Re: Brothers in Arms

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Posted by Dave on June 03, 1999 at 02:15:09:

In Reply to: Brothers in Arms posted by Jon McClenahan on June 01, 1999 at 16:32:49:

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

I just finished work at 200 am. Iím wide awake. Thanks for doing this but dont think it is tiring to read. Itís hard to find anyone who wasnít union here during those close down days.

: 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.

When you said the union tried to *strong arm* I expected them to send the IRS to raid your home and look for weed roachs. It sounds like you got paid even though they had made a mistake . Yes, the cosmetics company had made a promise to continue but immediately upon purchase ripped the company apart to sell of the film library as I am told. Just like in Wall Street the movie. The union was definitely peeved.

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

Just as you would try to protect your employees.

: 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.

Iím assuming that is gross or before taxes. So 20,000 to 50,000 take home. Well usually the slower guys are just learning (in most cases) so speed may not be possible. It is just that I have experience with that bonus work and have seen no good from it.

: If people are being FORCED to work longer days, that's a management problem.

I will go with you on that.

: I should think the union would protect against that.

What they do is make sure we get paid half decently for doing it and that it should not be excessive. We can say no. . They understand that some jobs just require extra time.

: 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,

If the world were perfect , handouts were fair and every scene was as easy as the next it could be very nice. As you said, there are directors that may be on a mission to promote their own careers or unsure of what they want and put the innocent at risk financially. I am assuming you keep an eye on that though.

: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.

Nor in any system really. You mentioned in an later post that this wasnít hard animate and it was more or less fun animating. I have to agree that from time to time I get scenes I enjoy but that for the most part the work between those scenes can be hell. Endless hell. Iíve made myself ill over them , taken my frustration out on inanimate objects over them and swallowed large amounts of alcohol to forget them. Iíve watch grown men cry over them. Iíve seen them put people in hospitals trying to finish them. *Fun* is relative to the needs of that film.

On your pay structure, an interesting twist . At first glance it would seem to be a good system . Personally Iím not quite sold on any job that holds back part of my pay (I would consider the extra week to be more than incentive, more like part of my overall pay). Not that I consider this the same (because you pay once a month) I had a job where one producer held back 10 % of our salary till the end of the job (8 months) to keep us from leaving. He was a total prick and we of course never worked for him again.

: 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.

Just out of interest, my initiation fee was totally returned in benefits the first year. The cost in other words was nothing to join the union. .

: It IS hard to find directors who are sensitive to an employee's need to make money.

Praise the Lord, yes.

: 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.

I agree with that.

: 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

That is why Iím not sure about the bonus system. Itís pretty easy to have someone over pressured if they get tough scenes to make up for any production, direction or workload screw up. The animator ends up making up for anything that goes wrong. You and I know that it is not only a great chance that would happen but it WILL happen. Most of the problems Iíve seen in controlling cost has been poor planning or unsure direction. By the time an animatorreally gets his feet he can pretty closely predict after he gets an idea of whats require in a scene.

Learning also doesnít seem to work well with the fastest producer system and it will kill off the people who dont learn at the faster than average pace. People who can afford to take low pay for learning might benefit from it though. I donít know what really happens within your system and how you administrate can affect this dramaticly for the postive so Iím just throwing out thoughts.

: Money IS just about everything, in any business.

I wish. If it were money alone I could produce 400 ft a week and not look back.

: 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.

Well , actually the director and producer have to beg on hands and knees for more. The illusion between bigwigs that features are just several half hours strung together and that they should cost equal to such is pretty scary. I have never been on a production that went over that wasnít directorial changes, managerial indecision or poor preparation. Failure to produce by artist relates directly to the complexity of the boards, unclear direction or pooly laid out set ups and strangely enough I have never seen that artistic type endlessly tweaking that golden scene.

:TV animation has to be a little tighter than that.

(Translation: dead on the budget). The difference being that the requirements of complexity usually are a bit less and more errors are accepted.

: 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).

The visual symbolics are different as well. More emphasis on antics, stretch and squash, headbobs and limited animation. Hence the ability to out produce feature.

: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.

The benefits of your experience are pretty obvious.

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

Iíll say.

: 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.

And the easiest to make unhappy. Hmmm.

:We think everyone takes us for granted.

And they do sometimes. A sense of self worth (or self discpline) is not just an animation problem though. We dont teach people that failure is alright and that is just a step towards success or that people learn differently . Mistakes are a part of learning, not failure . We teach them to fear it.
We also dont teach them that your work doesnít reflect who you are as a person. We teach them that you are a better human being if you are the most successful. I also have to say that the attitude comes directly from management. Sorry but itís true. It is hard to be complimentary to the person you dont consider the god of the studio but if I could tell managers one thing, that would be it. How you treat your nonstars is more important than how you treat your captains. Speaking as a * god * (no I dont buy into that stuff) myself, compliments to my work are given equal value as criticism emotionally. In other words, none. By this time you get half decent the contest is between you and yourself. Other peoples reactions, sad to say arenít what you live for (though it is a kind gesture).

: We hate the writers, because they get paid more and have nice offices while we work in cubicles.

Myself I think we hate (a few of them, not all) because they think they are the most important thing in the studio. They walk around claiming it was their genius that made the show. In other words they give no credit to all the other members of the team . Itís hard to explain to them they are *part* of that team. The best writers Iíve met were open and humble and they are definitely part of the studio. Talent does not always balance with ego.
Oh and screw the office, I miss cubicals. Itís lonely in there. Hey, try and fire of your Nerf gun. Pathetic.

:We hate the suits, because all they care about is money.

Hey, some of them deserve hate, some of them deserve a damn hearty pat on the back. Sandy and Penny are love godessĎs at DW as are most of the production staff there. The stereotypes dont always fit.

: 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.

We also teach people to compare ourselves to others, not to feel good about what we do well. How can you enjoy another persons work if you or they feel less important.

: 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.

That is a good point. Maurice Noble told me he thought they produced their best work when management left them alone. Freedom spurs creativity which creates success. It is easy to accept low pay when you feel creative control. Itís hard when you feel you are a prize hog being ridden by a butcher. Perhaps if you were able to have the old Warners crew to work on Animaniacs they would explain to you the difference they felt. They made the successful films by sacrificing time on the ones they felt were just whip offs.They were free to add wit. To change layouts and gags. Can you do that ? I think not. Freedom equals creativity.

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