After working in TV Animation for over 20 years, I have adjusted to the hiatus and the layoff. You say goodbye to your family of friends on each crew and make new friends on the next. Every crew is different... Some shows where comic book geeks prevail, some where comedy is the key story element. You adapt your talents and style to fit the creator's (not to be confused with God)concept and storyline. You make it work and take it a step further to make it beautiful to look at. You learn to anticipate each director's preferences and detect mistakes before they're made.
This is your career and you care A LOT about the final product.
While working with many talented artists and writers, you develop a mutual respect and support one another. Even if you don't get along with someone, you root for their success, because it is a group effort. Everyone counts and you are only as strong as your weakest link. If someone is behind, it effects everyone, especially the people at the end of the line. If the budget is too small, everyone is pressured to work extra hours for free and take a cut in pay. The producers put pressure on you to do the impossible and make unrealistic deadlines. Some people work every day to make those deadlines which only shows the producers that it can be done. Then they make the deadlines even tighter and pay even less. It's a vicious cycle.
However, instead of bitching about the business of entertainment, I want to focus on the things that I love... The stories, the gags, the characters, the paintings, and the crews are all what keep me coming back for more. Artists like to tell stories on TV and we can only do it with the help of a large crew. So here goes: A few of my favorite things.....
At Klasky Csupo during the early days of The Simpsons, I had some of the best experiences of my career. There were the late night Twister games in our layout room. Nancy Kruse would bring her flute in. Eric Stefani and Eric Keyes were the young studs in the studio... Still in college. All of the women in the studio had a crush on them. We had the funniest animators (in my opinion) who kept all of us entertained.... Ken Bruce, Brad Bird, and Rich Moore... All liberal with the intercom. Wes Archer would occasionally do a cartwheel in my doorway. David Silverman taught me an enormous amount about timing in animation. One of my favorite sequences I ever worked on was the seduction scene between Marge and the French bowling instructor that David pretty much animated entirely.... I cleaned up the BGs, and color keyed the sequence.
Itchy and Scratchy was a fun new cartoon within a cartoon that Brad Bird was passionate (well, Brad was always passionate) about and he and I worked together on finalizing the BGs and color. I loved working with Brad because he was so enthusiastic and fun. There was Gabor inviting us into his office for late night pizza or drinks. He had a recording booth on the second floor and was often recording electronic music. There was an Oxberry camera somehow on the 3rd floor of the Highland building (we were afraid it might fall through the floor and crush someone). We could use the camera.... often. I cannot imagine any studio allowing you to shoot your own scenes now! There was the video room with a homemade box above that had about 20 wires connected to different boxes. None were labeled. Eventually you knew which wires connected the video feed to the monitor and various other equipment. It reminded me of Lily Tomlin's operator character. There were the various celebrities visiting to develop new cartoons with Gabor. I was lucky to work on most development during the four years I was there. The Russians, Hungarians, and various Eastern Block countries were represented. I learned a few Russian curse words while sitting in the same room with 3 Russians. I worked with one of my favorite comediennes, Lily Tomlin, on her project. She was always complimentary (especially of my eyebrows), and had a large entourage with her whenever she came in. I especially remember how sweet Jane Wagner was and what an amazing team those two are.
(this yellow is waaayyyy off BTW)
After Klasky Csupo, I moved onto Rocko's Modern Life at Games Animation...Now Nickelodeon. The intercom was open to everyone, so we had daily entertainment and sound FX thanks to Tom Yasumi. John McIntyre had a talk show at his desk. Anyone could stop by and sit in the guest chair for an interview. Nick Jennings was one of the best bosses you could have, and funny. It was the first time I worked with Conrad Vernon who was one of the funniest guys I had EVER met.
When I worked at Disney TV, I got to work with Conrad again and watch his hilarious pitches, one of which he did in a 70s tuxedo. Mike Bell, Paul Tibbitt and Mike Mitchell were also hilarious and I never laughed so much as on Nightmare Ned. It definitely was the funniest crew I have ever worked with. Conrad did some great drawings one of which I taped to the wall and tried to paint on the wall.... while covering it with Conrad's drawing. It never was completely finished, so I painted my shelf instead. Someone at Disney TV still has my old shelf. Nightmare Ned was also the first time I was allowed to go crazy with design and color. Donovan Cook kept the execs at bay and we got away with a lot of great humor and creativity.
There have been thousands of incredible and fun experiences that have made these years great. One rude producer, or one crooked executive hasn't ruined it for me. But, they sure do make it difficult. Working with ethical producers makes all the difference in the experience. When you spend the majority of your life with a crew, you need to enjoy your job. I know there will be more of those good experiences in my future....
Every morning driving to work, I would pass this billboard in Hollywood. Without the type across the images and reading Left to Right are: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, And Diane Keaton.
The names are listed in that order across the top.
My training in advertising taught me to design using color, images, and composition to attract the viewer. And to attract the audience you are going for. Most people don't notice the specific color choices and images used when advertising a show or a candy bar.
But, this billboard is very clear:
The first image you see is Harrison Ford front and center. Handsome, familiar, box office superstar, safe, attracts the male viewer, and creates curiosity about the content of the film. To the left is the young, beautiful female, wearing a short skirt and showing some thigh, with a naive expression with big, beautiful eyes and eyelashes, that will beckon the young male viewer (maybe a good date film). She leans in towards Harrison Ford, his expression showing there is a connection between the two (older man, younger woman). Over on the right, slightly turned away from the other two, is the older, intelligent and stubborn (as displayed with her arms crossed) female. She has a big smile to remind us that she can be fun too.
As always in entertainment, females and age cannot compete with a man of any age. Harrison Ford needs two females surrounding him in order for the movie executives to feel comfortable knowing their demographic is being reached. Even though women will most probably be the main audience for this film, they are second and third fiddle to the male.
I try to stay positive as I age gracefully in the entertainment industry. Sometimes fooling myself by thinking, "Well, I'm not an actress, so I don't have to be young and beautiful." I dress like the people around me at work to make sure I fit in. In animation, that means wearing jeans every day. I try not to look too feminine by wearing dresses or skirts (the guys I work with would not recognize me). When we banter at the water cooler, I joke around with the guys and get used to their sense of humor (it is different at every studio, and usually pretty vulgar). There are very few women in an animation studio, and the women who work there have to follow the men's cues.
Usually, the females are in production with a smattering of female artists sprinkled in the cubicles. Most directors, assistant directors, and story artists are male. I have worked with many female producers, some of whom I respect, and some I do not. The female co workers I do not respect are the women who put other women down, gossip about each other, and are harder on women than the men in the work place. Sometimes these women, usually in a position of power, use other women in the work place as scapegoats for mistakes they have made. So they look good to their male superiors.
I have recently experienced some of this displaced sexism. Not by male colleagues, but by females trying desperately to act male. It reminds me of the billboard above. My place is the 3rd position, on the right. I am the older female on the crew. Experienced and I refuse to be treated badly. I am underpaid and I keep up with the younger females and single males, and do beautiful work.
I am a Mom.
With 5 kids.
And that is where I become a statistic. Underpaid, not respected, and the first to go on a crew with mostly men who work weekends. The younger women, even cranky ones, do not get layed off very often.
I refuse to work overtime for free like the others. But, that is my downfall. Although I am talented, fast, and extremely reliable, I will not work for free. I have learned in this business that there is no loyalty and everyone is layed off at some point. All TV shows must come to an end.
Don't get me wrong, I love my male co workers. They are sweet and fun and always complimentary of my work. Unfortunately, I am, as they are, a statistic.
I hate statistics!
They mess with my denial and happiness.
I want to believe that none of this exists. I tire of whiners and negative people complaining about animation. Too many critics out there.
Although, I have no idea what comes next, I will try desperately to stay positive about my career in this industry. I love what I do. And I love the people I work with.
But, let's make this business family and human friendly!
I remember when my ex and I watched George Bush win the Presidential election. After turning off the TV, he said that he was scared... REALLY scared! He explained that Bush could do some serious damage to our country. Damage that we may not be able to recover from.
Remember the 80s? So carefree and fun. Before cell phones and texting, CDs and iPods. Before the internet.... I was in college, so maybe my view of the 80s is slightly skewed.
My art colleagues and I worked hard. Paid our dues, working 2 jobs at a time. Learning as much as we possibly could about graphic design, painting, and animation. We were treated badly, but we enjoyed the work and the chaotic studio environments. There was a steady paycheck! Art openings were celebrations of our burgeoning talent and we cheered each other on.
At the animation studios, we played tricks on each other, had margarita lunches, and went skydiving on the weekends.
It was easy to save money.... No house, kids, marriage. Just a clunky Chevy Corvair that broke down every few hundred miles. A cheap house rented with a friend in East LA.
Although we played hard, we took our work very seriously, quickly moving up in the animation business and gaining attention in the editorial world. Producers and small studio owners noticed our talent right away and paired us up with teams of animators that you could learn from, and vice versa. It was intense work. Hands and fingers were always sore from drawing. Constant changes and revisions from directors. Re draw, re draw, re draw.... Every day. Then paint large at night for the next art show.
Slowly we moved up to supervisor positions. Art Director, Assistant Director.... Then more stress, more work, more responsibility. More notoriety, more stress.
I guess we were growing up.
Marriage, kids, and a beautiful home. A nice salary to pay for trips back East. We could SAVE for the first time in our lives. Start IRAs, investments, and buy life insurance. We were beginning to look like real, live, functioning adults while balancing work and family.
Then the economy... No jobs!
Cut back, cut back, cut back.
Lose the house.
Cut back, cut back.....
Scramble for work....
Finally a job.
Back to square one. Back to low pay, back to being treated like an 20 year old.
The experience of my co workers is astounding. But, we are widget makers. Widget makers that do beautiful work.
We have lost 20 years of investing in our future. Forever. We are aware of EVERYTHING we have lost ... OUCH!
I am grateful for my work and my healthy children.
My husband and I work very hard to support our family and we are lucky to have jobs. Some are not as fortunate as we are.
But, where are we going now?
Do we storm the banks and get our money back?
Do we storm people's homes who profited on our losses?
Or live in a hut in Tahiti and make cool touristy magnets? (that sounds pretty good)
When I was young I never thought that I would have so much success in my career.
At my age now, I can't believe that I've lost what I worked so hard for.
I know this is a familiar tale. And there are far worse stories than mine, but it is awful nevertheless.
I have some hope left that things will turn around for us materialistic Americans.
Maybe we needed to find out what life is really like.
The banks and the President talk about getting our economy on track by getting consumers back out spending money. Isn't that the problem? Consuming? Do we really need one more cup holder in our 15 cup holder SUV that sits in traffic in a snow-less Los Angeles? Or a 4,000 square foot home for a couple who never wants to have a family? How many TVs do we need in one house? How many iPods does each child really need? It's as if a materialistic fairy put a spell on all of us and made us believe that we need THINGS...
More things to take us away from looking into our spouses eyes, or playing hide and seek with our kids. We can watch TV shows about fictional families playing with one another and live vicariously through them. They even have sex so we don't have to!
I hope we can find ways to earn money without making more useless crap. That will be the next great invention.... a new concept we Americans have never thought of.... I cannot imagine what that would look like.