Saturday, February 07, 2009

More Economic Victims

News came down this week of a big hit to my industry, in Northern California. A CGI studio which has been around nearly 10 years - The Orphanage - closed its doors this week and dismissed all remaining employees (it's so bad, I heard, that they couldn't meet payroll for 3 weeks, and won't get money to their workers until they liquidate...). I had worked there recently on a couple commercial projects (mid-Oct to mid-December), to pick up some short-term work, and get a look at a company I'd never been at before. The Orphanage was founded in 1999 by 3 guys who left ILM, to do their own effects work, and they had the loftier goal of producing their own movies. Well, they achieved varying levels of success on an array of projects, (including being one of the premier commercial FX houses after the ILM division closed), but they managed to carry on through the ups and downs and produced really good work for the way they were assembled and funded. From what I knew, The Orphanage had a reputation of being very rag-tag & shoestring, and having a dysfunctional pipeline which was re-invented for each show, and I definitely saw those aspects there (part of that was being spread out in like 10 different suites in a building in the Presidio). But improvements were being made. And I'd heard horror stories about people putting in crazy hours, and the company trying to cut corners on OT and perks. I saw that on the large-scale feature they were finishing, but the commercials I worked on didn't get too crazy. In the end, I had a good time being there & seeing how everyone worked together to come up with innovative ideas; and I liked the people I worked with. I'm worried about where everyone will land, and how this impacts the job market overall, having one less largish company in operation in Northern California.
That said, I feel very fortunate to be in the position I'm in, working at IMD in Novato. A little about the company: It stems from Robert Zemeckis' team which made Polar Express, Monster House, and Beowulf. The CGI for those movies was done at Sony Imageworks. But Zemeckis was so frustrated by the 'service' aspect of working with them, he decided to start a full studio on his own, building from the core of his regular pre-vis collaborators, Iceblink Studios, run by Doug Chiang. They got funding from Disney, and they started recruiting more talent from the area - we're now in the midst of production on their first feature, "A Christmas Carol", which comes out Thanksgiving of this year, and the future looks full. It has some growing pains, to be sure, and we're looking at a tight schedule, but It has so much of what I'm looking for : long-term production slate of an animation studio; cinematic and grittier approach to filmmaking from Zemeckis & DP Robert Presley; open attitude & flow of a startup; the commute isn't great (~25 miles), but much shorter and prettier than when I was at PDI, and I'm often carpooling; and a lot of good folks I've worked with before at Tippett & ILM (again, Nor Cal crowd). So, I'm very grateful myself, and I'm sending out good hopes and vibes & pulling for folks hurtin' out there...
Figure that's enough for this post, keeping busy around town (another thing I'm grateful for is that there's so much culture in this area) so I might update on that. Or I might rant about the absolutely ridiculous, increasingly outrageous story of the single mother living under her parents' roof with 6 kids, who used state disability money to pay for IVF to have octuplets. Or just general observations on the world of sports, and how disappointing it is my favored Detroit Pistons seem to be on the decline. Talk at you next time!