Re: Jon and Dave discuss life in the big city.

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Posted by Bruce Woodside on June 07, 1999 at 19:17:10:

In Reply to: Re: Jon and Dave discuss life in the big city. posted by Jonny on June 07, 1999 at 12:50:26:

What began as a discussion of budgets and production costs has become an “us vs.them” battle, with people referring to each other in the diminutive -- which seems strange given that everybody obviously cares about doing quality animation. One guy’s an animator, and the other guy’s an animator/producer. I don’t even think this is a discussion about quality, although there are references constantly being tossed about, usually in the negative when talking about the opposition.

Jon (the animator/producer) wrote:

>Frankly, it became cheaper for the execs to break >an existing contract with the MPSCG, pay them AN
>ENORMOUS penalty, and send the stuff
>overseas. And then they didn't renew the contract. >And as far as I know, there has been virtually
>NOTHING happening in LA - aside from
>pre-production - from 1975 til now. Today's LA
>artists have been deprived of the
>experience of actually making the cartoons.

Depends on your idea of “making the cartoons.” In most large studios (television or feature), everybody participates in “making the cartoons” at some level. Nobody does it all. To assert that nothing like what you’re talking about has gone on in L.A. since 1975 is, frankly, confessing to being grossly misinformed about the animation business in L.A.

As someone who has been in this business since the early 70s, and in L.A. since 1978, I can assure you that the process of putting together cartoons has been going on steadily, here and elsewhere, if not in exactly the same way in all aspects of the animation industry, for virtually all of my career, up to and including the present. Just as one example, (though I hesitate to confess it) as one of the directors for the infamous Filmation on its ill-fated “Bugzburg” series, I actually wrote (in concert with storyboard artists and animators) a couple of episodes, animated some of the cycles and reworked boards and poses while timing the whole show myself. A couple of the other directors were allowed to do this (if they chose to) as well. The shows (as you mentioned in an earlier post) never got produced, so we’ll never know how it might have worked out, but I had arrived at Filmation from an earlier stint on Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse,” where much the same sort of production process was in place. In addition, animators did character posing and timing on the latter series. Inbetweening and ink-and-paint were done overseas, but I can assure you that, for the most part, the cartoons turned out pretty much the way we wanted them to. The same kind of system was in place at Warner Bros. TV, I believe, on the initial season of “Tiny Tunes.” This was mid- to late 80s, considerably past your 1975 deadline.

Granted, animators didn’t get to see their stuff inbetweened and pencil-tested; didn’t get to adjust their animation and refine it; and were largely discouraged from adding gags that extended scenes. But on the whole, the process was an improvement over the earlier, factory systems of H&B and other television producers, if not exactly a return to the halcyon days of Termite Terrace.

I’m not familiar with television production these days, but by the look of at least some of the product, I’d say something like this process must still be in existence in one form or another. Cartoons like “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Power Puff Girls” may be suffering under budget constraints, but they don’t look like cartoons made by people who don’t care.

As for the union’s “runaway clause,” I believe it was thrown out after the union lost the strike in ‘81, by which point runaway production was, as Dave has pointed out, a fait accomplis. The runaway clause was meant, at the time of its inception, to protect the inkers and painters who made up the bulk of union membership, but everyone knew that many other creative functions were equally doomed if we didn’t do something. We just couldn’t fight the economics, given the business conditions at the time. The contract was renewed (as it has been at every re-negotiation), but without the runaway clause in it.

You also wrote:

>They [animators? directors? cartoonists?] have to >throw together some boards and notes and model
>sheets, send it to the other side of the planet,
>and hope the translators get it right. And most of >you, subconsciously if not consciously, RESENT
>that. As well you should. Between you and me, I'd >rather shoot myself than do what you guys have to >do.

You’d rather shoot yourself than work in the animation business? Or isn’t it rather that you have a picture of what the TV production business is like (here in wicked L.A.,), and that picture, for some reason, horrifies you? Animation in L.A. is a lot more than just TV. All over this city, there’s animation being done everyday that has nothing to do with that picture in your head, although some of it’s even done for TV. There’s some being done right outside my door at this very moment, and the animators seem to be enjoying themselves. I know I am. Just down the road apiece, I’ll bet Dave Brewster is sitting there doing some, too, and he may even be enjoying it. You just have to be somewhat talented, lucky and connected enough to know where the jobs are at this peculiar moment in the animation business. The place isn’t exactly overflowing with work. There are definitely some things amiss in Toontown, but believe me, it ain’t worth shooting yourself over.

>Someday, if StarToons doesn't make it, I may have >to do one or the
>other. But I love my craft. And I think a lot of
>you LA guys would love to love it too.
>I doubt if there are many of you - besides
>StarToons alumni - who know how to set up a
>compensating pan, or a diagonal pan, or give
>instructions for use of north-south pegs, or
>know a registration line from a welfare office.
>Not that you couldn't learn that stuff - and
>brilliantly. LA has a wealth of artistic talent - >all going to waste.

All going to waste? Yes, there’s plenty of artistic talent that has been squandered here and elsewhere (I witnessed it on a grand scale during my stint at Warners Feature), but there was also a prodigious amount of it on display in last year’s animation product. And I look forward to seeing even more of it this year. I think there are BIG problems with the way the business is conducted at present, and I am pretty much in agreement with much of the analysis of the situation that has gone on elsewhere on this site. But I try not to let it blind me to the good stuff that’s out there and the talent that is, somehow, despite all the odds against it, finding an outlet.

As for the craft, I had no idea that animation talent per se had anything to do with knowing how to set up a compensating pan. Nice information to have handy, no doubt, but hardly a requirement. Speaking for myself, my love for the craft never extended to a passion for north-south pegs. I know how to use ‘em, but I just . . . y’know, don’t particularly like ‘em.

And finally:

>Definitely hard being the head of my own studio.
>Frankly, I would like nothing better than for the >MPSC to put me out of business.

Yeah, I found it to be a drag, too, that studio head thingee. But I honestly don’t think the union is in the business of putting people out of business. If I thought that was what they were up to, I’d quit. I may be naive, but I actually think the union would like to applaud and encourage the existence of more animation studios -- so long as they go union. The union isn’t looking for DIC or Nickelodeon to go out of business, and frankly, the union’s presence in either of those studios would probably not effect either studio’s profitablity in the least. As for Chicago . . .

The putative goal of the union is to protect the interests of animation workers as a whole and to bring the collective support of their fellow artists to bear in the defense of the individual worker’s rights in the workplace. Producers wield enormous power over employees (especially us sensitive artist types with delicate egos) when the employees feel that they are isolated, that their concerns are theirs alone. The union is supposed to supply that missing sense of connectedness. Whether our union here is currently doing its job on anything more than a rudimentary level is a topic for discussion -- not, I think, a foregone conclusion. However, you, as a producer, are not really equipped to perform that function; producers who try to do this are usually accused of paternalism and end up resenting their workers for what they perceive as “betrayal” by people they have “treated too well.”

I started out resenting the union when I moved to L.A. (and I was forced to pay the initiation fee), but quickly learned to rely on it. I do not believe, as do some others who’ve posted here, that the union represents a part of the core problem with the animation business. That it has even the small participation it currently enjoys in the producers’ budget considerations is, I think, a credit to the organization, not an argument against its existence. I don’t look to the union - any union - moreover, for answers to my personal creative dilemmas. It simply is not a tool suited for the task.

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