November 14, 2004

About Me Part III: The Working Years

So I’ve been finding this last part difficult to write. I’m still under non-discloser with a lot of these companies, and I don’t want to piss any of them off. So if I’m brief, that’s pretty much why.

Upon graduating CalArts I blanketed the animation industry with my portfolio & demo reel. I was tired of working various Mc Jobs for Mc Minimum Wage. I must have applied to 30-35 studios. I really didn’t discern whom I applied to. I was desperate and wanted a job in the animation field. Out of those 60-70 places only 2 called me back. Walt Disney Feature Animation and Rhythm and Hues. Disney wanted to hire me as an inbetweener/cleanup artist on the film Hercules. Basically it’s the first step into becoming an animator at Disney. Rhythm and Hues wanted to hire me as a computer animator. I’d love to tell you that I saw the future, and I saw job security in computer animation. To be honest, if Toy Story hadn’t come out that year I would have chosen Disney. I had visions of one day working at Pixar and I thought computers would take me there. This decision surprised even me. I still preferred traditional animation to computer animation.

Rhythm & Hues was great! The benefits were incredible the pay was great. Every once in a while I’d get an old time Disney animator as a director. Every time that happened my animation skills would take a jump. My favorite project was It’s Tough To Be A Bug, directed by Chris Bailey. The project was for a theme park in Disneyworld. It was connected to Pixar’s film A Bugs Life. I was lead on this project so it really felt like it was my own baby. R&H was good and all but I was concerned by the fact that two years out of College I was already a lead. I knew I had a lot to learn and I felt I wasn’t getting it there. What I really wanted was a mentor like position. But they don’t do that in computer animation. What I really dreamed of was working at Pixar.

My dream came true, briefly. Pixar was working on Toy Story 2. Six month before completing production they decided to rewrite the entire film. They were left with the problem of how to animate the film in six months. The theaters were already rented and advertising had already started, so they couldn’t push the release date. That’s where I came in. In the interview they told me that they had only six months of work to give me after that I was to be let go. Still, I jumped at the chance. Six months to work with some of the top talent in the industry was more then I could hope for, and secretly I was hoping to stay forever.

As soon as I got there all my hopes for staying faded away. It was obvious that they were overstaffed, so there was no way they’d carry me to their next film. Even so the experience on Toy Story 2 was great. I got to go through P.U. (Pixar University) I learned a lot and got to work on a lot of great shots. The coolest factor for me was the fact that I was working with Woody and Buzz. These were the same rigs that were used on the original Toy Story. I’m a bit of an Animation History nut, so to play around with these rigs was a bit like playing around with history to me. At the end of the film was the end of my job and I was out on the street again.

It’s funny, I loved Pixar so much. It was the only place I ever wanted to work at and as far as I was concerned it was the only studio producing anything that was worth anything. So if you love Pixar, whom do you hate? DreamWorks. I hated DreamWorks like a passion. Any time DreamWorks would pop up in the news I would send email to my friends poking fun at them. We would all get a good laugh at their expense. So where do I work after Pixar? PDI/DreamWorks.

At first I couldn’t believe I made that decision. It was only compounded by the fact that Pixar called me two weeks after I started training at PDI/DreamWorks asking if I would be free to work on Monsters Inc. I had to tell them, sorry, but I’m already under contract to work on Shrek. That disappointed me, but DreamWorks turned out to be a great decision. They have a very relaxed friendly working atmosphere. The people that I’ve work with have been awesome. There are some really talented animators working there as well. There are other animators from Pixar, as well as animators from Disney, Sony, ILM, you name it. I’ve been there for about 4 ½ years now and I’ve really had a good time. Currently I’m working on a film called Madagascar. I think this film is one of the funniest, cartoonist things I’ve ever worked on. I’ve learned a ton of stuff about cartoony animation on the project. I can’t wait to see how people react.

So that’s about it for me, hopefully this gives you an idea where I'm coming from. So far I’ve done almost everything that computer animation has been related to. Special FX, Short Films, Television Commercials, Theme Park Rides, Future Films, and Video Games. Probably the only thing I haven’t done is a television show, but I have worked on two pilots for television shows. I’ve also used six different 3-D animation software packages professionally. Three of them were Proprietary the rest were off the shelf. I will talk more about that later. But that’s basically where I’m coming from.

2 comments:

Chad said...

Hello,

Thanks for posting on your work history. It's exciting for me to hear the inner workings of the feature animation side. If you don't mind I'd like to ask a couple of questions here, and if they are out of line, let me know and I'll shut up.

I am wondering how long you were between jobs? From Pixar to Dreamworks specifically, and how (or if) medical benifits were carried over? You see I am a motion editor /character rigger and wanna be animator. I have done character animation for broadcast, and have taught its principles before. I would really like to focus and get into the feature film character animation side of things in a couple of years.

I have a wife, and a five month old daughter. Also I have a terrific job right now as a lead at a huge game company, making PS2 games. There is security in my present job, and I do enjoy it very much. I'd like to spend the next year or two polishig my character animation skills and go for film.

What do you think of the outsourcing that is currently happening in animation? Do you consider the three major studios you've worked at family friendly? I enjoy working hard, especially at something I love so much, but I want to be around to see my child grow up. Do you find it easy to find new jobs when contracts run out, and projects end now that your an established member of the feature animation community. How many people do you guess are in a similiar boat as you, as far as spending several years at dreamworks?

Thanks for letting me rant here, and If this isn't the appropriate spot for these questions pardon me.

Thanks,
Chad

Ethan said...

Hi Chad, I took a look at your baby blog. Cute kid, I have a 3 1/2 month old at home as well. And I to worry about the same things you worry about. I want to have job security for my little one and I want to watch her grow up and not be that stranger known as father.

While I was at CalArts I saw a lecture by the animator Glenn King. Glenn is a family man and has done quite well for himself at Disney. He admitted in his lecture that there was a time where he was having family trouble. He was always at work and never saw his wife and kids. He never said how far his trouble got, but I suspect divorce was a possibility. So to fix this he decided to not work any over-time at all. He made sure that when he went to work, he worked, he did not fool around, he did not chat with people, play games, he worked on his shots and went home on time. He set the time for leaving the studio for 6:00. At 6:01 every day he was out the door. I've seen several other good animators with family do the same thing, including John Lasseter. Lord knows that a director's time is precious, especially someone like John's. But Mr. Lasseter had kids he wanted to see before they went to bed, so he always left on time. Even during the crunch of TS2.

I'm very impressed with this philosophy, and I try (although I'm not always successful) to do it myself. I come to work early, I work on my shots, I don't dick around on the internet and I try and leave on time. Sure I pull the occasional Saturday and sometimes I stay late, but I try and keep it down to a minimum. I just want to make sure I'm a part of my child's life.

As far as job security in animation. There is no such thing as job security in animation. The only security is your portfolio. Your only as secure as your skills, so either be good, get better, or get out. It's harsh, but true. When you pick a job you should think how that effects your portfoleo, often times it's better to take a less paying job that will impove your portfoleo then a high paying one. If your portfoleo is good, money will soon follow.

As far as outsourcing goes, I do believe that animation will be outsourced in eight years. Right now none of the studios over seas are good enough to take over. I figure in eight years they will be. And their cheaper, there's no way we can compete with this. I don't know if there's anything I can do about it. The only thing I try and do is do my best work on the shots that are in front of me and hope for the best.

As far as time between jobs, sometimes I've had time between jobs sometimes I have not. I failed to mention the freelance jobs I've had. I've freelanced at Wildbrain, EA and Way Forward. I was trying to keep my post brief so I didn't mention them. But no one is free from doing the occasional freelance job.

I hope this answers your questions. If you have more you can email me off line at "ethanh using gmail". <--I don't post my e-mail here so spambots don't pick it up, I think you can figure it out.