ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.2 - MAY 1999
Will Supply Exceed the Demand?
compiled by Heather Kenyon
The recent success of animation and surrounding media hype has caused a large number of new animation education programs to be created. Universities have started aggressive animation programs, plus numerous training workshops and animation only schools have popped up as well. Will all of these students be able to find jobs? Recently, many experienced animation industry professionals have been out of work...what will happen to these newcomers? Are we experiencing a type of Grapes of Wrath situation where numerous jobs and opportunities are promised, but once the hopefuls arrive they will find hundreds of equally qualified folks all vying for a very small number of jobs? We asked a selection of recruiters and educators for their thoughts...
Animator and President of the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Union Local 839
"The Industry is suffering from what they call on Wall St. a `correction.' It is not aimed solely at animation but is symptomatic of the greater malaise over budgets that Hollywood is going through at present. There was a lot of unemployment this winter, despite much talk of upcoming projects.
"However, when I first got into animation in 1975 times were hard. In 1983 times were hard. Canadians currently enjoying large volumes of work can recall the mid-1980s as a hard period. The problem is we have enjoyed ten fat years and many have forgotten or never experienced what it was like in leaner periods. I predicted in 1989 that the boom may last about a decade, then a shakeout would occur. This is now happening.
"True, many schools are pumping large numbers of students into the job market and some may have unrealistic expectations of success. But my experience is that those who love animation and want to do it badly enough won't take no for an answer. The ones who really want to become animators will become animators.
"It would be more unwise to plan based upon a temporary Hollywood trend that may reverse itself in a few months. This way animation won't wind up with the problem suffered in the 1960s when a gap opened in-between the ranks of baby boomers and Golden Age artists. This is why it's hard to find an animator who is 55-65 years old today. If you were in school in 1960 or 1970 you were discouraged from taking up animation because it was believed to be dying. We almost lost a lot of Golden Age experience and technique if studios hadn't set up training programs in the mid 1970s while the artists of Pinocchio and Bambi were still active.
"The animation job market has become so diverse -- features, television, visual effects, cable, CD-Roms, the Internet -- that all sectors can't crash simultaneously. We must simply hold on and work toward a better day."
Animation Instructor, Central County Regional Occupational Program
"The cream will always rise to the top of the field. There are some students that you know are going to go all the way. Add to that the few students that will not give up on the field no matter what and maybe 15% or 20% will work in animation.
"Say 10% to 12% in entertainment animation and the rest in other forms of animation. Throw in another 10% or so who will work in related fields and we are doing all right with maybe a third of the students somewhere near where that wanted to go. Not too bad.
"That is better odds than actors and drama school students face every day. It's natural selection, not Henry Fonda whispering in the dark."
Recruiter, Creative Assets Digital Talent Source
"One of the hardest jobs to do is to predict an industry's trends or which direction a technology will flow.
"With Visual Effects, one has to look at previous trends. What I see is that the fx industry is seasonal: spring -- productions are just starting; summer -- every studio is in the middle of or wrapping up a production; fall -- blockbuster fx films are released and the industry starts to simmer down; and winter -- almost every studio is barely surviving. This year what I see is that no studio wants to put a blockbuster two months before or after Star Wars. That means fewer fx films, fewer jobs, many layoffs or studio closings.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Many studios are working on their own content or studio shared content. That means that the fx studios will release their own film(s), and will be in a great financial position to continue developing their own content without relying on major studio funding. It also means that it opens the doors for smaller fx houses to flourish in film fx or commercial fx (which is a whole other story).
"In all, the fx industry has been in an 'anticipation' state for years. However, the educational facilities think -- by my example, it is summer all year long. As we have seen, the supply grossly outweighs the demand and there is little chance for the zillions of would be animation green necks to compete in today's market with all of the laid off production and technically savvy veterans. Come this time next year everyone will be working and we'll all be drinking CG."
Director of Talent Recruitement, Film Roman Inc.
"While there should be legitimate concerns regarding how many jobs will ultimately be available for students coming out of school, I believe that a truly talented artist will always find work. It is those who have only limited skills who may find the waters a little rough. This is true if we are speaking only of securing a position with the major studios (Nickelodeon, Disney, Film Roman, etc.). In terms of the future, I believe the Internet will offer a lot of up and coming artists the ability to make a living creating art and animation. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon. The Internet will allow artists to not only be director, producer, designer, etc. but also the broadcaster. It becomes the responsibility of the educators to prepare these students for the new technology while continuing to stress the fundamentals of drawing and design."
Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival and the International Student Animation Festival of Ottawa (SAFO)
"I have no access to hiring or firing figures, so I have no idea if students are getting jobs or not. I do know that there are more schools and that there are more films being made by students than ever before. And, of course, we wouldn't have started a student animation festival if we didn't think there were opportunities for young animators.
"However, the more important question for me is not how many jobs there are, but rather the current state of animation education. This to me is a far more important, telling, and ultimately, disconcerting issue especially in an era when virtually anyone with two bits and a cell (brain that is) can become an 'animator.' There was a time when being an animator usually meant being an artist, and being a student meant getting an education. Whether you formally or informally studied animation, you learned the basics of drawing and personal expression. This is no longer the case. Today, schools (not all, mind you) have thrown this to the wind in favor of volume and clearance levels (i.e. the percentage of students who get jobs) and by altering their courses to meet the needs of studios. It is now more important that a school find students a job, not an identity, personality, or unique thought process.
"People think of a job as an identity, but a job at GM or an animation studio is becoming the same thing. You put a part on a car. You put a part on a cartoon. Now this trend is by no means limited to animation. Education in general on this continent is descending on the millenium like a dilapidated tail-chasing dog. The debate over the role of education (to create a worker or intellectual) has been going on awhile now and there are no absolutes. I realize that we all need to survive, but at what cost? Is the retarding of personal identity and expression worth `the glimmering currency of the American moment?' Apparently."
Heather Kenyon is editor in chief of Animation World Magazine.
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