Mass Animation's Facebook gambit

The Screen Actors Guild, the largest union in Hollywood, is now in its seventh month without a contract with the major studios. Riven by internal dissent, the 120,000-member guild has been unable to persuade the studios to offer better terms than other talent unions have accepted, particularly on programming created for the Internet. To bring some clarity to the situation, SAG board members and their counterparts at the studios should spend a few minutes studying a Facebook application called Mass Animation. Perhaps then the two sides will be less fixated on how to divvy up future Internet revenue and more focused on how to fend off the competitors massing at their gates.

Through Facebook, Mass Animation invited the public to create scenes for its first short video, "Live Music." The company supplied the animation software, the story, backgrounds, characters and audio. Animators whose work is chosen will receive $500 per scene. All told, the project will cost about $1 million and take six months to complete, a fraction of the money and time required for a comparable Hollywood project.

Mass Animation was founded by Yair Landau, who ran Sony Pictures Animation while he was a top executive at Sony Pictures. He tends to run ahead of the curve, having pushed Sony to develop a downloadable movie service years before online piracy became rampant. His new company is trying to do for animation what YouTube has done for video, namely, exposing far-flung talent. And it has attracted scores of submissions from students, hobbyists and professionals around the world, reflecting the democratizing power of technology even in a field as specialized as this one.

Granted, the online movie service Landau championed hasn’t revolutionized the film business, and his latest effort probably won't upend professional animation. But it's an early sign of things that are certain to come as computer chips become ever more powerful, hard drives more capacious and bandwidth more plentiful. Every year, camcorders deliver higher resolution images at a lower price. A professional-grade recording studio that used to cost thousands of dollars can now be assembled with a computer and a few hundred bucks worth of software. User-generated content sites and online sharing services distribute music and video for free. Equipped with these tools and the better, cheaper ones that will inevitably follow, a new class of creators and entrepreneurs is coming to vie for its share of the global entertainment dollar. While SAG and studios bicker over some future pool of revenue, new competitors are coming to drain it. And to sell this point the way they would in Hollywood: They. Cannot. Be. Stopped.

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