Anyone who has worked in the animation industry knows that layoffs and studio closures are just standard occupational hazards.
…but times are especially tough right now.
350 employees at Dreamworks Animation were recently recently laid-off and the creature effects powerhouse, Rhythm & Hues just filed for bankruptcy.
…and let’s not forget that Digital Domain’s brand new feature animation studio in Florida was shut down this past September – before they could even release a movie.
Is there still hope for art students and professional artists who dream of working in animation?
…and how do we respond to the troubling news of layoffs and bankrupt studios?
…and what does it mean to those of us who are trying to break in?
Read on for some words of encouragement…
To My Friends In The Industry…
So that the following article doesn’t seem insensitive to your plight, let me first acknowledge this: Layoffs suck.
I’ve been laid off several times since the beginning of my relatively short career in animation.
I know the nauseating dread that happens when a producer surprises you with your “end date” on a production.
I know the disappointment that happens when a colleague who is also a close friend drops by your cube to report that “Friday’s my last day.”
My heart goes out to you (and your families) who have been or will be affected by these downturns in the industry. You are, truly, in my thoughts and prayers.
I’m in no position to give layoff-related advice to industry insiders who have been doing this longer and to greater effect than I ever have.
I can only empathize and try my best to encourage you.
I do know this: You’re smart, talented and super-hard-working artists. If you weren’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. …because you would never have landed industry gigs in the first place.
This might be the beginning of a season of struggle. I really hope it isn’t. But whatever this next season brings, please know that your fellow artists, fans and I believe in you.
To The Aspiring Animation Artists:
The rest of this post will speak mainly to those of who who aspire to work in animation.
…to those of you who spent $100,000+ on art school and heard this news just weeks before graduation.
…to those who have been fighting the creative vacuum of uninspiring work, abusive bosses and routine guilt from stealing hours from your families to draw and paint your way to freedom.
In response to the news about Dreamworks, one of my Painting Drama students Sheree Chuang put into words a feeling I know art students all over the world are experiencing right now.
Here is an excerpt from her post in our private forum:
Just like all of you here, art and animation is my life and my dream is to work in the entertainment industry. However when news like this comes up, I can’t help but feel concerned about the industry and my future.
Yes, when your dream seems far away, you might experience discouragement, overwhelm or even depression. I know what that’s like.
However, “Will my dreams ever come true?” is not the most important question you can ask yourself right now.
If Your Dream Dies, What Will You Do?
The bigger question that bad news reveals is this:
“If my dream dies, what will I do?”
It is wise to decide how you’ll respond to failure and seemingly insurmountable obstacles before you face them.
Are you an artist? …a visual storyteller?
…then keep drawing and telling stories.
You can’t let fluctuations in the industry and/or economy kill your creativity.
…and you don’t need a job in the animation industry to validate your calling.
The world needs visual stories. Humanity thrives on visual stories.
I think you should draw or tell the stories inside of you even when you aren’t getting paid.
…especially when you aren’t getting paid.
We must distinguish the truth of our internal calling as creative people from all external forces.
Your Dreams Don’t Define You.
When the external validation of success replaces our spiritual sense of purpose, things get messy.
This is why some CEOs attempt or commit suicide when they experience failure. Granted, that’s an extreme example, but it’s true.
You have to keep things in perspective.
Even your deeply-felt dream of working in animation does not define you.
Yes, we all want the animation industry to evolve and prosper (and I think it will).
But, as current events prove, the animation industry will disappoint you sooner or later.
It might even give you a roundhouse-kick to the face…
Since my first Disney gig in 2005, I have seen several waves of triple-digit layoffs in the animation and vfx industries.
It sucks. It even sucks to think about it. …but it’s a fact of life in Burbank. …and it’s something you need to be prepared for.
So, apart from opening a savings account, how should you prepare for the unpredictable ups and downs of a career the animation industry…?
“When the external validation of success replaces our spiritual sense of purpose, things get messy.”
[ click to tweet this quote ]
When In Doubt, Draw.
During what would be my final year of graduate school, my advisor Maria Palazzi told me “One of the great things about the animation industry is that it rewards hard work and persistence.”
At that very moment, I felt an unprecedented level of confidence that has remained with me ever since.
“Hard work and persistence. I can handle that.”
…about six months later I was on the Disney lot in Burbank with a blue employee badge hanging from my belt, eating breakfast with John Pomeroy, pontificating over coffee with Stephen Silver, circling the Old Animation Building and The Pirates Of The Caribbean set and stalking the LOST writers.
What Maria said was proven true in my own life.
No, I don’t think you can guarantee success with a great attitude, hard work and persistence, but you can guarantee failure without them.
How should you respond to troubling news about the animation industry?
…the same way you respond to encouraging news about the animation industry.
Draw, paint, repeat.
Go to CTN-X.
Share your work online.
…and so on.
“When in doubt, draw.”
[ click to tweet this quote ]
Your Dreams Haven’t Disappeared.
If you’re an aspiring artist who is serious about her animation dream, then life is the same for you now as it was before the Dreamworks layoffs.
You have absolutely NO control over fluctuations in the economy or the waves of change in the industry.
What you DO have control over is the quality of your work, your focus, determination, passion and imagination.
If the animation industry is in a downturn, don’t go down with it.
You’re here, in this specific time and place, for a reason. …and I think your art is a big part of that reason.
We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.
– Winston Churchill
Thoughts, Questions? Good Vibes?
As usual, post any thoughts or questions you have in response to this post in the comments below and I’ll respond to everyone.
More importantly, please feel free to take this opportunity to post a note of encouragement to our friends at Dreamworks, Rhythm & Hues, etc.
I’m sure they could benefit from some good vibes right about now.