Friday, October 14, 2011

Tight Schedules and Overtime -- A Dialogue

The last few days, a veteran board artist who is quite good at what he does has been e-mailing me, and I've been e-mailing him back. We cover some well-trod ground, but I think the back-and-forth is worth sharing ....

Veteran Board Artist:

Next time the CBA negotiations come around, get in contact with me. As you probably well know, because of the rise of the Cintiq and Storyboard Pro, storyboarders are now being asked to do many, many more poses, so that their boards are basically 'rough animated'. Also, it is now becoming required on some shows that boarders begin making animatics of their acts, synching drawings to dialogue.

You may recall that, years ago, you and Kevin Koch asked for examples of boarders doing bg layout in boards, and I responded with some examples for you guys to use in negotiations. Kevin told me the examples were very helpful.

Well, the new standards of what constitutes a proper storyboard have led to increased demands that put that earlier change to shame. I'm sure you're aware of the new expectations.

When that time starts to roll around again, let me know ahead of time...I'd be the perfect guy to make a simple video (anonymous, of course) of my hands at a Cintiq showing work and demonstrating the new demands being placed on storyboarders, all without new, extended deadlines and turnaround times.

Biz Rep Hulett:

I would like you to be on the negotiation committee, when negotiations happen next year. I think it would be helpful.

... I think the biggest problem isn't rates per se, since board artists rates are as high or higher than animator rates. It's the damn schedules and the fact that many people work uncompensated overtime hours. ...

Veteran Board Artist:

Yeah, that frustrates me, too ... Problem is, it's hard to draw a hard, firm line between unreasonable deadlines and people who are simply slow. ... Maybe schedule minimum standards need to be set by the Union....say, three weeks minimum for 11 minutes, something like that. If an employer insists on a tighter schedule, overtime pay automatically kicks in.

Biz Rep Hulett:

Unpaid overtime has been a problem since I started this gig.

Sometimes o.t. violations are clear cut, sometimes they’re not. It’s nothing new by the way. My old man had quotas to hit in the background department at Disney in the 1950s. You didn’t make quota, they didn’t look kindly on you.

I’ve heard complaints about deadlines for twenty years. But artists who are fast and efficient seldom have big problems, while slower artists get crushed. There can’t be some hard, firm line about schedules because every show is different. Some shows have lots of pencil mileage and difficult characters and settings, others have less. Boards for “Huckleberry Hound” would take a fraction of the time that “Tarzan” or “Batman” boards would. So having different length schedules seems like a natural production decision.

Veteran Board Artist:

I agree about the Huckleberry Hound/Batman distinction, but would a minimum turnaround be too hard to set? I mean, take the three weeks for 11 minutes figure I pulled out of a hat below...the idea is that would be the minimum time allowed to storyboard an act. A minimum turnaround time wouldn't make a difference on Huckleberry Hound or Batman.

Sure, I imagine there'd be stuff that could be done in less than three weeks.....re-boarding of something existing, for example...or a very, very simple Southpark-type board, where the characters can basically be stamped into place in the frame...but Union guidelines/rules are already winked at on occasion,...when nobody is getting hurt, and both sides agree to some small violation.

...but the Union minimum turnaround times would be used only when an artist feels they are being treated unfairly. They could then say "but the Union minimum turnaround time for an 11-minute act is three weeks" when someone asks them to do less. Often, just saying what the Union minimum rule is in any situation is enough to scare off a production person or executive. When you made walk-throughs of studios and found people working at night, you could ask people what their schedules were..."are they at least giving your three weeks per 11-minutes?", etc.

Schedules have been shrinking in length since I arrived 25 years ago. I remember six weeks was standard for an 11-minute act before 2000. Now, three weeks--at Union minimum--has become the standard. ...

Biz Rep Hulett:

Here’s a big part of the problem: Overtime rates are there as a cattle prod to schedule intelligently ... based on time spent. When people just work for free to hit the schedule, two things happen:

1) They screw themselves out of o.t.

2) They give studio administrators a false sense of how long it takes to do a board (or layout, or whatever.)

I think the best approach here is to make a big issue of tight schedules. I’ve done it in the past and gotten some adjustments. Everybody is scared witless about getting on a blacklist, so nobody wants to complain or rock the boat. I’ve pushed against piece-work rates in the past (which is what a “three weeks for an 11-minute board” is, when you strip away the bark.)

Piece work, over time, bites artists in the fanny.

If employees honestly accounted for how long they worked in a given week, a lot of these problems would go away. Hasn’t happened in two decades, but hey. I’m ever hopeful.

So there it is, the overtime and scheduling issues, yet again. Probably still be going on when I'm dead and buried.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

So there it is, the overtime and scheduling issues, yet again. Probably still be going on when I'm dead and buried.

I take it you've made your plans for internment. Wanna let us know where, or do we have to wait......

Anonymous said...

Shoo Troll!! Isn't there a dank corner or sewer you should be hiding in?

Anonymous said...

Great dial. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

3 wks for any board is asking for Sat. morning level garbage work, or a fast freelance turnaround when the production needs to just hack it out to get it on the air. And there is absolutely no reason for a board artist to time their own work in a crap board animatic program. It's not your job. Don't give them two job descriptions for free! That's just plain stupid.

Technology is NOT your friend, kiddos. Leave the bells and whistles of your studio software for your web cartoon, get paid by Google, and leave it at that, kay?

Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking exchange. The Veteran Board Artist is right in that we're expected to turn in a roughly-animated board with good timing that's perfectly on model and looking BEEE-YOOOO-TEEEE-FULLLL.

It's really difficult to try and be creative and be on schedule when there's so much to do in such a short amount of time. Sometimes a production will adjust their schedules when a majority of artists do have trouble reaching unreasonable deadlines, but more often than not the artists will screw themselves by thinking that it's about them being slow, not about the deadlines being unreasonable. Then they'll work for free, which continues the screwing.

Anonymous said...

As an animatic editor I HATE it when board artists do their own animatics. Not just because it could threaten my job (which I won't deny has crossed my mind a time or two) but it just doesn't work for a half hour show where there is more than 1 board artist involved.

In my experience one or all of the below apply:

1) The board artist has NO idea how to time for the show in question.
- either the artist has no clue how to time anything properly or
- They'll time for whatever their last show was or worked on longest vs the show their actually boarding for

2) they will time it properly for their sequences but don't know how it relates to the rest of the show in general. These aren't movies & we never have the luxury of taking our time for every beautiful moment. It looks great, buddy, but your precious work has to go at least twice as fast. Get as mad as you want, it's a fact of life.

3) It never translates to the program I'm using
- If it's timed in Flash I end up with a million extra panels & poses I don't need when exported. (& how hard is it to check your out points people so I don't have to scan through a million blank panels to find your one retake?)
- If it's timed in Storyboard Pro it crops the panels so I can't make changes that the director wants. I'm locked into what they did if it's right, wrong, or the director changes their mind.


Every single time a board artist has timed out their sequence I ended up doing the whole thing over again from scratch. NO TIME IS EVER SAVED.

If there's no animatic editor, fine, time away. But if there is let well enough alone & let me do my job! It's faster for everyone!!

Anonymous said...

Face it, animation editors are not real film editors.
I don't even know why they existe in animation, really.

Steve Hulett said...

Uh.

Animation editors are real editors. They don't have the same issues as live-action editors, but they do indeed edit.

Sit around an editing bay some time, and get educated.

Anonymous said...

While we're at it let's have the animatic editor know what they're doing too. As an animator, I have had to question most of the timing that animatics offer, since most animatics are created be folks who never animated. They give impossible short amounts of time for a character to move and then unreasonable long amounts of time for dead scenes where the characters are in a single shot, creating more work for animators to keep something happening in a static scene.

Anonymous said...

Hey "editor"-
Great job threadjacking an important topic. This topic was about a much larger subject, not your petty complaints toward others.

Steve's post wasn't entitled "Let's bitch about our co-workers." Nor was it even about editing or animatics. It was about ever-increasing scheduling demands, increasing responsibilities against quotas, all for the same pay.

Anonymous said...

I think that a board artist that also animates can really save time by doing the animatics. Now with Storyboard PRO it is just natural that the board artist should do it but at an additional charge.

Anonymous said...

"I think that a board artist that also animates can really save time by doing the animatics."

No, they can't. Do your job, and stop shilling for software companies.

Anonymous said...

Well, now we the increasing demand for more rough poses on the boards who better to time the panels then the board artist with animation skills?

Anonymous said...

Yes, and while you're at it, throw in voice directing and editing and locking picture to time.

Shove your digital Cintiq vibrator back under your mattress and grow the f*** up.

Anonoclock said...

I am one of those board artists who is required to time boards to animation. In exchange, we don't have to type all the dialog in the boxes, nor do we have to describe the action, but we do have to pose the action out clearly. Personally, as an animator myself, I'd rather time and pose than spend hours upon hours typing out action/dialog/notes. Also, our editor cuts the radioplay to the show's maximum length, adding in temp music/sfx, dead space for EST shots, pauses, and so on. Storyboards receives the radioplay, and must match the predetermined length for each sequence. We can do some minor shuffling of audio, but we have to keep track of what we add and subtract.

Anonymous said...

Animation editors job is only to sync sound and trying to match the timing the board artists meant with his/hers panels. Not include music, that's a job for the music editor.
The editing job in animation is done by the board artist when he/she decide to draw a certain panel or not.

Animation editors, not worth their credits or salaries.

Anonymous said...

As a director and a storyboard artist (and a past animator) I feel that it's a HUGE mistake to ask storyboard artists to put together an animatic. As the director that is MY job working with an editor. If I default to a storyboard artist I am not doing the job I was hired to do - otherwise all I'm doing is handing out assignment s and, at best, being a storyboard supervisor.
If a storyboard artist does an animatic when does the director add his input and stamp the show as his/hers? This is especially worrisome since most story boarders may have learned how to storyboard, but not to animate or time. As a former animator I'm constantly revising poses to suit animation as it is.
A good storyboarder is worth their weight in gold, but to assume that they all have the same skill-sets and can eliminate the need for an editor and - through default - a director is a path to crappy film making.
Not to say that all directors know what the hell they're doing, but since they were the ones hired to do that job they should be doing it. Any producer or studio that decides to squeeze a buck by forcing an SB artist to do that work is a pencil pusher that needs to be schooled

Anonymous said...

That is all true and agreed upon although the new digital tools offer more control to the SB artist making adjustments possible on the fly within the same s/w package. This is an evolution of the paper method allowing for more control, and heck, if the SB artist is also a good animator, yes, his poses and timing should be of importance to the show. The importance of a Director should not be underestimated though since many shows have several SB artists attached. No attempts to underestimate the job of the Director was intended here.Voice directing and editing is the job of the casting and recording director not SB artist. But going back to the subject if the SB artist also does the animatic additional pay should be in place and extended time given.

Anonymous said...

Anonoclock, I don't know what kind of job it is you do or where you work, but it is not boarding. You are getting ripped off, in terms of both pay and credit, and your studio is getting a huge bargain.

Anonymous said...

"Animation editors job "

Horse shyte. Maybe for tv cartoon editors (and I doubt that), but certainly not for feature editors. The best ones are equal partner with the head of story, and generally, the director's right hand man/woman. Indispensable.

Feature films are "made" in editorial. It's where everything has to play, and come together. That's just a fact.

Anonoclock said...

Anonymous 12:53:

Well, I use pictures to tell the story, so I would like to think what I do is storyboard. If you still don't think it is, then you shouldn't think all those studios who have their board artists draw on-model and ground characters onto perfectly drawn backgrounds isn't storyboarding either. Thankfully our production actually has a char/BG layout crew and we don't have to do that.

I'd prefer to not say where I work, but it's probably obvious by now that it's not a union house.

Anonymous said...

All these problems sound more like a lack of communication between the crew, not with the the specific job position. Most vets know what to do, and when every one works together, things actually can go quite smoothly even with deadlines looming. So talk to each other and figure out how to make it work, rather than complain about what somebody else is doing. Hopefully they let you do that at your studio. As for commenting on the original topic, more time in schedules is almost always welcome.

Anonymous said...

The side kvetching about editors goes to show that as long as everyone keeps arguing amongst themselves instead of sticking together to improve everyone's work situations, they'll all continue to have to keep bullshit schedules. Way to go, kids.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Those are wise words.

Anonymous said...

Yeah - wise words which don't apply TV animation. The way the suits have structured the pipeline, nobody gets to talk to anybody without going through the proper channels.

Anonymous said...

I am also a storyboard artist. It is a relief to read these post as I am honestly feeling more and more confused about studios expectations based on the open and fast evolving possibilities of how great a storyboard can look digitally. The truth is that the studios are also confused. A tool like the Cintiq can allow you to create a short film. However, as a story artist this is not the place in the process to nail down the camera angles or the timing, or for that matter to get too bogged down in how great the individual boards look -or wait, is it? I feel uneasy based on the feeling of what makes a great storyboard pass -is simply unclear.

Anonymous said...

I can understand the importance and reason to have an animation editor in large studios but on smaller productions and studios the possibility to use a tool like storyboard PRO, create an animatic, set all camera moves with eases and export the whole project to a Harmony database with scene information and timing is just unbelievable not to mention the possibility to use and reuse templates over and over again. Are we possibly moving to a time where the SB artists will have full control and be the actual directors on large productions reporting to a main story/SB editor?

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