I had the opportunity to speak to a group of young students last week and my friend and colleague, Leo asked the students an important question. Do you want to be in the animation business because you like it - or because you love it?
The cartoon business is cool but it’s not all fun and games. If you’re an animation professional you can expect some good times - and some bad. It’s a roller coaster ride that can often be exhilarating and terrifying. Yet, it remains a cool business if you’re willing to accept those terms. It’s also a business that is continually changing, so you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches and remain flexible and adaptable. All this is necessary for survival.
Back in the fifties, animation went through an upheaval when the major studios abandoned their cartoon shorts departments and the Walt Disney Studio’s accountants were dismayed at “Sleeping Beauty’s” poor box office numbers. Animation artists abandoned the business in droves because, “the end was near.” Actually, animation was simply going through another transition. The new medium of television would soon require hundreds of fresh cartoon talent and new studios began a cartoon boom that would last for decades.
After a series of lackluster features in the eighties, Disney was on the brink of abandoning their cartoon division. However, Steven Speilberg’s “American Tale” and Disney’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” injected new life into animation and it wasn’t long before we had “The Little Mermaid” and a new Golden Age of Animation. It would appear that Disney could do no wrong but after a series of hits, Disney lost its mojo and began to slump badly. A new Northern California studio called, Pixar began to redefine animation and new energy was pumped into feature film making. Plus, Pixar’s impressive use of new technology pushed the medium into the digital age and eager young animation students realized they needed to learn these new tools.
Disney’s “Frozen” opened to impressive numbers recently, and a visit to the company’s animation facility is simply another sign that cartoon making continues to transition. There are very few “old faces” and the young artists now developing new animated projects are the age of my grandchildren. Of course, on the outside are legions of eager young students hoping that one day they’ll get their shot. Most dream of a career at Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony, Blue Sky or a host of other animation production houses.
However, the question remains. Are you in this business for the right reasons? Do you truly love animation or do you simply want to get rich? Unless you’re one of the rare, exceptional few, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll never get rich in the cartoon business. Heck, I’m living proof of that. However, if you’re eager for a career filled with challenges and struggle. If you want to work with amazing people and do amazing things. If you want a job that puts joy in your heart instead of money in your account, then you’ve come to the right place.
Not long ago, My wife and I stood outside the home of a successful Disney animator and we looked out over the San Fernando Valley. It was nighttime and the lights twinkled like Disney pixie dust in the blackness of evening. “Did you ever dream you would have all this,” we asked. “No, I just wanted to work for Disney.” he replied. “I just wanted to be an artist.”
Keep that in mind, kids.