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Posted by Jon McClenahan on June 01, 1999 at 16:32:49:

In Reply to: Re: Animation budgets posted by Dave on May 31, 1999 at 21:29:21:

Maybe a few more clarifications. I sense we're all getting weary.

The Bugzburg work happened probably in 1989. I had just started my "studio" in Chicago the previous October, which consisted of me, my wife (working for free) and an occasional assistant hired on typical Chicago terms: I'll call ya when I need ya. Somebody I knew told me Filmation had work. I called them up, and talked to the line producer (can't for the life of me remember his name). He sends me a section, maybe 120 feet, and I sent it back when I was finished. They liked it and sent me some more. About midway through that second batch, I get a call from the line producer. He asks me if I'm a member of the Local 809. I said that's for Los Angeles County, so why would I be in the local 809 here in Chicago. He says I have to join. I said, well, what should I do in the mean time? He says finish the work. Later that week I receive a copy of the union contract and some papers to sign, and a request for $900 in union dues. I sent the work back finished, but no signatures. He called me, said the work looked fine, but he was the union steward, and if I didn't sign those papers he was gonna get in big trouble. I sympathized as much as I could, but told him I wasn't going to join, and asked him what that meant. He said it meant I couldn't get any more work. The next day, however, he called to say some French perfume company had bought filmation anyway, and they were stopping production on the series, and I should send everything back. I did, and they paid me for what I had done. No complaints.

In fact, I have no complaints at all about that situation. I understand that unions try to protect their members.

The article I was talking about is right here on this website - - called, "Empowering the Union." Interesting reading, written by Charles Zembillas. I thought that maybe was the Charles with whom I have been trading messages. Apparently not.

During times when there's lots of work (e.g. the last two years), an average StarToons animator probably makes somewhere in the wide range of $30,000 to $75,000. It depends on how many widgets he can turn out. And frankly, there's very little correlation between levels of quality and levels of quantity. You would think the slower guys are turning out more carefully thought-out animation, but that ain't the case. More often than not, the fast ones know what they're doing, and confidence + skill = good money.

If people are being FORCED to work longer days, that's a management problem. I should think the union would protect against that. We actually refuse to authorize more than 40 hours a week, except in extreme situations (which affects about 4 or 5 employees once or twice a year). We feel confident that people can make a comfortable living working 40 hours a week, and if they want to make more, they can work at home (on their own time) because they getting paid for those widgets that they bring in on Monday. And for the record, our benefits are as follows: no sick pay, no holiday pay, but for every 500 hours worked you accumulate on the job (figure 12-13 weeks) you will be paid a full week's salary as a bonus. That encourages people to put in hours, rather than take time off. If they want to take holidays off, or they're sick, they're getting a week's pay every 3 months that should cover it. Chronically sick people don't do very well on this system. Oh, and also, they have medical benefits, but honestly I can't tell you how good they are, because I don't pay attention to that. If you need to know, send me an e-mail and I'll have my suit give you an answer. I believe it is a good deal and compares favorably to most medical plans, but I'm not sure how that compares to Local 809's deal.

It IS hard to find directors who are sensitive to an employee's need to make money. The power he has can be a terrible thing when it slows down an animator. I know EXACTLY what you mean. For myself, I always want to be sure it WORKS, but I don't noodle the animator to death. I figure if it reaches the screen and looks awful compared to everybody else's, that's a better way of teaching him than making him do it over to MY specifications. As I said before, I NEED aniamtors who can think for themselves. When you see crap on screen and everybody knows YOU did it, you vow to never let it happen again, if you have any pride. Sometimes they don't know how to make it better. Occasionally we run classes after hours - they attend on their own time, and we provide the pizza. We go over the cartoons with the animators when they're finished. "See that? That was brilliant!" or "The person that did that needs to see why that didn't work, and here's how we fix it." Etc etc

Money IS just about everything, in any business. Features have huge budgets, and only PART of that money goes to the artists, as Mitchell was discussing. They look at it this way: it will take 50 artists 3 years to complete this film, so they budget 150 yearly salaries and throw it in with the other costs. Then they find they're behind schedule, which puts them over budget, so the underwriter shells out a few million more. TV animation has to be a little tighter than that. But I think it can be just as much fun, or even more. Most of our work has been on WB shows, like Animaniacs and Histeria. You should be able to recognize that those shows, along with most Disney cartoons, are a cut above the others, in terms of animation quality (though not necessarily in popularity or even overall entertainment value). But those have run out, and we moved on to another show (MUST remain nameless) which had a much lower budget. We cut our animation footage rates by more than half. The animators were aghast, until I showed them how to do this stuff. It was much more limited. The animators ended up making more money than they had on Animaniacs, because they were able to do THAT much more footage. It's been like an epiphany for them. And actually, it teaches them the value of a good pose, which in the long run will improve their full animation when they do it.

I agree that animation marketing has been done poorly (maybe excepting Disney).

A business manager views his workers (animators) as a resource, much as he would view a pile of raw steel beams in a factory. You need them to get the work done, or the product made. But employees are a little more complicated than steel beams. They are more productive (=profitable) when they are happy. So any business that disregards employee happiness is dooming itself to failure. But my observation with artists is, we are the hardest people in the world to keep happy. We think everyone takes us for granted. We hate the writers, because they get paid more and have nice offices while we work in cubicles. We hate the suits, because all they care about is money. We hate the clients because they have no idea what it took to get their precious cartoon made. And we even hate other artists, for whatever reason. We are NOT an easy bunch to keep happy.

But it seems like the guys on Termite Terrace were happier than we are. It was exciting back then. Discoveries were being made. Money wasn't everything.

If we can come to grips with all of this, everyone will be better off.

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