Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Always Oncoming Waves

In the not-distant past, a talented-but-older story artist sat in his cubicle and said to me:

"I wrap up on this feature the end of next month, and I'll start looking around for whatever project's out there to jump on. Don't know when I'll get back here. They've got a roomful of trainees who work a lot cheaper" ...

The above segues nicely into this recent piece in the Houston Chronicle, which writes with fatherly approval on the eager-beaver grads coming out of Texas A & M and trekking to the West Coast:

More than 30 graduates of the A&M Viz Lab, as the program is commonly called, currently work in the many technical-arts departments at Pixar and have a hand in creating all the studio's films.

"There are a ton of Aggies here," says Viz Lab grad Jean-Claude Kalache, a director of photography for Pixar currently at work on Up, the studio's major release for 2009. "We call it the Aggie Mafia." ...

"If Pixar let me get coffee for them, I'd be happy," says a grinning Bobby Huebel, a second-year graduate student from Houston ...

And no doubt happy receiving a coffee-getter's salary, at least at first.

The problem for older workers is always the same: As the years go by you develop the chops, also gain knowledge and production savvy, but your energy wanes and your interests divert to mundane things like marriage and child-rearing And for some weird reason, you just don't dig working the eighty-hour weeks anymore.

At the age of thirty, thirty-five or forty, the thrill of pulling all-nighters and eating cold pizza with your co-workers, of sleeping under the desk after you've gotten the shot done at 2:30 in the freaking morning is ... how to say this? ... not there.

Some time back, I fell into conversation with a storyboard artist who has worked with high success for thirty years. He told me this:

"I went in to interview at Disney. They were interested in hiring me, but they weren't interested in paying what I was used to making. 'Oh, you'll get more money when you work overtime. And we'll have lots of overtime.'

"That's great, but I've done the overtime thing already. And at this stage of my life, making up the lower salary by doing overtime is not ... ah ... the kind of deal I'm real keen on making." ...

Of course, when there are all those starry-eyed graduates coming from Texas A & M, Ringling, Sheridan and other fine institutions of higher learning, sometimes you have to take the lousier deal, like it or not.

Because too often, the newbies are happy just fetching coffee. At coffee-fetcher wages.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are always options. One is only stuck in the Hollywood grinder if one chooses to stay there. There are other uses for an animation artist's skills besides the latest "me too" feature or flavor-of-the-day TV series.

Cast a wider net - there is stability and good pay out there doing what you love to do if you're willing to give up seeing your name scroll by on the big or small screen.

Tim said...

Also, the young'uns are more willing to pull up stakes and re-locate to northern California, or Portland, or New York than we older folks who don't want to move our kids to new schools and lose the equity in our house for a single gig.
The options are these:
1)Find jobs with less accolades and decent pay (as Anonymous suggested above).
2) Become an indispensable fixture at a studio. (e.g. Joe Grant, Vance Gerry, Joe Ranft)
3) Pitch and own a hit property, so that you keep getting residuals into your old age....(oh, wait, this is animation we're talking about. Sorry)
4) Take up a side career like Bill Pete did.
5) Answer that spam email about making an extra $6000/mo. from your home.

Anonymous said...

"They've got a roomful of trainees who work a lot cheaper" ..."

More so than ever, this is the current Disney Feature animation plan. This and outsourcing (it's going to happen a lot more, not less). Talented experience has never meant less.

Thankfully there are so many other options, as previous comments have stated.

Justin said...

This is the same story in every industry. Younger kids are willing to work longer hours for less pay. My father-in-law is a lawyer in his late fifties who is having trouble finding work because he isn't willing to work an 80 hour week. It doesn't matter that he has 30 years of court experience. He's too expensive and too inflexible.

Anonymous said...

Or another way of putting it is the young eager beavers work too cheap and are spineless.

When someone doesn't want to work an 80 hour week I would hardly say he's being "inflexible" . It's called sanity.

Anonymous said...

It's Pixar's model.

Anonymous said...

which is pixar's model, sanity or 80 hours with youngsters?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the 'spineleess' coment. Studios like Weta have come acustomed to this and now expect artist to put up to 80 hours or more, with no OT I might add (straight pay though). So the rest of us pay for their spinelessness.

And this is caused by the fear among the new guys of loosing the new job. Frankly, that's blackmail on the studio's part, it's intimidation and it's inmoral.

If there's was a scheduling problem, such as under estimating the apropiate time for a production, that's a managerial issue. Artists keep being used as a scapegoat.

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

"which is pixar's model, sanity or 80 hours with youngsters?"

My guess is the "80 hours with yoiungsters" and don't forget no overtime.

Anonymous said...

Yes... obviously. Obviously if you commit yourself only to studio work then you will be replaced by younger talent - because younger talent are so wowed by the experience of working and making money that they love burning the hours! They will make you look tired, slow and useless and all of your years of being a "company man" will be swept away with one pink slip. Because years of ONLY doing studio work are years of doing the bare minimum. You are a shmuck if you only work for the studios.

Now if you take the time and effort to make your own movies/paintings/whatever, then you set yourself apart. You don't even have to do it alone - you could split the hours between yourself and fellow workers, with a little effort in your free time. You could contribute to the animation community here in Los Angeles. Submit to the Platform Festival, to Annecy, to Ottawa. Set yourself apart from the drones and refine your own voice - and in return, you will have a reputation that no fresh faced student can compete with. You will have a little bit of respect from executives even and that little bit will go a long way.

I tried to explain this simple premise 8 posts ago in the comments section:
http://tinyurl.com/5mw2bz

Unsurprisingly, the cabal of bitter, myopic dunces in here belittled the premise and retreated into their defensive shell. Because how dare anyone heap adulation upon them and try to broaden their horizons....

Its enough to make you think most animation artists get what they deserve. All the talent in the world and they're still a bunch of tools mouthbreathing over the fruits of a studio system long gone decades ago. The new economy is about what you own, and if you are happy to only watch your name scroll by at the end of a feature film, you're going to be worth exactly: squat. Due for a rude awakening when a pimply CalArts grad who grew up on He-Man takes your job.

Now you may begin attacking me again for bursting your bubble Because its not YOU thats to blame - its those evil executives!

Anonymous said...

It's Monkey that is to blame! Monkey! Monkey is controlling my destiny!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay...anonymous two posts up wearing rose colored glasses...who are all these animators that have bucked the studio system and made a career and a name for themselves doing what you suggest? Is it more then a fraction of one percent? Is this a realistic recommendation? Are you on this list? Have you ever tried to secure financing for an independent film? Have you ever acheived distribution for one of these pet projects? Is this a realistic game plan or just a pipe dream? How many Bill Plymtons really exist out there? And how many people have heard of Bill?
Having been around for awhile, I've seen a number of artists that do just as you suggest: work on their own pet project until they finally realize that all they're doing is masturbating with even less of a result. They call these projects vanity projects for a reason.
But if you're suggesting that an animator give up the studio system and animation altogether to sell their own persoanl art books at conventions why don't you ask some of those huge number of artists that were just in San Diego how that's working out for them financially and can they live off of just that income (assuming they're not living with their parents, of course).
You seem to have such disdain for anyone working at a big studio (or even a small studio for that matter). Have you applied and not been hired? Do you hate the fact that some artists just want to work this way and are happy creating at their desk within the system and don't want to have the burden of supporting other workers?
I doubt any of these animators that you disdain have the same level of disdain for you.
If this is what you want to do and actually can go ahead and do it, but to suggest that everyone quit their studios to work on a vanity project is just ludicrious. Let us all know when your film hits the theaters and some of us might go see it.
But keep in mind that if these artists you disdain hadn't worked in these studios on these films and only films from people like Plymton existed I'm guessing you wouldn't be in animation today.
Have a little perspective if not respect.

Anonymous said...


"But if you're suggesting that an animator give up the studio system and animation altogether to sell their own persoanl art books"


I'm not suggesting that at all. I'm stating that if you put some effort into a project outside the studio system, the returns are many:

1. You refine your own vision. Which is very important for you as a working animator.I elaborated on this in the other post, but when you're 55 yrs old and you still draw in your own style as well as others, you're a lot more valuable then if you've been hammered into a mold for decades to the point where you can only draw in the style of the studio that threw you out in the cold.

2. At the end of your effort you have a short film, (or whatever) that you own. Its a great thing to have in your portfolio, online, and for your own self promotion. Its "i did this" rather than "I was one tiny part of a team that did this".

3. The whole animation community is better off. More films submitted to festivals means better films in those festivals, means festivals are more legitimate, means people pay more attention to the independent scene... MEANS studios look to the community for ideas rather than executives.

4. This is something to do other than work overtime. Obviously the members of the animation community have the time and effort available to work on their own works because all of us, like idiots, are burning overtime hours like its going out of style. It would be nice to have a sentiment among the artists working in the animation community that their time is always valuable whether it is outside the studio or inside the studio.



"You seem to have such disdain for anyone working at a big studio"(or even a small studio for that matter)."

No I don't. KEEP your studio job. Anyone who says different is wrong. You seem to be angry that I've actually called out the community at large, but I don't care because the community at large does its fair share of bitching and moaning in here and I'd rather offer up ideas than complain. Read Steve's original post about veterans being replaced with kids out of college and then tell me why I'm making you angry. Think it over.


Do you hate the fact that some artists just want to work this way and are happy creating at their desk within the system

I hate the fact that going down this road is going to get you BURNED in the end. You seem to be wholly committed to the company. You are convinced that they will look out for you, and have a lot of pity for you in that regard. Go and talk to some veterans in the industry.


"If this is what you want to do and actually can go ahead and do it, but to suggest that everyone quit their studios to work on a vanity project is just ludicrious."

Yeah, why would artists actually develop creative projects?!? You must hate people with their own shows because they worked on the pitch outside the studio for no pay. The thing is, shorts are developed into properties just as quickly as pitches, but when you do a short you still have something left for yourself if it doesn't get picked up. Its about fostering an environment here in LA where artists are continually coming up with ideas of their own. But why would we want that. Hell' I'm a jerk to suggest it! There are executives to do that right?
You have it all figured out. Tow that line.


"But keep in mind that if these artists you disdain.."


I don't have disdain for artists, I'm an artist. I want artists to have more leverage in the industry and the status quo right now is guaranteeing we get less. If the community had more creative output outside the system, then we would have more leverage. Studios would want a piece of the ideas/films/projects that we own. Its a very simple premise.

Anonymous said...

I won't bother to go through them point by point but the only end result you can come up with is you'll feel better and have a short that you made all by your self. I'm not sure how you can translate that into making a decent living. All your suggestions actually seem to come down to how to make yourself standout for promotion within a large studio and yet I don't think that's what you mean. If you don't think the better artist or more creative thinker isn't promoted and given more credit in a larger studio you might want to look back through the past and current history. All the big names you know in animation seem to fit the bill and almost all of them are or were employees of studios.
How about some examples of animators that have gone down your path and haven't returned to the studio system? You obviously feel that most of the animators should be able to make a good living by following your suggestions so there should be some great examples to call on to prove your point, right?
Instead of trying to convince the older animators that are happy within the studios to do this try to convince the kids like yourself that are taking the jobs away and making us so bitter in the first place. Go ahead and be a starving arteest - more power to you. Just next time you apply at a studio mention to them that you think working in a studio is beneath you and let us all know how that works out for you.
And you can say it all you want, but your disdain for anyone not following your standard is clear.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Reading comprehension:

" you'll feel better and have a short that you made all by your self.... I'm not sure how you can translate that into making a decent living."

-thats because I didn't say that. I said contributing to the animation world by creating your own content in your free time is better than adding 20+ hours to your regular workweek with overtime in the studio.


" If you don't think the better artist or more creative thinker isn't promoted and given more credit in a larger studio you might want to look back through the past and current history."

-and you might want to look back at the very real cicumstances related in this original post. no matter how much of a standout you are, you will be replaced.

ERGO, its more than nice to hedge your bets with some outside work that rounds out your artistic vision. when you are shown the door from a big studio(and you WILL be eventually)a portfolio of items done at the studio that laid you off isn't really that impressive. In fact, its kind of sad.


"All the big names you know in animation seem to fit the bill and almost all of them are or were employees of studios. "

For the third time: I never said one should leave their job at a studio. < reread that a few times so it sinks in.


"How about some examples of animators that have gone down your path and haven't returned to the studio system?"

Seeing as I never stated that one should leave a studio I am hard pressed to find out returning to a studio even factors into it. Take a deep breath and slow down when you read my post. You must be skipping parts.


"You obviously feel that most of the animators should be able to make a good living by following your suggestions"

No, I didn't say that. I said it hedges their best as developing into a talent that will be in demand after a studio ditches you for someone who will work 80 hour weeks.


"Instead of trying to convince the older animators that are happy within the studios to do this try to convince the kids like yourself that are taking the jobs away and making us so bitter in the first place."

I'm not a kid there bub. I've been in the industry for 14 years. Other than that, you've again demonstrated that you haven't been able to grasp anything written in my posts. I never tried to convince anyone to leave their job at a studio.


"Go ahead and be a starving arteest - more power to you."

I never asked anyone to leave their job.


"Just next time you apply at a studio mention to them that you think working in a studio is beneath you"

I never said that, but your repeated insistence that I did is compelling evidence that you are a grade A dunce.


"And you can say it all you want, but your disdain for anyone not following your standard is clear."

...and what a revolting standard huh?
The idea that artists would not restrict their output to only that within a studio system. Yes, I must be the worst thing thats ever come your way.

Steve Hulett said...

The artist that has more arrows in his quiver, be they outside projects or skill sets, is the artist who will prosper over time.

Nothing wrong with thinking outside the box. But you do have to maintain a cash flow.

robiscus said...

Bakshi sums it up eloquently and perfectly right here:

http://www.cartoonbrew.com/animators/bakshi-at-comic-con

robiscus said...

Bakshi sums it up eloquently and perfectly right here:

http://www.cartoonbrew.com/animators/bakshi-at-comic-con

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