And now, a brief re-recitation of the obvious.
Politics is a permanent part of studio life.
Empire building. Back-biting. Maneuvering for position. I figured out a while ago that in the workplace, the higher the perceived rewards, the more vicious the infighting. (I saw it when I worked at the studios, I see it -- though at more of a distance -- when walking around now. And I've been disabused over the years that it was different in the Good Old Days.
Joe Grant: Are studio politics different now? Not really. The people are different [than when I was at Disney in the thirties], the buildings are different, but the same stuff goes on.
Old Assistant Animator: Frank Thomas wasn't the mellow guy you knew when you were at Disney's. I was in his wing. I remember him coming back from meetings and drinking Maalox. He kept a bottle on his shelf ...
Uncompensated Overtime is Forever.
When I started this job, there were production managers pressuring artists to work free overtime.
Now, there are production managers pressuring artists to work free overtime. ("We need it Tuesday and we don't have any money in the budget for overtime.")
Most of the overtime comes from tight schedules and fear. The fast and efficient have less uncompensated o.t. (if any) because they know how to accelerate and beat the deadline; everyone else puts in extra hours on their own dime .
Some folks put in the extra hours because they have a love of craft and want to create at the highest level. For others it's more basic: a fear of $450 unemployment checks.
Nobody complains or files grievances; in this economy, nobody wants to rock the boat. But then, nobody wanted to rock the boat in the go-go nineties, either.
Unequal treatment of employees is a given.
The stars and key personnel of a studio get way more slack than the the people down in the trenches working production. They can come in late. Take long lunches. Cut out early. It's always been this way and always will. Mere mortals will just have to learn to deal with it.
Animatics are a waste of money. And considered essential.
Today a veteran teevee director told me (again):
"Animatics are there for the executives who can't read boards and don't want to learn. They've tried to get rid of exposure sheets and just go with animatics, but they always come back to exposure sheets. The thousands they spend on animatics never show up on the screen, but they'll never get rid of them. They're like management security blankets. You have to do 'inbetweens' so that the animatic keeps moving.
"They could spend the money better someplace else."
There are animation professionals who disagree with me on this, but I don't care. The things are black holes into which money is poured without a hell of a lot of results. I've seen a studio that puts animatics in color, uses music and sound effects, goes the whole nine yards making the thing as close to a produced cartoon as possible ... without it actually being a cartoon.
Ludicrous. And these clowns whine about wanting to save money. What they want is a video they can show to little kids in their always-popular focus groups.
When people begin making a lot of money, they tend to spend it.
Most animation artists have never made huge pay checks. Except in the middle 1990s. Then, through a confluence of happy events (blockbuster Disney animated features, new studios springing up like mushrooms after a spring rain to imitate Disney, and animation artists finding themselves in high demand) wages skyrocketed.
And many people made a fatal miscalculation:
Heey now. This is the way it was always supposed to be! And this is the way it will be forever!
But many animation employees began buying bigger houses and fancier cars and generally increasing the size of their lifestyles. And after a few years, when the supply of talent caught up with demand, and several of the studio closed their doors and Disney laid off staff, the big paychecks went back to being much smaller paychecks. And many were in deep financial trouble (although there were a few who rode the wave frugally and ended up financially independent).
What I learned from living through these fat times is it is always useful to live below your means. (It's why I drive a used Saturn Vue. I'm too old to dig out and start from scratch.)
When animation employees hit their mid-fifties, they also hit a wall called "less employment."
It doesn't happen to everyone, and it happens less in animation than it does in live action, but somewhere between their fifty-third and fifty-ninth birthdays, many will be enjoying way longer stretches of vacation.
I've thought about why this is. I don't believe it's simply ageism. It's also that most artists have a support network of people who are somewhat older; by the time 'toon employees reach fifty-five, the people in the network on which they relied are retired. (And yeah, there are the thirty-two-year-old animation producers who are uncomfortable with storyboard artists who remind them of their dads.)