Sausage Party, the R-rated animated comedy from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, had a pretty good first weekend. It became Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with many of the reviews on the positive side, and it made $33.6 million at the box office. But things don’t appear to be as great behind the scenes for the unsung heroes of Sausage Party—its animators.
Last week, Cartoon Brew published an interview with Sausage Party directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, who started Nitrogen Studios (the animation studio responsible for the film), about the making of the unlikely hit. For Vernon and Tiernan, the process was smooth since Rogen and Goldberg essentially let them do their thing, and they discussed the process of making a lower budget film; because animated features are mostly family friendly, Sausage Party was seen as a risk. Their goal was to make it look like a “$150 million movie for a fraction of the cost,” although they wouldn’t confirm or deny the reported $20 million budget.
“It doesn’t have to cost that much money when you’re well organized, and you have your mind set on the goal of what you want to do, and you get the job done with a small, determined crew,” Tiernan said.
If we take it from Vernon and Tiernan, production may have been hectic at times but it resulted in a movie that they’re both proud of. But if you read the comments of the Cartoon Brew interview, it’s a much different (and completely depressing) story.A screenshot from Twitter user paychiri, a 3D modeling and animation student, shows just some of the hellish conditions the animators at Nitrogen Studios allegedly went through to get Sausage Party made on time and with a low budget. According to the allegations, production on Sausage Party was poorly organized, artists were forced to work overtime without pay for months and threatened with being blacklisted. In the end, dozens weren’t even credited for their work. It allegedly took a petition letter and an intervention from Annapurna Pictures, a production company financing the film, for animators to get paid and fed when working overtime.
“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,” someone going by Uncredited Supervisor wrote.
“Not giving credit to dozens of artists is a shameful act,” wrote someone using the screen name, traumatized animator. “Has anyone ever heard of a place that blacklists people on such a scale?? The vast majority of the un-credited animators is made of people who gave their 2 weeks notice, according to contract, over a period that stretched for more than a year, almost two. What does it say about a workplace where people keep quitting from?”
Many of the stories from animators, who’ve remained anonymous in the comments section, contain similar elements. And while Nitrogen Studios has yet to respond, others have spoken in support of the animators and some have vowed not to see the movie because of the conditions the animators were put through to make it.And Cartoon Brew plans to follow up on those allegations. In a promo clip from Sausage Party published to YouTube in May that hits close, Rogen parodies Walt Disney and tells the audience about the film he's working on as background animators do the work. As he observes an animator’s work, he exclaims, “This is absolutely terrible work. You’re fired.”
Update 3:06pm CT, Aug. 16: According to the Hollywood Reporter, 30 animators who worked on Sausage Party sent a letter in December alleging that Nitrogen Studios used "unfair pressure tactics" against the animators. In the letter, which the Hollywood Reporter has claimed to have seen a final copy of, Nitrogen used intimidation to get employees to work longer hours, threatened to terminate them, and suggested that other employees volunteer to work overtime. The letter details further allegations against Nitrogen as well as the hostile work environment, which eventually prompted Annapurna to intervene and pay the animators still working on Sausage Party overtime.
Tiernan, who is Nitrogen Studios's chief creative officer, didn't confirm or deny the existence of the letter but said reports and claims about the state of the work environment at Nitrogen weren't true."These statements are without merit," Tiernan told The Hollywood Reporter. "Our production adhered to all overtime regulations and our contractual obligations to our artists. Any time that any concern was brought up, it was handled appropriately."