Visual Effects Artists to Protest Obama’s DreamWorks Animation Visit

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

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

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.