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The Animation CGI Cartel: Sony Stands Up and May have paid the price…


Last time, Pando Daily and Cartoon Brew stated that Ed Camull was one of the folks who was a part of the cartel. The cartel connected DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar and LucasArts in Silicon Valley (Apple, Google and Adobe) in a wage suppression scheme.

The first article dealt with the connections between these folks and political figures – when it comes to giving H1-B Visas for CGI work to foreign workers -in the hopes of rasing wages, the same wages that they have suppressing since the mid 1980’s (Steve Jobs seems to be the guy who was behind all this)

But there was one company who stood against this Cartel.

It was Sony.

Mark Adams starts the story:

In May 2002, Sony Pictures launched a new CGI animation motion picture division, Sony Pictures Animation, hoping to challenge Pixar and Dreamworks Animation for the wildly popular CGI animated movie market.

Heading up the new Sony Pictures Animation were co-executive vice presidents Sandra Rabins and Penny Finkelman Cox, both having been hired from Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Dreamworks Animation. A year later, Sony Animation announced it had poached one of George Lucas’ top talents, Jill Culton, from Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic studio, then based in San Rafael. Culton was also close to Pixar, credited with having written the original story for the studio’s biggest hit to date, Monsters, Inc.

But Pixar and DreamWorks (at the time Pixar was not owned by Disney but working with Disney as a distributor) felt that Sony was going to be a massive threat to both companies – 10 years before – Sony bought Columbia Pictures, and had a deal with Marvel for the Spider Man movies. The Playstation was a huge success. They were the creators of the Walkman.

So The Cartel realized that Sony was a threat:

Subject: Sony

Sony has approached all of our producers trying to hire them. They all just ignored Sony, although REDACTED forwarded on the email from the recruiter.

Today, REDACTED, one of our department managers told me that she was offered a position as producer for Sony’s first CG film and is likely to accept. If so, she would report to REDACTED.

The director of the movie is REDACTED [Jill Culton, ex-Lucasfilm and on Pixar-produced Monsters Inc—M.A.] who started off as head of story on Monsters but burnt out. She is good but fragile. The movie is about animals that turn the table on hunters. REDACTED

REDACTED will talk with her [the Pixar manager that Sony was poaching]. She isn’t so great that we have to keep her, and she isn’t so bad that she would hurt Sony.

We don’t have a no raid arrangement with Sony. We have set up one with ILM [Lucasfilm] and Dreamworks which has worked quite well. I probably should go down and meet with Sandy and Penney and Sony to reach some agreement. Our people are become [sic] really desirable and we need to nip this in the bud.

When Catmull was questioned by the Feds about what happened in the meeting:

Q: So did you in fact go down and meet with Sandy and Penny [sic]?

CATMULL: I did.

Q: Do you recall that actually?

CATMULL: I just recall going down and meeting with them.

What took place was this:

He flew to Los Angeles in 2004 to meet with Sony’s animation co-presidents Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandy Rabins and encourage them to fix their employees’ wages and limit career opportunities. (Another bombshell: John Lasseter was both aware of and supported some of Catmull’s illegal activities.)

I mentioned before in the first article that John Lasseter may have been connected. Now we know he was not only connected he actively supported Catmull and knew EVERTHING.

However, to Sony’s wise judgment:

Sony, to their credit, declined to participate in the wage-fixing syndicate and continued to recruit freely.

Their different interpretations were born out in their actions: Catmull was still angry at Sony in 2013; and Sony did not join the Pixar-Lucasfilm non-solicitation agreement.

The Pando story continues when it concerns Zemeickis:

In Catmull’s email, he singled out Sony Animation as an example of the sort of “bad” studio who won’t play ball with wage-fixing, and instead recruited as it saw fit, pushing up wages and career opportunities across the board. Which, in Catmull’s mind, made Sony the Al Qaeda of computer animation studios:

“[Zemeckis] has hired several people away from Dreamworks at a substantial salary increase… every time a studio tries to grow rapidly, whether it is Dreamworks in 2D animation or Sony in 3D, it seriously messes up the pay structure.

“I know that Zemeckis’ company will not target Pixar, however, by offering higher salaries to grow at the rate they desire, people will hear about it and leave. We have avoided wars up in Norther[n] California because all of the companies up here – Pixar, ILM [Lucasfilm], Dreamworks, and couple of smaller places [sic]- have conscientiously avoided raiding each other.

“…even raiding other studios has very bad long term consequences [i.e., higher benefits for employees, lower profits for companies and executives—M.A.].”

To which the chairman of the world’s largest media conglomerate, Dick Cook, responded:

“I agree.”

Towards the very end of 2007, word leaked that Sony Animation was hurting, and its parent company, Sony Pictures, was looking to sell off a large chunk of the computer animation division.

And that pleased a very vindictive Ed Catmull — both then in 2007, and six years later, in deposition in 2013.

Well, Sony didn’t sell their studio- similar to the restructuring that Sony did with its TV department – they did the same with there Animation departments – they went smaller for a while until the Smurphs in 2012.

But the reason why Catmull did this:

“Just this last week, we did have a recruiter working for ILM [Lucasfilm] approach some of our people. We called to complain and the recruiter immediately stopped. This kind of relationship has helped keep the peace in the Bay Area and it is important that we continue to use restraint.

“Now that Sony has announced their intentions with regard to selling part of their special effects business, and given Sony’s extremely poor behavior in its recruiting practices, I would feel very good about aggressively going after Sony people.”

So how could have Sony been punished from not joining the Cartel?

Here is a few theories. The first one is obvious – Sony doesn’t gets its films promoted as much on Disney owned and operated works.

Another maybe in the music field, the ATRAC and Super CD not getting any traction (But to fair, Sony Music did screw themselves over with the root kit issue)

Another may have been is that workers that were in Sony Animation become blacklisted for a time, and then hired for much less if that person joins a DreamWorks, Pixar, LucasArts or Disney project.

Could have the mergers between two of the three companies – Pixar and LucasArts been for a much more sinister reasons?

Much more ahead soon.

From Cartoon Brew

From Pando Daily

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