Dreamworks Doing It Again…

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Oh so long ago it seems, back in 1994-5, a little company called ‘Dreamworks SKG’ formed and it forever changed the course of hand-drawn feature animation. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the ‘K’ in SKG had been called ‘a little midget’ by Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner, and perhaps worse, was refused a promotion he felt promised to him by said CEO. So he wanted his revenge. ‘K’, known by his nickname ‘Sparky’, felt it was he who had delivered the Disney films ‘The Lion King’ through ‘Pocahontas’, arguably the most successful box office run Walt Disney Feature Animation ever experienced, and he thought he could do it again. So he started to hire animators away from Disney to form his own studio at Dreamworks.

Sparky was not well loved by many of the staff at WDFA, so hiring them away involved lots of money and a bidding war for talent began. Did the talent deserve raises, yes there was no doubt of that, but the net effect of the Sparky split was to drive up the cost of hand-drawn animated features to such a point that they would all have to be huge successes to make back their production and marketing costs in the first run. The net effect was to hasten the switch to computer animation, a supposed cost savings, and certainly a democratization of the genre. Whether this has improved Animation or ruined it, opinions may vary. But Disney Feature Animation never quite recovered from the split.

Now Dreamworks Animation (it has spun off into its own company now) is doing it all over again, this time with digital animators. As they rush to fill 200 new hires, look for salaries to rise and good talent to flee existing studios (which should scare Disney considering they just bought Pixar). What will the result be this time?

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