Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nostrums

... and the state of Cartoonland.

At present, the animation industry is better than it was a year ago, or two years ago. But it's often like a multi-cylinder engine. When one piston is up, another's going down. Just now a partial list would include ...

Warner Bros. Animation doing more shows this year than they've done in the previous three. (Junior Justice League, Batman, Scooby Doo and Loony Tunes to name a few. Thirty-six months ago the place was pretty much a ghost town.)

Universal Cartoon Studios being kaput, having closed its doors six months ago. (However, rumors circulate that Curious George, long a PBS/Universal project, will go return to production at Starz Media.)

Starz Media/ Film Roman -- has The Simpsons, several Marvel action heroes shows, a few other things not yet announced.

Rough Draft -- They're finishing production on Futurama, developing a couple of pilots. (RD isn't signed to TAG, but I throw them in the mix anyway.)

Nickelodeon Cartoon Studios -- I overheard a studio administrator telling visitors the studio had 12 projects, but damn if I can name them all (Penguins of Madagascar, Tough Puppies, Chum Chum and Fanboy, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters and Robots, SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer and then my head starts to throb.)

IM Digital is shutting down, but doing the closing in slow motion. It still has Mars Needs Moms to get out, and is shutting down department by department as the picture progresses. (We'll be sorry to see them go, they've had great people up there in Novato, California.)

Hasbro/The Hub -- Transformers and G.I. Joe. The artistic staff moves from Beverly Hills to Burbank at the end of the month. (Or so they say.)

Fox Animation has its Big Three, Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, with Cleveland being picked up for a third season. Fox loves its Sunday night animation block.

DreamWorks Animation has Megamind coming in the Fall, then a long list of projects over the next four years (at the rate of 2-3 per annum.)

Disney TV Animation -- six shows in various stages of work, from Fish Hooks to KIck Butowski to Phineas and Ferb, Inspector Oso and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

Disney Toons still works on the Tinkerbell features and is deep into production on the newer series that they haven't announced yet. (So I'll continue to keep my mouth shut.)

Disney Feature Animation has the CG Tangled and the hand-drawn Pooh followed by (I'm told) a gap in the production pipeline.

Cartoon Network has five animated series that I can think of and keeps trying on the live-action shows with varying results.

And so on and so forth ...

As you can see, the industry chugs along much as before, parts of it on the upswing, other parts not. Long-term employment is the exception rather than the rule, but a lucky minority has longer gigs on the Fox shows, SpongeBob, Phineas and Ferb and a handful of others. In features, Walt Disney Animation Studio offers project-to project hires while DreamWorks leans toward multi-year hires, (which explains the different morale you find at each studio.)

I've been reading various books about how to succeed in the workplace. There's some cute and semi-constructive stuff inside the covers ("Make Peace with Chaos;" "Spend Ten Minutes a Day Doing Absolutely Nothing;" -- Personally, I'd opt for at least a half hour -- "Manage Priorities, not time;" "Good results cover up a multitude of sins." etc.)

However, some are a little off the mark for the cartoon business, so allow me to throw out some of my own (yet again):

Know when to gracefully lose the argument. Nothing wrong with throwing out your two cents, but you have to know when to back off and do it the way your supervisor wants, even if your supe is wrong and an idiot.

Never give out a bright idea before the time is right. Long ago one of the smartest story artists I've ever known said to me: "You can't give them the solution to the problem before they're ready to hear it, or else they'll reject it." It was good advice three decades ago; it's fine advice now. Develop the skill of knowing when to show your cards.

Sometimes it's necessary to lie down, put all four paws in the air and expose you throat. In other words, occasionally you need to apologize and acquiesce to hang onto your job, even when the person you're doing the apology to is a dick. (You don't have to be sincere in the apology, just look like you are. Because once in a while we will find ourselves working for unreasonable, unpleasant people. This is when we learn to navigate the raft called "self-preservation.")

Know your own limits, and which personal lines you cannot, will not cross. (And it's better to know them before that crisis at work, rather than after.)

Those are enough helpful tips for one evening. (If you want more, you can find a few of them here.) The cartoon/animation industry can be challenging in even the best of times, and we're a few clicks away from "best."

It's useful to keep in mind that as much as we would like it to be otherwise, animation is a subset of Hollywood, the capital of bull dung.

13 comments:

Floyd Norman said...

As an old cartoon veteran I can say, no truer words were ever spoken.

All you young and talented guys and gals out there take heed.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, occasionally you need to apologize and acquiesce to hang onto your job, even when the person you're doing the apology to is a dick."

Or sometimes, you THINK they're a dick, and you find out later they were under a lot of stress from upper management, and were fighting valiantly to protect you and your department, and just seemed dickish at the time. Then you thank your lucky stars later that you were nice to them.

Or...sometimes, you later realize you were the dick...

Anonymous said...

I think Nick also has Fairly OddParents going on.

And why do I keep hearing rumours of an Invader Zim revival?

Anonymous said...

Nicely done Steve!

rufus said...

Great advise.

I would add, save as much moolah for periods of unemployment!! Students rarely are told they'll go through some of these periods.

rufus.

Anonymous said...

Those are good. But...isn't number #4 redundant? What does it mean exactly? Not baiting-I really want to know(if it isn't more of the "don't be a dick" advice).


Also, while the point is not a bad one about understanding what the other guy's issues might be(actually it's an important one), I think for the purposes of argument we can just leave it at pretending that our hypothetical animator is just plain working for either a dick or someone who acts like a dick and treats them like a dick.
This is, after all, a UNION blog and one primarily devited to the underlings, not the management. Just sayin'.
This bending over backwards and arguing for the Boss can get wearying.

Anonymous said...

I would add, save as much moolah for periods of unemployment!! Students rarely are told they'll go through some of these periods.

I second rufus. My only addition to this advice is to stash the cash in a high-interest online savings account at ING Direct or Alliant.

Steve Hulett said...

Or sometimes, you THINK they're a dick, and you find out later they were under a lot of stress from upper management

Certainly happens.

I've met few, unadulterated fourteen karat dicks. but there was that one at Disney. (I'd say it's possible it was just me, but Ward Kimball, Marc Davis's widow, Pete Young, and Vance Gerry all confirmed the fact of his dickishness.)

Steve Hulett said...

But...isn't number #4 redundant? What does it mean exactly? Not baiting-I really want to know(if it isn't more of the "don't be a dick" advice).


What I meant?

Know your own internal limits. Know -- as best you can -- what the limits of your tolerance for gamesmanship, bad-tempered behavior, and/or incompetence are.

Also, develop a Plan B for your career. Then a Plan C, then a Plan D. God often laughs at people who make plans, but I still think it's a good idea to have an idea what your alternate routes are.

Anonymous said...

Might be a dumb question, but why are Pixars movie details never mentioned here?
I mean besides talking movie incomes.

Anonymous said...

Might be a dumb question, but why are Pixars movie details never mentioned here?
I mean besides talking movie incomes.



You mean why does the Business Manager who writes 99% of the posts here not report on what's happening this week/last week/etc up at Pixar?
Because Pixar is not a part of the union and its employees are not 839 members, and therefore Steve is not empowered to visit Pixar and see how things are going.
The 839 IATSE jurisdiction is Southern California.

On the other hand the INCOME that Pixar's-that is to say, Disney's-films generate IS union business just as the profits of overseas films are-because their success or failure impacts the local industry, where we are union members-we at Disney, Sony, Dreamworks, WB, Fox etc.

Steve Hulett said...

That's pretty much it.

Hard to report on those things you know little about. (Wish it were otherwise.)

Anonymous said...

Penguins of Madagascar, Tough Puppies, Chum Chum and Fanboy, Kung Fu Panda, Monster and Robot(not Plural )SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Fairly Odd Parents, Ninja Turtles, Avatar(Air Bender),
plus a couple of pilots.

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