Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Buildup of San Francisco Feature Companies

When one thinks of animation feature production, usually the first city to come to mind is Los Angeles. This is no doubt a reaction to the fact that Disney and DreamWorks make a home there. However, now that animation feature production has shifted from 2D to 3D, is that really true anymore? ...continued...

The San Francisco Bay Area has been the home of three powerhouses. Industrial Light & Magic, PDI/DreamWorks, and Pixar Animation Studios hire thousands of artists and technicians around the city. Los Angeles is making a comeback with DreamWorks, Sony, Disney, and a handful of new startups making 3D films. But, with the recent studios announcing feature production in SF, that city is about to push again to the top. Personally, if I were about to open an animation studio to create CG features it would NOT be in San Francisco. There are talented individuals in both cities, but most of the ones in SF are already employed and probably 99% are unwilling to jump to a new startup. Whereas in Los Angeles, there are lots of talented people already available and many more seemingly unhappy at their current job and therefore more likely to jump ship.

With Lucas, Orphanage, Wild Brain and a couple of other unknowns (in the feature game) get into production too, SF is quickly establishing itself as the 3D feature hub. Unfortunately for them, I think these SF companies are going to find themselves hard pressed finding capable and experienced talent. The workers up there are less migratory than they are in LA. The vast majority are either working at Pixar, PDI/DreamWorks, and ILM and probably do not want to downgrade to a lesser entity without a nice jump in salary. Granted Pixar isn't known for paying much, however I wonder how these studios will be able to lure others away from their current employer when their budgets are often so low.

At least one new startup is giving out stock options instead of a good salary. This company has no track record and there is no guarantee that the stock will be worth anything. You are already living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and instead of getting paid what you are worth you are letting the studio gamble with your money. As an employee it is not your job to accept that risk. At least in the dot com era, most employees were getting paid good money AND getting stock options.

I'll continue my SF outlook in another entry. This will include information about Wild Brain losing the "Opus" project.

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