fxpodcast: History of Animation Unions

Tom Sito is the author of Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson, he is also the retired President of Screen Cartoonists Guild, an animator, animation director and is on the faculty of the USC film school. With both IATSE and IBEW announcing interest in organizing Visual Effects artists the subject of unions has been a hot topic with artists.

“I would like to think that my talent is enough to make my way through the business… that’s the perception… but there’s more to it… it’s not show art, it’s show business”

-Tom Sito

Despite repeated requests, both IATSE and IBEW have declined our invitations for them to appear on a fxpodcast or in an article to explain their goals, answer your questions and make their case to artists. In addition, neither union has established any form of online presence – no web site, no blog, no use of social networking.

Into this vacuum we see a lot of misinformation being repeated and statements like “that ship has sailed” and “a union will cause all work to leave California.” In Sito’s book he shows that these same arguments were used when animators chose to enter collective bargaining so many years ago. Animators have been through all of this before, abuses that led to forming a union, outsourcing… this is history from a very closely aligned field that we can learn from. In this podcast we talk with Sito about the history of animation and unions to try and place historical context on discussions about organizing visual effects.

Quotes mentioned in the podcast:

Steve Hulett, Business Representative Animation Guild Local 839 (from the Animation Guild blog):

“…there is more animation/cartoon work employing more people in and around Los Angeles than at any time in the history of the business. How can that be? Especially if the industry is now global? Because the industry has expanded continually. And because large, deep pools of talent and established infrastructure have a strong gravitational pull. It might be true that California has the most qualified and expensive animation crews in the world, but those crews have proven they can meet release dates and deliver high caliber work year after year.

Natalie Portman at 2011 SAG Awards:
“I’ve been working since I was 11 years old. You made sure I wasn’t working too long, made sure sure I got my education while I was working. I’m so grateful to have this union protecting me every day.”

Melissa Leo at 2011 SAG Awards on AFTRA Merger:
“Let’s join together. Let’s make it a real voice, Unions made this country great because they give the voice to the working people. ”

Julianna Margulies at 2011 SAG Awards on AFTRA Merger:
“We’re in an industry where power comes in numbers.”

Links mentioned in the interview

Tom Sito’s personal web site – featuring his full bio, blog, a gallery of some of his work and a lot more.

Animation Guild audio interviews – including a two part interview with Tom Sito

Ordering the book

Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson
The book is available from Amazon in Hardback and is also available for Kindle

Special Thanks

We’d like to thank The Animation Guild Local 839 for use of their conference room to record this podcast. The Animation Guild represents almost three thousand animators at studios like Dreamworks, Walt Disney Pictures, Warner Brothers Animation, Nickelodeon and Film Roman, to name a few. They have an excellent web site – animationguild.org with a lot of information for their members. As part of their new building in Burbank they have a gallery space, Gallery 839, that features artwork produced by members.

6 thoughts on “fxpodcast: History of Animation Unions”

  1. This is a such a great story and so important to hear and learn the history of animation, unions, and the parallels to our life and times now. Although the book was not on itunes, It was easy to get the free kindle ap for my ipod and download the book instantly with Amazon.

  2. Thanks for the kind words and great interview Jeff. You draw a poignant parallel between the needs of the animation artists that formed the Screen Cartoonists Guild (later to become Local 839) and the visual effects artists of today. As you mentioned in your interview, the reasons for and arguments against organization and collective action haven’t changed. It appears history certainly does repeat itself.

    Here’s to the struggle!

    Steve Kaplan
    Labor Organizer
    The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
    [email protected]

  3. If you are interested in getting the Union rolling at YOUR VFX company, it’s really easy to get the process started. The Guild has been representing CG artists since the late 1990′s. Ask the Lighters, Compers, Modelers, Texturers, and Animators of Disney, DWA, Sony Animation, and Nick to name a few.


    Just sign and send in one of these cards. It takes a whole 30 seconds to fill out. It’s totally anonymous and the ONLY way that the union can start to make inroads at YOUR particular VFX company.


    Mail it to this address, or stop in and say hi, we are in North Hollywood/Burbank on Hollywood Way. 10 minutes from Hollywood.

    The Animation Guild Local 839 IATSE
    1105 N. Hollywood Way
    Burbank, CA 91505

    The benefits are great, and YOU deserve to have them too!


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