Visual Effects Artists to Protest Obama’s DreamWorks Animation Visit

Visual Effects Artists Protest Obama's DreamWorks
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

'Green Shirt' rally to call attention to outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries

As President Obama visits DreamWorks Animation’s Glendale campus on Tuesday, visual effects artists, frustrated by the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries that offer generous subsidies, are planning a rally outside the DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale.

An effort also is under way to get those attending the speech — largely restricted to studio employees — to wear green shirts in solidarity on the issue and to call the president’s attention to the problem. The green shirts represent a blank greenscreen — the message being “This is your movie without visual effects.” The green color has been adopted as the symbol of protests over runaway vfx production.

Digital artists move freely between animation and visual effects companies, and many current DWA employees have worked at companies that are now shrunken or defunct as vfx work has followed subsidies abroad. DWA itself had layoffs in February, and those laid-off employees had fewer alternatives with vfx work gone from California.

Obama is scheduled to speak at the campus shortly after noon.

The rally, planned for Griffith Manor Park on Flower Street in Glendale, is aimed at urging lawmakers to pursue tariffs on VFX work made in foreign countries that offer subsidies to lure production away. Vfx artists have argued that the subsidies may be enough to trigger World Trade Organization duties, especially as the vfx business in California has been decimated. Digital artist Tom Capizzi, who is organizing the rally, said that they have received a permit for up to 50 people at the rally from 11 .a.m. to 3 p.m.

Obama is expected to hail entertainment as an American success story, but it’s not clear that the White House is aware how badly production in Los Angeles has been hurt by runaway production, let alone the significance of the plain green t-shirts that may confront the president.

Capizzi also has started a petition campaign to urge lawmakers to pursue tariffs on outsourced work, arguing that because “the professions that are being displaced are not represented by unions, the government needs to get directly involved.”

“Tariffs need to be applied to these services to provide income from the studios to help pay for the government assistance that is being spent as a direct result of their outsourcing,” the petition reads.

One of the organizers of the demonstrations, former Digital Domain topper Scott Ross, said via email that the point of the green shirts is to raise the issue of “why are we letting vfx, one of the great American creative industries, be bought by foreign subsidies?” The goal among organizers is to get hundreds of artists at Obama’s speech to wear green.

DreamWorks Animation is unionized. Steve Hulett, business representative for the Animation Guild, said that they are “not officially involved” in the planned demonstration “in the sense that we haven’t taken any votes of the executive board.” But “my own personal feeling is that there shouldn’t be tax subsidies period.”

A White House official said that Obama will highlight jobs in his speech. “The motion picture and television industry is a growing industry and continues to create thousands of jobs across the country,” the White House official said.

But California has been reeling from the loss of production to other states and countries, and a coalition of industry advocates, as well as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, are readying a push in Sacramento to expand the state’s incentive program.

Other groups are planning protests of the administration’s negotiations of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries. Reps from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Organic Consumers Assn., the Citizens Trade Coalition, Health Care for All and the Communications Workers of America are expected to attend a demonstration on Monday afternoon at Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills. They argue that it will undermine food safety and environmental protection laws, as well as Internet freedom. Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman defended the pending pact and said that “there is no agreement right now.”

Obama is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, with plans to attend a $2,500 per person reception that evening at the Beverly Hills home of Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie, followed by a $16,200-per-person dinner at the Beverly Park home of Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl. Joining Obama at the fund-raising events — raising money for House and Senate candidates in next year’s midterm elections — will be House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), as well as Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

Organizers say that after their rally in Beverly Hills, the plan is to then march to the site of the fundraisers.

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  1. sasori7 says:

    Hey, artists, get in line. Web development has been heavily outsourced to india for 15 years. No one in government cares. Despite Steve ‘no’ Jobs telling the president directly that tech jobs are never coming back.
    Those at are focused on worsening the odds of finding tech work even further.

  2. Ike says:

    It is funny how we want cheaper gadgets, cheaper clothes, cheaper cars and cheaper gas while not being concerned at all the poor working conditions where all this stuff is made. Latest smartphone for $500? Yeah, bring it on! But when this issue affects us, oh my, suddenly those with the latest phones and the nice clothes start to complain. Well, this is how the world works. This is what US has been exporting for decades. And I don’t see why it’s going to stop now.

    As a foreigner working in the US animation industry, I’m the first person concerned about my position. But I am aware also on how much money is wasted because how Hollywood works, and how studios -and workers- with less budget can offer products that can be at the same technical and artistic level than those so-called ‘big’ companies. And as much as I love my life, I’ll move if I have to. That’s the difference between someone who has to come here to work and someone that has been working here all his/her life.

    Do you really think that using patriotism as the main reason for keeping those productions and work force inside US borders is going to work? Good luck, then…

    • sasori7 says:

      I already left the country and I’m a native Californian. Perhaps you don’t know that Californians are transient by nature.

    • UrbanReason says:

      This is a fine way to look at things if your only concerns in life are first and foremost your job and second your immediate family. And only then if your spouse’s livelihood takes a back seat to your own.

      Your point about the difference between people who come here to work and those who have been working here their whole lives makes no sense given that most people have come here to work, and have not lived here their whole lives.

      If you think this has primarily to do with wanting the work to stay in California then you’re missing the point. It may be fine for you, with either no family or no social network of consequence, to live a nomadic existence moving around the world as your company chases the biggest subsidy, absorbing many of those expenses on your own.

      But what we are fighting for here isn’t keeping work in California, and it isn’t for the people who have no qualms with avoidable instability. It’s about ending this madness of artificial market distortion, and the cheapening of artists and the significance of our contribution to film, or the devaluing of the many years of effort we’ve poured into to honing our skill so some CEO can make their share-holders happy without having to diminish their bonus.

      This isn’t about being selfish. This is about valuing yourself. It’s about valuing your colleagues. It’s about valuing art and the people who make it. It’s about valuing the years of dedication required to develop the skills required to create work of this caliber. It’s about saying “We are not numbers on a spreadsheet”, we are a critically important part of this process and we will not be abused. And if that’s not important to you, that’s fine, but in the end we’re doing it for you too.

      • UrbanReason says:


        Whether you’re working in LA, or New Zealand, or the UK, or BC, and whether or not you like living in that place – everyone in this industry has and/or will be affected by the massive instability and decrease in wages and quality of employment these unchecked subsidies have brought to our industry.

        It may seem like a pro-California crowd when you read the comments on VFX blogs, and certainly that’s important to people who have lives and family here, the people who helped build this industry from scratch. But seeing as the big movie studio execs instigating this war, driving down our wages and quality of life, and encouraging this instability are BASED IN CALIFORNIA, and some of the most massive impermanent displacement has occurred in California as a result (not of talent but of profit), I don’t know that there’s a much better way to fight the subsidies for EVERYONE in EVERY COUNTRY negatively impacted by them than for people to make a pro-America case to the American government. Because if American companies (Warner, Disney, etc) can’t benefit from these subsidies anymore, then this instability will be stifled or stopped.

        Yeah, we can talk about India and China. But if those countries can produce visual effects of the caliber that we’ve spent the last century developing the talent, knowledge, aesthetics and infrastructure to produce before the time the rising value of the currency is close to or greater than ours: more power to them.

        I don’t think the attitude of “we have to just accept that this is the way the world works” is the way we’re going to improve this situation. Maybe it’s naive, but if we don’t fight for it, then we’re complicit in our own demise.

      • ikerclon says:

        I know this is not about being selfish. I completely can see and understand your point. But I still believe (and dozens of messages in sites like VFXSoldier support that idea) that ultimately this is about keeping the industry in sunny California, where it traditionally seems to belong. If it’s not because of subsidies, it will be a matter of time that people starts complaining (and some are doing it already) for sending stuff to countries like India, where costs are way lower than in the US. And now, think like an investor: wouldn’t you like your product to be cheaper so you could make/save more money no matter what? Now, again, look at your smartphone and think again about that question.

        My point is not that this is not an important matter. I totally believe that we should not be numbers on a spreadsheet. But the fact is that we are, and it is a bit naive not realizing that. In an industry where money is the most important thing and the human work force seems to be out of the equation, what do you think we could offer to keep/change the things as you/we would like? Because I cannot picture one of these ‘big fishes’ suddenly realizing how wrong they are and how much they should care about us…

  3. Goober says:

    I would be very surprised if any Dreamworks Employees will be allowed to wear those shirts for this visit. The protesters in the park will, but don’t expect to see anyone on their campus wearing them. If Dreamworks as a company is concerned about jobs fleeing the country (and recent articles about their interests in China don’t support that), then Mr. Katzenberg certainly has access to the President’s ear to discuss it.

  4. Laura says:

    This is our industries one opportunity to really show the country and the world how the studios are destroying US jobs in animation and visual effects. Please stand up and get involved with this visit. Thank you Dreamworks for providing our stage! Going to be a fun and crazy day.

  5. Steve says:

    Hollywood is where the movie and film industry started, so bringing it back to its home, not only make cents/sense, but it protects the livelihood and future of families, artists and the next generation of Americans.

  6. Jayna says:

    Don’t you get it? All he wants is your money and fame but he wants to use it to not only help his foreign friends but make America as poor as the rest. When will Hollywood open their eyes? Some have, like the Dream Works crew and certain actors. How about the rest? Obama’s record speaks for itself.

  7. Don’t they know, you have to unionize for the Democrats to carve out special protections for you.

  8. enzah says: is the grassroots leadership that labeled the problem in California job outsourcing in the entertainment industry and made the issue prominent in the LA Mayor’s race. Independent productions now have a voice in the state because of our all volunteer woman minority lead leadership. We are the new voice of protest in Sacramento for job outsourcing in the entertainment industry for independent producers of film. TV. Commercial and music production. Our amicus brief accepted by the 9th district court of appeals challenges the City of Los Angeles on job outsourcing and broadly defines our leadership to fight against the monopolies that are strangling the possibilities for keeping productions in California. Sharon Hardee Jimenez founder president Bring Hollywood Home Foundation

  9. WufanGohan says:

    Times have changed and as globalisation is an ongoing process that takes industralisation with technological progress with it many of the old ways of doing things would naturally have to evolve and transform in correspondence. Crying for yesterday is so vogue! Imagine seeing even bits and pieces of it on Hollywood Boulevard or elsewhere. Someone call the fashion police!

    This is still a relatively-young stage of the New Economy which explains why people are still trying getting used to it. President Obama has always mentioned and championed the virtue of change in his addresses and the message is no matter how hard it seems it must be accepted as a way of life nevertheless because change is the only thing that is constant.

    As the song says: when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Dog eat dog. The survival of the fittest. These may sound too uncomfortable for many but it is the goal of all dignified human beings to meet and pass that test, and with cheer and gumption!

    • Mark says:

      Except after getting their shots back from these foreign vfx houses, they send back them to our vfx houses because no one can compete with them in terms of actual talent without working for peanuts.

    • Yet the rest of the world puts in place rules to protect their industry. This country is going to regret letting out Fx skills being exported overseas to make a buck.

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