For decades, the animation industry could hardly be considered a real job. It was a strange and quirky profession that attracted odd balls who couldn’t seem to find a place in the real world. I can only imagine the many parents who reacted with alarm when hearing their son or daughter might be considering a job in the cartoon business. However, animation geeks are passionate about their art and are not easily deterred. In spite of warnings from family and friends many packed their bags and headed for the cartoon factories in New York, Florida and Hollywood.
Animation requires a measure of talent and discipline. The ability to give life to a sketch and create a stunning performance is not easy. The fact that this is accomplished using only pencil and paper is something I’ve always found incredible. It was this special magic of moving drawings that drew me inextricably into the cartoon business and the creation of motion picture animation became a part of my life forever. I’d venture most of us here have a fair knowledge of animation’s history. However, it’s the future of this incredible medium that’s a cause for concern. This is not to say that the future is bleak because that’s not exactly the case either. There are probably more animation artists employed today than at any time I can remember in my long career. Animated feature films account for more than the lion’s share of profits studios garner each year. As a matter of fact, you’ve a better chance of earning your money back if your movie is animated rather than live-action.
Animated motion pictures clearly have value. Consider the new players continually moving into the animation arena. Studios and producers who never considered this business are now rushing for a place at the table. Why? It’s because animated feature films make money. Animated properties have value. Sadly, the creators - the artists who make the product do not fare as well. Traditional hand drawn animation was the first to go and one day I fear CGI will quickly follow. It’s not difficult to see the plan. When you no longer need a Milt Kahl, Freddy Moore or a Frank Thomas to make an animated motion picture the producers have gained clear leverage. That means the animated motion picture can be outsourced to any competing studio in the world. I’ll say it again. Any studio in the world. And because it can - it will. Outsourcing might prove disastrous for stateside employment or it might be a blessing that moves animation to the next level. Once we’ve had our fill of sequels and franchises we might start being creative again.
As much as I love this amazing medium I find myself somewhat reluctant to extoll the virtues of a profession where security is clearly lacking. A new production model has replaced the old. Today’s studios ramp up for production and downsize when the project is completed. Animators are hired only to be laid off a few months later. If you’re one of the lucky few who managed to remained employed year after year, you’re a part of a select group. In spite of this reality, eager kids continue to express their enthusiasm for animation. Maybe they see something I’ve missed. After all, the old timers told me the business was darn near dead when I entered it back in the fifites. Perhaps truly great things are still ahead and I’ve simply been wrong in my accessment.
I sure hope so.