Friday, August 07, 2009

Dangerous Fifties

I had lunch today with a Wise Old Animator, and we got to discussing the state of animation professionals who find themselves Suddenly Fifty ... and facing fewer employment opportunities.

"[Blank} has been working as a director for a long time, but he's doing a lot more teaching now. He's gotten out-maneuvered by a younger guy who was more aggressive, and he's lost some big jobs. And over at Disney, management just brought in an outside story development guy to work on new projects.  A bunch of the long-timers are unhappy about it, think they should have had the job ..."

In Tinseltown (as in life) the changing of the guard never ends or slows down. Year by year, new talent charges into the movie industry, grabs the bottom rungs and starts pulling themselves up hand over hand.   And those folks clinging to the ladder at higher elevations? They peer nervously down, wondering where their careers will be going.  So it's understandable that this often happens:

Workers filed nearly 30 percent more age discrimination charges last year than in 2007. "That is a huge increase, and it will continue going up," testified Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, president of the nonprofit group Workplace Fairness, at a public hearing at EEOC headquarters in Washington ...

Rising unemployment has left older workers vulnerable to layoffs, because they are often stereotyped by employers as costing more money and being less adaptable to change ... "People who would not dream of making sexually provocative statements or using a racial epithet will think nothing of calling someone 'grandpa' or an 'old mutt' or 'old bag,' " ...

Lots of artists with whom I came into the business have seen their cartoon work dry up and are now moving on to teaching ... to graphic arts ... to cashier jobs at Trader Joe's and Vons. They aren't less capable as artists, but they are animators, board artists and designers who have lost their support network. The men and women who knew and hired them are retired or dead, and the younger execs have turned their eyes to their own peer group of twenty-seven-year-olds.

It isn't that too many of the Boomers' gray cells have died, it's that too many young artists now nip at their heels ... and have their own, fresher and more plugged-in group of friends to help them find the next job.

After observing the cartoon carnival for a lot of years, I've come to understand that you can never have too much training and knowledge, or too much talent. But you can have a misplaced sense of security and a bank account that's too small. My best advice (again) is: never stop building your support network, never stop improving your work skills, and never cease putting money away for a rainy day.

Because you never know when the downpour might begin.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Again, I wonder if the magic is truly back at Disney. Would Walt hire and fire because of age? Think "Nine Old Men" and the answer is nyet!

I'll tell you what, the early efforts of the young animators at the Mouse House during the '90's are painful to look at today. "Aladdin" is full of drawing errors, save for the characters of Jafar and the Genie (perhaps the tiger is the worst of the lot - just plain bad art makes that kitty an eyesore). "The Little Mermaid" is even worse. "Beauty and the Beast" has some awkward stuff in the musical numbers, esp. with Gaston and his signature song in the tavern; makes me wince to watch that sequence. Only in the "Lion King" do we see accomplished art nearing the level of that found in "Lady and the Tramp." And as for "Princess and the Frog"...I'm all for that film succeeding, but the character design and animation is so formulaic it's depressing. And that is the result of replacing seasoned animators who have mastered their craft enough to begin expressing an innovative style (think Sleeping Beauty and its lovely angular, tapestry-inspired animation) with young'uns who have barely graduated art school and who can draw the human figure but can't yet draw funny. Or much of anything else. Again, I'm all for the success of P & F, but that's because of the Disney legacy, NOT because of the bland, generic work I'm seeing in the film's trailers. Experience is PRICELESS; inexperience is cheap.

Anonymous said...

Disney sucks.

Anonymous said...

(My best advice (again) is: never stop building your support network, never stop improving your work skills, and never cease putting money away for a rainy day.

Because you never know when the downpour might begin.)


Too Late..........this advice is TOO LATE.

Steve Hulett said...

For some. But not for others.

Anonymous said...

Disney doesnt suck. Ive worked there on and off for the last ___ years and it's a really fun, collaborative environment with some of the best talent around.

What sucks is the fucking money changers at Disney.

Bob Iger has completely disappointed me. No...disappointed ALL of us. It seems even the great John Lasseter cant stand up to him.

Fun With Mr. Future said...

It seems that Disney Corp. is glad to publicly celebrate (almost to the point of deification) the fabled Nine Old Men™ and the Grand Tradition of Disney Animation™ (occasionally spotlighting a non-animator like Joe Grant) when it suits their purposes for generating PR warm fuzzies ... but woe to you if you actually are a rank and file Old(er) animator/story artist/layout, etc. at Disney today. Watch your back, fellas.

Fun With Mr. Future said...

Of course, it's not just Disney that does that and it's not a new phenomenon. "Hollywood" has always worshiped the young. And it's tragic, and it's just the way things are ...

"I am big ... it's the pictures that got small"

Anonymous said...

It's the accountaineers. Younger talent is cheaper, and they can work them into the ground. They're too ignorant to fully understand their rights, and when they begin to, they can "downsize" them and hire cheaper talent somewhere else. They're already doing work in Asia and Europe for Princess and the Frog, and this will continue and grow. Remember, all they care about is THEIR bottom line. You should always do the same. Enjoy it while it lasts, but don't believe any of this "family" bullshit. In the time it takes for them to give you a pink slip, Bob Iger has made $45,000.00 dollars, whether or not the company he runs has made money or not.

They are NOT interested in "experience." It just gets in their way.

Anonymous said...

So, I'm confused...Lasseter is in charge of the entire Animation division, decides what films get made and how,hires and fires directors at will and yet the accountants are in charge of who animates on the films?

I assumed when John wanted to be the new Walt that meant some controlo over who worked on the films beyond the top people...didn't Walt know all the artists and decide who would remain or be replaced?

Anonymous said...

Even Lasseter has to bow to the demands of a publicly held company. Stockholders are a formidable bunch.
Yes, the accountants rule.

Anonymous said...

Disney bringing in another story writer has nothing to do with old vs. young or money. It has everything to do with Disney feeling like their movies are predictable and formulaic and wanting to shake up the creative side. Look at the King of the Elves leadership. Other than the producer and the directors everyone that has been hired has been from outside the company. They hired John Berton as VFX Sup. and Aaron Dem as Associate Producer. Let me tell you that John Berton is no spring chicken. They just hired an outsider to help with character designs.

Anonymous said...

Bringing in vfx people like that is not a good idea. They tend to have a very inflated idea of their importance to the making of an animated film. Their input is no more important than the average animator--and that is how this should be handled.

Let me tell you Berton is not particularly a good vfx supervisor--and knows nothing about character animation. Not a good idea, and actually quite laughable.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I know! Let's trash somebody anonymously! That makes us all look good and courageous!

Anonymous said...

Ever since Lasseter took over the Animation division at Disney, the pay scale has been cut 45% for all animators. If he could get rid of the union at Disney - he would. Don't kid yourself.

The age-ism is not only at Disney...it's on every single production in town. This has to do with budgets and fuzzy math. The producers today think that a young animator at 1k a week can produce the same quality and at the same speed as a vet at double the pay.

Anonymous said...

2k a week is not "vet" pay, and 1k a week is well below union minimum.

Besides, pay rate to me is less important than consistency of work and full time employment

Anonymous said...

Pixar isn't union, and doesn't pay union minimum for new animators. 1k/week is close to what I've heard they're paying for their newbies. And it's what they'd pay at Disney if they could get rid of the union.

Anonymous said...

Except at Pixar their producers dont fire their experienced animators.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what's up with that ? (re:"at Pixar their producers don't fire their experienced animators.")

I have several former work colleagues from 2D who made the switch to CG animation in 2003 and all of them ended up at Pixar. None of them are exactly getting rich from what they get paid, but they're getting by ok (they didn't get into the biz to "get rich" anyway) , more importantly they are truly happy and fulfilled in their work , and the most important point here: it is STEADY work. They don't live in the constant anxiety of the dreaded layoffs and wondering where the next gig is going to come from. They don't live always looking over their shoulders. Since they went there in 2003 they have worked steadily --- on features, then on shorts or DVD extras in the downtime between features. And these people are not lead animators , just good, solid journeyman animators . (of course I recognize that the good times at Pixar won't necessarily last forever and eventually my friends may find themselves facing end-of-picture layoffs and in fact Pixar does have isolated layoffs from time to time , but the point is that the system they have at Pixar IS working for NOW to keep most of the staff on between movies, rolling from project to project. )

Pixar is not perfect , and yes there's grousing among the lower-paid animators about their salaries, but overall there seems to remain two very distinct workplace "cultures" (to use a term favored at Pixar) which clearly separate Pixar Animation Studios and Disney Animation Studios. So, I wonder how is it that sort of continuity can exist at Pixar , but can't seem to exist at present day Disney Animation which is supposedly being run by the same people now ?

Anonymous said...

The implication, apparently, is that if Pixar had to pay union salaries, there would be more lay-offs and project-to-project employment. What music that must be to the ears of LA producers! Another possible way of looking at it is that Pixar is being opportunistic. It's the unpredictable erratic hiring habits, (as well as corporatist attitude), of the major union signatory studios that allow Pixar to attract artists willing to work for low salaries in exchange for reliable, steady work.

Anyway, I don't see what this all has to do with ageism. I don't think it's salary per se. If the issue was salary, older, more experienced artist would be offered
the opportunity to accept positions at lower pay instead of being summarily rejected. (let's see, a hundred dollars less a week, or years of unemployment. Wait, let me think about it).

No, I think it is more likely the exploitation issue. Older workers often have families, stature, life experience and a deeper appreciation for quality of life issues. In other words, they are less vulnerable to being taken advantage of. That's bad news for producers who seem to enjoy making a game out of getting the most possible labor bang for their buck, whether they practically need to or not.

E.very D.ay I.s T.hursday:The EDIT Blog. said...

IMHO, the production house seem to have this feeling of insecurity when hiring "The Experienced and older talents" as they think that the old'gen won't be able to convince'em to do a quick one however ridiculuos.Young gen is much too deep into flogging 'bout how cool & tech savvy they are.But they don't pay attention to detail.as pam pointed out bout the MISTAKES in disney's pics.Yes these days its very rare that young gen works hand in hand with old gen like at Pixar.We're witness this trend in all of the new "3d-stereogram" films and crubbish vfx like in Wolverine Origin.

Anonymous said...

...but overall there seems to remain two very distinct workplace "cultures" (to use a term favored at Pixar) which clearly separate Pixar Animation Studios and Disney Animation Studios. So, I wonder how is it that sort of continuity can exist at Pixar , but can't seem to exist at present day Disney Animation which is supposedly being run by the same people now ?.

The two distinct cultures are a result of each's previous histories. Pixar has managed to remain stable and growing throughout its existence.

By contrast, Disney remains a hire-and-fire studio, despite the change of management. At the end of Robinsons, there was a massive layoff. At the end of Bolt, again there was a massive layoff. And they've already essentially admitted that there will be another massive layoff after Rapunzel.

I don't doubt that this isn't what John and Ed want, but is nonetheless the result of highly crunched schedules due to endless story delays, that end up forcing massive project hires to complete the film in a highly compressed schedule, and then the inevitable layoff, in which no one is safe (new hires may stay on, vets may be laid off).

Of COURSE this leads to a very different, less stable, ultimately less happy culture. Add to that fact that Pixar has had tremendous financial and critical success, which will raise morale considerably, while all of Disney's recent efforts have shown little reason for high morale. Hopefully this will improve in the future.

Anonymous said...

"By contrast, Disney remains a hire-and-fire studio, despite the change of management. At the end of Robinsons, there was a massive layoff. At the end of Bolt, again there was a massive layoff. And they've already essentially admitted that there will be another massive layoff after Rapunzel."

And at the end of "The Princess & the Frog" most of the artists were let go, too.

Anonymous said...

Correct.

Anonymous said...

The two studios are very different and separate operations.
Although he has a lot of contractural clout you'd better believe that John L wasn't given carte blanche or the keys to the Kingdom down in Burbank. He's an employee of Bob Iger's. He made that deal and for the most part, he's happy with it one would think. It was after all a sweet deal for HIS studio, Pixar.

Many had high hopes when he got his new opportunities. I'm sure he did too. But implementing them is like trying to turn around the Death Star midcourse. A Death Star that comes equipped with its very own Empire crew.

NOT all his wishes are followed. For that matter it's NOT a studio where he has a current heavy personal investment like Pixar is. He still doesn't know many of the key people in Burbank although it's a much much smaller staff now than Pixar has. He has a handful of artists at Disney he gravitates toward and promotes and then there's everyone else. The others are figures on someone else's balance sheet to put it bluntly. And when the axe is mandated to fall by the purseholders who scream and sweat it's just too bad. You pick your battles.

He's not an evil suit to say the least but he's got his heart and primary interest elsewhere. He's only human. But it's still a massive disappointment for some in Burbank.

Anonymous said...

He still doesn't know many of the key people in Burbank although it's a much much smaller staff now than Pixar has.

If you actually know what you're talking about, and this is true, then it's a scathing indictment of JL's management style that after several years and countless hours in Burbank he still doesn't even know who many of the key people are.

What you're saying is he's not evil, just out of touch, relatively uninterested, and mostly powerless. Good to know.

Anonymous said...

"If you actually know what you're talking about, and this is true, then it's a scathing indictment of JL's management style that after several years and countless hours in Burbank he still doesn't even know who many of the key people are."

I don't agree that it's "a scathing indictment". It's just realistic.
He's only there a couple of days a week and he's booked solid every second. Most of that time is spent with the same people; when he is in bigger groups he necessarily has to focus his attention on the leaders-the directors, etc. There isn't a lot of time to hang and socialize or "get to know" people below a certain classification.
Not saying that's evidence of anything but someone spread around a lot, but it is going to mean that he's not going to be on first name terms with some of the staff the way the daily coworkers stationed in Burbank are.

"Mostly powerless": not at all. But not "ultimately all-powerful" either. One chooses one's battles, even-or especially-at that level.

g said...

You know, Disney just needs a hit, then they'll keep more animators around for longer. I think it might be that simple, regardless of what JL is doing

As critically successful as Bolt was, it barely eeked 300 million, and Im not sure that qualifies as a hit.

r said...

This is one of the best posts ever.

It's an issue that is always in the back of my mind. I guess I have to seriously look ahead 10 or 20 years from now and really figure out how I'll get my paycheck then. 20 years ago I had no idea I'd be doing this (animating) for a living.

And the bit about the support network, is something I had'nt thought about.

rufus

Anonymous said...

No, I think it is more likely the exploitation issue. Older workers often have families, stature, life experience and a deeper appreciation for quality of life issues. In other words, they are less vulnerable to being taken advantage of. That's bad news for producers who seem to enjoy making a game out of getting the most possible labor bang for their buck, whether they practically need to or not.

This. x100. Great comment.

We ALL were ready to do all-nighters at age 20, 25 or even edging towards 30. Although miserable from a health standpoint it was almost fun at times when we were all cranking together.

Flash forward to having a family and it's utterly unrealistic to expect any worker to just toss out his kids and spouse for "mandated OT" on a regular basis and supervisors hate that fact. They're often young, ambitious-looking for the BIG promotion to Asst. producer at any cost-and resent the [for-now] higher salaries of the artists, harboring a secret erroneous belief that "anyone can do it".

As nice as the money is that THE UNION negotiated us to get you never get that time back, ever. Little by little it adds up. Kids can't be rewound.

It looks great on paper for managers to hit their "pre"-deadlines, but I wish that those companies would realize that the more productive worker is one who is often refreshed with his or her own life for a certain minimum number of hours a week. .
Taking advantage of what workers-older or younger-feel they "must" do out of fear of layoff is really shooting yourself in the foot in the longer term. But no one cares as it's all about the money.

I once complimented an apprentice(maning: lowest pay grade) working with me to the PM, said about how hard they'd worked and did a lot of OT besides; I was really impressed with their dedication and thought it should be noted. The response complete with shrug: "whatever. [they] didn't cost us anything". They meant relative cost compared to the journeymen on the crew! What a great attitude.

Can everyone see why they prefer a competent and talented newcomer to the veterans who have the same issues to struggle with at 3x the pay, earned after 15-20 years more work experience? Eventually the apprentice will be a veteran too, but by then the PM will have moved far up the ladder or to some other job. All that matters to them is the here & now.

Anonymous said...

I'm 29. I plan on retiring to games in 3-4 years because I know Ill have a family and therefore wont crunch and then get replaced.

Anonymous said...

In the spirit of "the Bottom line," Here's an interesting piece about the OUTSOURCING of ELECTED OFFICIALS:

http://74.125.155.132/search?q=cache:GlXKre4tDuQJ:www.outsourcing-academics.com/texas.html+Outsourcing+elected+officials&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Will the Guild take the lead by OUTSOURCING their Business Rep?

Oh, No! Here's that "rainy day,"again!

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