Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Animated Thoughts: Outsourcing

Fellow ASIFA member, Gordon Peterson, posted this link to a news article on the L.A. Times' website. While the full one-page article is worth reading, it basically says that outsourcing is one of the main factors that is killing Japan's anime industry. Lets set aside the fact that rampant piracy of anime properties is one of the other main contributors adding to the worldwide decline of anime (especially shows broadcast in Japan, where a show can be on television one night and be subtitled and streamed over the internet by the next day... y'know, now that I think about it, is it any wonder that the creators of "Cat Shit One" have blocked audiences in the U.S.A. from watching this series on YouTube--a series which they themselves uploaded!). Anyways, it would appear that the Japanese are suffering from the same effects of globalization that we American animators have been suffering from for years. Namely that production houses are going out-of-country to take advantage of cheap labor in an effort to increase profits through lowering costs, rather than coming up with better and fairer methods of generating revenue from their animated properties.

Now I freely admit, as an independent animator, I work outside of "the industry." So I have not experienced first-hand the trials and tribulations of working in either broadcast animation production or theatrical animation production. However, as someone who has lived and worked in Michigan for the better part of my life, I have experienced first-hand the economic downturn of the outsourcing that is rampant in both the automotive industry and the computer programming industry. I actually left computer programming for good when the industry shifted major assets to India in the late-90's/early-2000's. Having seen what outsourcing did to manufacturing in Michigan, seeing call-centers shutting down, and watching contracts for computer programming dry up, well, I saw the writing on the wall and shifted into another career while I could do so on my terms (for the most part).

Pundits on NPR are constantly saying that once manufacturing leaves America, those jobs won't come back. I don't know if that's true or not since we're seeing some call-center and computer programming jobs (two staples of the Indian service economy) start the long exodus back to America. Could we then expect to see a return of animation jobs to America and Japan? Well, I'd be willing to bet we'll see it in Japan long before we see it in the United States. Reason being: Japan has a history of protecting their cultural 'treasures' through their Cultural Property Preservation Act. There are currently a number of artisans in Japan (for example: potters, sword-forgers, and paper-makers) that preserve the historical Japanese techniques of producing said items of cultural value. These so-called 'living treasures' are really artisan-curators of the techniques that Japan wishes to preserve. Given the rich history of Anime, I can easily see Japan taking the  necessary steps to preserve the history of their animation industry--whether it will cause a rebirth in the industry or just turn it into another niche market in the historical sector, only time will tell, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

As for here in the United States, where oftentimes profit is seen as preferable to preservation, it looks like private funding of historical and cultural preservation is far more prevalent than using public funds to save our history. While most of it wasn't directly related to animation, I did do a lot of travel this year--mainly to museums and locations of historical interest like the Smithsonian, Gettysburg, Stonehenge, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Musee d'Orsee (places that revive those creative juices and offer people like me opportunities to drum up some future business). I would encourage people to take time out to visit museums, particularly ones where you can see men and women practice production techniques that have historial and cultural value, much like those seen at Plimoth Plantation, a not-for-profit, living museum, which houses blacksmiths, embroiders, furniture makers and other artisans who preserve manufacturing techniques from the American colonial times.