Thursday, April 27, 2006
Monday, April 24, 2006
Warning: strong opinions ahead.
Steve Hulette over at The Animation Guild Blog just put up a post on the power of knowledge, specifically the power of knowledge as it relates to wages and earnings. To quote…>
When young, most people are taught that it’s impolite to ask or tell other people what you make. Maybe that’s dandy etiquette, but think a minute. If everyone is ignorant about what the guy in the next cubicle or office is making, the only entity that’s helped by that ignorance is your employer, who knows what everyone is making.
Indeedy-do. One thing that I have come to learn in recent years is that every one of us in this global economy are independent businessmen. We are all in business for ourselves. We are all perpetual free agents, especially in animation, which has become increasingly nomadic. Whether you like it or not, that’s how it is. Staff, contract- doesn’t matter. When it comes to the vertical relationships (up and down the command chain) it’s all about the bottom line in business. When the money’s coming in it’s all “we’re family“. When the money’s tight the captain has first dibs on the lifeboat. The modernistic notion of employer/employee loyalty is a long vanished ideal of nostalgia. Companies (in just about every industry- not just animation) aren’t playing by those modernist rules anymore. If you can be replaced for less, then you’re gone. Problem is, most ‘employees’ (ie: individuals) are still trying to play by those old modernistic rules. We still want to ‘do the right thing’, be the good guy, not let anyone down, not be greedy, not cause any strife or rock the boat, take one for the good of the team, help build something special, etc. It’s all the usual management/HR humdrum that’s shoveled so that people willingly take part in their own undervaluing. Having been involuntarily let go several times has taught me that when the chips are down, I’m out the door faster than you can say “we’re like family here”. Um. No, actually we’re not. I like you guys and all, and I really do appreciate the gig and the good vibes- but dude, you don’t dump your kids when they get sick and cause you to lose some money. Yet when the time comes for artists to put out the extra free hours of uncompensated overtime, or to pull all nighters, or to “take one for the team”, well… the guilt card comes on thick and heavy from management. Why? Because we’re not playing by the same rules and they know it, so they back us into a corner with emotional weapons. No wonder so many of us are getting are butts kicked in this game.
We are all independent businessmen in the global economy. Sadly this animation business is just that - business. As artists we tend to want validation so much that we too often surrender ourselves and undervalue our skill to get it. Or we suffer from the ubiquitous blight of self doubt. Now while an occasional good dose of humble self doubt is absolutely vital in improving as an artist, it’s career suicide in business. If you’re shopping for a car and you have enough money to buy a Kia I am in no way a bad person for refusing to give you a Mercedes S-class for your money. I’m a good person if I find a way to help you get a slightly better car for your money or if I am able to throw in some extras here or there as a way of saying thanks for your business. I am only a bad person if I sell you a lemon of a Kia, but generally that’s not the problem for artists in this business (although it does happen).
As a businessman it’s in my best interest to make my customers/clients (ie: employer) happy. So I give them a great value. I’m willing to give 110% of value on their money. Maybe even 115% if I’m feeling generous. But there’s no way I owe them 150, 170 or 200% of value for their money. That’s business suicide.
Know your value, believe in the value of what you do and work your darnedest to get it. Because believe me, no company is going to willingly give it to you out of the goodess of their charity. There are dudes making MILLIONS of dollars off of us working in the trenches of feature animation. It ain’t no crime to get your slice and you’re no worse a human being for trying.
Am I being cynical? Maybe a little. I prefer to see it as having my eyes open and seeing the world for what it really is. Folks who know me know I’m passionate about animation and storytelling, passionate about doing a great job, passionate about getting better and growing. That keeps me from being cynical I believe. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to willingly live in the land of fairy tales and sweet dreams to the detriment of my family. My experience, skill, knowledge, time and services have great value in this multi-billion dollar game of feature film animation. It’s not cynical to believe that and act accordingly.
ps: And it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow. Always, always, always treat your fellow artists with respect. Your bosses will always be changing, but spend any time in this business and you’ll be working with the same people around you over and over again. I’ve already worked with some of the same people at 3 different studios. To mistreat your fellow artists is also business suicide. More often than not they’re your lifeblood for referals for new work. So be good to each other and keep a wary eye when looking up toward the top of the org chart.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Thanks to a short break (commonly referred to as “vacation days”- since I’m getting laid off I gotta use ‘em or lose ‘em) this is the home version of the Pictures for Patrick Game. It describes how I’m feeling these days. Why? Well, you’ll have to wait and find out, now won’t you?
On a side note I finally played hockey with fellow DNA animator Scott Lemmer again tonight. Thing is it was totally by accident. His team just lost a 4-2 heartbreaker on the same rink we were scheduled to play a shinny* session. I ran into him going on the ice as he was coming off. So he decided to hang around and play. Dirty fink scored on me, too. Punk kids got no respect for their elders, I tell ya!
(*shinny is a euphemism for an informal non league game of hockey -also called rat/pick up/drop in, etc. The name comes from the low intensity, non contact nature of the gathering. Guys get together and play just for kicks, so most players just wear their gloves and shin pads and leave the elbow and shoulder pads in the bag. The shin pads are the root for shinny. Now you know some hockey lingo. Don’t you feel more Canadian now?)
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Nicely done, Blue Sky folks. Nicely done, indeed!
Since I’ve been on a bit of a rant lately about the blah-ness of most big budget CG production design, I have to say that Ice Age 2 is a wonderful piece of animation design in action. For my money this is the BEST looking production design in a CG feature film yet. The style is beautiful, it frames the characters great, the shapes are appealing and fun, the colors are imaginative- I just LOVE the look of this thing.
And the animation is just fantastic. I mean really, really sweet. Great timing, really fun poses and patterns, well done gags and the individual personalities of the primary characters show up in the motion. The style of motion maintains that fun cartoony feel that was established in the original Ice Age, but the execution shows an overall maturation of form that’s down right impressive. The animation in Ice Age 2 is easily among the best done in a CG animated film yet. Again, huge congrats to you kids up there in Whiteplains.
Sadly the story is nowhere near the same level of excellence as the artistry and craftsmanship of the production artists. It just didn’t really grab you and move you. The gags carried the film and the use of Scrat as a story mnemonic was wearing a bit thin by the end. As a character Diego felt tacked on, like they didn’t know what to do with him. The original Ice Age had that very touching and heartfelt scene where Manny reminisces about the loss of his family, but nothing in this film had that same level of heart and warmth. It seems like they tried, like they hit all the dots in an effort to make them connect and draw a picture for you, but somehow it just didn’t come together. That’s the one spot where Blue Sky needs to improve the most- overall story. As a studio they’ve made such impressive and great strides in just about every area of execution from their first film, but their stories remain watered down and meandering (pun definitely intended). How much of that is from executive meddling at Fox I can’t be sure.
But hey, who am I to say? I’m just some schmuck with a website and a willingness to stick my foot in my mouth. All the same, to the animators, technicians and artists at Blue Sky I say great job. You guys really nailed this one and you should be very proud.