A 24-Minute Documentary on The Unsustainable VFX Industry

Hollywood’s Greatest Trick was produced by Sohail Al-Jamea and Ali Rizvi for McClatchy Video Lab, a division of the McClatchy media organization that owns dozens of newspapers around the United States. The reporting for the piece was’ done by Greg Hadley and Elizabeth Koh.

It was one of the most controversial cinematic moments of 2016.

In the final scene of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a figure shrouded in a white cloak turns, extends her hand, faces the camera and utters one word: “Hope.” Audiences everywhere gasped, screamed and cheered.

Nearly 40 years after the first “Star Wars” movie debuted, the character of Princess Leia had returned to the screen without aging a day, even as the actress who portrayed her, Carrie Fisher, went from 19 years old to 60.

The masterpiece of movie magic, combining old footage and recordings with digital effects to turn back time, raised ethical questions about profiting in perpetuity off the likeness of an actor. When Fisher died just a few weeks after the “Rogue One” premiere, Disney executives reportedly considered recreating her digitally in order to include her in future installments of the franchise, before ultimately issuing a statement saying they would not.

Top 50 highest grossing films of 2016

hollywoodsgreatestrick_chart


The ILM Perspective: Careers, Recruiting, and Industry Advice

Thursday, August 4th, at 7:30 pm for an evening with Industrial Light & Magic at the Gnomon Stage. Generalist, Sonja “Sony” Christoph and Hard Surface Modeler, Joseph “Jay” Machado will reveal their career path stories while sharing the skills and activities that led to their landing and building successful roles at ILM in San Francisco. Recruiters, Lori Beck and Jennifer Coronado, will share the history and background of ILM, from San Francisco to Singapore, and will offer sage advice about where to start, how to be prepared, application tips, plus more priceless information for your journeys in the industry. If you’re embarking on a career in digital production for entertainment and want to learn how to be a productive member of a first-class team, this event will aim to offer inspiration and answers to help you on your way. Professionals will also gain insightful tips about hiring, collaborating, and developing skills for successful careers.

The event is free and open to the public. Entry is by RSVP only, and seating is first-come-first-served. ILM has reserved the right not to Livestream this event, so don’t miss this opportunity to attend in person at the Gnomon campus in Hollywood. The event will not be recorded.

Schedule:

7:30 pm – 8:00 pm: Sonja Christoph: Overcoming Challenges and Discovering Your Unique Talents
8:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Jay Machado: The Art of Collaboration and Understanding Production Pipelines
8:30 pm – 9:00 pm: Lori Beck: The History of ILM Plus Career and Application Advice
9:00 pm – 9:30 pm: Jennifer Coronado: Knowing the Expectations of the Professional World


Mike Monteiro: F*ck You, Pay Me

I apologize for the lack of posts the past month. I have been working on a previz gig for “China” (said like Trump) and it has been a lot of work. I will do some catch up over July. In the meantime, everyone should watch this video and if you need a good entertainment attorney, email me and I will send you mine.

The most popular CreativeMornings talk of all time, Mike Monteiro gives us some valuable advice on how to get paid for the work that you do.

Mike Monteiro at CreativeMornings San Francisco, March 2011. Free events like this one are hosted every month in dozens of cities. Discover hundreds of talks from the world’s creative community athttps://creativemornings.com/talks


10 Top Animation Job Newsletters and Feeds

I get a lot of job offers in my email box.  After working in Los Angeles so long, I don't interview and most people know me, call me up and we strike a deal.  But, I have come to like looking through these ten job newsletters from time to time, especially when I know I have seniors graduating USC or undergrads and MFA students getting ready for internship season.  So... here are my top ten animation job newsletters you should all be subscribed to and why.

 


 

#10

http://www.indeed.com/q-Animation-jobs.html

 

 

 

 

 

Indeed

Indeed has an email alert you can setup as well and you have to sign in to do so.  Indeed works well if you are really specific about what you are looking for on your alert because it caters to lots of different types of jobs.  The good thing about indeed is many of the studios post internships that are not posted on their websites.


#9

http://www.ani-jobs.com/

 

Ani Jobs

This site has an RSS feed you can pipe into your favorite reader.  There is no newsletter because this is a forum like creative planet and so, you are expected to go to the forum.  If I didn;t want extra noise, I would probably just use creative planet since it seems to have the same job postings and more.


 

#8

http://jobs.awn.com/

 

 

 

AWN Agents

Animation World network calls its alert system, agents. You must login to create an agent alert to come to your email box.  I find this list to be suitable if you are specific to your region because it is a worldwide list. It's not as updated as the other lists, but it can't hurt to get an email every once in a while from AWN , especially if you are looking to work outside of the country.


#7

http://jobs.awn.com/

 

 

 

 

CG Society Jobs

CG Society Jobs covers mostly game type jobs so only sign up if that is your focus.  They do have a need way to set up an RSS feed if you prefer that to email and you can pipe that into your reader like feedly.


#6

 

http://www.animatedjobs.com/my-dashboard/

 

 

 

 

Animation Jobs has a job alerts you can set up once you register. All CG job you might already be getting from the other newsletters, but they seem to be keeping up.  They also have a twitter account.

 


 #5

https://www.greenlightjobs.com/job_seekers.html

 

 

 

Greenlight Jobs

This service utilizes the indeed job server and creates a cleaner way to access jobs specific to the movie industry.  The site has a link directly through LinkedIn to apply to a job which I think is handy.  if you want a job in the industry you might find some here that you cannot find elsewhere. You can join their newsletter here, look on the left hand side for signup.

 


#4

http://www.artjobsconnection.com/feed/

 

 

 

 

Art Jobs Connection

They have a feed, but no newsletter.  There are A LOT of jobs posted here and cover games, films and commercial work including traditional and CG positions.  Impressive site with an additional way search by a map.

 


 

#3

http://forums.creativeplanetnetwork.com/external?type=rss2&nodeid=31

 

 

 

Creative Planet Network

This site has a high ranking not because of its great newsletter, but because it is by far the best and most used job board out there.  It's a free board to the studios that post and the job seekers that seek and has been around for over twenty years posting animation opportunities. Creative Planet does have an RSS feed you can pipe into your favorite reader.  There is no newsletter, other than one you create through a feed though, because this is a forum and you are expected to go to the forum.  You can, however, subscribe to posts in the forum, but they come and go fast with no comments so I am not so sure why anyone would do that.

 


#2

https://www.linkedin.com/job/animation-jobs/

 

 

 

 

 

Linkedin Jobs

Linkedin has been pretty corporate in the past with their job boards, but the "artist type jobs" are getting more traction.  You can set up specific alerts from LinkedIn jobs, to your email box when jobs are posted. The link above takes you to animation jobs and then you can narrow it down by region.  Here is a link as to how to set up LinkedIn job alerts.

 


#1

http://www.creativeheads.net/

 

 

 

Creative Heads

This is one of the most comprehensive and clearly stated job newsletters for animation out there.  Here is last week's Creative Heads newsletter as an example.  If you are looking for a job in animation and only have the patience for one email each week, this is the one.  Sign up here!

 

 


Session - Live Crits with Angie Jones

Live Critiques with Angie Jones - Thinking Animation Sessions

Angie Jones - Thinking AnimationI have now opened a shop on the website with three courses available for purchase. Most  questions can be answered on the shop faq, but if not? just drop me a line at angie@thinkinganimation.com 

I look forward to seeing you in the Thinking Animation Sessions!


Animation Critique - Angie JonesSNACK BITE – (1 HOUR)

In my “Snack Bite” Thinking Animation Critique Session we’ll go over concerns regarding your reel, a short film or a simple animation test to improve your skills and demo reel. I use my workflow and applied experience in animation production to guide you through creative and technical blocks. This crit is 1 hour long. You may add as many slots as you like for this crit.


Career Strategies Course - Angie JonesPOWER LUNCH – (1 HOUR)

My “Power Lunch” Career Strategies Session has three parts.  You may choose all three or just one part that addresses exactly the issues you are having with getting a job, finding longevity and creating a career in animation.  This course has nothing to do with keyframes, but addressing everything they do not teach you in school about getting that job and keeping that paycheck coming.


Applying to Animation School Course - Angie JonesBREAKIE – (30 minutes)

The“Breakie Thinking Animation Session is designed for the high school student/rising MFA student ready to apply to art school or University to study animation. With my counsel, you will create the best application possible to get into your dream school including your essay, letters of recommendation, portfolio, demo reel, and the dreaded application letter.



VFX in Los Angeles – 100 hour weeks & homeless


Quote from Article:  'After a brief time out of Los Angeles chasing a lead on a job, Victor returned for an interview, “I was hired on the spot for a laughable 13 bucks an hour, but with little to no options I took it.”  This was a short-lived gig, followed by others and at times as much as a month passed between gigs.'


NYC Collider - June 10, 2013

missing audio in the beginning...
two hours long, go get your coffee

I have to apologize readers.  I posted this talk and didn't watch it at first.  I figured it was important and should get it up on the blog even if I couldn't take a moment to watch right away.  I sat down today to actually watch the whole thing.  What a waste of time and completely respectful to the speakers.  Out of 2 hours, there is 20 minutes of talk about the current status with the panelists.
If you intend to give a presentation and show off a live survey, you should have billed this thing as that.  This talk was billed as a VFX Town Hall which suggested to me the people on the panel would be allowed to speak.  
I seriously wish the speakers on the panel were allowed to talk and discuss the topics.  Even the audience engaged panelists and the moderator - Acuña Acosta shut it down for the live survey.  Are you kidding? Anyone can look at that online???  WOW!  If you are a moderator for a panel, you should be speaking very little.  So, incredibly unprofessional.

If you want to see/hear anything pertaining to VFX/CG/Anim Labor Issues, scrub to these sections of the recording for content:
49:14 = ~10 minutes of actual panel discussion with Q's from the audience
1:07 - Scott Squires makes some interesting statements in his 5 minute introduction, but no one on the panel gets to discuss it. 
1:13 - Panel talks for about 5 more minutes
01:16 - You get Q & A for about 5 more minutes. The Panelists  are not allowed to speak because there was another presentation after the live survey.
1:21 Online Survey starts and the panelists fight to even speak for the next 30 minutes.  Panelists finally give up and start looking at phones and watches.
1:33-1:37 Audience asks questions from the panel and moderator informs that she has to continue with the survey. So unprofessional.
1:40 Psychological Online Study about workers... ummmm.  Wow.

9 Tips For Breaking Into Feature/Visual Effects

9 Tips For Breaking Into Feature Animation and Visual Effects

I had write my own version of tips to animators who want to enter feature animation and visual effects.  I found the list provide on movie line very 'out of touch.'

1. Develop your foundational artistic muscles as much as your technical savvy.  If you do not have an artistic eye and a creative soul, your work will only satisfy the needs of scene... and, never explore the potential of each shot.  In addition, if you do not learn everything you can technically about your job, you will be banging your head trying to solve simple technical issues.  A understanding of both artistic and technical makes for the most marketable CG artist.

2. Plan before you pick up the mouse.  I understand that production schedules are not what they used to be, but even a couple hours of planning before starting a shot - using drawing, reference, observation, and critical thinking will save you tons of time in the long run.  Create your own work flow that resonates with how you think.  This will help you get to the final execution quicker than the competition.



3. Handle your paper yo...  Budget your income so you can handle working only 60-70% of the year.  The key word is "utilization."  If you want to make 80k a year and you are only working 60% of the year (without any overtime)... you will have to either be making 100$ an hour (not likely for an entry level position) or live as if you are making half of 80k a year.  Plan for times when there is no work, financially and save, save, save.

4. Be ready to live out of your suitcase.  The world is flat and globalization is here.  You may work 6 months in London, 2 weeks in Sydney and  3 months in Vancouver.  Many studios do not pay for relocation or housing either, so make friends where you can couch surf.  This is the reality.

5. Get a great accountant and a EIN NumberA good accountant can work magic around globe trotting and your taxes.  'Nuff said.



6. Learn about all of the trade organizations, job boards and social networking sites.  Social networking like Facebook and linked in are invaluable for creating new opportunities.  Connect with as many people as you can and be polite and cordial if you do not know the person you are approaching or have anyone to introduce you.  Job boards like VFX Pro, Creative Heads, AWN and the like are important places to start.  DO NOT apply to just any job.  "Hand pick" the places you really want to work and learn everything you can about the studio before approaching them.  Finally, the briefest encounter at a Siggraph meeting or a night out with coworkers can have the most profound affect on your career, so respect all conversations.

7. Pay attention to the details.  If you want your work to stand out, you have to be hyper critical.  If there is any shot on your reel you feel the need to make excuses for, dump it.  It shouldn't be there.  You are only as good as your weakest shot, so don't put weak work on your reel or out there in production.

8. Remember Karma.  Many production environments have become toxic with the new landscape of small budgets and backstabbing to get that job.  Do not engage.  It may take longer to move up, but your integrity will be in place if you handle ever conversation with professional courtesy and treat people how you would like to be treated.  If you hear about a job opportunity that you cannot take, pass it on to someone you know will do well there.  The producer will remember you helped them get the job done through a reference.  You want everyone to have a "good taste in their mouth" when your name comes up.  No matter what, there's always an asshole who will have a problem with you.  Forget him, he will gets his one day.  Do what you got to do to make each day positive and rewarding.  Remember what JT said - "What Goes Around... Comes Around."

9. Potential.  Every shot has the potential to be amazing.  You may not think so, but every shot has that potential!  It's up to you to bring it. Let me tell you a little story.  I was working on a show once... where I was given the crappiest shot in the commercial.  The character was so far away, you wouldn't have seen anything he was doing.  The shot was part of the introduction of where the characters were and what they are doing, so it didn't seem to be that important.  I was bummed. The plates weren't really ready, so we were just doing tests with the rigs.  I decided I would do more than just calisthenics and run cycles.  I animated my character doing something within the context of the shot I would be working on, but bigger and following the story and the character.  The director saw it.  He liked it so much, he went out and RE SHOT the plate to make this particular scene the hero of the commercial!  I was made animation supervisor for the next 3 commercials.  Think big and explore the potential that is there and people will notice.

~ my two cents on the subject
Angie



What if VFX Facilities Didn't Exist?

A friend and I were discussing the future of VFX today.  To be honest, I haven't thought about animation much over the holiday.  I have been enjoying the time off and time to sleep and hibernate.  But... I go back into the big machine next Monday and with the news of another studio closing on the heels of the Asylum FX announcement - this is weighing on my mind again.  "Bye bye" vacation - back to reality.

My colleague started talking about unions and I argued: "A union at this point will only help a symptom - not the disease.  A biz model based on undercutting the competition until you are working with a budget that equals bone and ligament cannot survive for long.  VFX studios are so poorly managed and they have backed themselves into a corner where they have absolutely no position to negotiate.  To underbid a show simply to get work into the studio is not a good idea.  On top of this... the VFX studios cannot agree to organize themselves into any type of group that could lobby with the production studios for better budgets trickling down better wages and working conditions for artists."

Then, he said - "What if artists worked directly for the Production studios like everyone else?"  After our chat, I am convinced that the only way to save the VFX biz model is to start over completely and eliminate the VFX studios entirely.   Why not go back to square one and work directly with the studios on the lot?  Like all of the other production for movies is handled?  At first, I told my buddy, "...that can't work because the VFX pipeline is so different than live action."  But, maybe not?  Maybe that is the problem?  The current VFX biz model doesn't work, so why would we try to replicate it on the lot.  Maybe a new approach is a good one?  So much has changed technically in how we create animation and VFX with computers today, that maybe we need to rebuild?

Here are a couple articles discussing this issue:
talk amongst yourselves.

How NOT to hire an artist

Everyone working in any creative company should read this article.  


My favorite quote from the article: 

How NOT to find an artist:  "Do not look for either professional artists, or an artist that has done a lot of game design work in the past."

Jon Jones:  "This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. Don’t hire experienced professionals? This guy must not value his time at ALL"




Scott Ross for President

Everyone should listen to this interview...

This is the most articulate, solution oriented conversation I have heard yet on this subject.  If the VFX shops are awarded the money, respect, education, and deserved appreciation Ross proposes a trade organization would provide... I am confident there would be trickle down to the employees.  Ten years ago, these needs (401k, benefits, fair hiring practices) were being met.  Some shops back in the day even had car washing, dry cleaning services, meals provided, studio sponsored parties, etc.  VFX shops managed to provide these things to artists even on a "next to nothing" profit margin.  Then, times changed.  The movie studios told shops you have half the budget , twice the work, and half the time... even though profits on VFX driven films are higher than ever.  Studios told the shops, if you don't like it, the shop down the street beet your bid by 150k!  So, the VFX shops began to hire cheap labor just to make ends meet.

The VFX companies are not the enemy in this situation and the situation is not personal.  What have we got to lose?  If the shops don't organize and fix the situation now, they are out of business anyways.  Then, no one has a job. If the VFX shops paid dues to a trade organization like artists do to the VES, we might get somewhere.  As long as the new trade organization does the job presented to them and isn't fluff and just talk, like some organizations we know.  I think this is what Scott means by he would be willing to help organize as long as people made a commitment to the mission.  If shops all agreed to pay dues to get the organization started, they might have a fighting chance in this as Ross put it "race to the bottom."

I also agree completely with Ross on a Union.  The biz model for VFX shops is not one that could work with a Union. at this time  The issues that artists have with the shops  (401k, benefits, fair hiring practices) are only symptoms of the bigger problem.  VFX was never working off of fat, it was lean muscle ten years ago... now we are cutting ligaments and bone as far as budgets and any profits.  There is no room for negotiating.  A union could help after we recover from the current circumstances... possibly, but I do not see how a Union would fix the profit margin issue between the Movie Studios and FX shops.  How would a union deal with Runaway Production.  I am curious how are they handling it now?  I am pretty sure 2D ran away to Korea... no?

The one thing that did bother me in their talk was when they said the whole issue since the town hall "died because people are working."  I know more people out of work than ever.  Artists have no power, no money, no leaders, no experience in this stuff and mouths to feed.  We feel helpless.  That is why it died.  If the VFX studios have no cash, you think out of work artists do?  So, artists go overseas to help the lack of local talent for 1/3rd of their salary on even smaller budgeted movies and leave their wife and kids behind to keep a roof over their heads.  It's the unskilled talent pool overseas that needs our artists to make the incentive program work.  Again, worst biz model ever.  And I digress..  Anyways, it's the first real discussion I have seen anywhere so far.


Protecting Yourself as a Freelancer



A friend of mine has posted a blog recounting the way he was treated by a studio as an artist. He documents the entire process he used to protect himself with legal correspondence over a disagreement in compensation.


I have several studios who still owe me money from 2007-2008 because I did not employ the documentation he used. I am not incorporated and if I had pressed with legal action against these studios, they would have owed me tens of thousands of dollars in penalties, on top of wages owed. I didn't press out of fear of being blacklisted by the studio. Ironically, I would never work for these studios again because of how I was treated. I create a statement or work now and require the DP to agree to all points before starting any gig, so we are all on the same page.

In addition, there has been a lot of talk lately about EOR (Employee of Record) organizations and the rights of freelancers. Employees are often misclassified as Freelancers. The EOR's protect the studios by offloading the expense and liability of dealing with freelancers.


To get a really good idea about EORs and

The Freelancers Dilemma, check out these links:






This is how MBO handles your check:


If you are paid via MBO, they take 2-5% fee for processing your payroll depending on what the studio negotiated with them.

Then, the normal employer's tax is taken off your wages first... e.g. Social Security, FUTA - federal unemployment and training, and in California: SUTA - State Unemployment .

Then they will run payroll, and the employee's tax is taken off: Federal Withholding, State Withholding, Social Security and Medicare. Note: Social Security is taken out twice - you are, in effect, paying double the Social Security tax because the employer pays zero.

The only benefit of MBO, is that you can collect unemployment because you are an employee of MBO and not operating under a 1099/contractor classification. Which is only right because you are paying the employer portion of unemployment taxes in addition to your own. So, unless you collect it, you'll never get that money back. MBO gets the studios off the hook with the IRS, but it doesn't make the comply with state law regarding classification of workers, pay periods or overtime laws.

MBO also doesn't pay on-time - at least in the State of California. They may invoice the company weekly for your work, but it takes them a few days to issue the invoice. The company has ten days to pay MBO. If MBO receives the money by Tuesday, you may get paid Friday, otherwise you'll get paid the following Friday. You'll be waiting 3 or 4 weeks for that first check.


In California, its illegal:

In California, wages, must be paid at least twice during each calendar month on the days designated in advance as regular paydays. The employer must establish a regular payday and is required to post a notice that shows the day, time and location of payment. Labor Code Section 207 Wages earned between the 1st and 15th days, inclusive, of any calendar month must be paid no later than the 26th day of the month during which the labor was performed, and wages earned between the 16th and last day of the month must be paid by the 10th day of the following month. Other payroll periods such as weekly, biweekly (every two weeks) or semimonthly (twice per month) when the earning period is something other than between the 1st and 15th, and 16th and last day of the month, must be paid within seven calendar days of the end of the payroll period within which the wages were earned.



MBO helps companies evade payroll taxes by forcing each of their employee's to pay said payroll taxes on top of paying the employer's normal payroll costs in the form of the MBO fee.

Win win for the employer, and lose lose for the artist.





Free Advice for Freelancers in 2009


Reflection on our Industry in 2008
As 2009 approaches, reflection on the VFX/Animation industry in 2008 causes one to pause for a moment. Just about every animator I know has money owed to them from past due invoices for this past year. Including myself.

The economy, no doubt, is to blame...among other things. Budgets in film, TV and commercials are lower than ever. Studios are not being paid by the client and are asking for 75% up front before even starting a show. Colleagues have confided that they are being forced to accept smaller bids than ten years ago. Bids for a shot that would have taken 4-5 days are now being pushed for only 1 day. The bigger studios are focusing on the younger animators to get the lower pay rates and meet the smaller budgets. Smaller studios are outbidding the bigger studios, but need to hire experienced artists and TD's because they do not have the talent pool in house and on staff. And, of course, if that all wasn't enough??? we have overseas production putting the squeeze on everybody.


The new pay policy for freelancers at the little studio
Due to the smaller studios employing more seasoned people to get the job done, there seems to be a disconnect as to how freelancers are paid. The average workforce at a smaller studio is a few staff employees and a regular flow of less seasoned freelancers who will take any job they can to get the experience and skills they need to move up. However, the VFX/Anim veterans have expectations for hours and pay that they are accustomed to and assume will be respected.

I thought about offering a list studios who owe artists money from 2008 here on the blog. I really did. But, I don't think that would be constructive and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead, I though it better to offer advice in establishing freelancer wages and pay schedule. The advice below should help the freelancer navigate the the new tactics by studios to keep more cash on the books... and less in your bank account.

The Norm
Before I state the NEW strategy for freelancers accepting employment... I should point out MOST animation and VFX studios like DD, Sony, R & H, Dreamworks, Disney, Pixar, Jim Henson Studios, Luma Pictures, Colorado FX, Duck Studios, Super78, CafeFX/Syndicate, Engine Room Design, Zoic, Artifact Design, Amalgamated Pixels, Sea Level, Giant Steps, Asylum FX, and more!!!! follow the standard and legal policies at a workplace. I can confirm that these studios follow the California State Work Policy defined below.

California State Work Policy
It is a requirement for all employment to not only be paid on a bi-weekly schedule starting the first day of employment, but also be paid the balance owed on the last day of employment. This is not only the law for any personal services, freelance or not, but it is the standard work policy. This is why so many freelancers are confused by 30 day net policies and refusal to pay invoices, even after 90 days. These artists are required to be at the studio by a certain time, are using the studio's equipment and report to a specific individual. These artists are not laying tile in your bathroom or selling you oranges in bulk. Therefore, a 30-day net policy doesn't legally apply.

a real contractor; using his own tools, working his own hours, reporting to no one


What is a 30 day net policy?
A 30-day net policy states that you will be paid 30-days after submitting an invoice, including weekends and holidays. All invoices are due and payable 30 days after the invoice date. This means the first paycheck for one week of work will be paid 5 weeks after you have started employment. Sometimes the invoices are "lost" or "not received until a much later date than originally sent" and a new one has to be submitted again and the cycle starts all over again. Some studios try to say weekends or holidays do not count, but this is not the legal definition of a 30 day net.

The first 30-day net policy I encountered was because I wasn't told and didn't know to ask. After that, I ask every prospective employer what their pay policies and schedules are. The more we hold 30-day net policies as unacceptable, the less they will be imposed. The bigger studios wouldn't play these games with freelancers because they know the law and take pride in their reputation in the industry. 15-day net policies apply to the same strategies as the 30-day and are subject to when the 15 days begin. Invoices can be lost, interpretations of when a 15 day net begins can be skewed.
The larger studios that follow California work policies understand it's less expensive to hire a proper bookkeeper and payroll company to handle wages. It's less work for the controller if people are on direct deposit and regular pay schedules. They also understand they are more likely to have good artists return, if they have a good payroll system.

The Advice
Here is my advice to freelancers interviewing with any studio that is not listed above as a studio that follows CA State Work Policy or a studio you have not already established a working relationship with in the past. This might all seem like common sense, but if points are assumed once they are discussed in email and not followed up in writing, there is room for people to waver on the agreement.

1. BEGIN/END DATE: Establish how long the project is and if there will be any holds placed beyond the term of the project. (Continue to communicate if you take the job about the dates of the hold as you get closer to the end date, so there are no surprises and you are let go earlier than you imagined.)
2. HOURS: Ask about the hours and set your rate for a 40 hour week. Make it clear that hour beyond the first 40 worked fall under Over Time rates of time and a half. You must make this clear or suffer later when it is open to interpretation.
3. PAY SCHEDULE: Ask when the next pay period is and what the pay schedule is at the studio. The more artist do not agree to a 30 day net policy, the less studios will try to implement it.
4. END DATE WAGES: State that you expect to be paid in full on your last day of employment the balance of what is owed for wages worked.
5. HOLIDAY PAY SCHEDULE: Ask how wages are handled during holidays, if any fall during you time working there. Just because people are not in the office doesn't mean you do not get paid.
6. TO TAX OR NOT TO TAX: Establish if you will be on payroll or invoicing the studio.
7. MANAGEMENT: Ask who you will be reporting to directly. This will help you if there is a problem because you know exactly who in the chain to go to first.

GET IT IN WRITING!!!! Once all of this has been agreed upon, ask for a deal memo to be typed up stating these points and emailed or faxed to you.
Again, much of this seems common sense and we all take it for granted because it falls under CA Work Policy. Most studios respect bi-weekly pay schedules and Over Time pay as their everyday business systems and policies. But!!! not all do anymore. There is no real animation union fighting for the rights of TD's or artists today and no one to turn to if you are not paid, other than the Labor Board. If you do not spell out every single point regarding your employment and pay, you have no recourse. The smaller studios employ an irreverent regard for the people who work for them. Not all, but the majority of the small studios do not value the people who come in and get the job done and then leave the studio with a happy client.
If you ask the right questions and put the answers in writing, there is less likely to be any disagreements or misunderstandings as to what the terms of your employment are. It's unfortunate that things need to be spelled out like this, but it's my experience that this will limit the disputes as to when you will be paid and how much, along with other expectations. Most studios will ultimately respect your attention to the details.

In keeping the tone here on the positive side...
Please post in the comments area if you work at a studio that follows the California State work policies. We should give props to the studios who are doing the right thing by their employees, even in this this bad economy. I hope this helps other freelancers, because myself and many of my colleagues have learned the hard way in 2008.