e-mail not to humiliate anyone but to explain why those pencil-test were gone all of a sudden and to avoid any guesswork why that happened.
    3)I never said that I feel threatened by that e-mail. I assure you I do not!
    4)I was indeed trying to promote that film a little by posting clips and pencil-tests which I regret now.I will delete those clips and everything that has to do with the “Illusionist”. I’ll leave that job to the people responsible for it.

    Nevertheless let me say this. The artists are the ones who actually create these films and it should be alright at least to show what you have done on a production. How the heck are you going to apply for another job if not with your work that you did before?

    As I said before, for me this is just sad, especially after a lot of extremely hard work on this film, that’s it!

    -Victor Ens-

    • The Gee

      Well, I’m glad you chimed in on this.

      While I guess this post has only been on the Cartoon Brew blog for a short time, it is too bad you didn’t get a chance to reply/participate early on.

      I totally agree with you that you should be able to demonstrate what you have done and show what you feel is your best work. Putting it up for public viewing on your own site or on a public blog might not be something you can get away with though.

      That’s why I mentioned being direct vs. being public. You could put something online and send the link directly to studios to demonstrate what you do. To just put it up and expect them to gravitate towards you…yeah, that can work and can lead to great things but if you don’t have permission to show it, why publicize that fact?

      Now, I haven’t seen your site(, or is it a blog?).
      You can make a blog a private one which is viewable only by invitation. If you can’t afford or don’t want to afford or make a website then make a private one and show your reel there. Then contact the potential studios as you find out about them…you know, if they are hiring…and send them that link along with whatever else they’d need (CV, references, take their test, whatever).

      I don’t mean to come down on you in this post or my previous one, man. And, I may not score brownie points by stating this on this site but what is surprising about the fact that we still have to jump through hoops? What has changed since the advent (or labeling) of Web 2.0 that has knocked down those hoops? Not much. We all hear about things and know of folks but for the most part, there’s still hoops to challenges and limitations on how we can use what we’ve done/made on the web and how we can promote ourselves.

      If that producer in particular is not a great person, that sucks for everyone who has to deal with him. But, still in what seems to be your situation, it isn’t like this type of thing is new or unique to your situation. Again, we all have hoops to jump through. And, there are ways around some parts of the obstacle course that allow you to meander wistfully.

      Again, best of fortune to you. If the test is as good as others have mentioned, hopefully the opportunities for you will be there.

      • I personally also agree with the main point that many artist’s portfolio is based on their professional work.

        Indeed how do you get the next job without showing this great work you did, NDA aside?

        This is the big issue here. I think there should be a better environment where it is agreed an artist can promote many aspects of the work that is non profit, and use it to show his skill.

        Also it should be known many people kept copies of this work and just showed employers personally in the past. This is no different. We just now live in a culture where the employer wants you website. Most people no longer want a portfolio or book of materials, let alone even a DVD now.

        They want your site. So is it that ridiculous that an artist can try to go and show his work? Arguing legalness can make you pigheaded. You should argue what’s fair. Everyone is selective about in what laws they follow. EVERYONE, so I don’t want to hear someone take the “high road” on something as harmless as posting pencil tests.

        Besides, again, promotion in blogs is great word of mouth, this is not subjective. This is part of marketing and this is part of garnering interest. The only way it could possibly hurt the film is if the artist posted the whole thing or large full clips or if the art sucked.

        The only way most artists get around this is to just constantly create personal work on the side. But if you are working 60-80 hours a week for someone weeks on end, how are your supposed to do this, let alone the idiotic contracts some studios or companies impose claiming they own everything you create while you are employed.

    • Spencer Morin

      Glad to hear Victor’s thoughts on the matter. I think Amid blew this one out of proportion a little bit.

  • H

    I am not saying what the animator did was right. I still don’t have the permission to upload some of my best freelancing works online.

    I used to work on the film as a digital artist. Bob Last behavior, was perhaps the only reason I left…He does not treat artists with respect, and reading this article It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

    I know few people from ink digital studio that are still waiting to get paid for their last few months of hard work on The Illusionist.

  • People get very proprietary about films, music and art in general. I can only imagine that I would want to post line tests, drawings and doodles if I ever worked on a feature.

    Having said that anyone who has ever done work-for-hire knows the deal: it ain’t yours in the end. I agree the reaction in this case might seem extreme, but its standard boilerplate and I suspect this animator knew he would get word from the studio eventually.

    Hey, distributors and producers have their hands full making sure that their works just don’t end up being downloaded for free. Sometimes they might bite the wrong hand, but legally they are the only ones with any say-so about a film and its promotion. Just look at any of those old Disney model sheets with “Property of Walt Disney Productions” stamped on them.

  • Its not a crime to put up a few pencil tests I suppose but it would be very blotchy if every animator did so and eventually defeat a careful marketing strategy.

    Remember ‘The Secret of Kells’ and the crews’ wonderful work in a official progress blog right from model sheets and animation layouts and the process right till completion ?
    It got the whole artist community talking and blogging about it and spreading the news so much that it worked as a small marketing effort by itself !

    But as a rule we have to agree the work or its marketing should be best done by the Production house itself.

  • “standard corporate fare” is not good enough. To be gentle is an utmost art to be cultivated.

  • Bob Harper and Carly put it well. I’d add that while writing a more personable email might have helped the producer seem more human to many (although he must have the same trouble quitting coffee and cigarettes that any animator would), he may not have had time or desire to massage the black and white of the contract that this animator was working under. I figure it could very well be a stock letter that he copy and pasted. Of course the artists here want to be treated better, but I’m hopeful that any traditional animators are grateful they have work, and weren’t sitting at home because Chomet chose live action or a stage play or whatever that would lead to a missed opportunity to see a beautiful hand-drawn production make it to the screen.
    Regarding Victors reply: I have friends that are producers (some that did their job more kindly than others), and while I have worked as an animator and understand that it is the artwork that is seen by the audience, the film isn’t necessarily going to come together without the existence of what the producer does. But it sho’ is fun to be hatin’ on them soots, iddinit???

    • exit stage left

      working in the games industry myself, i can empathise with this post.

      if you a team of programmers, you’ve got a great chance of getting a game together, albeit, not the best looking one.

      if you had a team of artists – you won’t such a bad chance of getting something together. it’ll look pretty, however, may not play terribly to well…

      you see where i’m going with this…

      producer’s are generally the used-car salesmen of the games industry, and no doubt the film industry too…hitching a ride on other peoples talent.

  • Spencer Morin

    That letter was pure legal protocol. There was absolutely no heart in it, and there needn’t be in such a case.

    Bob definitely could have been a bit nicer. The nicer alternate might not have resulted in as swift a result.

    I just want to thank Victor for the posting the line tests though. I learned a lot from them and thought they were superior examples of a fine animator.

  • chomet

    Drowning in a river or lake is one thing, but in an ocean of disenchantment and sea of viewer apathy is quite another. So yet again, congratulations to the makers of The Illusioniste for yet another spectacular own goal. Lucky for you the world is’nt watching.

  • Chuz

    We saw The Illusionist at the New Zealand Film Festival. Some of the animation and shot planning was exceptional, however I feel that the film itself is definitely a niche film, and not everyone will enjoy it.

  • Once a show airs or a film debuts you really should be able to promote the work you have done and add it to your portfolio. I’m not sure why an animator would NOT be able to do this if the film is out already. Not sure why the studio wouldn’t want animators to promote the film and themselves. That seems counter productive. But, we all sign those all encompassing contracts!

  • roccob

    i wonder if he’s got a big puckered asshole

  • Jim

    Well, I certainly enjoyed the pencil tests; which probably have been released legally by now.

    Still, like the producers and directors, I would get a crazy hair stuck if someone broke copyright laws with my work. Any artist worth his own salt knows you don’t break copyrights.

    Yes, I agree it would have been nice for the studio to have release the pencil tests as part of their campaign or let the guy portfolio at least part of the work he did; but, you can’t fault them because they didn’t. That’s their call, their right. The artist should have known better or at least read the contract a little closer.

    There’s one artist who won’t be stepping over the line again for a while.

  • Wow – I’m with you Amid. This is ridiculous.

    I’m going to get flack for posting this, I’m sure, but watch Neil Gaiman on Internet Piracy and take time consider what he says:

    If the company exec “Doesn’t get it” – then he or she should be educated. I’m sick of the frightened side-stepping people take instead of standing up for themselves in the industry – and I don’t even work in it yet.

    Sure, a company has every right to protect it’s product, but there’s a right and wrong way to do so – and there’s nice and not so nice way of doing it. Just because the state I live and work in is a “Right to Work” state doesn’t mean I want to be treated like I’m dispensable, and doesn’t mean that that’s how I treat my job.

  • Manuel

    Bob Last is again showing what kind of person he is. Here you can see what he said about an animator from The Illusionist (read the comment, below).