The animation artists arrived early at the studio to find fresh brewed coffee and platters of elegant rolls and pastries from an exclusive Beverly Hills bakery. Astonished, the animators wondered if the goodies had been accidentally delivered to the wrong address. Their employers, unfamiliar with the world of animation regarded their animators as “stars.” Stellar talents that should be regarded with the utmost respect. They knew very little about the real world of animation.
Animated cartoon makers have always been the red headed stepchild of the movie business and even though our films earn impressive amounts of money, animation artists are seldom regarded as important. Those of you old enough might even remember when animators were not invited to the premiere of the films they made. If you know your animation history you’ll remember “Termite Terrace.” It was the ratty, rundown facility where Warner Bros cartoons were created. Even when Warner animation moved to a new studio in Burbank they were still relegated to the rear of the studio lot. After all, why should animators be anywhere near the important people who made motion pictures?
Animation filmmakers have seldom gotten respect in the film industry. Remember the old joke about the starlet who was so dumb she slept with the screenwriter? Consider the animator a few rungs lower than that. Sadly, this is a position we’ve all accepted as normal so when things suddenly change it takes us by surprise. I remember being employed by producers who had never worked in animation before. They provided us with well appointed offices and private parking spaces. Assistants and toadies fetched us coffee and snacks, and we lived like stars. The artists would gather in the hallways and privately joke about our employers. Our bosses were totally naive because they had never worked in the animation business before. They didn’t have a clue concerning how producers normally treat cartoonists, and we enjoyed the good times for as long as they lasted.
Animation artists did enjoy their “star treatment” for a brief period back in the nineties. It was the “Animation Boom” and major studios eagerly sought top cartoon talent for their animated motion pictures. Soon, animators were moving into prestigious neighborhoods and driving luxury automobiles. Artists secured agents and a signing bonus became the norm. No longer restricted to the “back of the bus,” top animators could pretty much name their own price. Animated films cleaned up at the box office and it appeared the good times were going to last forever. But, surprise, surprise! Producers found they no longer needed to rely on the talents of “prima donnas” who made characters move with pencil and paper. The CGI revolution totally changed the way animated films were made and now the rest is history.
It would appear things are back to normal as animation staffers are once again relegated to the status of workers and not superstars. Impressive paychecks are few and signing bonuses are pretty much a thing of the past. In many cases, the artists are simply grateful to have a job. It’s a far cry from the days I experienced many years ago when cartoon makers were treated like Hollywood stars. No more snacks from prestigious Beverly Hills eateries or toadies fetching double expressos at our whim. It may be 2014, but I’ll tell you this. “Termite Terrace” is alive and well.