No matter how you feel about the raunchy animated hit Sausage Party, at least it's nice to see a cartoon theoretically aimed at adults making bank. Or, it would be nice, if a bunch of people weren't dicked over making the movie.
CartoonBrew's recent interview with directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan features a pretty positive chat... until you get to the comments. Below the same article in which Tiernan brags about Sausage Party's miniscule budget (rumors have it at an insanely cheap $20 million), anonymous animators are coming forward to talk about the piss-poor treatment they endured at Nitrogen Studios.
Their stories are shocking and infuriating.
The production cost were kept low because Greg would demand people work overtime for free. If you wouldn't work late for free your work would be assigned to someone who would stay late or come in on the weekend. Some artist were even threatened with termination for not staying late to hit a deadline.
The animation department signed a petition for better treatment and paid overtime. When the letter got to Annapurna they stepped in and saw that artist were payed [sic] and fed when overtime was needed.
Over 30 animators left during the coarse [sic] of the production due to the stress and expectations. Most of them left before the paid overtime was implemented. This was met with animosity and was taken as a personal insult to the owners. Their names were omitted from the final credits despite working for over a year on this film.
Criminy, Nitrogen makes the video game industry look good. Telling people they're working for free is terrible enough, but taking someone's name out of the credits out of spite is beyond the pale. From the sounds of it, this happened to a lot of people.
Almost half the animation team was not credited. The team believed in this film and poured their hearts and souls into it. Despite this, more than half of it was not credited. You can see the full team on IMDB, which contains 83 people (and I am certain there are some missing). The film's credits, however, contains 47.
There's no excuse for this. You're dealing with people's livelihoods here. People spent a year or more of their lives making this movie -- they need proof of that experience on-screen to help them get more work, preferably not at swirling shit vortex like Nitrogen Studios.
Understandably, nobody wants to put their name out there and risk being blacklisted by the industry. But all the commenters seem to agree on three things: The people they worked with were great, they're proud of the finished product, and Greg Tiernan is a huge asshole.
Working with Greg and the Nitrogen production was a nightmare for any artist, we believed in that project and stayed despite that fact.
I personally know & witnessed many other incidents during the production; such as an "Open Letter" to the clients, and how Greg threatened artists for it.
Right now we don't have any names to attach to these stories, so all we have is hearsay written by anonymous accounts that can be made by anyone. A Pixar artist did link to the article on Twitter and pointed to the comments; Nitrogen's reviews on GlassDoor also line up with the Sausage Party horror stories we've seen so far. At this point, these allegations are just allegations, even if they're so depressing they're believable.
Hopefully word will get to Seth Rogen and the rest of the higher-ups so we can clear up this mess and get the credits restored for the home release.
UPDATE: Since publication of this article, Variety has published a report with accounts from multiple sources. The stories from the anonymous animators seem to back up the comments made in the original Cartoon Brew comments section.
"People would go in to talk to Greg [Tiernan] or give their notice and there'd be screaming about being blacklisted," one source told Variety.
The same person claimed that since the studio lacked a Human Resources department, any issues were deferred to Tiernan's wife Nicole Stine, the line producer. "It was uncomfortable," they told Variety.
Nitrogen's Chief Executive Nicole Stinn talked to the LA Times on the subject, and denied the allegations. Ellery Vandooyeweert, whose Twitter profile describes himself as an editor on Sausage Party, shot back at the Cartoon Brew commenters via the social media platform. Though he was in no way sympathetic to the anonymous animators, he does acknowledge that people were left out of the credits after leaving the studio mid-production.
I myself was in contact with multiple Sausage Party animators, but they declined to go on the record about their experiences. Probably because they were afraid of being blacklisted by the industry, but maybe one of them found out I'm the guy who wrote "6 Disney Princess Sex Moves."
I did, however, talk to an ex-employee who worked at Nitrogen Studios from 2008 to 2010. Back then, the studio was working on episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine. Kurtis Aikins told me he was okay with using his name because he's since left the animation industry. Over a few emails, Aikins described a work environment that appears similar to the one depicted in those CB comments.
During his final few months at the studio, Aikins had a particularly unpleasant run-in with Greg Tierney. After working with the company for two years, Aikins approached Tierney for a raise, and was subsequently rebuffed.
"(...) and this is when my time at (Nitrogen Studios went) from alright, to just shitty," Aikins wrote. "The shot that I had been working on, when I asked for the raise, was a particularly difficult one. So to get a shot approved, it went from the lead > supervisor > director, and a redo ment the shot was so bad it needed to be made again from scratch. (So) for 2-3 weeks this shot was approved by both my lead and supervisors and was rejected as a redo by (Greg), it just went back and forth."
This went on for some time; Aikins had no idea that this would have any connection to his raise conversation with Tierney. Then a lead finally pulled Aikins aside.
"He tells me that because I had asked for the raise, Greg took it upon himself to "put me in my place," Aikins wrote. "I quit that week, (alongside) a friend, and not long later there was a mass exit of animators."
This is a pretty damning account, but it does match with the picture others have painted of Tierney and his management style. There's a good chance we'll hear more about this down the road as the story progresses. In the meantime, I've got "Overwatch Sex Moves" to write.
Tristan Cooper can be found on Twitter.