Laika cuts computer animation

Portland’s Laika studio (Coraline) has scrapped all its plans for creating CG features and will instead focus on making stop-motion films exclusively. The studio laid off 63 computer graphics employees today, according the website SlashFilm. UPDATE: Studio publicist Maggie Begley wrote in to clarify: “It’s not accurate to say that the studio is abandoning CG altogether. They will continue to use CG opportunistically in stop motion films and will continue to develop CG projects in house for further down the road.”

I personally think the decision to specialize with stop-motion is great move – not only for the health of the studio, but for the art of stop-motion animation itself. And this is shaping up to be a helluva year for stop-motion. I just attended an advance screening of Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox today. It’s not from Laika, but it’s an outstanding film – which, compared with 2009′s other stop-mo releases (Coraline, Mary And Max), shows the wide range of this technique. I’m delighted to know this ancient hand made animation process has a somewhat healthy future.


  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    I too think this is a wise move for LAIKA, even if it’s never fun to hear of animation artists being laid off.

    While LAIKA’s initial ambition to do a feature in each of the big media was a noble idea, I think in this climate it’s best for a studio to stick to its strengths. LAIKA has truly amazing talents and resources in stop-motion and to focus on nurturing that is a good, pragmatic decision if it gives us more films as good as Coraline.

    It’s Portland, we’re all about the hand-crafts ;)

  • RoboFingernail

    Awesome! Less jobs for us untalented computer using hacks.

  • Lucky Jim

    I can’t be the only person that used to be paranoid that it was going to be the other way around, with Laika laying off all of their stop-motion people at some point.

    As sad as it is to see talented computer animation artists laid off, I’m relieved that Laika remains committed to stop-motion; it’s what they do best.

  • http://tigerhawk01.deviantart.com/ Sam Filstrup

    Well that stinks that those guys got laid off I’m ecstatic to see a studio utilizing Stop Motion. Its always been a shame that stop motion features have been so far and few a part.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    They were going to make a CG feature with 63 people?

  • David Cuny

    I find it difficult to get excited that 63 “computer graphics employees” were laid off.

    Goodness knows there weren’t any “animators” in the bunch.

  • rextherunt

    Yes, ‘ a great move’ isn’t the most tactful to mark sixty three people getting the boot from a studio that changes it’s mind after hiring them.

  • http://highlyrecommended.blogspot.com Satorical

    Wow, what a way to spin firing 67 (not 63) people. If it were exclusively CG, they could claim it was strategy-related. But scrapping a production isn’t the same as having a strategy, and it’s not just CG people who’ve been sacked since Coraline. Story people (not just for CG) have been part of the mix too.

    If LAIKA knows what it wants, then whats its next feature? Answer us that.

  • http://www.cannedgeek.com/ Kyle

    Ouch, that’s a big chunk of unemployed animators. That said, I was amazed by Coraline so I’m definitely looking to see more work from Laika. And I can understand that it’s better to have a focus, otherwise you’re balancing projects and – more importantly – having to ensure a revenue that can supply the resources for both the stop motion and computer animation teams – both of which require different resources. Still, it would suck to be in that group of CG animators, but hopefully they find some more work soon.

  • clutch

    It’s always a great move when 63 people lose their job! Hey!

  • Lara Smith

    The Fantastic Mr. Fox? Could this be the Roald Dahl story?

  • Steve Gattuso

    I too feel sorry for the CG artists laid off, though I am certain they have a better shot at finding new work than most. And if this means more fantastic films like Coraline, I cannot be anything but overjoyed.

  • http://weflewairplanes.blogspot.com Ian

    Have to agree, it’s not good to hear about layoffs in animation, but at least Laika knows that it should play up its strengths. Although, from what I remember hearing, all the faces in Coraline were designed in CG and then used 3d printing. Don’t they need those people?

  • J. Shamblin

    I kinda liked the idea that Laika wasn’t afraid of artistic expression and ventured into several styles of animation depending on what fits the story best. In my mind, they were the house that can do it all. They were great at everything they did, so why limited themselves to only stop-motion animation? It’s a real shame. I’m going to miss their cut-out animation they used for the lotto commercials. They had a lot of charm.

  • http://scuzzbopper.blogspot.com Ken Priebe

    Wow, this is great news. It’s true that CG modelers and FX artists will still be needed, but it seems here the point is that all character animation will be in stop-motion.

    The stop-motion feature film has a sporadic history but has certainly now come of age, and there are more of them being made simultaneously now than ever before, with the right stories & designs to suit the medium. I’ll be researching some of this history for my next book.

  • http://www.charlescarney.blogspot.com Charles Carney

    Curious that they never sack 63 executives (or even 6.3) whose notes turn a perfectly fine story into an idiot’s nest. But it’s heartening to see a resurgence of interest in stop-motion technique. I hope it’s successful, but not so much that the studios believe it’s the “next big thing.”

    As for “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” I don’t know if I can stand one more celebrity-voiced animated film. Hollywood is full of amazing voice actors who craft voices to create character. Watching the trailer of Mr Fox, I could only hear George Clooney, which threatens to ruin the experience of the story since it then ceases to be about the Foxes.

  • Sammy

    I certainly hope it’s not just an excuse for them to lay off people just like that, that they are going to fully focus on Stop motion or what not. I always thought CG modelers would have went through training in sculpting and can still assist in the Stop motion production, CG animators are still animators despite what medium, and so on. That their skills can still be used elsewhere in the Stop motion pipeline. But hey, what do I know?

    I wish all those CG graphic artists best of luck though.

    I’m all for them focusing on Stop motion since the CG industry is becoming so crowded, there’s a need for more 2D or Stop motion animation companies around. It’s just a sad news to hear people getting laid off.

  • Frank

    Will Vinton’s studio, on whose ashes Laika was built, did very well doing primarily stop motion animation. Laika probably could not compete in CGI with such an undermanned and comparatively underfunded computer operation, up against the biggest guns in contemporary feature CGI. Unless of course they had the best story on earth.

  • kret

    The layoffs were in the CG departments and included some administration people (IT, HR…). Happily, LAIKA’s commercial division was untouched. They are still cranking out many commercials is 2D, CG and stop-mo. In fact, this division is busy. Those “cut-out” lottery commercials can still be made by talented multi-medium animators. They still have an amazing CG department, too, who continues to make national work (m&ms, miniwheats).

    Why don’t the other animation studios get this scrutiny?

  • Killskerry

    Yeah its great. Tell that to all my friends who just got laid off.

    Laika is a mess. I can safely say that I am amazed Coraline was ever finished. Its production was a long succession of come and gone art directors and “visionaries” a very small fraction of which were hired from the local pool of talent. It seems they could have done us all a favor and started a stop motion bootcamp for 3-d animators retraining at least a few of them. They company has always talked about opening a school of its own.

    They did keep a barebones staff of 3-d people that are still doing commercial work and cleanup. But I feel the studio still has no idea what direction it wants to go. The only thing that Phil Knight knows is that he dumped alot of money into a stop motion movie and it did pretty well so why take any more risks.

  • DeadManWalking

    Frank had the right idea talking about the underfunded CG dept. there never really was a support for CG at the studio and anyone who says otherwise was running around with their eyes closed. It always seemed like we were never given a proper chance, nothing was ever good enough. Promises were made, in the end they turned out to be empty. In this situation the words spoken by Phil Knight last January when 60 of my friends were let go echo in my mind, that there would be no more layoffs.

    lesson learned, be skeptical when people promise you things that seem too good to be true. Make sure to get any promises in writing!

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com FloydBishop

    This is horrible news, especially in this economic climate. Best of luck to all those affected.

  • Animator

    Henry Selick is in the process of running yet another company into the ground. I wish the best to those affected by the layoff.

  • Frankly_Speaking

    Almost the entire army of animators, artists, camera people, etc. who worked on Coraline have been laid off since that film finished production last year. We’re talking about 200 people here. (A mere handful have been retained.) That number dwarfs even the 120 CG people who have been laid off in the time since. I feel very sorry for these CG people, because I can sympathize. Being an artist out of work in this economy is not fun. While Laika’s commercial division seems to be doing okay, none of the people employed by that division had anything to do with the many failures and eventual successes of Coraline.

  • Rat

    Jerry,

    Really? Revisit the tone of your post and put at least a feigned note of sadness for 63 creative people out of work in this economy.

    Personally, I fail to see how laying off 63 people (in addition to the massive layoffs after Coraline) bodes well for the “somewhat healthy future” of indie animation.

  • Get Real

    It stinks when people are let go, I feel sorry for anyone who has been effected by the Laika layoffs. But those who are angered but this news need to get real. If you enter this business thinking you are entitled to a job for life, your delusional. That’s not how things work, or have ever worked. Where does this sense of entitlement come from?

    If a company stops production on its first CG feature, and then hints that its next feature will be another stop motion film, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the way things are going.

    Every animation studio in the world, grows and shrinks, especially when they are new. It’s an unfortunate and regrettable fact of life.

    One last thing, ‘Animator’ – Henry Selick has absolutely nothing to do with the these layoffs, so stop with the hate.

  • Cory

    Jerry will not be apologizing for his comments, because he sees nothing particularly sad about CG artists being laid off. Both he and Amid would love nothing more than to see all CG work end forever, in favor of their preferred classic animated mediums. They are actually somewhat open about this, reading a little between the lines. They don’t tend to see any real craft or artistry in CG film-making. This is very unfortunate.

    A studio with large, consistent funding supporting high-quality stop-motion features is certainly good, after a long drought of anything resembling such. I hope that Laika is able to make many successful stop-motion features, and can bring the medium back to prominence. Hopefully, Coraline is just the beginning.

    But the disparaging attitude toward CG that this site and its brewmasters cultivate is childish, petty, and ultimately self-defeating. Unless a sense of maturity begins to develop in the writing at this site, I’m afraid the long slow descent into AnimationNation-style obscurity is the unenviable result.

  • Jason

    The trailer for Fantastic Mr. Fox looks HORRIBLE. I’ve seen it twice now, and the creepy factor didn’t diminish. If stop-motion looks as lame and amateurish as that, then it as an art form is in big trouble.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    Rat and Cory – I’m sorry if my post felt insensitive. That was not my intention. I sympathize with anyone losing a job – especially in this economy. But would you folks prefer Laika go completely out of business? The company’s lay-offs this week were based on a decision (one I support) to become a dominant player in stop-motion animation. This decision is a good one for the health of the company and for those who do stop motion. Oh, and Cory… you must have missed my posts praising Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Kung Fu Panda and dozens of other CG films I love. I have nothing against CG or 3D when they are done well.

    Jason – I cannot wait to read the debate about The Fantastic Mr. Fox amongst our readers. I predict many will hate it. Personally, I think it’s one of the years best films!

  • Brad

    I certainly think its good that they will focus on advancing the art of stop motion, but would think there would still be some place for integrating a few subtle CG effects as was done (I believe) in Corpse Bride.

  • creepy

    what a mess. with access to billions they are having a lousy plan on trying to make a studio work. just make good movies. sad more layoffs, how many people are even there anymore.

  • J. Shamblin

    It’s good to hear Laika’s commercial division is untouched. There’s a lot of talent there. Still, it’s terrible to hear about all the lay-offs in the CG department. I understand it’s tough to find work in L.A., I can’t imagine what it’s like in Portland.

  • Philboyd Studge

    Any time a company announces that they’re laying off more people so they can “concentrate” on some special task, it’s time for everyone remaining there to update their resumes. If stop-motion is their focus after the success of Coraline, why were so many of the artists who made Coraline, let go? One wonders if Mr. Knight plans to outsource his CG work to countries where they allow him to motivate workers with the slap of a running shoe. He has a history there, no?

  • DeadManWalking

    Get Real,

    It may not take a genius to figure out what has been happening lately. However many people were lured to Laika on the premise of being able to set down roots and raise a family. Workers in CG and Stop Mo both were promised many things. A consistent slate of projects for finishing film crews to roll off of one project and onto another. The prospect of a campus was particularly enticing to people for the very reason that it made them feel as though phil and travis were committed to building a studio and making good on their word to provide a place for people to setup their livelihoods. Maybe they went in with the best of intentions, however when the intentions changed no-one knew about it. Rumors were rampant constantly and politics seemed way too bloated and out of control for a studio of that size. Even this article saying the next movie will be announced “in the next few weeks” is a joke to the people that work there. That announcement has been consistently pushed back since January.

    Be honest with yourself and really look at the situation you’re defending, even industry veterans were lured to the studio by these promises only to have the rug pulled out from under them.

    CG at Laika never got its fair shake, you can’t spin that any other way.

  • StopMoGuy_CollectingUnemployment

    I’m curious to know in what way LAIKA promised the CG department no more layoffs…did they say no more layoffs right now or no more layoffs ever? By the tone of it, I’m guessing they were very lawyer like promises…well worded promises…

    That’s pretty lame if LAIKA was leading people on (I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but it sounds like a very familiar story, ahem “Naughty or Nice” cough cough). Stop-motion studios are tough beans because that medium is not mainstream (sadly unpopular with investors), very time-consuming, very expensive, and as a result are naturally unstable. It’s to be expected, or is it not? I would not take anything a stop-motion exec has to promise to its artists without a handful of salt.

    I just hope that you CG folk, with huge studios around that can offer secure futures like Pixar and Dreamworks, don’t get too frustrated with a medium that happens to struggle a bit more…okay a lot more. Don’t be afraid to work with stop-motion studios, okay?! They need you….sometimes….

    Good luck to those who got let go, I hope there is good work for you ahead.

  • greg m.

    Dead Man hit the nail on the head when speaking of artists being lured to relocate with talk of long term employment that allow them to raise a family, etc. What happens to those people now? I just hope that they get severance packages which covers their having to relocate their families again. From what I hear Laika’s biggest problems are in their indecisions and from internal jockeying of alpha males.

  • http://ryuuseipro.deviantart.com/ John Paul Cassidy

    I love computer animation, and a lot of great animated films were done with it, but I think Laika sticking to stop-motion is a very good idea. I do hope, though, that they’ll still keep some computer technology around. (CORALINE used it quite well.)

    I’m also looking forward to THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX. Sounds like it was a good movie!

  • http://jazimated.blogspot.com Jaz

    Great! This makes me very excited for the films they’ll be coming out with.

  • Animator

    @ “Get Real”

    Umm, dude are you’re defending the guy that made Monkeybone?

    Coraline went WAY over budget, and WAY over schedule because of insane decisions made by Henry Selick. That is a fact. Because of these insane decisions Coraline wound up being released in Feb. which is traditionally the worst month for box office. If It’d been released around Halloween it would been more profitable.

    Selick was part of the reason Jorgen Klubien was fired from the CG project Jack & Ben. A couple of months later(Dec.’08) the entire project was scrapped and 65 people were layed off

    Read Mr. Klubien’s comment.
    http://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/laika-lays-off-65-scraps-jack-and-ben.html

    Laika brought Henry Selick on board to be a kind of “John Lasseter” and it’s been an epic fail. The Knight’s should cut their losses and get rid of him.

  • dwayne doggg

    I believe that a former LAIKA Director Mark Gustafson has been working with Wes Anderson on his stop-mo project. Will be interesting to see how it turns out. Layoffs are painful but that company will find its niche and do great things.

  • dwayne doggg

    @ Animator

    I don’t think you know what you are talking about saying such bad things about Selick. I had my doubts at times in the production but for a first film, with all the pressure he had on him to succeed he made many people happy with the finished product. As for going over budget and behind schedule there were many factors, the director was working hard and earned alot of respect.

    Jorgen was a nice guy but his version of J&B was kitsch and boring, they aren’t running a shelter over there for creatives. Cutting edge ideas are the only thing that’s going to float at the company. Selick’s version of stopmo with the rapid prototype puppets was cutting edge.

    After watching special features and director commentary I realized there was something really unique about Selick the artist that I never picked up on at a distance. I look forward to his future projects.

  • Converse

    Cutting edge Dwayne Dogg??? They certainly would have had that with Mike Smith, but he too was eased out.

    It’s fine that they have found their vision through Henry. Now they can focus on his work all they want. I’m sure he’s over the moon about all of this.

  • amid

    Cory: Read my thoughts on David OReilly’s “Please Say Something” or Jerry’s thoughts on “Kung Fu Panda.” We’re supportive of CG animation when it deserves it and critical when it doesn’t. But a bias to the technique in general is a fantasy that exists only in your imagination.

  • Animator

    @ dwayne dogg

    Yes, I do know what I’m talking about.
    MONTHS of work on character fabrication were thrown out because someone from Focus Features was touring the facility and mentioned that they reminded him of Corpse Bride. That is a fact. Henry’s insane insecurity at compared to anything related to Tim Burton meant the work had to be redone.

    How many art directors were hired and fired? Honestly, I lost count.

    How about the way he got the Producer forced off the project? Underhanded, insecure, and insane.

    If you had a good time working with him, and you respect him, you are in a very small minority.

    If Henry Selick is doing such a great job why has Laika announced the SECOND major round of layoffs in the CG dept in less than a year? That’s not including all the folks that worked on Coraline that are unemployed now.

  • Tom Heres

    Thing is, passable (passable mind you!) CG animation is something almost anybody can be trained to do, and as a result we have FAR TOO MANY CG animators and artists today. Many of them are untrained, talentless and are basically in the wrong line of work.

    As Bart Simpson once said about Generation X: We need another Vietnam to thin out their ranks a little! Maybe this is part of that Vietnam.

  • dwayne doggg

    @Animator

    I don’t disagree that there was alot of time wasted out there on the first film. Some very talented people came and went. There wasn’t a cohesive environment one would hope could be fostered by a director. It seems like alot of money was wasted early on. But the original artwork did look like Corpse Bride and in hindsight Selick made the right decision to search for a new more realistic look. Artists like him find great power and drive from their insecurities I think. The final look was amazing and I do think qualifies as cutting edge.

    I say again that I had my doubts, but when I first saw that film on the big screen with a theater full of kids and heard the excitement in the theaters week after week, I knew that something was done right. Growing pains is what the mistakes amount to as well as the layoffs. I would hope the long term business model for the company isn’t to keep surprising talented competent people with a pink slip.

    Also I don’t think Selick has as much to do with the layoffs as you are saying, though he would make a nice scapegoat. He may walk on water creatively with productions I don’t think he walks through walls with the rest of the company. He has nothing to do with the advertising side which is doing quite well. The company wagered a steep bet on Selick and that first production where failure was not an option and he managed to pull it together. No doubt with the help of a new producer that had a better grasp of what it takes to make a film. Coraline exceeded all expectations and everyone that contributed can feel proud even if its bittersweet.

  • Animator

    @ dwyane dogg

    I’m not scapgoating Henry Selick. The term scapegoat implies that someone innocent is being blamed. What I’ve done is to point out and include examples of how Henry Selick is in the process of running yet another company into the ground. I’m just calling a spade, a spade. There’s an old Italian saying “A fish rots from the head down.”
    Directing a film is one thing, running a company is quite another.

    He’s supervising director of the Feature film department and under his “leadership” that department today has less than 1/3 the staff it had a little over a year ago.

    You attribute this to “growing pains”? That’s funny. Thanks to Henry Selick the company isn’t growing.

  • My2Cents

    At this point Henry Selick should leave Laika. Laika has no idea what they are doing the only thing that makes Laika Laika is Henry Selick. He might have been a nightmare to work with but he put Laika on the map.
    Pappa Knight better fund the next film which will take another 3 years so you wont see much out of Laika until 2012. Jennings is running the show now hmmm hopefully she will make things better will see without Henry’s name she doesn’t have much to work with. It’s gonna be challeging to get great ppl to come to PDX with out a name backing it.
    But if you have as much money as Knight you can play in the movie business mafia.

    cheers

  • Geo

    Great, now just rehire Will Vinton and change the name back to Will Vinton Studios. It’s his studio.

  • Art Farmer

    Vinton is awesome, Portland will always have a soft spot in their hearts for the mustache man!