Former Sony Pictures Animation Head Solicits Talent for New Venture on Facebook

Yair Landau, who launched Mass Animation, pays $500 per frame; one animator earned $5,000 for making 10 shots of his last film, "Live Music."

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Yair Landau has his head in the clouds.

The way the former Sony Pictures Animation head tells it, technology has democratized storytelling, and created a global Internet community that he is tapping to make collaborative animation beyond a physical studio.

"All of that phenomenal technology that drove the performance capture in Avatar is essentially going to be available on a mass consumer level to drive story-telling in the not-too-distant future," Landau told a Whistler Film Festival luncheon Thursday.

The alchemy is combining cloud computing with traditional storytelling to create a content farm for animation.

While at Sony Pictures, Landau said he experienced the visual effects side of the studio under pressure to shift animation production to Canada to exploit tax benefits and a local talent base, or to consider working with facilities in India and Mexico.

As an alternative to out-sourcing, however, he chose in-sourcing, or creating a pipeline on the web to make CGI animation.

So, after leaving Sony in early 2008, Landau launched Mass Animation and invited animators around the world to come together via Facebook to create a five minute animated short film entitled Live Music.

The studio essentially built a transparent CGI pipeline modeled around standard animation production.

"We scripted, and we boarded and we designed and rigged models. Then we made the storyboards and the models and the software available to anyone through our application, and anyone around the world could animate shots and compete to have those shots included in our final product," he recalled.

In all, 55,000 animators of varying talents from 101 countries participated in the cloud-sourcing project, with around 20,000 downloading Maya software that Mass Animation supplied.

"Then we had several hundred submissions and I ended up working with 51 finalists from 17 different countries to assemble the film," he recounted.

Landau supplied the finalists with storyboards, and designed and rigged 3D models.

He then worked with the winning artists to refine their shots and ensure a consistent character movement.

Ultimately, Mass Animation released the Live Music animated short day-and-date on iTunes and accompanying TriStar Pictures' feature animated movie Planet 51 on Thanksgiving 2009.

Landau's content farm kept costs in check by paying animators $500 per shot.

For example, one animator from Sao Paulo submitted 20 shots for Live Music, or 20% of the film.

In the end, he got ten shots into the animated short, and was paid $5,000.

"That was his part-time gig," Landau recalled.

At the same time, Mass Animation has laid itself open to charges of exploitation as it cloud-sources its animation production.

Digital consultant Catherine Warren said fans of crowd-sourcing animation will push back if they feel producers are profiting from their labor without proper compensation.

"You can't have it both ways, slamming consumers for piracy and then taking their crowd-sourcing talents and exploiting them," Warren, president of Vancouver-based FanTrust Entertainment Strategies, warned.

Mass Animation's follow-up project to Live Music was just as fan-friendly, as Landau and his Facebook community of artists worked with Sony Online Entertainment to create a cinematic game trailer and in-game animation for DC Universe Online.

The Whistler Film Festival continues until Sunday.