Sunday, October 25, 2009


On December 29, 1973, my father fell down in the driveway of his La Crescenta house and knocked himself out. A few minutes later, I discovered him on the asphalt, groggy but conscious, and hauled him to the emergency room of Verdgugo Hills hospital.

Dad was drunk. Also uncooperative and belligerent. The ER staff and doctors patched him up, gave him a sheet with a box marked "possible head injuries," and sent him on his way.

I was fresh off active duty with the U.S. Navy and utterly clueless about head trauma and things like "subdural hematoma." If I had known then what I learned a little while later about blood vessels bleeding inside cranial cavities, I would have gotten him admitted to the hospital, or observed him more closely after I took him home. But I didn't, and two weeks later he went into a coma because of a massive blood clot that depressed his brain activity, and died.

I don't bring this up to instigate a Pity Party (it's all long ago and far away), but to illustrate how knowledge and the lack thereof can impact our lives.

The more stuff you know, the better you'll be able to deal with life's curve balls when they come zinging your way. And the more stuff you don't know, the more you'll get blindsided on the broad, sunlit highway of existence ...

We started this blog for a number of reasons, but high on the list was the desire to dispense information to TAG members, also people who work ... or aspire to work ... in the animation industry. Because our core belief is that the more useful factoids you have at your disposal, the higher the odds are that you'll be successful in building a career in the animation industry. (Or any other industry ... or life ... for that matter. ) Witness the following comment:

Steve, story artists can't deal with or bring up an issue [storyboard artist, production board artist] they have no idea exists! I've been working almost 20 years in this classification and while the difference in the title has been noted in passing by me, I've never-til now-had it explained as you've done. If I ( & I'll hazard also my fellow story guys) haven't "pushed" for changes in the wording etc., it's not because I'm lazy or don't care or can't be bothered, but because I have been lucky-so far-to have my rate be over scale as I understood it and because I didn't freaking know about it. Really, these "pain in the butt" issues are ones I believe it's the duty of the professionals in our union to point out to us. As you have done here.

So while I've heartily agreed with all the times you've said "I can't do anything about [insert specific union violation here] unless a member complains/reports/brings it to my attention" in all those other cases, that reasoning doesn't apply here. In any case yeah, let's get it fixed..

To answer the specific point above, I will put into the Rolodex a proposal to get Production Board elevated from footnote status during the next round of contract talks. In the meantime, artists reading this need to remember the difference: Production Board scale rates apply to television boarding, Storyboard scale rates apply to features, and Story Sketch applies to board artists working as assistants to storyboard artists.

And as long as we're on the subject of professional (and general) knowledge, remember these things:

* WAGES: They are all over the map in Animationland. But benefits and wages are mostly higher in union shops. Benefits amount to $350-$375 above base-line wages.

(Here's some useful nuggets. 1) If you work hourly, you can be docked for time missed during the workweek, but if you are salaried, you get your weekly rate whether you're in the office for five hours Monday through Friday, or one hundred hours. And employers can't shift you back and forth from "salaried" to "hourly" so they can pay you less. It's got to be one or the other. If you are working a unionized animation job, you are likely some form of hourly employee. 2) You have the right under California law to share wage information with your peers, so go do it.)

* WORK ETHIC AND ATTITUDE: You can never be too upbeat or too hardworking. As for instance ...

[Fox Animation Studio's Vanessa Morrison's] positive attitude and hard work eventually won the attention of Tom Rothman, who took over Jacobson's production chief job in the mid-1990s. Under Rothman, now co-chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, Morrison rose through the creative executive ranks.

* SKILL SETS: If you don't have the right set of chops, you are less likely to get hired by the animation studio of your dreams. Today Maya wizards, Renderman experts, and other software professionals have bigger strike zones in the hiring ball game than folks who have skills as, say, cleanup artists. The Digital Age is hard upon us; the carbonite era, not so much. Like it or not, you have to deal with this reality. But the more arrows you have in your quiver, the more employable you will be.

* ROUTES INTO THE BUSINESS:Production Assistant, intern (see Ms. Morrison, above), Trainee, Big Shot from a related business coming in on red carpet, Mom and Pop effects house into big animation studio, the roads to Animationland are almost -- but not quite -- infinite. Use your contacts and network. Timing and perseverance are often everything.

* LUCK: If you have lots of it, you'll need less of the other items listed here. If you have less than you'd like, you're gonna have to do some kind of workaround. Most people encounter good and bad fortune in the course of a career. The folks who know how to deal with bad fortune -- and bounce back from it -- win.

Lastly, don't take things too seriously. The best times I've had in this business is when I've been light-hearted about whatever situation in which I've found myself. If you recognize that you are not going to end up with the career arc you envision fresh out of Cal Arts or Ringling at the ripe age of twenty-two, then you will be a lot happier when the down drafts happen.

Remember: Nobody gets out of this space-time continuum alive, so make it part of your purpose to enjoy yourself along the way.

And now, please turn in your hymnals to Page 333, and we'll all sing ...


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