Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why Michael Eisner Failed

What a coincidence, as I am reading my ongoing tale of sturm und drang in the form of the rise of Disney and the subsequent creation of Dreamworks, a study comes out showing why Michael Eisner failed. It paints in raw, scientific language, the very impression that I think any person would take away from the Books Keys to the Kingdom and Disney War.

Both of those books showed a relationship between Michael Eisner and the late Frank Wells as one where Eisner would go off into a bout of mental and verbal diarrhea, and then Frank Wells would jump in, clean it all up, and get it ready for prime time, as it were. After Wells died, Eisner lost that binary partner that took his ideas and work and made them functional elements of a grand machine.

What this illustrates very well for me is that the high-powered people at the top of company are frequently, if not primarily, not important. What is important is the machine around them. This just makes me even angrier when you see the chief executives and presidents of major corporations earning tens of millions in salary while their average employee barely brings home $50k. They think, nay, they are convinced that they are critically important.

In defense of Eisner, and I think this a very important point since so much of Eisner's later tenure was defined by conflict with Jeffrey Katzenberg, is that he was correct not to give Katzenberg Frank Wells' job. Katzenberg is another high-powered, hard-charging executive type, and that would have likely either only amplified Eisner's problems, or caused so much internal conflict that it could have ripped Disney apart.

But again, in defense of Katzenberg, he appears to be more aware of this limitation than Eisner was. Katzenberg is famous in Hollywood for surrounding himself with powerful women -- a group that is more than slightly underrepresented in most studios. This drive to associate with those that are not simply more hard-charging white guys has undoubtedly played a large role in his ongoing success.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Large Layoffs Expected at DreamWorks

These events couldn't possibly be more of a co-ink-ee-dink for me. I recently finished Disney War and have since moved on to The Men Who Would Be King. Both were good and go well with each other. For those who aren't up on the history. Jeffrey Katzenberg (the K in DreamWorks SKG) was the head of Disney Studios from 1984 to 1994. After his falling out with Michael Eisner, he joined up with bosom chum David Geffen and (apparently) child-like airhead Steven Spielberg to form DreamWorks.

The studio was big on dreams and short on actual success for a long time. For every huge hit, they seemed to have a dozen films that didn't do very well. This situation came to a head in 2005, when the company sold itself to Paramount, but not before it spun off DreamWorks Animation in 2004.

DreamWorks Animation has tried its best to develop a solid financial foundation. The standard strategy to achieve this is to broaden the productive base outside of just movies. Most major studios rely on television shows to provide constant revenues, and DreamWorks on the whole hasn't been terribly successful with this.

Because of this, neither the studio nor its parent has ever been on terribly solid financial footing, thus triggering things like today's announcement. This is unfortunate, because frankly, we need another studio out there producing high quality animated films other than Disney. Every other studio has completely, freaking failed to do anything on the level of the two D's. Sony produces utter shit like Planet 51. Fox has Ice Age and that's about it. We have two bright spots in Illumination Entertainment -- makers of Despicable Moi -- and ILM's Rango, but other than that, nothing. Disney and DreamWorks are it.

I hope the dispossessed workers land on their feet. Even better, I hope that they pollinate out into the wider industry, triggering further evolution and development of not just the technologies and art, but of the business itself. Because one menacing shadow lurking behind the layoffs, and a point underlined in The Men Who Would Be King, is that the old business model isn't working as well as it once did. If companies don't act with foresight and innovation, the animation world of tomorrow will be dominated by names we've not yet heard of.

Come to think of it, perhaps that's not such a bad thing after all.

Friday, February 1, 2013

WATCH THIS: Paperman

Paperman premiered before Wreck-It Ralph. I liked it. The fusion of 2D style with 3D technology is something that CGI artists have been trying to do for years, but before this, the efforts have been... less than convincing. I like CGI, don't get me wrong, but even the best work of CGI animators pales in comparison to the lively, organic look of hand-drawn work. I am certain that the greatest animated CGI works are in the future, as the ability to merge the hand and the polygon becomes ever greater. Big kudos goes to the technical team who made this possible.