Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The General Membership Meeting

Most of tonight's membership meeting was pretty humdrum. I rattled off my biz rep's report ("There's more work on the theatrical side of the business than the television side" ... "We've signed a contract with Eisner's company" ... "There's been a lot of anxiety about the performance of the 401(k) Plan" ...). Members voted approval on the budget for the annual TAG Christmas Party.

But then the anger started.

"Some studios require you to sign over rights to original work when you submit your portfolio!"

"Studios have no right to require long tests without any pay!"

"Studios keep requiring tests of job applicants, even when they don't plan to hire anybody."

President Koch and I said that

1) If a company is forcing artists to assign their work to the company when artists submit a portfolio to get a job, we need the specifics so we can challenge the practice.

2) We've been making issues of long tests for years. (No problem with shorter tests to show a portfolio sample is the work of the artist. But the week-long monsters? Way off the charts.) And we'll be making an issue of long tests at our next contract adjustment meeting.

3) We've fought the practice of blanket tests. If there are tests given for jobs that have already been offered to a staffer, why bother? It just ticks off applicants when they find out the test they worked hard on was close to pointless from the get-go, since one of the in-house artists had the inside track all along. (Tests too often become a crutch, rather than a tool.)

That was part of the evening. The rest of it was a panel on "The Internet for Animators."

23 comments:

Kevin Geiger said...

These are issues that could be addressed decisively if applicants simply held the line in a unified fashion.

Unfortunately, in an era where supply exceeds demand, the studios can effectively make what demands they like. If you're not willing to comply, chances are likely that someone else is.

KG

Anonymous said...

These are issues that could be addressed decisively if applicants simply held the line in a unified fashion.

Yep. I've known a couple of experienced people who got jobs if they jumped through the hoops of taking a test, but more often than not it's an exercise in futility if one has been in the business for years and is still asked to take a freakin' test.


I mean, really, if tests were for actually searching for talent, then wouldn't producers and executives have to take them, too?!

When will the artists get tired of being insulted?

Anonymous said...

Bottom Line - DON'T TAKE TESTS.

No one is going to get a job from getting a tes unless thety luck out by someone already slated for the job falls through.


Here is an idea - studios should ask that portfolios conatin ONLY original work. When I worked in NYC, producers and directors would laugh when people dropped off a portfolio full of studio boards and designs. That sutff is the sum of a team's efforts. Always.

Out here its the standard to have a portfolio full of those pieces and thats pure idiocy. Work on your own projects and fill your portfolio with those. That way studios don't need a test to show that your portfolio is full of your work. It will be clear to them just by looking through it.

I an't believe people still take tests. Its a sham - and most of them are 3 to 4 days of work. How much is that in scale money? About $900?

"Hi, give me $900.00 and we'll consider you for a job."

You're better off taking your money to the track.

Nancy said...

Hi Steve,
I left a comment for you a few posts ago, and maybe by no response, you're answer is no, but I wanted to ask you one more time for good measure. I found on this blog some pictures your father drew. I would like to download one of them to print and I wanted to get your permission to do so. I will be using his picture for a Nativity craft. You can email me at nj.lamb@yahoo.com or just respond to my comment here on your blog. Thank you! Nancy Lamb

Anonymous said...

"Just" sit down and create an entire portfolio of original work? Sure, but what do I do AFTER lunch? Story board
samples show your thinking and understanding of the medium. Animation can be isolated and usually show the animator's skills clearly enough no matter who's the characters are. The only positions that require exclusively original work are categories like "viz-dev" and character design.

As far as tests go, they are completely unnecessary for anyone with a resume and a portfolio, unless you a complete corporate shill and believe that the worst thing that could possibly happen to our industry is that a company hires the wrong person for a job. First,most animation studios are now owned by huge mega-corporations which can easily absorb the minor loss of salary and time if (gasp!) bad work has to be re-done. Also, since most work is now done for cable, scheduling is less of a problem than it used to be.

Second, and more important, all hires include a 90 day probation period during which any employee can be instantly fired for any or no reason without any ceremony or procedure. That protects any company from any consequences, real or imagined, resulting from a bad hire. Sometimes people don't "work out." That's normal in any business.

Tests are unnecessary and exploitive. They get away with it because we let them. If we are united and refuse to do them, they will go away.

Anonymous said...

""Just" sit down and create an entire portfolio of original work?"

Yeah. Thats what (I think) any artist worth their salt has done. Mine is all original, even though I have worked at numerous studios for over ten years. I don't like showing industry work because I don't like showing stuff that other people's pencils have been on.
When I'm in a position of hiring people I loathe looking at industry work. Show me your own work. Show me what you have a passion about. If you don't have any work outside your studio employment... if you just go home and watch tv every night... then I'm certainly not going to hire you over the guy with storyboards from his own shorts and designs from his own projects.


There's no reason to take a test ever. Studios should be more than capable of determining the skills of an artist. Why the union - which has a nearly unanimous sentiment on this subject - hasn't done anything abut it up to this point is beyond me. Its pro bono work. Its extortion.

Its the kind of thing that unions were invented to fight against.

Anonymous said...

"...over ten years..."

Ten years-that long? Could you be a little more specific? Your remarks have made me curious. Are you now in a position to hire? When you were, what was it for; 2-D, 3-D, TV, feature? What positions?

Anyway, we agree on tests, at least.

Steve Hulett said...

I would like to download one of them to print and I wanted to get your permission to do so.

If you make no money from it, I have no problem. Otherwise, e-mail me at shulett@animationguild.org

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

2D, TV. I've never worked in features, or CGI so I don't know about them.

Anonymous said...

If you don't have any work outside your studio employment... if you just go home and watch tv every night... then I'm certainly not going to hire you over the guy with storyboards from his own shorts and designs from his own projects.
Then-no offense-but you're certainly not someone with much sense. Maybe all the examples you've seen from shows are things you personally dislike because of the design or something, but all the people I've worked with for 20 years who are any good show how good they are in their work. They're veterans who have what's called a LIFE--and if they choose to do personal projects they aren't naive enough to put unpublished, disseminated designs and such in books for complete strangers at potential studios to see. In other words you've got it ass backwards, my friend. A person with "only" actual examples of completed work isn't a hack, just a professional. If you can't tell from that whether they're suitable or not that's you're failing, not theirs-maybe that potential storyboard person puts all their passion into the work they do for pay, which is what the job is about. There's yet another factor that distinguishes "unique, personal" stuff from real ezamples: the real work was done on a too-short deadline. The "personal" work was done at leisure with all the time in the world and no perameters, which every single TV job I've ever done had.
Which do you think is more pertinent to an actual job in TV?
While most of the artists I know take pleasure in drawing and painting for their own learning, there's actually more than a few who do more than "just watch TV" at home. Some actually have a wife and kids, or a partner and enjoy going to movies, theater, music, and other things that make a life...a life.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you got so upset.

The fact remains, when I see a portfolio with stuff that an artist did on their own, I know that 99% of the time they enjoy doing what they do more than the standard industry portfolio. When I call someone from down the hall to look at "this awesome portfolio" I can rtell you that 100% of the time its a book with personal work included. Its ALL theirs work.

...and 100% of the time when I am looking at work from a studio the artist whose name is on the portfolio is not the only person who worked on it. You work in a studio, have you deduced that yet??

Don't be another dumbass from Burbank towing the line. This town needs more people with a passion for animation and less career desk monkeys with no vision of their own.

Anonymous said...

"Don't be another dumbass from Burbank towing the line. This town needs more people with a passion for animation and less career desk monkeys with no vision of their own."

Your "sorry" that guy got upset? Now, I am, too. That was one of the most obnoxious ego-maniacal diatribes I have ever seen. Were people like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston "dumbass...career desk monkeys" who wasted their lives "towing the line" with "no passion for animation" and "no vision of their own?"

It seems that the main subject being taught at animation schools these days is Narcissism 101. It's a frightening thought that people like you are in charge of whether or not people like me or that other fellow get work. It explains a lot about the business today.

Anonymous said...

There's no reason to take a test ever. Studios should be more than capable of determining the skills of an artist. Why the union - which has a nearly unanimous sentiment on this subject - hasn't done anything abut it up to this point is beyond me. Its pro bono work. Its extortion.

Its the kind of thing that unions were invented to fight against.


Alright, I hate to say it because it's so cliche, but here goes:

There's no Union without YOU.

The artists of this town need to grow backbones. The artists of this town need to stand up for themselves, as that helps give the union the teeth to do anything. Whether it's unpaid overtime, taking dumb@$$ tests, or having production schedules that don't kill us, we have to decide we're not going to be exploited anymore.

Until we stop kvetching and actually stand up and say, "Uh no, that's completely unreasonable!" then the union can't do diddley. The union shouldn't be our babysitter, it should be our backup.

One more thing: about the anonymous who only hires those who have original work: it's a beautiful idea, but speaking only for me, I only have time to include rough little doodles in my portfolio because I'm so damned BURNED OUT from the day job to even want to look at a blank piece of paper at night.

You might see that as a lack of passion. I see it as survival for the moment. Until I get some backup, things aren't gonna change for the better.

dumbass career monkey said...

EEP! EEP! EEP! EEP!

Anonymous said...

I've seen some portfolios with "beautiful personal work" where the person, when hired, turned out to be able to do only pretty much exactly what he wanted instead of having the ability to adapt to the strictures of the show's design and deadlines(deadlines again! yes, they kind of matter). In at least 3 instances I've seen those people let go.
I'd be very wary of hiring and making a lot of assumptions based on presumed artistic "passion". What counts in this TEAM EFFORT is a crack professionalism, not someone working totally within their comfort zone doing whatever they want to do on their own time. I'm not casting for a fine arts gallery show but for a series or DTV/feature project where I need to see solid examples of actual work completed, with context. The people who do that work aren't "monkeys' and to imply they are or say I am is both stupid and plain wrong.

The only exception to the above would be in hiring a vizdev or character designer, where obviously personal style and variations are paramount.

Nelson C. Woodstock said...

As someone who is currently working a job thanks to a test, I guess I should pipe in.

I definitely agree that portfolios should contain a great deal of original work. If I was reviewing portfolios I would likely request a large percentage of original works in addition to studio work. My portfolio loaded with my own work didn't get me anywhere though. I remember when I went to Warner Bros. and was told that the portfolio must contain 100% studio work. I never got that book back either.

But thanks to that test I'm now working, and will have studio work to add to my portfolio!

Anonymous said...

Studio work is good because it shows your experience - but there is no way that those reviewing it can tell who did it. Hence the handing out of tests.

Original work is good because it shows an artists vision and passion and raw talent and you can be assured that they definitely did it - but you don't know how they are on deadlines. Hence, the 90 day probation period for all new hires.

A perfect portfolio has both studio work and original work. If that is indeed Warner Bros policy then its proof positive that they are a bunch of idiots(as if their output didn't cement that case).

Bottom line: don't take tests. There is no reason to. If they are asking for a test to be done then they want a new entry to the industry that they can pay scale to and ask for unpaid OT.

"We have a test for you to take" means "We want someone right out of school"

Anonymous said...

Studio work is good because it shows your experience - but there is no way that those reviewing it can tell who did it. Hence the handing out of tests.

If that's one of the studio's excuses for handing out tests (and I'm sure it is), then why don't they look at the resume of the person submitting the portfolio and make a stinkin' phone call to ask how that person was on previous productions?


Bottom line: don't take tests. There is no reason to. If they are asking for a test to be done then they want a new entry to the industry that they can pay scale to and ask for unpaid OT.

"We have a test for you to take" means "We want someone right out of school"


Very well could be.

It's fun to throw off line producers for a split second when they invite me to come in and pick up a test and I reply with, "I won't do a test, but I'll happily drop off my portfolio!" They don't expect that answer!

Anonymous said...

lets recap:

DON'T take tests folks.

More specifically, say "Thanks but no thanks" when asked to take a test and the studios will be overrun with inexperienced people because of their own policies. Why pay them $9,000 of your time for just a slim chance to work there. Screw that.

There are plenty of small non-union studios in Los Angeles that do commercial work. Hit them up for a job. You aren't going to get health insurance or 401k, but if you haven't worked a lot this year, and you are looking at a dismal run up to the holidays, and you have existed on unemployment because of empty union studios(a situation many of my friends have found themselves in) then you can be paid as a contractor by small studios without taxes taken out - and your diminished income for the year will allow you to keep nearly all of it.

There are lots of really cool small studios that have animation work, and you won't be subject to the ineffective pyramid hierarchy that keeps you relegated to a nameless faceless hired hand. Small studios allow you to develop a relationship with the owners and creative directors.

Christian Roman said...

As someone who's directed two series, I relied on 'tests'. I understand why people would be against long, overwrought tests that take weeks to do; that's unfair. My tests were three storyboard pages long. That's all I needed to see if the person could do the style and tone of the show, and could actually storyboard. I would get a number of portfolios of experienced artists, and their boarding experience would look TERRIBLE. I wanted to give them a chance BECAUSE they'd been in the industry, but their previous work did not reflect the show I was doing. A personal anecdote: I'd worked on The Simpsons for several years, but I was getting tired of doing comedy and heard Superman:TAS was staffing up. I applied for the job, but because I didn't have any action boards in my portfolio, they asked me to take a test. Because of my experience, they PAID me to take the test. It was about 3 script pages from an upcoming episode, and they ended up using my test for the production. I didn't get the job, but I was glad to take the test.

We're actors with pencils. Taking a test, a SIMPLE test, is our audition. You can look at an actor's resume and some acting footage, but until they audition you won't know if they're exactly right.

On another note concerning portfolio content, I'm currently a story artist at Pixar. I got the job two years ago. My portfolio had both studio work and personal work. As a story artist, they WANTED to see personal work to see what I 'brought to the table' as a creative person. Pixar doesn't give out tests, BUT, I'd recently applied to Sony Features and they DID ask me to do their test (I didn't get the job, not because the test was bad but because internal movement of board artists ended up negating the job opening). Because that test turned out so well, I included it with my portfolio to Pixar, and it was key in getting me my job.

Sony's test was long (100 panels), but it was so open ended I enjoyed doing it.

TV tests aren't as open ended, not as creative, so I can understand why people don't like doing them. But as a director I liked having the tests to look at, to see how people work.

The '90 day probation' is a weak excuse; I don't want to hire someone only to have to fire them within 90 days. And I thought it was 30 days, not 90. I've got a short amount of time to get a show rolling, so I need to hire people who won't have a long ramp up period. 90 days to ramp up, only to have to fire someone and then find a new person is way too long in tv animation schedules. At least, it was when I was doing them.

Anonymous said...

they asked me to take a test. Because of my experience, they PAID me to take the test. It was about 3 script pages from an upcoming episode, and they ended up using my test for the production. I didn't get the job, but I was glad to take the test.

Of course you were glad to take the test; they made it worth your while by actually paying you. How often does that happen? Um, HARDLY EVER.

Interesting that they got work out of you that they used for production, but they couldn't be bothered to actually hire you. Wasn't that an old DIC technique, minus the pay?! Is that really what artists should strive for?


We're actors with pencils. Taking a test, a SIMPLE test, is our audition. You can look at an actor's resume and some acting footage, but until they audition you won't know if they're exactly right.

But that's not happening.

It's one thing to be asked to take a SIMPLE test for a position that one has never held, or for a genre that one has never applied for. But some directors and producers are so dim that they can't see that a similiar style can cross over from one show to another.

Shockingly enough, most shows claim they have such unique "quirks" that an artist must already have a mild-meld with the scripts before starting. That's just not humanly possible. Nor is it realistic. Most artists need someramp-up time to get used to a new show and its "uniqueness"(I use that term generously).

To slap an artist in the face by having them take a test because *gasp* they didn't nail every single amazing nuance a very unique and special series has by the work that's shown in an artist's portfolio smacks a bit of lack of creativity and too much laziness.

You can blame the schedules, and yes that doesn't help, but let's stop screwing each other over so much and maybe learn to use an artist's resume to make a few phone calls to see if that artist has the brain power to work on that amazing special unique series that all of tv is known for before wasting an artist's time by taking a test.

I'm not trying to slam you personally Christian, but goddam, some of the stuff going on in tv animation in particular is just RIDICULOUS. The shows aren't so awe-inspiring that they need the long tests to determine what special few are allowed and privileged to work on that fantastic show and get burned out for.

And the probation time isn't weak; it's under-utilized. A person can perform well on a test and still suck on the job. Another person can suck at tests, but when given the chance to sit down and actually work WITH the production, turn out the work that the show can appreciate and use because, well, some artists have test anxiety.

Again, the schedules for tv production suck, but long tests that eat up an artist's time isn't the answer. And sometimes a production has to let an artist go if the artist doesn't actually fit in with the show's flow, test or not.

Anonymous said...

^The above post says it all.

Furthermore, I'm not shedding any tears for the inconvenience that s tudio might have the horrible injustice of having to bear by letting someone go shortly after hiring them. Thats their racket in life. Thats what studios have to do. All studios deal with that.

I'm supposed to spend a week doing unpaid work because god forbid the studio is inconvenienced by an artist not working out. Wrong.

Asking for unpaid work from artists is a farce and the BIGGEST beef we have - as union members we acknowledge this, our union leadership acknowledges this, and the studios better come around to recognize it.

The test for Family Guy & American Dada is four pages of script that comes out to over 20 pages of storyboard and layout(which is included in their storyboad process). Rough Draft hands out a Drawn Together test that is the same length. Both those studios should be avoided at all costs if they ask you to take that test. Show your animation and storyboards at smaller studios around town.

RedDiabla said...

The test for Family Guy & American Dada is four pages of script that comes out to over 20 pages of storyboard and layout(which is included in their storyboad process).

Holy crap, with four script pages you only end up with around 20 storyboard pages? Is this two- or three-panel pages? I've found that in between putting in the right amount of acting poses along with the action, I usually average 10 board pages to one script page. Usually two-panel paper.

I must either be working too hard or you're adding tons o' thumbnails!

PS: tests are lame. I haven't gotten a job from a test since I took one to get my first job in the industry after getting out of college. Since then I've figured out, "Come in and pick up a test" = "Come in and pick up some mental masturbation 'cos we won't hire you since we have someone else in mind already." Um, no...I'm worth more than that.

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