Last week I had breakfast with a storyboard artist of 20-plus years standing; he told me this:
"I 'finished my assignment' on a project a couple of months ago. My exit interview was quick and kind of strained. They thanked me, said they were moving in a different direction, going with 'new blood' with 'fresh ideas and enthusiasm."
"A lot of the new blood I trained. And now they're working for the people I'm not working for, for less money. Which is fine. It was time to move on, and I want to work on my own projects anyway ..."
This gent is talented, and in my biased opinion he won't have a problem going on to new work someplace else. And he shouldn't take it too personally, since being let go in favor of fresher plasma is a grand old Hollywood tradition, and seldom pretty.
For years, actors have feared and loathed it.
[Sharon Stone] admits she was looking forward to becoming a 40 something back in 1998, but ageist attitudes to Hollywood stars left her floored.
"I thought... 'I'm fantastic and sexy and amazing!' (But) it was like, 'You have leprosy.' I couldn't get a dress or a job." ...
Older writers sue over graylisting. Directors of photography die their hair and get facelifts and hope their networks of contacts doesn't dry up.
And how is it for older animation artists? For some, they float from one job after another, year after year. A golden few spend long, lucrative careers at one or two studios, working on high profile hits. But for many, the job market gets tougher and tougher as you acquire more wrinkles and body fat ... particularly in an economic downturn.
Ageism isn't something on which you can always place your index finger. In most studios I stroll through, I can usually find older artists sprinkled here and there. But often in our down-sized industry, the race goes to the young, energetic and less expensive. As an older ex-Pixar artist explained to me a while ago:
"I went up there to the bay area when Pixar was new and wanted experienced board artists who'd worked on features in L.A. But when they'd made a bunch of hits and had kids out of art school banging on their door happy to work for way less money, they told me: "Hey, it's been great, but see ya bye.'"
Hollywood ageism has been with us for decades. While I don't think discrimination against seasoned animation artists is as virulant or as conscious as it is in live action, I do think it's out there. Trying to prove it legally, however, is something else again.
There is no magic-bullet remedy for age discrimination. The best defenses I know for avoiding underemployment as you get older is working hard, staying at the top of your game, and being better than the competition ... even when there is silver in your hair.