Friday, October 16, 2009

Topics of Concern

Yesterday I was at one of the major animation studios when an industry veteran comes up to me. He says:

"Steve, end of the week I'm out of here. I've got a job offer from Blank, and I'm taking it. They want to do animated features and they're looking to hire people with experience.

"I just haven't fit in around here. I'm working for the same money I was making fifteen years ago. I'm back to doing support work. But I'm getting my hours, and I've been working the last ten months, so I can't complain. A lot of people haven't been had jobs ..."

Overall, the mood of the cartoon biz is ... tense. People who are employed hunker down and hang on to what they've got. People who aren't pick up freelance, cash their unemployment checks, and keep looking. I've been working with a group that's been pushing a non-union place to organize. One of these folks e-mailed me complaining that they'd heard I had d mentioned their name in public, and "Please keep your mouth shut. I don't want anybody knowing I'm collecting rep cards ..."

At yet another studio, the old chestnut: "We're cutting staff, everyone has to work more efficiently, and by the way, we have no money in the budget for overtime" has circulated far and wide.

As I told several artists over lunch, "Studios are cutting costs in every direction. There's work out there, but nobody gets retained when it's done. The last scene or storyboard is turned in, they are out the door."

And I ran across a DreamWorks Animation employee who said:

"I'm getting laid off at the end of this picture. The rest of the guys in the department got picked up for new shows, but I didn't get slotted ..."

So even DreamWorks has the occasional layoff, even as new hires arrive in other departments.

Like I say. I've seen happier days.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Like I say. I've seen happier days."

And yet the cartoon biz is cleaning up more than ever at the box office and more is being broadcast in a wider spectrum of channels than ever before and there is a clut of online animated content and robust commercial business going on.

So to those involved at the top, Happy Days are here again!!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a really awful atmosphere. And yet animated features seem to be doing really well. The major studios sound like a bunch of assholes are running them. Guess that's the trouble with computer animation - it's not like 2D, where the skill levels require more training and initial investment, and thus the animators are more valuable and less easily replaced. Glad I never got into the business.

Anonymous said...

Guess that's the trouble with computer animation - it's not like 2D, where the skill levels require more training and initial investment, and thus the animators are more valuable and less easily replaced..

Er...you are aware that almost all the 2D folks got laid off from both Disney and Dreamworks over six years ago, right?

Anonymous said...

"Glad I never got into the business."

We're glad too.
;)

Anonymous said...

Why, afraid of the competition? ; Can't blame you, given the current atmosphere :D.

Yeah, the 2D people virtually don't have a home right now at any major studio, duh, everyone knows that. My point was that computers have evened the playing field for both talent and production studios. Hell, does a CGI animator even have to know how to DRAW anymore? I'm saying 3D animators are more easily replaced than were 2D animators in 2D's heyday. Hope that clears it up for you oversensitive drones.:P

Okie said...

Oh, c'mon now, please: not another of these diversionary "2D vs. 3D" flame war. That is so old .(and so untrue. Everyone's in the same boat. Don't try to divide us with this ridiculous "2D = skilled professional artist" vs. "3D = unskilled drone" rhetoric. Go away.)

Steve said that one of the old chestnuts (lies) being floated around again is :

"we have no money in the budget for overtime"

Ok, then , but DON'T BUILD A SCHEDULE WHICH ASSUMES OVERTIME WILL BE WORKED if you don't have money in the budget to pay for it.

The lie underneath the statement about no money for overtime is: "we do not want to set aside money in the budget for overtime ... but we have every intention of strong-arming the crew into working the overtime for free". Which is a federal crime, right ? So get the name of the person who said that in case later on they're caught telling the crew on a Friday afternoon : "hey , guys we really need to get this sequence wrapped up by Monday morning , so do whatever you have to do (wink-wink)... you want some free donuts on Saturday ? I'm buyin' ! Isn't that great ? "

Anonymous said...

Good gracious, that sounds bad.

If Dreamworks is laying off people, Disney and Pixar must be using actual slave labor by now.

Anonymous said...

Laying off one or twi people at the end of a production is a way to get rid of deadwood. It's easier that way then laying them off mid-production. It happens all the time.
Right now DW is carrying as large a crew as they can from one pic to the next, but if someone is underperforming (for whatever reason) it seems silly to afforf them that opportunity.

Anonymous said...

time to look outside of the normal studio merry go round. everybody fighting for the same few jobs just doesn't work in the long run.

Anonymous said...

"I'm saying 3D animators are more easily replaced than were 2D animators in 2D's heyday."

And you're saying that based on your deep knowledge and experience gained from not working in the "business?"

Anonymous said...

Hell, does a CGI animator even have to know how to DRAW anymore? I'm saying 3D animators are more easily replaced than were 2D animators in 2D's heyday. Hope that clears it up for you oversensitive drones.:P.

Understanding how to animate in 3D is, in fact, its own skill. True, under normal circumstances, it usually doesn't take as long as learning how to properly draw, but it is the sort of thing you either "get" or you just don't.

Way more than half of all 2D guys I've known who tried to convert their skills to 3D just...couldn't. Whether it was because their heart just wasn't in it, or whether working with a computer short-circuited their creative skills, or whether they just couldn't hurdle the technical challenges, the bottom line was that many just. couldn't. do it.

There isn't much that an ignorant dick who's never worked in the "business" like yourself can "clear up" for experienced, working animators, especially those of us who have done both 2D and 3D.

Anonymous said...

"Laying off one or two people at the end of a production is a way to get rid of deadwood."

Mr. Sensitivity,

When you get laid off, do you tell yourself, "Gee, I must be deadwood. I'll probably never work again but I'm getting what I deserve."

You sound like management or one of those obnoxious egomaniacs who think their talent and job performance skills are so superior to normal human beings that no studio would ever dare to lay off someone as valuable as you.

Here is an individual who was talented enough to be hired and did the best job he could in a field he has chosen as his life's work. Now he is unemployed in a poor labor market. Failure and rejection is bad enough. Believe me, his mind is working overtime trying to figure out how he blew it. The last thing he needs is one of his colleagues hanging a contemptuous label on him. You seem to be congratulating management for being efficient AND humane. Really.

It would have been much kinder and more productive in the long run if this individual got some feedback and a chance to improve his performance. It's what we all deserve for our efforts. It's not as if the studio he is working for is in financial jeopardy and can't afford to give this guy another chance.

Not everyone is the same, of course. Naturally some workers will outperform others. Just like choosing sides at the schoolyard, the best players will be chosen first. When the teams are full, someone may remain unchosen. The last thing you would do is stigmatize that kid and add insult to injury by calling him names. He didn't get chosen because he wasn't one of the better players that day. That should be enough.

Floyd Norman said...

I love this ridiculous battle.

It's like the Joker in the last Batman movie handing baseball bats to the surviving gangsters and telling them we're having "Tryouts."

The producers happen to be the Joker, and we're gonna survive by bashing each other's brains out.

Boy, are we in trouble.

Anonymous said...

It's like the Joker in the last Batman movie handing baseball bats to the surviving gangsters and telling them we're having "Tryouts." The producers happen to be the Joker, and we're gonna survive by bashing each other's brains out..

When you wrote that article for Jim Hill wherein you hoped that all the 3D folks at Disney would get laid off, which gangster were you being?

T said...

She-e-e-it, Steve Zup.!

Your father, the shop steward in Electro-Motive, or my father in Iron Workers Local 63 Chicago would roll in his grave knowing how badly we have been screwed over.

That said, you folks ought try working here in ananimation house in Japan like I have. The norm is 7-day week, 14-hour days until a film is done.

--CalvinLash, ground zero Tokyo

Anonymous said...

I agree, let's not make it another "2D vs. 3D" flame war. Let's make it another Democrat vs. Republican flame war!!!! :)

Anonymous said...

Who really knows why the one guy got laid off - perhaps he was the highest earner in his dept and management is trying to be more "efficient". I don't know about DW since they do relatively lengthy contracts but at any other studio in town, when the production schedule is down to the wire and they still have 30% of the film to finish up, his/her phone will be ringing off the hook trying to get back that artist who already knows the pipeline.

Anonymous said...

That was my point, exactly. I was shocked by the poster's contemptuous use of the term, "deadwood" to describe a colleague. How much of a management suck-up do you have to be to condemn a fellow artist as an obstacle to the success of some indifferent entertainment corporation and see his dismissal as logical or even routine.

If the poster was simply characterizing the point-of-view of
management, he would have put "deadwood" in quotes.

Believe it or not, there are actually countries in the civilized world that are more labor and less corporate friendly. These countries put a stronger value on quality of life issues than we do (duh), and have some very practical safeguards against the frivolous exploitation of labor by management.

In these countries, once an employee passes the six month mark, if the company is still in business, he can only be fired for cause, usually after a series of warnings and opportunities to correct.

The people living in these countries would be horrified to see employees lives destroyed on a whim just to fine tune some quarterly budget statistic. They would also be shocked to see this kind of thing regarded as mundane or routine.

Oh, but we have a "free' market and protection from the creeping "socialism" monster who's trying to gobble us all up. Tell that to the "deadwood."

Anonymous said...

So, Mr. Deadwood, why don't you move to one of these magical countries that put such a high value on your inability to produce like your fellow worker?

From your posts it's clear you're even more judgemental than management that might lay someone off as unneccessary or "deadwood" (are you happy I used your preciuous quote marks?)

From the sounds of it you have been laid off at the ned of productions and never realized why. Now you know. For whatever reason you were unable to produce enough quality work or get along with the right people to make you valuable enough to keep on like your fellow workers.
So I hereby dub you Mr Deadwwod.

Anonymous said...

I like that...Mr. Deadwood....


Sounds like Mr. Deadwood should join the LA Unified School District where he can earn a lifetime job regardless of how crappy a teacher he is. That sure seems to help the overall quality of education in LA doesn't it.

Let's make it impossible to fire someone no matter what. I do believe what the original post was impl;ying about "deadwood" is that they allowed the employee to stay on through production even if his work wasn't up to par and used the excuse of the production finishing to lay him off without a hassle. But Mr. Deadwood would like the producers and management to sit down with that sub-par employee and stroke him and try to show him the error of his ways and never lay him off no matter what. My gyuess is they probably did try to encourage 'said' employee to work better or harder (since that wopuld only benefit them) and his fellow employees all knew he was "deadwood" since they were all effected by having to work harder to make up for his inefficiency.
That's right. We all knew you were not pulling your weight, Mr. Deadwood and we're glad to see you go!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone's a compassionate conservative!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. The compassionate conservative here doesn't know how to use commas. This is because he didn't apply himself to learn, and is lazy, shiftless, and careless. As a result, his ignorance is on display for all to see.

Why should the rest of us bother to read your grammatical sloppiness when you haven't taken the time to be educated?

Anonymous said...

Amazing how those without an argument always rely on namecalling in the end.

Anonymous said...

No, it's amazing that the "rugged individualists" who pronouce others as "deadwood" (which is namecalling, by the way) are so often deficient of even basic education standards.

Anonymous said...

Whatever you say, Mr. Deadewood. ;)

Anonymous said...

I was once laid off by a major feature film studio. I was upset, sure, but I also looked at who wasnt laid off, and compared my reels with theirs. Theirs were better.

What did I do? I didnt cry. I learned from it, went and got a different job, and made sure to never be at the bottom again. I learned a ton there, and after a while I got bored working at this particular studio. So guess what? I got hired back at the original company and have been here for years and am doing very well now.

Sounds simplistic, I know, but its harsh reality that we artists have to be at the top of our game all the time. Crying about it does us no good.

Anonymous said...

This entire thread is very telling aboutthe state of our industry. We are ALL freelance and cN be laid off at any moment. Whether we're under performing relatively speaking or high earning relatively speaking or just not useful in the moment... Someone has to go. The fact that we bash one another and declare ourselves superior only says one thing to me... It's dog eat dog out there and we have to fight for our own dinner - may the "best" dog win. It's a sign o' the times and I think it stinks. Our entire industry is based on the collective efforts of every artist we come in contact with. We can all learn from our own experiences as well as those of others. If you've worked at a studio for decades and never been laid off,good for you... But you will never learn how things are done or viewed
elsewhere and therefore will miss an oppotunity for
possible growth. The world has become a pretty harsh place and, funny... I thought our jobs were meant to lighten it up a little. Peace!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, somebody got it. All of that Darwinian dog-eat-dog talk was sickening. Look around. Every-man-for-himself frontier economics came close to destroying this country.

How much of a colleague, (or human being) could you possibly be if you sincerely believe that nothing short of the constant imminent threat of unemployment is the only thing that will make you produce your best work?

Anonymous said...

Don't think for a minute that any of the studios purposely make the working experience threatening. Most do their best to make the artists comfortable - some successfully and somne not so successfully. But you'd have to be a fool not to know that whether you're a proiducer, a director, an animator, or even a runner that your performance, quality and attitude directly realate to whether you retain your job for a long period (assuming that is even an option).
But, also, don't think for a minute having a mortgage isn't a great motivator to become better and to try and not become the "deadwood" at the end of a film (are you happy? I used "quotemarks", you douche)

Anonymous said...

How much of a colleague, (or human being) could you possibly be if you sincerely believe that nothing short of the constant imminent threat of unemployment is the only thing that will make you produce your best work?

How is that ANY different than ANY job in ANY industry...or any different than the very laws of NATURE?

No one gets a free pass, man. Maybe for a time, but it will eventually catch up with you.

Competition = life. Suck it up buttercup.

Anonymous said...

Don't think for a minute that any of the studios purposely make the working experience threatening.

Having worked in good studios and bad for over 20 years, and having talked to plenty of FORMER production people who openly admitted it, the statement above is frequently false. Not ALWAYS false, but frequently false. The threats are sometimes loud and obvious, sometimes subtle, but they are common.

I'm not crying about it. I know how it works, and I know how to deal with it. Accepting that it's real and frequent is the first step in coping with it.

Anonymous said...

I've worked in studios and the industry for over 30 years and I can't recall a single one that purposely tried to make it unpleasant. Union and Non-Union. Not to say some of them weren't unpleasant experiences, but the studio didn't set otut to make it that way.
Let us know the names of your nasty studios so we can all avoid them.

Anonymous said...

It's not nasty studios, it's the production managers, producers, sometimes the directors. Sometimes they're inadvertent assholes, sometimes they've spent too much time reading 'The 48 Laws of Power', sometimes theyre just so far in over their heads that they resort to intimidation and threats. You want a recent example, take Sony and Disney. I and a couple dozen of my friends who worked at those place recently found them to thoroughly fear-based environments.

And you've been working in the studios for over 30 years? Hm, you sound like you might be management. No wonder you think the studios can do no wrong.

Anonymous said...

lol...nice try. Do you know anyone in management that has worked in the industry 30+ years? That's always a weak response: "you disagree with me so you must be management".

No, what I said was: NO studio sets out to create a hostile work environment. What studio that you've worked at decided that they would create a hostile work situation as the best way to get everyone to work? Does that mean specific individuals can't be nasty SOBs? Of course not. Frankly, I've also come across many of my fellow artists that are nasty SOBs as well. That doesnt make the union a hostile place it just means people are people. I was at Disney when Schneider was there. There's not a nastier SOB that ever worked in the industry. Even though they allowed him to be nasty as wanted to be I still don't think it was Disney's intent to create a hostile work environment. They just used him when they needed an SOB to clear the halls.

Anonymous said...

Want to know a studio that does set out to create a hostile work environment? Hydraulx..

Anonymous said...

"How is that ANY different than ANY job in ANY industry...or any different than the very laws of NATURE?

No one gets a free pass, man."

Bingo! That's exactly my point. This is absolutely NOT like any job in any industry. In other industries, when you get a job, you get a job. It's yours until you quit or blow it in some way. In our field you're often back out of work no matter what you do. You want to buy a house, put a kid through school? Maybe you can, maybe you can't. Maybe you will have health coverage for six months, maybe not, maybe more. Who knows? What a profession.

Nobody wants a"free ride", buttercup. Every one of us, (or, at least most of us), chose this profession because we are highly motivated, committed and enthusiastic about it. If you perform well enough to keep your job, you should be able to, guess what, keep your job. Radical idea.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused about the last post. I very much agree with the first part - our industry is very different from most others. How good you are at your job has usually very little to do with whether or not you get laid off at the end of a project. and that fact is just becoming more and more prevalent and true. That's what makes it so frustrating. But you either deal with it or you don't. There are gobs of newbies behind you willing to put up with Producers crying poverty just for the chance to work in Hollywood. Seems that Union shop or not (I've done both) there's no difference. I don't necessarily think management is out to get us but I don't think they're out to help us either. The least we can do as artists is support one another and have some heart. Sorry to say but some people here sound so un-sympathetic as to be borderlne sociopath. I weep for the future (I've just always wanted to say that). In all seriousness though... Put yourself in someone else's shoes for one full minute people before being anonymously nasty.

Anonymous said...

In other industries, when you get a job, you get a job

People get laid off in other industries all the time. Based on performance. Under way more stressful circumstances. Like doctors. And hedge fun analysts.

We arent special.

In our field you're often back out of work no matter what you do

Ive never, EVER seen that unless the studio is closing. In my experience, if you're good, you stay. At least thats true at Pixar, Blue Sky, and Dreamworks. Disney and to some extent Sony tends to punt people after every production, and that sucks. Yet, even then they keep their best people.

Put yourself in someone else's shoes for one full minute people before being anonymously nasty.

Hey, I have been laid off. And I admitted it was due to the others being better than me. But I moved on, got a better job, and eventually went back to the original company and am doing great. Stop weeping. Its just life.

Anonymous said...

So you've never EVER seen it? Except at Disney and Sony...and most other studios with the exception of Pixar, Blue Sky and Dreamworks. And it is untrue that they always keep their best people. The last round of layoffs at Sony went extremely deep and hit many of the best and therefore, highest earners. Hey, I said in my post that you either deal with it or you don't.. I'm not weeping about the way it is... I'm weeping about the way people can be so callous to their colleagues.

Anonymous said...

So when Glen Keane was laid off at the end of "Great Mouse Detective", it was simply due to the fact that other animators were better than he was?

Gee-and I thought it was because "management"(who-gasp!-actually didn't know WTF they were doing)saw that there was downtime and that he was earning a very high salary in relation to the much more recent hires. But hey, Glen was Mr. Deadwood, so that MUST mean he deserved to be fired.
I mean, ANYone let go, it's ALWAYS because they're just not as good as the next guy. NEVER an ulterior motive that Management wouldn't happily share with them, right?
And as for the one who think Management would never encourage a shitty work environment: where have you ever worked?
It's called managing through fear, and it's common as dirt. Disney management in the 90s was notorious for telling new people on the management ladder "don't befriend the artists"-meaning, it's better that they fear you than do their jobs "comfortably". That's a fact.
Of COURSE "deadwood" and people who "just aren't as good" get let go. No shit.

But sometimes so are people who are really really good, but work too hard to play politics or socially aren't very good at it. At some places that doesn't matter at others it's crucial. Facts of life, sure, but NOT an indicator of how skilled artistically they are.

Anonymous said...

So...who told you Glen was fired after Mouse Detective...? That's not the way I heard it.
In fact, I don't think Disney laid anyone off during that period - unless for good reason. Many quit (as I understood Glen did) mostly due to the fact that Kennedy was determined to shut down the entire department and everyone assumed it was all over anyway and went in search of greener pastures. Even Andreas (and others) left to work on Roger Rabbit and even though it was a 'Disney' film it was understood that he was no longer with Disney, but with Dick Williams.

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