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DIC Enterprises Emerges as Animation Industry Giant : Studio City Firm Changing Saturday Mornings

May 28, 1985|DANIEL AKST | Times Staff Writer

"We don't profit on network income," Chalopin said. "You profit when you run your show overseas."

DIC's union-free workplace may also give it an edge. Business manager Harry Hester of Local 839, Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Union, says DIC is the only major animation producer whose employees are not organized. His local, based in North Hollywood, tried and failed.

But unions are not as important as they once were in the super labor-intensive animation industry. These days, as much of the work as possible is exported to the Far East, and even so, "full animation" of the kind that Disney made famous is rare now.

In full animation, everything moved, or could move, at any time. Mary Poppins, for example, required 550 drawings per second of full animation. But the labor cost of such productions is staggering, and so now the vast majority of animation is "partial," showing less movement in each scene.

Partial animation slashes costs by reducing the number of drawings needed per second of animation--down to as few as six. But, in the eyes of purists, it also slashes quality. Even Marvel President Margaret Loesch acknowledges that the animation of most Saturday morning cartoons is uniformly uninspired.

In any case, making cartoons is still labor intensive, and so, like some of its competitors, DIC has most of the drawing done in the Far East, where wages are lower.

Union animators in Los Angeles make $800 a week when there is work. But in the summer, the peak season for working on the fall schedule, they can command more than $2,000.

Animators in the Orient often work for as little as $100 a week, Hester said. And because many are available on a contract basis, they need not be kept on staff all year when they are only needed for three or four months.

Few companies are busier than DIC, and Heyward and Chalopin, along with their agent, Steve Waterman of the ICM agency, are widely credited with the company's success.

Waterman, who used to represent Hanna-Barbera and has wide contacts in the industry, was a big help, according to those inside and outside DIC. "Steve keeps the doors open at the networks," said Judy Price, vice president for children's programming at CBS.

But most of the credit goes to Heyward and Chalopin. A New Yorker and UCLA graduate, Heyward was a cartoon story writer at Hanna-Barbera when he learned that Chalopin was looking for someone who understood the American market to work with him at the DIC Group in Paris. Heyward not only filled the bill, he is also fluent in French.

Founded in Paris

The DIC Group was founded in Paris in 1976, with Chalopin a one-third owner. In 1982, the operation was ready to enter the U.S. market. In a single year, Heyward said, they circled the globe 15 times, hopping from Paris to New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo (where DIC has an office) to establish DIC Enterprises.

"Andy is one of the best salesmen in the business, with a strong commercial sense of what's going to be hot," Loesch said. Of Chalopin, Price said, "I think Jean is one of the best businessmen around. He's a very shrewd cookie."

Chalopin contends that the key to DIC's success is the high quality of its productions and richer-than-usual animation, which he said stems partly from the company's international background. With roots in Paris and production facilities in Los Angeles and Tokyo, the company blends European, Japanese and American styles and claims to produce fuller animation.

The company is truly international. Chalopin himself did not speak English six years ago, and the animators in Japan speak only Japanese.

"We really, really strive for quality," he said in a telephone interview during a business trip to Europe.

But outsiders say DIC's animation is no better or worse than that of other big cartoon makers. Although DIC denies it, at least one competitor contends that DIC's distinction is that it works cheaper.

"Their prices are lower than ours," said Jean MacCurdy, vice president for children's programming at Hanna-Barbera. "They're not a union house, and they do more of their work overseas."

CBS' Price also rejected the notion that DIC's quality is superior. "What they do bring, and what I look for, is diversity," she said. "Competition is healthy."

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