Second MPC Animator Reveals Crunch on Sonic Movie

Second MPC Animator Reveals Crunch on Sonic Movie

by January 28, 2020

A former animator with MPC Vancouver has come forward to claim the studio imposed “crunch” periods directly on team members involved with the Sonic movie and beyond, corroborating allegations a second source with ties to the company first told TSSZ in December.

The source, speaking originally to our news partners at Tails’ Channel, said animators “had to work too many hours” on the project. Some, the source claims, worked an extra four to five hours each day on the film, with a handful logging 80-hour work weeks on some occasions.  All this information is in line with our original reporting on working conditions for artists working on the Sonic movie redesign at MPC Vancouver, in which a source claimed employees worked up to 12-hour days as part of up to 70-hour weeks on the movie.

The source has requested their identity be withheld to avoid any trouble with the surviving satellite offices of MPC and related industry entities. TSSZ, along with Tails’ Channel, has verified the source’s identity and employment background with MPC Vancouver, which closed without warning in the middle of December, resulting in the loss of a significant number of jobs.

The animator who spoke to Tails’ Channel further explained the work environment colleagues endured at the studio. While the source assured all who worked the extra time were paid for it, they also noted some were not being paid much to begin with. The source alleged to Tails’ Channel some employees were being paid as little as minimum wage, having been classified at a lower employment category in order to not be paid a proper salary. In British Columbia, where MPC Vancouver was based, that’s $13.95 in Canadian dollars–the equivalent of $10.58 in US dollars, less than the starting hourly salary of U.S.-based employees for Wal-Mart and Target.

To be sure, TSSZ checked in with our original source, who explained the structure MPC Vancouver imposed to pay such low wages.

“[MPC’s] philosophy is that the first 2-4 months of a contract is essentially training and they are not productive, as such they pay them very low rates, at or slightly above minimum wage,” our source said. “…The goal was to have 1/3 of the team at the junior tier, 1/3 at a mid tier, and 1/3 at a senior tier [….] they changed the paradigm to a ‘artist’, ‘key artist’, ‘lead’. Which meant that the band for ‘artist’ would be pretty low.”

While our source expressed some skepticism that MPC Vancouver would pay experienced artists on large projects at minimum wage, they did not discount the possibility, explaining that the studio generally pays “below industry standard rates.”

“I guess it wouldn’t surprise me if they made their starting artist band at minimum wage,” our source said. “It would be insanely uncompetitive [sic] but that’s kind of the way MPC has been in the last few years.”

The animator who spoke to Tails’ Channel further explained that this type of crunch at the studio was not limited to the Sonic movie.

“This kind of situation happened many times before with other projects,” the source said, adding that once a crunch scenario is completed, teams at the studio typically move to another, on another film.

The source also explained the complicated, punishing process animators endured when completing a shot in the film. Animators who did not completely finish a shot had their work handed off to another artist, who would then receive in-film credit for the work, despite the previous animator completing a majority of it, according to them.

Speaking to the background of that remark, the original source from our story in December explained those kinds of callouts are not an industry standard, with on-screen credits for VFX work sometimes at a premium.

“A good way to make sure artists are happy on a troubled show is to make sure they get credits,” our source explained. “At this point in the industry a credit is a bonus, not an expectation.”

Overall, the source said to Tails’ Channel that while they could not detail any specifics, animators felt “mistreated” by MPC Vancouver, largely regarded as the worst place to work in a city with numerous industry opportunities. There were other controversies the source detailed as “outrages,” but the source did not elaborate further on what they were.

The source also corroborated that MPC Vancouver’s production pipeline was set up to impose crunch, a detail first reported in our piece from December. The source said that the studio always had such a production method, adding to its ill reputation among professionals working in the region.

As noted in our story from December, Sonic movie director Jeff Fowler announced on May 24th that the team would be “taking a little more time to make Sonic just right,” adding a hashtag indicating “#novfxartistswereharmedinthemakingofthismovie.”

In speaking with Tails’ Channel, their source indicated that during crunch time, they didn’t get enough rest, on account of finishing film shots being the priority.