Thursday, December 04, 2008

Nothing Personal

The last couple of days, I've had long chats with two old feature animation vets -- one from management, one with the artistic side. Between them, they have eighty-plus years in the business.

Below, I distill a little of their spoken wisdom (they've worked for various animation studios) ...

What artists in animation don't understand like they should is that companies don't care about them. Artists want to believe that companies do, but it's not the way things are.

There used to be some paternalism, back when animation was separate and apart from live action, but the live action people came into the cartoon feature business twenty years ago and made it a lot the same. You get the same b.s. now that you get in live action. They don't like storyboards, claim not to understand them. They want to see a script, words. So everything is wordy.

I've seen good employees get laid off and mediocre employees get promoted. Doesn't always happen that way, but everybody is at the mercy of their supervisor. If your boss sucks at making good crew choices, then the guy above him will give the better artist the axe on his say-so, because the higher exec mostly has no idea who's better than who. He relies on the supervisor's judgement.

It's that way all the way up the food chain. The top people make decisions based on the advice they're getting, and the advice they're getting comes from the small ring of people who report directly to them.

A few months ago an artist who's been here twenty-eight years called me to say he was getting laid off. After thirty-two years. He asked if there was somebody I could talk to, that he could talk to. I phone [ ]. I don't know if that helped of what did it, but management changed its mind and didn't let him go. They kept him on.

But the guy was stil bitter about it. He said: "Is that all the respect they have for me? After all this time?"

The thing of it is, when new management comes in, they have no relationship with anybody. The artist who's been around a week means as much to them as the one who's been here fifteen or twenty years.

The management we've got now, they look at everybody in production as a disposable gog in the machine anyway.

And if you're old and making a higher salary, you're expendable. They want people who don't cost so much and who have "new, fresh ideas."

At least that's the excuse they use when they hand you your last check.

They don't dump you because they're mad at you (mostly), and they don't dump you because you loused up. They dump you because you're too big a number on their balance sheet, too old and too much money. They think it's better to fill your slot with somebody who's "fresh," and who they can mold. Who won't argue wth them as much.

It's nothing personal. They're not trying to be mean or cruel. They just have their budget to get down and you're a hindrance to that. So they get rid of you. Nothing personal about it at all.

Except a lot of employees take it personally. It's hard not to. They work hard on a project and feel like they're part of the team, and it's bum to get laid off.

If this sounds like things I've posted here before, I'm very sorry. It's just that workplace realites keep popping their ugly little heads up again and again. And people keep telling me similar tales over and over.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

'... back when animation was separate and apart from live action, but the live action people came into the cartoon feature business twenty years ago and made it a lot the same. They don't like storyboards, claim not to understand them. They want to see a script, words. So everything is wordy.'

Translation - they don't have vision and want to do things the way everyone else does them because they are junior corporate lemmings. People like that don't deserve your respect, only your 9-5 lemming-like pencil mileage to draw the fat check and hit the clock.

They do deserve your moonlighting and freelancing on projects that actually will make a difference and pay off for you in the short and long run with relationships that really matter. Loyalty is earned, not micromanaged.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if animators were considered "cogs in a wheel" in the days of 2D, when artistic ability really meant something. Computers, it seems, are indeed the great equalizers - which means that nobody has any greater ability or talent than anybody else when it comes to moving, rather than animating, a mouse...

Rusty Mills said...

As is typical at these studios, and in the corporate world altogether, Management always thinks it's the workers (artists in this case) salaries that make the costs go up. They never recognize it's their indecision that makes it happen. People like me who have been in the position of being able to bring cost down often are up against people over us making bad decisions and/or delaying production while people sit around waiting on them to figure out what they want. I have on many occasions shown upper management how productions could be done for much lower costs but it never happens.
So we are all stuck spinning around and around doing this dance called the lay-off.

Anonymous said...

Those comments are so off base that I can't believe they really came from someone who's been in management for 40 years.
The truth is that most people in management really like the artists, both as wonderful people and as incredible artists. But this is a business and productions have budgets. When a show is complete, the production manager has to do their job and shut it down. Often they are looking for another gig as well. They can't offer the artists another job, it's not thier job to do that. Same goes to the head of the studio. He may be putting together a new crew but he's usually deferring to the director on staff. It's the Butchs, Craigs and Gendy's of this world that hold sway on staffing nowadays.
There has never been job security in this business and there never will. It's entertainment. Ask a session musician or a grip or an actor about their life.

rufus said...

yeah, David Stainton and Andrew Millstein really care about the staffers... I still get a christmas card every year since I got the pink slip....






Rufus.

Anonymous said...

"It's the Butchs, Craigs and Gendy's of this world that hold sway on staffing nowadays."


Well gosh gee willickers! Thats swell news if you went to CalArtts!!

But if you didn't then you shouldn't waste your time even applying. And if you are a fan of animation, then you can expect the same stale tired style we've seen in countless lame shows from the same incestuous segment.

Anonymous said...

"Well gosh gee willickers! Thats swell news if you went to CalArtts!!

But if you didn't then you shouldn't waste your time even applying. And if you are a fan of animation, then you can expect the same stale tired style we've seen in countless lame shows from the same incestuous segment.
"

This is nothing new.
It was just as "incestuous" at Disney(how many Disney new hires were from Chouinard?), Warner's and other places in their heydays, the so-called golden age. That's politics. It's called hiring people you know, know of and that are recommended through connections-in other words, networking and yes, some cronyism. You can choose to be bitter about it but that's the way life is in ALL spheres of endeavor.
On the other hand it's just as annoying to have someone disparaged and cursed just because they went to Calarts, likely incurred lots of debt and worked hard to get in and graduate or make films. And I've never heard anyone from any school, incidentally, saying shit about someone who didn't go to 'the right" school.

Anonymous said...

It's true that your friends are the ones who will get you jobs, if they are employed. And if you went to Cal Arts, you probably have more friends from your college years employed in the business than not. But your college connections only help so much. More important are the connections from your last 2 places of work. You are "top of mind" to THOSE people. THEY can recommend you & people will know its because your work is good. So don't burn your bridges! And when you get a job, help others by recommending them, even if its not for a job at your shop.

Anonymous said...

"You can choose to be bitter about it but that's the way life is in ALL spheres of endeavor. "

Its not 'bitter' to call it out as being wrong. What we have seen is a deplorable lack of variety from the two biggest tv cartoon stations and the sole reason is that 90% of the workforce hail from the same school with the same instructors.

It brings the product down.

Apple doesn't hire exclusively from one school. Nor does Pixar. Nor does Blizzard Entertainment or anty successful business models. Its basic knowledge to anyone who has a brain that a studio needs influences from a wide array of backgrounds to maintain a fresh environment full of new ideas that capture the public's attention and imagination.

You aren't going to get that with a studio full of people all from the same school. If you haven't figured that out - then you have worked at one of said studios here in LA for far too long and it has seriously impeded your judgment.

We all want studios to succeed and they haven't done that at all in the last ten years because they are stuck in neutral with retarded hiring practices like hiring only Cal Arts grads.

But don't take my word for it. Look at the ratings.

Anonymous said...

The REAL truth is that if your work is really good, nobody will care what school you went to.

I certainly know people who work with some of the names mentioned, and they didn't go to CalArts. They got the job because their work is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Someone's sure got a weird beef with some studio.

Your obsession about "lack of variety" supposedly due to all employees being ONE school (funny-I've never seen a place where everyone attending draws the same, anywhere) indicates you're probably not a professional but a fan. OK. But in any case you have no clue what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

If 90% of the people working at a studio I worked at were all from the same arts school I went to, and had the same instructors I had, I wouldn't be happy about it either.

Bu then thats the difference between CalArts and other schools and therein lies the incestuousness.

If you don't think there is a lack of variety of styles then again, you have insulated yourself from reality. The same flat graphic visual style over and over again. But don't worry, there is going to be a break from that with "the Butchs, Craigs and Gendy's" at the helm....

I already know what every project those guys work on is going to look like.

Anonymous said...

Lack of variety of styles is more a reflection of technology applications attaching themselves to styles that fit well into a pipeline that cable studio budgets restrict themselves to. Were there more creativity and innovation devoted to pushing the limits of production, I think you would see far more success with the types of animation being produced.

In the case of Cartoon Network, which I think folks are bitching about, Genndy and Craig were only a small tip of the iceberg of talent that came out of that movement. There was a whole generation of artists who were, in part, making fun of bad Hanna Barbera cartoons. It was sarcastic. They were doing it eons before Smigel and SNL thought they were being so creative. The ultimate irony is that as soon as the works started to become more mainstream, the sarcasm whithered away, and the shell of the style became an excuse to crank out cheap art in the context of poorly written comedy. Poor writing eventually trumped the true sarcasm of the original statement of the art being made.

Which goes back to Steve's original point - applying a corporate live action studio template to the art of animation. The market forces at work in this town are very difficult for people who love the art of animation, artist and writer alike, to overcome.

Script and re-script it until we convince ourselves we are going to make money. Not exactly a major tenant of art school.

Between Media Conglomerate A, B, or C and art school brats, I'll place a bet on the art school brats every time. In fact, I can't wait for the next movement to emerge from the upcoming 10 year repression of our new economy. It takes time to make good wine. Studios will have to wait no matter how many times they think script re-writes will fix it.

Victor said...

As the years go by...the song still remains the same.

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