warning for the Japanese CG industry


Recently I haven't had much time to blog. You may have seen a lot of the cool things that I am doing with toneplus. Anyway this piece is a little darker, the dark side of the CG industry if you will. I am writing this as a warning, mostly to people in the Japanese CG animation industry. That includes everyone from animation students to software vendors.


I say this as both a studio owner and also an animator/VFX guy of 20+ years. Some of you know I am not just a "wanker in a suit" trying to make a buck which as you will see when you read on are the enemies trying to kill our industry.


You may have seen how recently big CG shops in Hollywood have been tumbling because clients want cheaper prices despite the fact that we have to work wretched hours and for what is relatively crap pay. Well, the last straw came when work was shipped out to overseas "branches" -basically loopholes to halve salaries.

Now the entire Hollywood CG industry is in peril. People are sacked without pay, students cannot find work, software vendors lose clients. Cat’s sleeping with dogs, usual apocalypse.

For those of you reading from overseas may think Japan and other places in Asia have the same living standard. Trust me this is not true, Japan has a high standard of living pretty much similar to the USA. Since a few years ago I have had many offers to open or help farm out work to cheaper places. Even with subsidy offers from governments, I thought hard but refused all. There seems to be something inherently wrong with the mindset to just make any art cheaper. When I buy a game or movie I want the best. Also the subsidy is artificially giving an edge to that country which to me seems unfair.

But the trend to send work overseas is gaining ground here, mind you I knew this was coming. When I first started here Japan had fantastic R&D teams which I thought rivaled US places. But in 20 years I saw this all go on a slow downward slide. Now there is almost no budget for R&D anymore. Students are rarely taught important things like programming or art. They are just taught to operate a few packages, half assed in my opinion.

I have worked hard here as an animator, hospitalized a few times. All I saw was places drive costs to the floor. Even driving guys (some friends) to work literally to death. And it been my dream, no my mission to CHANGE THIS FUCKED UP SHIT. That is the reason why I opened toneplus, to go against the grain. I have to compete but I know if I get the best from around the world, inspire Japanese to work alongside the best from the best around the world they will see that we can do the right thing. For now even try to make the downward spiral bend slowly up. I know that two quality artists are much faster than ten rookies, not only that but much easier to direct. After all direction is what actually counts.
I can't change things overnight and I have to compete on unfair ground, trust me the cards are stacked against me. I made it my burden to take as much slack from my artists as I can, but I am only one man.

Really if I wanted to make a quick buck I will open a joint in some cheap land and get some slaves. But I knew that we artists all feel the same, that good art does not come from a race to the bottom.

And this is my point, it is not just the industry dying here which annoys me. Japan has a rich CG animation culture which it seems now willing to totally give up and send on a boat. WTF, I’m the foreigner here and I’m the only one that cares? Am I the only guy trying to revive this dead body?

Because eventually economies do even out, poorer overseas wages will rise and all we will be left with is a special part of Japanese culture gone.

Now to lighten things up ;)
The only saving grace for toneplus is we do provide a better product and always on time. Clients that have come to use us understand that our way is cheaper in the long run. We manage better and we don't farm out anything. Retakes are handled swiftly, directors can interact. Most importantly the people at the top here know what it takes to make CG animation, were not "guys in suits" bartering over a few percent. We are professional, and only hire professionals.



just thinking ;)

3 Comments

  • July 7, 2013 at 2:00 PM | Permalink

    Hey Bernie, thanks for the informative post. I myself worked for a few years in the CG industry in Japan.

    Just out of curiosity, which are some of the studios in Japan using renderman ? I believe the demand for photoreal work is lower as compared to the states.

  • July 8, 2013 at 2:40 AM | Permalink

    I completely support your mission and great to know these thoughts of a leader. I have not yet experienced working in Japanese cg industry, but sure it will be challenging and worthy in your leadership with such a mission. I wish you and your management team a great success.

  • October 6, 2016 at 6:43 PM | Permalink

    hi Bernie, many thanks for your post, I see that you wrote it in 2013.
    As a foreigner in Japan with some CG background (making my living mostly with programming though), I am wondering how have things changed since.