Should we worry about the future of Lucasfilm’s animation department?

"Tatooine Rhapsody." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of
"Tatooine Rhapsody." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of /
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Since at the time I’m writing this the negotiations are still ongoing, I’m only going to give a simple overview. #NewDeal4Animation is not just one part of the animation community but is several complicated debates between The Animation Guilds (TAG), Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the IATSE, and all the smaller unions and guilds.

The simplest gist is it was time for contract negotiations for TAG. In 2018, they had a three-year agreement that was expiring, so it was not a surprise that this would be happening. Negotiations started in 2021 and came into this year.

What was a surprise was the pandemic and how much animation had carried the big networks and streaming services. Animation creators felt emboldened to ask for more equal pay compared to their live-action counterparts in the industry.

One of the biggest examples that came up was the disparity between animation writers and live-action writers. They do the exact same job, but animation writers get paid drastically less for doing the same amount of work.

To make it even more complicated, writers in general for both live-action and animation get paid far less through streaming services than they do for network shows. Basement Life Podcast does a great job explaining and simplifying how this structure works (heads up for swearing in that video). Michael Jamin who was a writer for King of the Hill discussed in a video how his residuals for network shows are far higher than his residuals for streaming services. This is an ongoing segment on his TikTok channel where he got one streaming service residual check for—wait for it– $.35.

Yes, 35 cents.

But the reason why this is complicated is that these residual contracts are not shared across the board for everyone. Giancarlo Volpe (Clone Wars) also worked on King of the Hill in the art department for six years. He doesn’t receive anything in residuals. These are just a few examples of the kinds of negotiations of animation fighting for equality with live-action.

There have been some victories this year. Titmouse, the studio that did The Legend of Vox Machina and Star Wars: Galaxy of Adventures, went union this year becoming the first studio outside of Los Angeles to do so. In May, a new contract with TAG was ratified that did things like narrow the gender pay gap and raise rates for people in the industry. It’s important to note it is still nowhere close to what workers make in live-action. Until there is equality, these negotiations within the animation guilds and unions will continue.

Again, this is the simplest explanation of a multi-faceted issue with only one big example of many that plague the industry. But after Covid-19, it should have been a big win for animation and it wasn’t. It wasn’t even close.

Then as summer ended, the biggest and most troubling thing occurred. It’s the very reason I wrote this piece because depending on how it plays out, it could have ramifications in Hollywood for decades to come.