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Author Topic: Care and feeding of the Golden Goose
dermot
IE # 193
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Recently I was e-mailing back and forth with somone on one of the big animation sites about their advice for unemployed artists column .I was encouraged to write a rebuttal ( which I did )

I haven't heard back but I don't think there's any harm in previewing it for AN memebers ; check my blog...it's a bit long to copy and paste here....leave comments if you dare hehehe

Dermot

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Charles
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That's too good not to repost. With your permission Dermot, with a link to your original article.

http://zoomfrog.blogspot.com/

......................


Care and Feeding of the Golden Goose
an article on animation production by Dermot Walshe

A few months ago I read a supposed horror story about a young man who was hired to work for one animation company and then took a job somewhere else instead. While some might be tempted to say that this person may have burned a bridge or ruined his career with such a move, I wondered what had really happened.....and reflected on a number of anecdotes and stories I have heard over the years . Certainly I have more than my share of first hand experience with hiring....on both sides of that fence, and I can say that in my twenty years in the business I have seen some companies do it a lot better than others !

All of that got me thinking again about that great void in expectation between companies and artists . Jim Collins said in his book "Good to Great" that great is not a matter of luck or circumstance . Too often companies pat themselves on the back for doing OK but as Jim points out in his exhaustive study it's only the companies that truly focus on being number one or number two in their field that really succeed . To quote Jim here ;"Everyone would like to be the best, but most organizations lack the discipline to figure out with egoless clarity what they can be the best at and the will to do whatever it takes to turn the potential into reality."

Everyone knows the story of the poor farmer who found the golden goose, but I wonder how well the lesson is understood. In the original story the farmer takes care of the goose and it rewards him with eggs of solid gold , but when the farmer becomes impatient and greedy he kills the goose to get to what he believes will be more golden eggs hidden inside.
I have many times been in situations where artists have been recruited or dismissed with what I would call reckless abandon as companies search for a quick fix to whatever crisis situation they are in . Artists that become labelled as having the "wrong attitude" or as being "too precious" drift from one studio to another depending on the season or project. One producer even explained to me in 1995 that all artists are more or less interchangeable and what really mattered was enthusiasm. Strangely enough that same company only received three ( external ) portfolios for layout positions after running full-page recruitment ads in a number of industry magazines including Variety. Clearly the company had a reputation that preceded it . To make matters worse there was one excellent portfolio in the group ; I suggested that hiring such a talented person would be a coup but they had neglected to reply to any of the submissions and only told me that "someone that good would probably leave us soon after anyway "
Artists don't abandon a company for no reason .

I have a long list of similar horror stories from the trenches that I can spare you......but it's with that knowledge that I spare judgement on rumours of bad hires either way.

The question is really if there IS such a thing as a golden goose , and then where are they and how can we tell them apart from the gaggle ? If you permit me I would say listen to the experts.
Long time motivational speaker Tony Robbins often talks about making great transformations in either personal or professional life and he pretty much covers it with these three phrases :

1 : See things for what they ARE....not what you think they are.
2 : Seek advice ; ask good questions from the people who know best.
3 : Act

Of course all of this requires good judgement to work well.......but there is also an old saying that practise makes perfect as long as you learn from your mistakes.

In case any of you recoiled at the mere mention of Tony Robbins listen instead to another expert in the field of animation . Do a youtube search on Ed Catmull lecturing at Stanford . I was particularly struck by some of the things that Ed Catmull said about requirments for success at Pixar :
1 : A culture of truth.....people need an environment where they are not afraid to speak the truth.
2 : Great people are more important than great ideas ; a poor crew will ruin a great idea but a great crew will throw out a bad idea and come up with a better one.
3 : A culture of peers....where artists, technicians and management are respected and paid equally

If your company has seen your gross revenue drop from almost $200 million to nearing $60 million in the last ten years I suspect that you are not performing up to potential . If you are a senior level executive in animation and you dont really understand the success of a TV show like Spongebob then I suspect you don't have merchandise earnings measured in the billions .If you screen a show or film internally and no-one either laughs OR criticizes, you also have a problem . As a CEO said to me a few years back while having coffee ;" we've never been in a multiple offer situation on any of our shows except once....and that was a Disney co-pro ". I humbly suggested that if it was managed well the creative staff could help to fix that, but he replied "I hear you on the creative thing but we know what we're doing". I suddenly got a visual image of a dog chasing it's tail there.....my apologies.

Prominent financial analyst and writer William J. Bernstein in his article The Executioner of Excellence writes that if mutual funds and even hedge fund managers are continuously earning less than market return how can one do better ? His advice is to "actually think for yourself"...."......money managers at large investment companies, banks, and insurance companies, too focused on next quarter’s bottom line and next year’s bonus, gradually disengage from the slow, methodical development of their skills. Add a soupçon of fear of failing unconventionally, stir in a large dollop of groupthink, cook slowly for several years, and competence eventually simmers off. " The conflict between compensation and competence resonates far beyond finance and the corporate world. Bernstein goes on about another industry where returns are measured by quotas "......... a field which requires exquisite judgment in ambiguous situations—exactly the circumstances in which cognitive psychologists have found "external incentives" to be the most corrosive."
What William is alluding to is that if your company rewards management with bonuses for cost saving or earning quotas, then the system will adapt for the short term gains and ruin both the stability and the long term viability of the system. I have often thought that incentives or bonuses in animation ought to be tied to sales success ; can CEO's or boards of directors not see that rewarding producers for being under-budget is actually counter productive in a business that requires a blockbuster hit to earn big ?

Lets take a moment to take on that bugaboo word technology. Strictly speaking, technology just means " a way of doing things" Better technology therefore means "a better way of doing things" .When it comes to the creative process there are innumerable ways of making something......and any number of ways to waste both time and resources. When I was first hired to work on an animation series I was dumbfounded to see the co-directers arguing bitterly over whether a character would carry an umbrella under its arm or by the handle ; the real problem to my mind was that the show itself seemed rather boring. Is there a better technology for "funny" ?
I always remember a great scene where Spongebob yells from his house to Squidword to ask him if he can play his clarinet any......( expecting quieter )......BETTER .

A few years back an associate was heading to China to start an animation company. He had been a lawyer at one time and spent many years in the tech industry with cel phones and consulted with me . I told him very carefully to search for great directors and the best studios he could find and learn what they needed to get better . He insisted that staffing was a lower priority and instead made deals for fitting out a large building with expensive workstations . He has since returned home broke and confused. I had told him to " go find the next Miyazaki" and start small, but he didnt understand the technology of animation .
Technology is variable and most people think it means hardware and software , but how many people know that Miyazakis films STILL employ cel paint technology in many ways. I remember reading that his Oscar- winning film Spirited Away was approximately 50% cel-painted as was Princess Mononoke. It was simply less expensive and more convenient to continue using a crew that was already expert at cel paint, and he complemented that already-existing crew with workstations and digital paint for those that could make the jump to the new method. If you don't know who Miyazaki is you should.

Another serious misconception about technolgy still abounds based on the old Hanna Barbera assembly line method of producing TV series. Many studios or producers feel that scripts should be written by writers and handed to Directors in yet another assembly-line fashion in an effort to control costs and schedules. I myself have a project optioned for development into a feature film, but the first sticking point was the studios' assumption that they would hand the outline over to a "real" writer . Miyazaki himself reminds us that he never had a script for any of his movies and when I mention that to some people they ignorantly insist that it is a technical and factual impossibility to produce a film without a script. Miyazaki only has screencredit as a writer for film copyright reasons and not because there actually was a script.
Yes , it IS technically possible to make a film without a "script" ( but not without a plan ! )..... the industry environment has to evolve to know when it CAN be done and when it can't. No focus group will solve that dilemma ; it takes good judgement and a passion for the craft. Fred Silverman overruled the focus groups that rejected All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore. Bill Wattersons cartoon Calvin and Hobbes was rejected by a focus group that didnt understand it . Miyazaki conceives his own stories and works his own methods. It's an agelong question that confounds humanity as I now remember the story of Polyclitus that I read in the book "The Creators" ( Random House ) . 2500 years ago in Greece a reknowned sculptor was commissioned by a group of patrons to create a statue for public display . Polyclitus took it upon himself to prove a point to those that tried to influence his work :

"Polyclitus made two statues at the same time , one which would be pleasing to the crowd and the other according to the principles of his art . In accordance with the opinion of each person who came into his workshop , he altered something and changed its form , submitting to the advice of each . Then he put both statues on display . The one was marvelled at by everyone , and the other was laughed at . Thereupon Polycitus said , " But the one which you found fault with you made yourselves ; while the one which you marvel at , I made . "

If your animation studio is reeling in this economy while others are experiencing fabulous success, it may be time to hire !
If the golden goose is fed it will reward you.

Just don't let the rumour mill affect your judgement

Dermot

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CavePainter
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Excellent article.

Too damn bad that this (and all other statements that also offer genuine managerial wisdom) will be completely overlooked as irrelevant by the very animation studios that need it the most. Telling someone they're ignoring good advice is, in itself, good advice.... which is also ignored.

It seriously blows me away how many studios- both large and small- make really boneheaded moves in this business..... in spite of the advice and protestations of nearly everyone working there. It happens again and again and again. It really is appalling.

When you really get down to it, at the core heart of the problem at every studio is always somebody in a critically important position who doesn't know what the hell they are doing. What they do have, however, is peerless self confidence backed up by an unhealthy dose of power. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!!!!

Some artists have the ability to just brush all this off and work on something critically flawed.... spending their Friday evenings fixing problems that easily could have been avoided in the first place. Ignorance is bliss I guess. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I'm just not capable of sitting down, burying my head in my job, and doing something terribly wrong- making the very same mistakes over and over and over and over.

After 15 years in animation, having to fight tooth and nail to make improvements within the system at nearly every place I've worked, Im coming to the conclusion that maybe I'm just not cut out for this animation business.

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tstevens
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I have worked for a small studio my entire career but I can relate, atleast peripherally, to some of the issues as well as contesting others.

The divide between the producers and the creators is one that has existed from the beginnings of commissioned art. What I do now is that both sides seem to think they are right when in fact they should be working as a team.

If the animation industry could take a cue from the auto industry it would be this. In the Japanese method of manufacturing anyone on the production line can shut the system down to fix a problem. In addition, all employees are open to make suggestions. The system worked so well that American manufacturers picked up on it.

I would love to see a system in the large studios where the average guy could point out problems in the pipeline.

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Metsys
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I wonder if along with an AN mission statement we should collectively write something like a guidebook or creed that outlines how a studio should be run: basic principles of dos and don'ts with examples of studio projects where they did it right.

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CavePainter
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Novel concept-

See the problem.
Tell someone about it.
Identify the cause of the problem.
Figure out the solution together.
Fix the problem.

And as a result,

Artists make better art,
Studio makes more money.

That couldn't possibly work.

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Charles
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From the topic Snakebite started about appropriate quotes for AN in 2010, I mentioned...

Alphonse Karr is best noted for the often used quote, "The more things change, the more they are the same."

AN has been around for almost 11 years now, and 11 years from now, it'll be the same thing. We'll still be talking about caring for the golden goose, we'll still be reading and dealing with the frustrations of poorly managed studios and productions, there'll still be industry blogs where artists will be complaining about the same thing they were complaining about 11 years ago.

To me, there's only one path to salvation, and that is independence. Unless you're fortunate enough to work for an absolutely ideal company, or you couldn't care less about poorly managed productions and are able to emotionally disassociate yourself with the situation, the disapointments of working in animation will catch up with you sooner or later.

Common sense solutions such as artists being in control aren't always common, and even when they are, as Dermot pointed out in his article, it's no guarantee that things will go smoothly.

My contribution to the betterment of things has been to educate the next generation to the realities of working in the animation industry. If you're mentally prepared for it, then you'll be able to handle things better and it won't be a as much of a culture shock when one encounters the monkey.

Do your best, work for the best, and if it isn't for you, keep creating. Stay creatively productive on some sort of independent level and maintain a good attitude. That'll keep you going and get you further with the golden goose, even when she lays an egg that's not quite golden, and that's no yolk.

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dermot
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Thanks Charles....I went back and reread your original articles on the pseudo producers and you were absolutely right.

I haven't worked since August 2009....although I've walked away from 3 "bad situations" I did 2 weeks of design on a project about 18 months ago just to nudge it past greenlight and the entire thing went overseas......that's the last time I will do that....it felt like I sold out an entire city for 2 weeks pay.
Sometimes I think you have to just wait out the crap and stop covering for people.

I just got an email from a company that they feel $250 / week is a reasonable rate for a board artist and they are "shocked" that I would burn my bridge to them by walking away from that opportunity.

I don't like the notions of unions....but any artist has the right to refuse ridiculous exploitation or to stop covering for other peoples mistakes. The more you to do help inept people the more power they will get over you.....so pardon my attitude but if you want to be a director then DIRECT ! It's pretty pathetic when a Director is complicit in such behaviour.

Jim Collins repeats in his book that Managers or Leaders who are afraid to hire employees that are more intelligent and capable than themselves are the mark of a poorly organized company.

Worse yet is a crappy company that actually believes their own hype .

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dermot
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quote:
Novel concept-

See the problem.
Tell someone about it.
Identify the cause of the problem.
Figure out the solution together.
Fix the problem.

hehehe Cave Painter....you left out a couple of stages ; it should read

see the problem
Identify the cause of the problem
cause of problem loses face and fires your ass
new problem....find work now that previous job has tarnished your rep as an artist with attitude!

Read Miyazakis book Starting Point......he had some huge battles along the way and still does apparently....what a miracle the production of those Ghibli gems really is.

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CavePainter
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Yeah thats about it. What's the phrase? Don't shoot the messenger?

I find it really remarkable when something comes together so beautifully.... after all the politics and financial battles, creative conflict and egos, etc. Its really amazing that every once in a while some film or show manages to survive all that backbiting and infighting and emerges as a masterpiece. Pretty impressive on a level beyond the actual film itself. On those films, people outside of the industry are in awe of the product and people in the industry are in awe of the process.

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Mister Niacin
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Maybe all the top notch talent and the ones that care should do what John Galt did and abandon the animation industry altogether. Wait for the incompetent and the parasites to starve and cannibalize themselves, then reemerge and start all over again.

Just a thought.

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dermot
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I don't think sitting out would help...anymore than sitting out your right to vote or get involved in politics.

What I am still rather frustrated about is the habitual abdication of responsibility some folks have once in power......spending as much time keeping their seat as actually creating ; yes I am talking about some artists...directors......producers...all are guilty. It's certainly no easy job to gradually get better....but if one sets that as a company mantra then progress may be possible.Like Jim said..."Everyone would like to be the best, but most organizations lack the discipline to figure out with egoless clarity what they can be the best at and the will to do whatever it takes to turn the potential into reality." ....figuring out what it takes....and IMPLEMENTING IT.

I'd much rather be called on the carpet to go over creative or personal differences than to be left to drift.

Miscommunications and misunderstandings ought to be looked into not swept under a carpet ; for example I was very recently emailing to the supervising producer of a rather large company and she remonstrated me for quitting their studio a couple of years back....the strange thing is I had never quit....her junior producer had told me the budget for the film was used up and there was no more work ; Korea would have to make do without. I simply moved on as I normally do and found other work but the first supervisor presumed I had quit.

I should have suggested that any time an artist leaves a studio there ought to be an exit interview...but then agin....it never occurred to her either.

When I tried to explain that fact to her in my most recnt email she said she found the whole thing "very upsetting" and wished I would drop it.

typical

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dermot
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quote:
I wonder if along with an AN mission statement we should collectively write something like a guidebook or creed that outlines how a studio should be run: basic principles of dos and don'ts with examples of studio projects where they did it right.

I'd not be specific....but there are a number of things that COULD be adopted as "fair play" guidelines

http://www.no-spec.com/ has a few for starving freelancers

Another good idea is when "the boss" hands you something Friday afternoon and says they expect it done Monday morning ( and there is no pay for overtime ) it's a good idea to cart the work along...but then go down the list of excuses .When Monday comes along you either "had this thing you couldnt get out of" or the emergency disappears anyway.

Another studio I visited liked to call for volunteers to do development work on their own time as a way to break in or move up ( yes...while I....the only paid freelancer was standing there like a dope )
Sadly....it was doubly wasteful since all that volunteer work was remarkably low-quality....and I'm sure they hurt those volunteers by working them and then not using anything they did.

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Greg B
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Right on Mister Niacin!

I'm reminded of a friend of mine in comics. He would wander around the office wasting his time teaching other artists who had no friggin' clue. He figured they would get large and return the favor.

He was wrong of course. Somehow he missed out on human history. No good deed goes unpunished.

When it comes to art, my best advice is NEVER do it 'for' money. That's the biggest mistake you can make. Do it 'for' fun. Your own enjoyment and that of people you love and admire ONLY.

Now, if you're worth your salt as an artist, people will come 'to' you. That alone puts you on the top of the heap. When they 'need' you, take a look at what they want and does it support your fun of doing your work for fun.

If so, then make them work for your talent. You don't 'need' them. You don't 'want' them. You're doing fine at the top of the heap enjoying your work, studying, pleasing those people you love and admire. Believe me, it NEVER gets better than that. NEVER!

So look at yourself and realize if you're working 'for' someone, 'you' aren't in control.

Now if you have someone or a company come 'to' you, again, make them work for it. Set your prices and terms and deliver what you promise.

I know some painters that would NEVER work for a company to produce their art for. However, these artists chose occupations such as truck drivers, nurses, professors, teachers, chefs, yet each of them will do one or two paintings a year commissioned and walk away with $100k easy. Why? Because people beat a path to their doors. They don't 'seek' work, they pull it in by quality and integrity alone. Just by word of mouth, no websites, just one guy says to another. Most of their paintings they give away free to friends and family and they're all happy!

You want the corporate headache, then get a lawyer before you step through the door.

You want a happy life as an artist, then please yourself and the whole world will be a better place.

Several artists who worked for major companies passed away over the years. It's sad to see their families struggling because the bulk of their works belong to the big companies and these guys never had the time to do their own work and build up their own legend and legacy.

Do for you.

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http://www.boonestoons.com
http://www.spacefool.com

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