Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Animation: The Over-55 Demographic

A couple of clicks down, we were asked about how many older animation artists were working. As promised, we've come up with some numbers.

  • Over the last two years, 3,722 persons have worked under our jurisdiction, of which 2,780 are currently employed (74.8%), and 942 are currently unemployed (25.2%).

  • Of the total group, 372 are age 55 or older (10.0% of the total). Of that group, 254 (68.2%) are currently working and 118 (31.7%) are not working.

  • Of the total group, 2,774 are younger than age 55 (74.5% of the total). Of that group, 2,134 (76.9%) are working and 640 (23.1%) are not working.

There are two factors to bear in mind when considering the above statistics:

  1. Once a month for each coverage period, the Health Plan gives us reports on who is acquiring and losing health benefits. However, we do not get tallies of the total numbers of people covered, or any breakdown of that number by age.

  2. We do not have birthdates on some of our members, which is why some of the numbers don't add up.

Having said all that, I can tell you the older groups that are unemployed or under-employed based on firsthand observation:

* Traditional animators. Many couldn't make the jump to c.g. animation. The successfully transitioned totaled far less than half of the traditional animators working in the 1990s.

* Cleanup artists. There are simply too few jobs to support a craft that used to employ hundreds. And the few jobs there are now have mainly gotten sub-contracted out of L.A. county.

* Timing directors in television animation. As animatics have become more ubiquitous, timing director jobs have declined. Some studios rely on animatics (digital story reels) to provide timing for overseas studios. (And there are a lot of older timing directors. As one recently told me: "If the jobs all dry up, thank God I can retire with the Guild pension ...")

The only constant in the business of cartoons is change, and some folks get caught in the cross-currents. Add to that the reality of your network of friends, allies and references diving off the boat into the warm tropical seas of retirement, and the late fifties can get choppy, employment-wise.


Anonymous said...

I suppose it isn't possible that a significant segment of the membership over age 55 may have been out of work for MORE than three years?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. It helps to know what the reality of this town is. 7% employment after 55 (254/3722) is pretty dire, but seems to be in line with the rest the country. At the very least, people need to plan to have a second career to cover their last 15-25 years of expenses, because animation isn't going to be it. And that's hoping we don't have rampant inflation, which would be a game changer for most defined benefits.

Anonymous said...

excellent point.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what 'second career's' we're supposed to create after a lifetime of animation.
Most of my friends in the business have dreams of doing their 'own stuff', be it children's books, web design, painting, etc. I just don't see many making anywhere near the money to make it a 'career' move, however personally rewarding and valuable it may be.
The reality is that 'second career' is more likely to be Trader Joe's.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but Trader Joe's is what 55 year olds with tanked 401K's are trying to do today, and doctors and landlords don't take 'dreams' for payment. If things don't get much better, the 'Trader Joe's' service model will further limit their employment base to easily-insurable kids. We are currently in the midst of an economic shift that hasn't been seen since the Great Depression. If dollars start coming home and you see pressure on prices, you can guarantee that wages will not rise nearly as fast, and that will further wipe out savings and force restructuring of benefit guarantees.

Anonymous said...

And that's hoping we don't have rampant inflation, which would be a game changer for most defined benefits.

It might not be that bad. Pension fund investors could choose to put more of their bond portfolios in TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) to guard against unexpected inflation.

Floyd Norman said...

When I arrived in this business, the "Old Timers" wore jackets, took long lunches, and occupied the corner office upstairs. One day I saw myself in that position.

Wrong! By the time I became an "Old Timer," kids ran the business, and the only job open was a greeter at WalMart. Glad I invested in real estate.

Anonymous said...

"3,722 persons have worked under our jurisdiction...
372 are age 55 or older (10.0%)
2,774 are younger than age 55 (74.5%)"

Maybe I am just reading this wrong, but who are the other 15.5% who are neither "younger than 55" or "55 or older"?

Anonymous said...

"At the very least, people need to plan to have a second career to cover their last 15-25 years of expenses, because animation isn't going to be it."

Why not? Accept the "realities" of the business? You won't be giving that facile advice when you reach that age. You will wonder why you have suddenly transformed into a virtual vagrant at the peak of your abilities just because your birth year starts with a "19," (you'll see).

There is no justification for this. We are not professional dancers or athletes. We don't "peak" in our twenties and thirties. I shouldn't be forced into a second, (survival), profession. I have a profession, thank you, and I've earned the right to ply it as long as I am able and willing.

What's going on now is wrong, plain and simple, and has no practical justification outside of trendiness.

Anonymous said...

the schools are churning them out in piles and waves. some good most not, but the industry sees that and knows there is an army of young ones willing to do whatever it takes to break in. less likely to accept the veteran perspective even if it is the better one some times. best thing to do is think of yourself as a free agent... always. you are your own business, don't get too comfy in a so called 'stable studio position'. if you do, then when the floor drops out you will feel lost and without a plan, as opposed to seeking another client for your services when your job is done.

my veteran 2 cents

Anonymous said...

the schools are churning them out in piles and waves. some good most not, but the industry sees that and knows there is an army of young ones willing to do whatever it takes to break in.

This must have held true for hand-drawn animation in the past, when art schools around the world churned out draftsmen, painters and illustrators in piles and waves. Good to know nothing's changed in that respect. :-D

Jeff Massie said...

To the anonymous at 11:32 am above:

As Steve said in the OP, the "missing" numbers are the ones for whom we don't have birthdates. Most of our birthdate data comes from membership applications. Remember, this is a snapshot of everyone who worked for any amount of time in the last two years, including many who didn't work the thirty-day minimum for requiring membership, and others who may worked longer but didn't fill out an application.

Floyd Norman said...

"This must have held true for hand-drawn animation in the past."

Not hardly. An old veteran I know got his job at Disney by spotting the studio as he was driving past it. He decided to stop in - and guess what. He got a job.

Animation in years past was considered a strange job, and few wanted to do it.

Steve Hulett said...

"At the very least, people need to plan to have a second career to cover their last 15-25 years of expenses, because animation isn't going to be it."

When I was a kid, I watched my Disney background artist father work nights and weekends in his home studio painting Christmas cards, record album covers, watercolor and oil landscapes. Painting beach towel designs.

At the time I thought this was normal. "Dad has a 9-to-5 career, then two or three other careers on the side." (He also made independent films, one of which is a staple on YouTube.)

But when I became an adult, and ran into Disney artists who'd worked with padre, they told me:

"Oh, you're Dad was always running around urging people to do outside projects like he was. But most of the guys were too tired at night to go home and do more art the way he did."

The reality is, many don't have the nervous system or energy to juggle multiple jobs at once. I certainly don't. TO pursue one demanding job takes most of the creative juice your standard-issue mortal possesses.

Anonymous said...

I'm 30 years old and been in the industry for about 5 years. I'm curious if maybe someone could document the stories of what the 55 and over unemployed are doing now.

It's rather disheartening to hear these kinds of numbers. It's not that they aren't talented anymore, it's that they are wise. Once you've been around the studios you become pretty well versed in the old tricks they can try to pull on you.

The crop coming out of schools are eager to get some experience and are willing to race to the bottom. I was like that at one time but wised up.

In a race to the bottom, the last man standing is the biggest loser imho.

Steve Hulett said...

Anecdotally, the forces arrayed against artists in their fifties (and older are):

1) Rapidly changing technology.

2) Rapidly changing (as in, more corporatized and depersonalized) workplace.

3) Shorter-term employment (think, "project to project".)

4) Aging and retirement of professional allies.

There are other things that sabotage older workers, for instance just random bad luck, but these are some of the big ones that I've seen.

Anonymous said...

I agree that technology is definitely THE factor, but certainly not the "rapidly changing" part. 3D animation software, by and large, has not changed in 10 years (animating in Maya 3.0 is virtually identical to the current version). And the changes that HAVE been made, have only made it faster and better to do.

So I assume we're talking about the 2d -> 3d conversion people here. It seems to me that there's sometimes a kind of disconnect that happens when a former 2d artist begins doing CG. Artists who are brilliant draftsmen and actors cant seem to get a grasp of animating on computers. (even after years and years) I think using CG animation software is its own type of art with limited successful workflows, and unless you "get it," its hard to produce quota.

Its a shame too, because a lot of otherwise extremely talented 2D artists languish on the CG side, and ultimately get laid off in lieu of younger artists. Is it because of their age? Maybe, but if artist A can produce double or triple the quota of artist B, artist A stays, regardless of the age.

Its my opinion that 2D animators who struggle in CG should be given the opportunity to move to character design, where they would probably flourish.

Steve Hulett said...

I agree that technology is definitely THE factor, but certainly not the "rapidly changing" part.

I guess we could agree that maybe it isn't so rapid. Just different.

But technology is a factor. Only today I was in a studio where artists (middle-aged and otherwise) were complaining about shoulder and arm problems due to the uncomfortable angles of their Cintiqs.

The adjustments required to ongoing change (and widespread digital storyboards are relatively recent occurrences) aren't always easy.

Anonymous said...

>There is no justification for this. We are not professional dancers or athletes.

Um, yes, we pretty much are, and should be treated as such with regard to health and pension, which is the point of the original post. But the numbers just aren't there, are they?

There is a big hole between 55 and 65 that remains unfilled. As for health, arm and shoulder and back injuries are career killers, and this needs support from the industry in general. We should have professional athlete protections and insurance, but we do not have that. These films make billions every year, and the star athletes get a supplement to social security at 65.

Is it wrong that the animation industry boxes the real stars in with last-in-line negotiations? That's irrelevant. It's not fair either that by 55, we have a 7% employment stat staring us in the face. Oh well. That's the leverage we've been spoon fed.

A rational person absolutely has to look at this and say that the numbers just won't add up for retirement, and although a supplement check is there with a health guarantee, it is likely not going to be enough. Any younger person in the industry should be told straight up that they are going to face a more difficult road than their older counterparts, and to plan accordingly. Plan for the second career between 55 and 65, because this bargaining agreement isn't going to cut it, and you will probably have lots of extra time on your hands when you can't find animation work at 55+, and you might as well devote it to making another living. I wouldn't wait for the change. Keep two irons in the fire, you will use both of them up, and then pull out the third one you kept hidden in the mattress as well. That's not right or wrong, that's just the math. Of course, if by some miracle of miracles the highest profile animation directors and creators suddenly decide they are friends of TAG, that could all change.


Anonymous said...


Sorry, I don't get the reference. Who are you referring to and what are they doing/not doing?

Steve Hulett said...

Just to let people know: On the live-action side, it's considerably worse than animation.

Most live-action employees are DONE by their late forties, early fifties. Experienced Directors of Photography dye their hair when it starts to gray, even ones with credits longer than a chimpanzee's arm. Go on a movie set, and there are not a hell of a lot of old people.

To be clear: I don't like it; I don't think it's right. I don't like the way things are in animation, either.

But it's the way the entertainment workplace is and if you don't acknowledge the reality and deal with it, you're going to live a smaller, sadder life.

Floyd Norman said...

C'mon, we all know who the "Famous people who draw cartoons for a living," are.

Many years ago, a well heeled and secure directing animator told a young Disney artist, "I've got mine - you get yours." That attitude hasn't really changed in all these years.

Those who were talented enough and lucky enough to score big time have little concern for their animation brethren.

Anonymous said...

Like the guy on Wilshire Blvd? Or the guy who draws one-eared rabbits?

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