Mary had a little lamb

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Posted by Charles on February 16, 2000 at 17:02:19:

One of the things about animation artists that has always baffled me is why they insist on being sheep. I'm really fed up with trying to change attitudes, so for those of you that want to follow the shepherds of despair, be my guest.

What I would like to do from here on out is provide some examples of progress that very few of you are aware of. Much of this is extremely confidential information, so I will keep it as ambiguous as possible while still getting the point across. Maybe it will help strengthen those who are trying to mentally break away from the flock.

In my conversations with artists and in reading some of the messages that are posted here, I'm of the opinion that the last people who really know what's happening in this business are those artists at major studios who've been working in a production capacity in relatively secure positions and are immersed in their work. I was astonished when I spoke to a friend at DreamWorks Features some time ago to find out that they had no idea that layoffs were taking place around the industry. The only thing that Disney artists can tell me is what's happening at Disney. Many of them have little to no knowledge of what's happening outside of that microcosm, except for the connections they maintain with artists at other feature studios.

While the boom was going on and the feature and TV crowd were riding high on the hog, there were artists out in the real world battling in trenches that most of you can't imagine. Some of these guys were blackballed. Not by the executives, because they couldn't care less. But by their fellow animation artist brothers and sisters. They were excluded from the boom not because of any lack in skill. Indeed, many of these people could draw rings around the very artists that were reviewing the work they submitted for possible employment. They were blackballed by the artists themselves because of their perceived "radical" views and their vision, realistic or not, of an animation industry controlled by artists instead of the non-creative suits that the rest of the community had diefied.

These guys were summarily exiled to the far reaches of the animation universe in LA. They were forced to freelance while everyone else was signing contracts and making salaries that far exceeded their actual worth. They had to struggle in ways that many of you are experiencing now, only it was worse for them. They had to take humiliating entry level jobs because their friends, many of whom got their break into the business because of them, didn't want to have anything to do with these non-chic troublemakers.

I guess the animation community really had them figured out, right?

What eventually happened was that the blackballed troublemakers learned lessons that the patricians couldn't imagine. They learned to survive in hard times. They kept the faith in their dream and in the ideal of a better industry. They made lots of connections in the biz. They became entrepreneurial. They developed a comprehensive view of the industry. They learned to identify long term trends. They learned to communicate with business people. Most importantly, they never gave up even though most of their "colleagues" had given up on them.

Today, most of the industry still has no idea that these people even exist. Yet nobody is better poised for the future than they are. One guy, forced into designing for video games because no one else in traditional animation would have him, has signed a deal that is monumental. A new business model for animation artists everywhere, it's described as the biggest contract for an American production designer in the history of the video game industry, and it all happened because this artist held his ground. He refused to compromise his principles. He would have rather worked as a plumber than continue to work on a typical work for hire basis.

Another one of those blackballed warriors closed a deal in which he and a crew he assembled and helped train are going to be doing a significant portion of animation production, as well as pre-production design, for a couple of prime-time pilots that a major cable station is preparing to broadcast and it looks as if one of these concepts will be going to series. The significant aspect of this deal is that the production work he managed to keep was all destined for studios in Asia. He bucked the trend and actually got it to stay in LA instead.

Another guy has gotten so good at dealing with investment bankers that there is an outstanding chance that a slate of theatrical features will be greenlit in the near future. He's already lined up distribution for these projects.

I'm aware of animation students who are getting 50% down payment ahead of starting work on freelance jobs that they would normally get screwed on. Why? Because they told the client that's what it would take and the client gave in.

These artists who were shunned by their brethren will be the new centurions. They're going to be among the industry's future employers. Big money isn't going the way it once was in animation. Everyone is aware of the executive management problem. Productuion capital wants to go to the creative element, not to the useless middle-men that so many of you think are all powerful. Their days are numbered. Their system is crashing down around them. That's why so many studios are having problems right now. Animation wants to come home.

Do you really think that this great, majestic, tremendously successful artform is going to dry up and be wisped way simply because the bumbling phonies can't cover their big lie anymore? It's not up to them. It never was. It's always been in our hands, but this community is so addicted to fear and pettiness that you can't see the path even though it's right in front of your wooly little faces.

I have no doubt that some naysaying defeatist trying to be "realistic" will answer this in the grand fashion that's been typically exhibited on such an important and significant web site as this one. I'll leave my response ahead of time...

Baaa baaa baaa.

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