Sunday, April 14, 2013

Offense and Defense

The bloggee known as David writes:

But Steve, how do people get assigned (marginalized) to be part of the "hand-drawn staff" ? Especially animators like Nik Ranieri, Brian Ferguson, Ruben Aquino, and James Lopez who have experience doing CG animation on features? Those guys have dual skills to do both CG and Hand-drawn. No one (especially the UNION) wants to broach the subject of age discrimination ? ...

It's not just an issue of young vs. old. There's this iron reality known as studio politics. It's always there, to a greater or lesser degree. It's about people fighting over turf. I encountered this reality at Disney in the seventies and eighties. I've encountered it (as an outside observer) in the 1990s and 2000s.

Nine years ago, Joe Grant (no stranger to studio politics himself) said to me:

All the maneuvering and infighting that went on back at Hyperion? I see the same kind of stuff going on around here now. The people are different and the building is different, but the politics? Pretty much the same." ...

Which brings me back to the question above.

Today I was at CTN's little outdoor expo on San Fernando Road in Burbank, and I ran into a (former) Disney animator who arrived at the Mouse House as a young, starry-eyed recruit in the early nineties, and left a year and a half ago. He's still fairly young, and he related:

"I made the switch from hand-drawn to CG a few years ago. I didn't have much time to learn Maya, but I managed what I could, and got tossed into production pretty fast. And I got my share of scenes, but the young CG animators resented that I could draw better than they could, and I got push back. After the picture finished, I decided the politics were too nasty, and I left." ...

I've talked to other artists who've told me much the same thing. There's a divide between many of the hand-drawn veterans and the CG artists; the CG artists have more leverage and clout than the animators who mainly draw (the studio is, after all, focused on CG animated features); a number of the paper-and-pencil veterans make no bones about the fact they prefer doing hand-drawn features.

So you've got different groups playing offense and defense. CG animators defending their perceived territory. Hand-drawn animators trying to protect their small patch of ground. And up above, studio management looking at grosses and making its decisions based on profits, losses and the current price of Disney stock.

It's always been this way.

In the late fifties, many heads rolled when Sleeping Beauty didn't make its production and marketing costs back. In the seventies, there was simmering resentment by some Feature Animation veterans against the upstarts coming in from the California Institute of the Arts (and points east.) Some of the newbies -- Brad Bird and John Lasseter among them -- got tossed out.

And in the last half of the 1990s, there was fear, resentment and lousy morale when the grosses of hand-drawn features went south and the studio sloughed off long-time staff to go chasing after CGI's magical brass ring.

So, David. All I can tell you is, it's not simply a matter of who has what skills, or who has the most time in as an animator, layout artist, or designer. Age discrimination has only a little to do with it. Mostly it's about who's perceived by management to have the strongest chops.

Those are the folks who have the most leverage with company executives. And those are the folks who will remain Walt Disney Animation Studio employees when the Chief Executive Officer of Diz Co. sends out orders to cull the herd.

It's shitty, but the way it's almost always been.


David said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response ,Steve. I think we need to all talk about this stuff.

Yes, it's shitty.

Turdinator said...

It's upsetting that my union rep writes clueless, inflammatory posts to get traffic and create animosity among artists that doesn't exist. Irresponsible, unprofessional & shameful.

Steve Hulett said...

What, exactly, to you find inflammatory and upsetting? That there's studio politics? That various artists have told me there's studio politics?

I'd be interested in knowing.

Floyd Norman said...

The massive layoffs after Sleeping Beauty had nothing to do with box office good or bad. That decision had already been made. I was one of the lucky survivors. The next animated feature was "101 Dalmatians" and it was a huge success. Guess what? More layoffs followed the hit film.

Good or bad. Success or failure...we're screwed.

Steve Hulett said...

You're right, Floyd. I think the studio had decided that carrying that size staff was just too expensive. (Didn't they also get rid of the shorts department around then?)

Larger issue: Studios make their staffing decisions for all kinds of reasons, but there are usually lots of data points involved. (Who's most valuable, how the pictures are doing, what is the cost-benefit ratio, etc.)

Jim Miles said...

It's too bad leadership isn't doing more to foster community among the artists. It may have ALWAYS been that way, but it doesn't HAVE to be that. Maybe they need some good old-fashioned community-building, develop a culture in which collaboration trumps petty competition.

Does anyone know how Disney culture differs from Pixar?

Bobby Pontillas said...

With all due respect to the animator in question, I have NEVER, ever experienced the younger generation resenting any animator because they drew better than we could. If anything, we look up to these artists. Most especially at Disney.

Quite honestly, if he/she feels like they got push back, maybe it was because, like they mentioned, they didn't have too much time to learn Maya, and still had a bit of a learning curve to get accustomed to. No one could realistically expect one to transition expertly from 2D to 3D at the drop of a hat. It just takes some time, anyone who has made the switch knows that.

But implying that it's "us young CG animators" just hating on the veterans is so far from the truth. And again, I offer my honest opinions with the utmost respect to said animator, and I'm sorry he/she feels that way.

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