It is no secret that outsourcing in the animation industry has taken its toll—with American companies sending more and more animation jobs overseas to low-cost (but still reasonable-quality) production studios in the developing world.
Despite the grim-sounding outlook for the industry, animation studio owners and 20-year veterans we talked to as part of our Interview Series were overall positive about the animation industry. So, before our aspiring- and professional-animator readers throw in the towel, listen to the advice we received from the experts about how outsourcing has affected them and how they continually attract animation work despite stiff overseas competition:
Charles Gaushell, Paradigm Productions
As far as we can tell, it hasn’t had any negative impact. The few clients of ours that have tried overseas companies come back to use due to value. It isn’t all about money. If you don’t get it, can’t service the client or even communicate clearly there is zero advantage. Too many of those companies make it all about dollars and I’ve seen US-based 3D companies outsource full projects only to have a major quality drop or huge inconsistency. Doesn’t bother me – real business is about relationships, service and quality – e.g. Value.
Mike Drach, March Entertainment Inc.
It’s hard to say how it’s affected us directly. The truth is, outsourcing in animation has been going on for decades; the option has always been there. To an extent, it can undercut the costs of doing it in Canada and the United States. At the same time, budgets have been getting lower in general, while some of the better overseas studios are getting more expensive, so it’s starting to put everyone in the same boat. No matter where you are, you have to be able to offer great work, reasonable budgets and an excellent business experience. And we seek the same thing with our international partners.
Trevor Davies, Owner of CORE Animated Effects
Outsourcing has changed the market. Currently, local work tends to be more in the design end and development. To that end we are focused more on creating original content than we did in the past, when we were more focused on service work.
Mark Cappello, Invisible Entertainment
Outsourcing has been a constant threat throughout my entire career. I’ve been unlucky enough to see a great work migration in the late 90’s as even design and layout and posing were sent overseas creating a massive drought on the Canadian animation landscape. Flash production brought a lot of that work back from 2002-2006 but our animation brothers and sisters overseas quickly learned the necessary digital programs to undercut us over here yet again. Working predominantly on storyboards and design has insulated us somewhat here but the effect is a cascade. My American colleagues may think I’m whining simply because our high Canadian tax credits and non-union labour has been undercutting them for a long time. Sorry Team USA!
Brendan Burch, Six Point Harness
Outsourcing affects any US animation company. We have produced 99% of the animation we do here on US soil. The biggest competitor is Canada. Their government tends to cover massive portions of production budgets. To compensate, we just do really great work and hope that our clients want a top quality product when they call.
Terrence Walker, Studio ArtFX
Outsourcing is an inevitable effect of a global market. Artists should prepare to be global as well. In the last three years I have been involved in projects in the Philippines, Korea, Japan and China. I know of other seasoned artists who have either set up shop or joined firms in Malaysia, Singapore, India and even Bulgaria. Outsourcing is not just about saving money anymore. Accessing a global talent pool means more options or being able to capitalize on a visual style unique to a particular location. It's not a trend in the sense that it will fall out of favor like the latest fashion.
Matthew Teevan, Arc Productions
Out-sourcing is a factor. There is always someone who can do it faster or cheaper than you. You can’t compete with that if that is what people want. What you can do is offer a better collaborative film-making experience. That is what we have to offer. We have had some great experience where we have really been part of the creative team making the movie and I know we helped make it better. And not just executed what they thought they wanted, but brought our expertise to bear on the creative challenges.
Glenn Barnes, Big Sandwich Games
In the early days of BSG, we did a lot of art outsourcing. At the time we started chasing down these types of jobs, overseas developers were cheap but not particularly competent. We knew that wasn't going to last forever; as long as they kept getting jobs, they'd be building expertise, and their lower price-point would eventually push us out of the market. We dealt with it by putting more business development resources into doing full development, and investing in our own technology, bringing us to where we are today.
Anik Rosenblum, Dancing Line Productions
It mostly affects larger scale productions which we don’t do.
Gabriel Polonsky, Gabriel Polonsky Studio
It is a double-edged sword. It has enabled US studios to produce great series work for lower budgets, but also has driven the budgets down and competition up. I am more focused on short-form projects such as TV commercials, series opens, and network ID's which are not affected.
Ron Allen, GAPC Entertainment's
Most of our in-house projects are tailored so that outsourcing is not an issue. It does affect some of our broadcast projects in that here in Canada we tend to have smaller budgets so we have to mold the creative so we can keep the graphics/ effects and animation in-house.
Stephen Fishman, Mac and Cheez
I don't believe that its affected my firm. I've worked on projects before where outsourcing has been used. The language issue was a little dicey. In this one particular project, a lot of the layer and asset names in the AE project files were in Spanish. It took me a while to figure out what I was looking at. I don't approve of outsourcing. I think people need to learn how to budget their projects more effectively instead of constantly searching for bargains.
Having said that, if there was somebody with an inimitable skill set in another country, I would use them then.
Rich Murray, RichToons
The trend of outsourcing animation overseas has not yet had a large effect on RichToons. I am starting to get those calls from sources offering to do 2D and 3D animation on the cheap. What I think is irreplaceable is the power of a creative idea. RichToons is hired for creative ideas that are then executed in the form of illustration, animation and interaction. Robotic, conveyor-belt-style frame crunching cannot replace ideas and solid artistic vision.
Kathy Rocchio, Slap Happy Cartoons
I love outsourcing. We are not in the business of animation services / outsourcing for other studios, so we are unaffected. It is a trend that has been going on in traditional and then digital 2D for a long time. I have outsourced projects to several overseas countries. We lose some animation locally but staffing in town can become near impossible when there is a production feast, so sending in-betweening overseas is often our best option. Thankfully there are some great studios out there to fill the gaps. It is still essential to have at least a small animation crew internally, to cherry pick scenes and make last minute fixes in post. Of course given the option, having the entire crew in town is ideal.
Adam Jeffcoat, Studio NX
We may have lost out to some contracts as we got undercut by overseas firms but I think this is a natural part of the progression of animation. That's why I think online content will start to take over and it can be produced for smaller budgets meaning independent studios like us can keep working.
For more priceless tidbits of wisdom from our Interview Series subjects, here.