In a hastily assembled Friday press conference, five of the world’s top animation studios announced that by 2018, all their animated feature film and TV work will be produced by cage-free animators. The group of studios, which includes Disney Feature Animation, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony Pictures Animation and Fox Animation, has publicly committed to the timetable in hopes of appeasing critics and satisfying the increasing consumer demand for humanely-produced animated films and TV shows.
The move gives a big boost to the largely unknown People’s Animation Front, a group of self-proclaimed toon-viro activists who have built “a fighting force of incredible magnitude” dedicated to freeing animators from cramped, inhumane working conditions. Taking a page from animal welfare activists, who have targeted fast food empires such as McDonalds and Burger King, the band of protesters recently stepped up their efforts to force studio action, protesting stockholder meetings by chaining themselves to every Prius and mountain bike in sight.
“Even if you’re only paying $3 for a copy of The Green Lantern, you still want to know it was produced by people who like and respect their animators, even if it’s obvious they could care less about their audience” said labor activist and part-time voice actor Mel Buddinski. “It’s a well-known fact that consumers are willing to pay a premium for fairness, regardless of whether it’s to animals or to animators.”
Conventionally produced animation comes from animators confined in “cubi-cages” which provide roughly the same amount of workspace as two Twilight movie posters stretched end-to-end. Most visual effects work comes from artists confined in narrow crates no larger than Hans Solo’s carbonite prison.
Producers have been arguing for years that being forced to adhere to animator storage pen standards drastically raises production costs and gives studios in developing countries an unfair advantage. According to one studio head, “If we could use the same wage scale as a Chinese animation studio, we’d have a better chance of competing. When you have to compensate your staff according to much higher Western intern pay rates, you’re often priced out of the market.” The producer went on to say, “Christ, have you ever been to an animation studio in China? They make an Apple manufacturing plant look like the Four Seasons Hotel. If it wasn’t for all the toy robots and instant noodles lying around, you’d think you were in Alcatraz. At least we let our staff go outside and stretch for an hour a day. We’re not monsters!”
The industry’s largest trade association, the 83 member Animators Rights Group (ARG) applauded the move. ARG spokesperson Phil Homunculus commented, “It’s about basic human dignity and respect. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, even animators. There’s nothing wrong with us. Why are you looking at me that way?!”
Other companies in related industries are taking note of the recent trends in workplace facilities management and beginning to make corporate-wide changes on their own. EA last month announced that by 2014 they expect more than half of their games will be produced by staff not chained to desk chairs, with plans to move towards a chain-free work environment by 2017. Similarly, Warner Bros. TV Animation recently pledged by 2015 to discontinue producing television shows using blindfolded animators.