Why The Disney/Lucasfilm Merger Hurts Artists and Creativity

Veteran animation artist Mark Mayerson has some of the most consistently enlightening perspectives on the business of animation, and his commentary on the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm is a must-read.

First, Mark explains why this purchase hurts animation artists in the Bay Area:

If you happen to be somebody working in computer animation in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is now one less employer in the market. Pixar and ILM have been charged with collusion, cooperating to make sure that they didn’t hire employees from each other. Now they’re the same company and they can do what they like with hiring policies and pay scales.

If you’re unaware of the collusion charges, read about the case HERE.

Second, Mark explains how Disney CEO Robert Iger is shortchanging the company’s future by focusing too much on rehashes of tired properties insteading of creating original work:

Robert Iger is clearly looking backwards more than forwards. But don’t forget that the Muppets started out as a small troop of puppeteers on local television, Marvel started out as a handful of creators working out of their homes, and George Lucas got turned down by everyone until Alan Ladd, Jr. took a chance (but didn’t realize the value of sequel or merchandising rights or he would have kept them). What Robert Iger doesn’t see is that great creations don’t come from large companies, they come from people committed to their own ideas who work out of basements, garages, warehouses and other out of the way places. Sort of the way Walt Disney started. Remember him? Which means that while Iger is busy grinding out Muppets, Marvels and Star Wars, the great creations of the 21st century will be happening elsewhere.


  • Christian

    “Which means that while Iger is busy grinding out Muppets, Marvels and Star Wars, the great creations of the 21st century will be happening elsewhere.”

    This might only be a problem if they are not releasing original movies along with movies based on existing franchises. I can handle some of each.

  • http://www.youtube.com/floydbishop Floyd Bishop

    Rehashes and rereleases were the standard for Disney long before this. The money backs up that decision in many cases. We’ll have to wait and see what the numbers are, but I’d bet Monsters Inc 2 does way better than the recent Frankenweenie film.

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      Frankenweenie was a remake of a three-decade old Disney short. So that contradicts your point that rehashes and sequels are guaranteed money-makers.

      • http://www.dudegurlz.com Kris Kail

        Frankenweenie was Disney attempting to cash in on what a merchandising frenzy Nightmare became for them in the early to mid 2000′s thanks to stores like Hot Topic. Whether it was Burton finally getting to make his movie or not, when Disney greenlit it they had dollar signs in their eyes.

        Disney told Burton thirty years ago that no one would ever pay to see his movie, and it turns out they were right.

        • http://www.hunteachother.com Max W

          “Disney told Burton thirty years ago that no one would ever pay to see his movie, and it turns out they were right.”

          That’s weird, I was under the impression that people DID pay to see this movie. Oh, but it didn’t make 5 billion dollars in the first 2 days of it’s release, so it must be a failure… If you look up the box office reports now, the film appears to have made it’s money back over time. Of course, when a film’s budget is $40-ish million rather than $150 million, it’s a lot easier for the film to make that $$$ back. I get the feeling that when Disney is buying more massive properties like Star Wars, they’ll be taking less “risks” on the lower-budget films like this.

      • Vince

        Where in his comment did he say sequels were guaranteed money makers? Floyd only said they make money in many cases.

      • Sarah J

        True, but I don’t think most people even know that Frankenweenie was originally a short film, even fewer will have seen it. So to audiences, Frankenweenie would be on par with an “original” story, yes?

    • William

      How well a sequel may do has nothing to do with the creative element Mark is talking about. His point is that only looking at the money is where one gets in trouble.

  • Luke

    In regards to Iger’s IP strategy, it’s truly ashame. Back in 2006, I thought that Disney buying Pixar would be similar to Apple’s acquisition of NeXT in that it would represent a sea change for Disney creatively. Oh well… How long do we have until Iger leaves?

  • http://Mattmaners.blogspot.com Matthew Maners

    What will become of ILM the vfx division? Does anyone know?

    • cst

      They’ve stated that ILM will continue to provide FX for hire to anyone who wants to pay for their services. (And there’s no reason to doubt them; it’s been a very successful business model).

  • Chewie

    Trust the Brew to leap headfirst to a negative, click-bait conclusion. Mayerson’s concern about SF wage competition is fair enough (though no artists have been ‘hurt’ quite yet), but the broader assumption that a new franchise at Disney necessarily results in doom for artists and fewer original projects seems like a grand assumption. Allow me to put forward a recklessly optimistic counterpoint: maybe three new Star Wars films will mean a) more VFX and animation jobs, b) opportunities for new talent to take Lucas’s ideas in creative new directions, and c) smiles and happiness in theatres around the world.

    • jssyncro

      The assumption that the Lucas/Disney merger is bad for artists, in particular SF Bay Area artists, is predicated on the history of Disney shutting down virtually every VFX shop it has owned. In the past couple of years Disney has shut down Imagemovers and Cinderbiter, two large Bay Area shops, in the middle of film projects and laid off several hundred employees.

      While more Star Wars projects will mean more work for artists, those jobs will likely not happen in the US but rather in places with lower labor costs and/or tax incentives for Disney.

      • http://tylerart.com Brent

        Do you really think that a Star Wars movie would be made WITHOUT ILM at the helm of VFX? I highly doubt it.

        • jssyncro

          Brent, Disney has no emotional attachment to ILM the way George did. They will do whatever is in the best interest of their stock price, it’s that simple.

          • Funkybat

            That said, it would be a terrible business decision to disband or otherwise tamper with ILM. It has proven to be the premier VFX firm in the U.S., if not the world (them Kiwis do some good work, too.) ILM is not ImageMovers any more than Pixar is Imagi Animation or Digital Domain. It makes zero sense for Disney to get rid of or even reduce the size of ILM as long as it is a top-tier VFX house that not only can supply work for Disney properties, but make money for Disney doing effects for outside studios.

  • Rufus

    On the up-note, maybe Disney will listen to the fans and milk the audience for a remastered original trilogy without any of the latter-added special effects. I’d dip.

    • Kristjan B.

      I bet Lucas have probably put clause in the deal to keep the addons in the blu-ray/DVD releses.

      • http://www.spiteyourface.com tony mines

        Fox retains its rights to the original Trilogy films. Still no more likely to happen than at any other time.

    • Nic

      To be fair, a good chunk of those add-ons were something that George Lucas had wanted on the first go-round but simply didn’t have the resources to make. The additions were meant to be there, they just couldn’t be.

      • Occams Breadknife

        Like Han shooting AFTER Greedo? No, I don’t think so. He tinkered. Badly.

      • http://rubikunsreviews.livejournal.com rubi

        I don’t mind most of the additions.

        But the “Jabba Rocks” scene and Vader screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” in what was once a dramatically successful silent moment have turned Return of the Jedi, already the weakest of the OT, almost unwatchable.

  • Bluecollaranimator

    Wow! Maybe we will see “Star Wars Land” at the Disney theme parks soon!

    • http://www.dailygrail.com Red Pill Junkie

      Or maybe they will remodel the Epcot dome, and turn it into the Death Star ;)

  • Chuck

    This is BS. Lucas quit being an originator years ago. The Muppets have been sitting on a shelf gathering dust until Disney reinvigorated them. Marvel is stronger and more willing to take chances under the financial security of Disney. Disney deserves a chance here. God knows they can’t do worse than Lucas did.

  • YOUR NEIGHBOURG

    no surprise
    i love the illustration. says it all!

  • http://www.dudegurlz.com Kris Kail

    While I generally agree with these points, the fact that Disney’s dipping into sequels/rehashes IS a pain in the butt, but other than the non-Toy Story Pixar sequels everything they’re doing is on the money. The Muppets is being handled in a fresh new way that keeps the original flavor but puts a modern twist on it and it works. Marvel’s keeping up with their original plan from before Disney, now they’re just paving the way with Disney Dollars. Star Wars? Still gonna go as planned, but now with the addition of the sequel trilogy which could be seen as pandering, but might wind up being amazing.

    The real problem is the economy. Studios are less likely to take risks on new ideas because the people want familiarity. Their $12 is more valuable now than it ever was before, and they’re gonna spend it on something they know they’ll like rather than something they don’t understand. This is the sole reason why we’re getting Monsters University, Cars 2, Planes, Transformers 4, a new Paranormal Activity every year even though its the same shit, new Die Hards, new Star Wars, its all rehashes of shit we all know.

    • Sarah J

      Pretty much this. For all the complaining people do about sequels, remakes, and reboots, they’re still more likely to go see Cars 2 or Transformers 4 or Paranormal Activity 17 than a new, original movie with a new, original story. Even though people complain that sequels never live up to the original, they still go out and pay to see these sequels.

      This is true for all sects of the entertainment industry, ESPECIALLY in a bad economy when customers aren’t spending as much, and when the company itself doesn’t have as much money to spend. If a studio makes a sequel of a previous, successful film, they can guarantee that the film will make at least some money. But a completely new film that isn’t based on any pre-existing work is more of a risk. It could either be the next big thing, or it could totally bomb.

  • kaz diati

    When will we be getting Phineas and Ferb vs. Darth Vader?

  • AaronSch

    There will be other innovators in the future. So, you can either go suck your thumb and curl up in a corner or work hard developing your craft and maybe become the next George Lucas or Walt Disney.

  • Mel

    Until last year’s Muppets feature, Disney didn’t do much with Henson’s legacy franchise. Pixar was already a proven moneymaker in 2006 when Disney bought it. Marvel has done well in recent years and Disney may prove to be that spotty brand’s commercial salvation. As for Lucasfilm, George was adrift creatively before 1990. What this means for ILM is yet to materialize. Will Disney halt that fx house from providing major sequences for all of its studio competitors? Disney historically has tended to circle its creative wagons. The Star Wars franchise alone is the reason for this acquisition but coming so late in the lifespan of the Lucasfilm brand it feels a lot like the moment in the early 1990s when Disney got so very giddy over signing the 1970s band Queen.

  • wever

    Ah!

    THERE ya go!

    THERE ya go I KNEW that ONCE I heard about this bit of news, Amid would put a horrible slant on it!!! It’s My Little Pony all over again!! Good-bye for the next few days!!!!

  • Marc Baker

    I shouldn’t be surprised that Iger is no better than Eisner. At least Eisner, and Katzenberg made use of Disney’s reputation, and reinvented it to great effect. Iger, to me, seems like a hack with no original bone in his body, or any understanding of where new talent comes from. Sure, having proven names is kinda nice, but don’t forget your own name, and where new talent, and names may come from. What a crazy messed up world we live in.

  • http://sketchyplace.blogspot.com Alan

    I choose to see this as a great opportunity for us “outside the loop”of these companies to be able to be blessed to make original creations while everyone is busy making “Howard the Duck: Part 4 3/4.”

  • Billy Batz

    Disney buys successful companies so they will have money to buy more successful companies

  • William

    “If you happen to be somebody working in computer animation in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is now one less employer in the market. Pixar and ILM [are now] the same company and they can do what they like with hiring policies and pay scales.”

    And animation artists are not unionized, is that correct?

  • http://www.dittybox.co.nz gavin mouldey

    “the great creations of the 21st century will be happening elsewhere.”
    And when they’re successful, Disney will buy those too.

  • Yeah but…

    You want to work in a studio system deal with it.

    Sometimes I feel like animators are a higher tech version of Detroit cats. It’s a business. Deal with it. What’s it hurting exactly? Your sense of entitlement to a pension and job that last 30 yrs? I don’t get you older dudes. You had your time. It’s hard out there, get used to it. Shut up. THIS IS THE NOW. I dislike most his films but Bakshi was saying something 30 years ago, weren’t you listening? I was barely being born. What was your excuse?

    So, between wiping your tears, realize there are SO many new exciting possibilities for YOUR voice to be heard. YOUR very own work. As a true artist. Not a part of a machine. I really don’t get the complaints. With what that machine pays you should be happy.

    Hell, they want to release 3 films and a score of other properties as they seek to exploit and bleed this dry but guess what, don’t worker bees like work? So shutup.

    Yea, it’ll be outsourced but uh, where’d you think the “global market” phrase came from?

    I hear Canada’s nice. :)

    Happy Halloween

    • http://tuortoart.blogspot.com/com/ Patrick Tuorto

      By far the best comment at Cartoon Brew I’ve ever read , thanks for posting this. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • InternetPolice

      Happy Halloween indeed. What a scary mentality.

      If this is how you feel, why pussyfoot around at all? Worker bees want to work. Let’s work ‘em to death! If some entitled steelworker doesn’t want his hands crushed in the machinery – he should set up his own foundry in his garage!

      Animation work is work, correct? People are entitled to fair pay for their work, right? These companies have proven they are willing to collude illegally to suppress employee wages, which suggests pretty strongly the regard they have for their workers. Gives us a pretty good idea how we can expect them to treat their artists now that they are one entity. I’ll never understand how some animators are so eager to let their employers to treat them like garbage. Independent work sure does sound lovely, but you can’t eat passion, and when I can’t afford the luxury of being my own boss I’d prefer if people were willing to stand up for workers rights, rather than call me an entitled crybaby.

      • Yeah but…

        Exactly. That’s why we (as functioning members of society) should support government oversight and why the free market ideals are a silly argument when the bottom line with a company is always going to be to land in the black.

        My mentality is that of an experienced worker (over 10 yrs in feature films, games and television) who sees things are changing and have been for some time. The “power” you thought you had came at the whim of your employer. I’m sorry this is a scary to you but it’s reality. – Freelance Animator w/ steady work Los Angeles, 2 kids, and still managing to stay hungry and pitch his own work

        • InternetPolice

          So… what exactly? We should cannonball into the abyss with smiles on our faces? That will show how much more grit ‘n determination we have than those crybabies – blabbering away about this big ‘ol hole in the ground.

          This just absolutely kills me. I keep seeing this mindset – (which is the scary mentality I was referring to earlier) – that you’re somehow superior in condemning those that talk about the problems of the industry, even when, (as in your case), you apparently agree with the overall sentiment they are expressing.

          How can you actually say “What’s it hurting exactly? Your sense of entitlement to a pension and job that last 30 yrs?” in one breath and then turn around and talk about the ills of unregulated capitalism in another? What’s scary is the inconsistency of your viewpoint, and the way in which you cast your outrage indiscriminately against the oppressed and the oppressors in kind.

      • William

        Maybe the best comment at Cartoon Brew I’VE ever read.

        On one hand, it absolutely astounds me how so many animation artists don’t seem to understand that a fair wage should be paid for a fair day’s work, and that that basic idea (from which all aspects of labor dealings, not just salary, ought to generate) can be undermined when power consolidates – large or small. On the other hand, I feel sorry for those same artists as so many of them come across as not having the guts to face this trend for what it is, and have simply accepted it for fate. And then become protective when their passive attitude is challenged, or sometimes turn on “older dudes” (I’m in my twenties) just because they had the perspective to be able to appreciate the value of their work back in a time when such value was defended with the same strength detraction is now.

        No wonder you animators aren’t unionized.

    • Billy Batz

      “So, between wiping your tears, realize there are SO many new exciting possibilities for YOUR voice to be heard”-Working on the new Star Wars Babies cartoon

      • Yeah but…

        Ha! Funny :D but nope.

        Would be hilarious tho’ :)

  • http://joecorrao.blogspot.com Joe Corrao

    I wish them luck

  • http://cloudkid.com Dave Schlafman

    I think more than ever artists have the ability to create the next Marvel, Muppets, etc. Anyone with a computer and some software can produce and publish content, and with Kickstarter, projects can actually get funded. While blockbusters from Disney might consist of reboot after reboot, I still think inde artists and creators have the potential to build and grow amazing brands w/o the need of big companies like Disney. Afterall, Jim Henson and George Lucas were at one point average dudes who loved to make stuff. It took years of hard work to build their empires…

    • Sarah J

      True, quite true. Though I think the concern here is about all the big, popular franchises being owned by a small handful of companies, and how that might restrict creativity. If Regular Joe self-publishes an e-book, or creates an animated web series by himself, and his work becomes really popular, then he’ll probably see big companies trying to buy his work. And it would probably be hard to resist if he’s being offered six figures, or more, for his work, yes?

  • Steve Gattuso

    All I want to know is “Would Iger have let Jar-Jar be greenlit?”

  • Kate

    Seems to me the only artists hurt are those who insist on working on their own material. Because of Disney, there could be 3 more Star Wars movies that will employ thousands of people working in the entertainment industry. It might not be creating the next Star Wars in your garage but Disney is helping keep many creative people employed. There’s nothing wrong with Disney banking on a known quantity like Star Wars rather than making costly mistakes like John Carter.

    Star Wars and Marvel have been a source of inspiration for many artists, just because they are already established characters/ideas doesn’t mean the people creating the next chapters in the franchise aren’t being equally creative as those working on original projects.

  • Chris

    This is the best case scenario for the Star Wars franchise. Imagine if Lucas’ kids took his company. Disney will be the best possible steward for the property. Lucasfilm could have been broken up, sold off in pieces or dissolved completely. Disney has done right by Pixar and Marvel and will do the same for Star Wars. The prequels set a low bar and many writers, directors and artists will now have a chance to take a crack at the universe.

    • http://dailygrail.com/ Red Pill Junkie

      Or, how about a *completely* crazy idea: He could have chosen to open source the rights of the franchise, so that anyone can make their own version of the Star Wars galaxy –the way fans are already doing, but without fearing the wrath of the Mouse, now that the copyright will probably be kept in perpetuity by the studio, the same way they intend to do with all their properties.

      Yeah, I know…

  • Sarah J

    Eh, I dunno, Disney would probably be making rehashes and sequels even if they didn’t purchase Lucasfilms. The thing is, reboots and sequels and adaptations are a safer bet, especially in a bad economy. Even though everyone complains about how unoriginal the industry is, and how they’re sooooo tired of remakes and sequels, they’re still paying to see those remakes and sequels. And that is why Disney, as well as other companies, continue to make them. Say Disney has to choose between making one of two movies: a “Cars” sequel, or an original fairy tale type story that takes place during like, the ice age or something, and there’s magic, I guess. Disney would almost certainly go with the “Cars” sequel because it’s practically guaranteed to make money. The first two “Cars” movies were popular, people will almost certainly see a third one no matter how much they talk about the inferiority of sequels or how they want something new and original. But the ice age fairy tale? It could either be a huge hit, or it could bomb. Even if the Disney label ensures that it will make money, it’s still more likely that the “Cars” sequel would make more money. That gets especially more true when you start to take merchandising into account, yes?

  • toonio

    Game over for Seth Green and Seth McFarlane and their Star Wars spoofs as every franchise at Disney should keep a corporate look.

  • scissorhands