Friday, September 11, 2009
Posted by Bobby Beck at 9:25 AM
To be or not to be…?
I received a fantastic email the other day from a newly inspired and very talented animator working at a major studio. They approached me with this general feeling:

“Is the animation industry jaded? What happens to people when they get older? Are there still jobs in animation for them? Am I going to always be worked to death like this or will I find some balance? I just want to know these things so I can decide if animation is something I want to do for the long haul.”

Great questions! I was happy to answer them to the best of my ability, as most all of this is very subjective. I thought it’d be great to share my thoughts here.

Is the animation industry jaded?

It is true that a lot of people get burned out due to working long hours and on projects they may or may not believe in. I remember working at Disney on Dinosaur and people would tell me, “You’re so happy, it’s just a matter of time before you get all jaded and crusty like the rest of us.” Ha ha. I’ll always remember that. If you know me I’m anything but jaded and crusty. It’s all a matter of perspective. I know at we have worked hard to create an environment of support and inspiration. Our hope is to create more “inspired” animators that go in to the work force and populate it with hope and enthusiasm. Is this bad? Hell no. Most every one who got in to this industry was inspired at some point. “We’re making cartoons for goodness sakes.” I often hear this and it’s an important reminder to tell ourselves.

So, my answer to this question is, no. No, I do not think the industry is jaded. I think it’s easy to become jaded and negative energy is like cream and it tends to overpower and rise to the top. Beware of getting sucked in to this ugly pattern and remember to keep your chin up. Just as the negative rises to the top, the inspired will also outshine at the end of the day. So, I say work together to be stoked about what you do. This energy is infectious and will create something so powerful.

A good experience I’ve heard of this is at Psyop. One of our graduates got a job over there and the team said something to the tone of, “Wow, you really know what you’re doing and you seem really easy to work with; do you know anyone else like this looking for a job?” Before you know it there are 13 people from Animation Mentor working on their project! I recently met the CEO of Psyop at a party in New York and he told me they love hiring people form Animation Mentor. I was told the work ethic inspired the whole team to raise their standards and pumped an infusion of enthusiasm throughout the organization!

This is the type of story I LOVE to hear. It’s not the first I’ve heard like this. Am I saying only Animation Mentor students are this way? No, not at all. What I am saying is that being jaded or feeling like, “I’m a great animator” are dangerous ways to think. When you are a constant learner, supportive, sharing of your knowledge and are inspired by the work you do, you will be creating a SUPER POWERFUL quality of life, not only for yourself but for everyone around you! Something to keep in mind.

What happens to people when they get older? Are there still jobs in animation for them?

Ha ha. Yes, there are older people in the industry that are animators. For the most part it is a “young” industry, however the older people I know, and I do know a LOT of older folks who animate, feel that the young talent keeps them fresh and inspires them to maintain their energy and passion for why they got in to the industry in the first place.

A lot of older animators do become lead animators, supervisors, directing animators, story artists, directors, etc. It’s a natural progression. Some choose to become supervisors on one film and then jump back to being purely an animator. There are a lot of choices, and as long as you keep pushing yourself to do great work, the work will be there.

Am I going to always be worked to death like this or will I find some balance?

This is a tough one. I remember on The Incredibles I was working a lot on side projects after work. Those projects kept me inspired to do the best work I possibly could while AT work. I remember I did get a “talking to” by one of the supervising animators that I was only getting my work done on time but wasn’t staying late like the rest taking on additional work; aka “team spirit.” I tried to explain that I was a BIG team player and that I was giving my all to the team in dailies and in the work and support I gave during work hours. This did not go over so well and perhaps reflected in the shots I got on that film.

What I wanted to do was to help start setting a standard that is important and one that I employ at my company. That is, “inspired people create inspired results.” That is my motto at Animation Mentor. One BIG way we do this is by promoting true work/life balance. We don’t work overtime. It is true that during graduation, Siggraph and BBQ’s that some extra hours are required by the marketing/events team. However, as a whole we work hard to keep this balance. It is so critical to staying inspired and pacing yourself.

In the beginning it is true that you will most likely work crazy hours and need to work 6+ day weeks on projects. This IS an unfortunate reality of the industry. However, there are many studios that believe, as I do, that you need to nurture your talent and keep them inspired for the long run. They are few, and they are out there. However, it is important to understand this reality as it is something to consider.

Not everyone will last in this type of environment, perhaps it is a byproduct of the movie making industry as a whole. This is the ugly truth of the matter. I long to see the day where studios take work/life balance into consideration and promote it in the work place so that people can go home at a reasonable hour, see their kids, play music, go to the movies, do to dinner with friends/family and simply enjoy life as a whole. Maybe it’s rare at this point, however I believe it is possible. This is a personal endeavor for me as I see the results of what can be accomplished with the work/life balance mindset and it is outstanding!

I just want to know these things so I can decide if animation is something I want to do for the long haul.

At the end of our email back-and-forth discussion I thought this person may leave the studio they are at to find one that promotes a better work/life balance. Instead they told me this, “No, no. I’m going to stay here. Perhaps I will be someone who helps lead the movement to a more inspired work place and one that values a stronger work/life balance.”

Wow!!! That is so inspiring to hear and something that touched me so much that I wanted to take the time to share these thoughts with you guys. It’s up to us to work on this. If the work/life balance part is hard to achieve, then, at the very least, let’s make this job something fun and absolutely inspiring to come to each and every day!

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

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