July 1, 2005

Balance

On Stward St, there's a great article about a letter that Kevin Koch
wrote. It was published in last months issue of the Pegboard. I'm not
a union member so this is the first time I've read it. It's really
worth checking out. I'm republishing it here, I hope that Seward St and
The Pegboard don't mind.

Mostly what I like about it is the optimism and the reminder to still be
an artist and to not get too caught up in studio life (hardships,
gossip, etc). This couldn't have come at a better time for me. Lately
I've had to section my life off quite a bit. I have the work bit and
the home bit. We've been teaching our daughter to put herself to bed
and to sleep on her own. It hasn't been easy, she's a stubborn girl,
who's recently learned to hit us in the face. But I still want to come
to work and put energy into my shots and do the best that I can.
That's why this article brings it all home for me.

Balance

Last month at the Marc Davis Academy lecture honoring Frédéric Back, Ihad the honor of meeting the creator of The Man Who Planted Trees,Crac, and other equally brilliant films. He's eighty-one, and as articulate and passionate about art, animation, and the environment as ever. He now does illustration and is still quite busy. I was writing a letter on Mr. Back's behalf when I heard that Joe Grant had passed. Mr.Grant died at his drawing table, at the young age of ninety-six. It struck me that these two men are of a piece in many ways, and both are men I wish I were more like.

Mr. Back is that rare person who is so immediately open and accepting that deep conversation happens moments after meeting him. I came away with the sense that he is one of those too-rare people who have genuinely good souls. I never met Mr. Grant, but know many who knew him well, and I gather he was much the same - easygoing, intelligent, unaffected by tremendous personal accomplishments, and most of all genuine.

I had similar thoughts at our recent Golden Awards. We honored over seventy people who had loooong, productive careers in animation, and they seemed to have fond memories of it all. They worked on good shows and terrible ones, for good bosses and jerks, stayed in the rank and file or started their own studios, the whole spectrum. It was a little overwhelming for me as I contemplated my meager not-quite-one decade in animation.

I think of these two, and others like the late Ed Friedman, and I feel sheepish at how caught up I get in the trivial day-to-day nonsense at work. Mr. Back worked independently, almost single-handedly, and created masterpieces. Mr. Grant spent his animation career within the Disney machine, and made crucial contributions to some of the greatest features ever made. Mr. Friedman had a long productive career and a record-breaking term as a Guild officer. Each faced tall odds against successfully expressing themselves, yet all three did, beautifully, time and again.

What does it take to have these kinds of careers? How does one navigate around the minefields of animation without becoming negative, jaded, and burned out? We all know plenty of people who have succeeded in animation and, in the process, stopped being the open, humble people they started
as. We know people who made it exactly because they were only too willing to climb over their peers and back stab their way to the top. And, or course, we've all had to work with plenty of production and management types who, let's say, don't get the difference between supporting an artistic process and running a cannery. So how do people like Frédéric Back, Ed Friedman and Joe Grant leave huge legacies, and not end up bitter and regretful?

I suppose the column is as much about me as it is about the giants of the field who have come before. I think I've gotten a little bit burned out lately, and I find some of the day-to-day nonsense of the biz less tolerable than before. I'm irritated (or worse!) too much of the time.
Not that I still don't enjoy animation, or still get a charge out of working around dozens of people far more talented than I am. We all know that feeling we get when we see a bit of art or animation that's so right it makes our hearts sing. Being on the inside of the process, and
knowing how hard and special that is, makes it all the more enjoyable. That's what keeps me going - when I see something that just makes megrin, or especially when it's something I've done that makes someone else smile.

My guess is that people who have been both genuine and productive were able to pour enough of themselves into their work to lift it from craft to art, and yet have not over-invested their passion into their jobs. That, I think, is the key: balance. We're generally too prone to making
our work lives the end-all and be-all of our existence. It's easy, when you're working on cool movies and TV shows, and the people you work with are talented and fun to be around. How many of us have stayed later at work than we were paid for, simply because we wanted to? How many of us
have taken it personally when a producer or director changed their mind about something, even though we'd done exactly what they'd asked for? How often have we been asked to give a hundred and twenty percent, andyet we never seem to quite get that in return?

This is a great industry, but it is an industry after all. Keep your life balanced, and don't let the small-minded people get you down.

2 comments:

Matt said...

Thank you for these notes. What I just read made me think of things I probably wouldn't have until a couple years from now. I've heard that those cannery type peoples are quite an issue. And I can relate to staying late and not getting paid for it... I've just started my page flipping education two weeks ago and I can't get enough of it - in fact I stay after class so long I have to close the classroom up - because it's a passion/ I'd do it for free if I could still have money coming in...

Keep up the thought provoking!
Thanks

elizabeth said...

Thanks for posting this. I've been out of Cal Arts for a little over a year now, and I'm trying to stay as passionate as I was at school in my job... but it's pretty hard sometimes. I need a good pep talk now and then, and this is definitely a good one.