Friday, April 12, 2013

They Don't Want You

In the last several months, there have been major layoffs at visual effects, gaming and animation companies.

They don't want you.  They want your skills because they can profit from them.  But if they can get your skills from software or find somebody with your skills (or almost your skills) who will work cheaper, they'd prefer that.

When the project is finished and they're done with your skills, you're expendable.  If the projects they pick lose money, you pay by losing your job.

If they can find a government stupid enough to use taxpayers' money to subsidize them (when they are already profitable), they'll relocate.

If they need to buy skills from another company, they'll do it as cheaply as they can, even if it means they put the company out of business.

And if they see other skills that will make them more money than yours, they no longer want your skills.

Any why?  Because they have money and that makes them think they are smart.  But they're not as smart as they think.  And they know (and they're right) that money attracts skills like a magnet, so as long as they have money, they don't have to worry about finding skills.

Their money comes from the audience: you and me.  So long as we give them money, they won't change.  As long as the skills chase the money, nothing will change.  But if the skills can get their money from the audience, everything will change.


Eric "Spillz" Angelillo said...

Great post.

This is why I've opted to make my own job and begun my own start-up gaming company with a handful of people. We'll see how it goes, but with relatively easy digital distribution even without a publisher being the norm nowadays, at least we have a fighting chance.

Steve Schnier said...

And this is why I - like Elvis - "have left the building".

There are other ways to make money. There are other ways to be creative. There are other ways to have fun.

It was a great gig while it lasted. Thanks for the laughs, guys.

So Mark. Here's an ethical question for you - and I ask this respectfully:

How do you feel about training future generations of artists who will go into the world with their dreams and high hopes - only to see them crushed as they're mistreated and abused by an unfair system?

Sure. People should have the option of learning about animation - and I seriously applaud your brutally honest blog post. But shouldn't the schools be putting out disclaimers?

Animation schools survive by "selling the dream" - What happens when the dream is dead?

chris said...

Terrific post, very well written. Thanks.

Evee said...

Mark, thank you for this. Seriously. You are a voice out there for so many.

Apollo Okamura said...

@Steve: As an animation instructor myself, I can't help but feeling that's a bit of a loaded question; mostly because, in my humble opinion, schools have become part of the problem.

Don't get me wrong I love what I do. The creativity and passion involved with animation is unparalleled - anywhere. And being able to help others unleash that creativity in themselves is likewise, immeasurable.

BUT... Again, in my opinion, schools have become just as bad as the corporations, obsessing over acquiring the most for their money. They'll accept more students than they even have seats for, and let all of them pass through the program like a revolving door, as long as they can pay tuition - regardless of their skill level or proper preparedness for entering the industry.

That said, I've always been honest with my own students about what they're getting into. Though, if they're determined to make it in the industry, I'm honoured to do what ever I can to help them as much as possible along the way.

Anonymous said...

Great responses to a great comment on the nature of the global market.
I do think institutions have been selling us students a fairytale, and unfortunately I hear they are doing it more and more each year. When I was accepted into Animation BAA at Sheridan almost 5 years ago They are letting in aprox 100-110 people into the program each year. Now I hear its more around 150! in an industry where competition for jobs is already really high. I can only surmise by this fact that it really is "all about the money" whether you are an animation studio or a post-secondary institution. Luckily there are people out there like Mark and many other names I've had the privelidge of meeting at Sheridan who will sell it to you strait.
I think the only solution to this is to use your own buying power and convince others to use theirs to push the market in a different direction. Work for yourself, create small studios with distinct niches, dont buy bigger name content. That being said, we are artists and may have to face the fact that the general public might not see it our way or care. I personally have distilled an attitude towards this situation: if I'm going to be taken advantage of as an artist, screw it, I'll go elsewhere. Even if I have to work on the line at ford motors at least I can go home every day and still love the process of doing artwork. If I make a couple bucks while I'm doing it then great.

Mark Mayerson said...

Steve, everything I wrote, with the exception of the last paragraph dealing with the audience, can be applied to capitalism as it is currently practiced in North America. I'm sure you're aware of the recent Royal Bank of Canada controversy concerning foreign workers.

I agree with Apollo that the schools are taking in too many students. The province of Ontario has animation programs at seven colleges that I know of, and that doesn't count private schools. Are there enough jobs for all the graduates? Highly, highly doubtful.

Is the dream dead? That depends on the dream. If the dream is to do drawn features at Disney, that's dead. If the dream is to get into a high end studio and spend your whole career there, that dream was an exception even back in the 1930s and '40s. Whole studios were staffed by people who were cut loose from Disney. If the dream is to work on a film, TV show or videogame like the ones you love, that dream is still achievable with the caveats mentioned in my main piece.

I can't speak for other schools, but I know that Sheridan's animation faculty doesn't sell impossible expectations. I won't speak for Sheridan's administration.

Will Sheridan's animation grads emerge as better artists than when they started? Will they know how to make films? They will if they pay attention and do the work. My goal is to give students the skills to be employable, but I can't control what happens to them when they leave and I certainly can't change the nature of the global economy. I can try to give students a realistic picture, though there are many things they can't really grasp until they experience them. And I can keep talking about creators' rights and the changing media landscape and hope that as we all stumble forward, somebody is going to figure out how creators take more control over their work and their futures.

Am I part of the problem? Maybe, but I hope not. And if I am, my intentions are good. Which may mean you'll find me on the road to hell.

Mike B said...

@ Steve and Apollo, well said. I agree with both of your points. I graduated from Columbia College, Chicago, in '93 and was fortunate enough to have a couple classes with Gordon Sheehan.
He said to me 'you'll never make a lot of money doing animation. And the hardest thing about animation is sticking with it.' He knew many talented animators who left the field because they either got burned out or needed to make a better living for their families. What he said that day really stuck with me. I knew then, at 20, that I didn't care and wanted to be an animator. I've been laid off and survived layoffs before. But what keeps me going is the art of it. It's an amazing thing we do and we never stop learning. I try to make every thing I do a portfolio worthy piece, because then I know I'm putting my all into it and it might just get me that next job some day when I need it. Maybe one day I can have my own studio but I'm not sure I have the personality for it, so I will probably always be at the whim of the industry.
Than you Mark for your fabulous blog.

Brubaker said...

If I had money, I'd open my own (drawn) animation studio. I'm working on it!

JeffRbee said...

uratona707Mr. Mayerson, Your post sure is crucial information for your students. It's good to remind them that hey don't call it "Show BUSINESS" for nothing! I'm glad you posted it and I got to read it. .
I taught Year-1 at Sheridan, in Media Arts for a long time. One of my colleagues used to remind us, "Don't ever forget that only 3 years earlier our incoming students were in Grade 9.". I never forgot that alert because one must always start wherever the student is.
One must not teach skills without also educating the students about life beyond the terrarium of school. To teach only skills is self-serving and immoral. . When I taught at York, I told my Year-2 class that they better make their movies now because they probably will never make one once they've been graduated. Guess what: The students complained. But we must ground their fantasies, eh? - JeffRbee

Steve Schnier said...

Mark - Great heartfelt reply. I guess I'll see you somewhere on the road...

Stephen Worth said...

There are always easier and more profitable ways to make a living than animation. The reason people are animators is because they can't conceive of themselves doing anything else.

Luke Dominic O'Donnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Mark that is a very truthful post.
Good on you for saying it like it is.

Companies these days also want cheap labor. If you are a "good junior" you are gold right now. If you are experienced and will want a salary that you think is fair, no one will prob call you back.
( you can't blame them either, they are barely surviving. )

And as for Sheridan, some teachers that teach animation there, don't animate themselves, and never animated much in the industry to begin with. Yet we payed them a lot of money to teach us to be animators in the field.

It's almost criminal how misled the students were by the teachers, not only by the administration.

They trust what you tell them, but they didn't realize that they were taught by people who were not animators. ( I am speaking only of animation here, not layout, etc.)

You can be truthful to the students about the industry, about their skills/or lack thereof.
But also please, be truthful about YOUR skills and YOUR part in the industry. So innocent kids, who's parents might not be rich enough to support them later, don't get totally fooled by all this. Cause it's a lot of money, and more important time that you will never get back.

Andy Latham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Floyd Norman said...

Hundreds were cut loose from Disney after Sleeping Beauty. This would have happen regardless of the box office. The decision had already been made. The staff was cut again after 101 Dalmatians and things were looking bleak.

The company smelled money in the late eighties, and animation gained a second life. However, that binge soon ended with hundreds losing their jobs. Worse yet, Disney fell out of love with animation for good this time around.

We love animation but corporations don't. At least they don't like animation artists. I suppose that's why I've always found teaching so difficult.

paul said...

great post mark!

Anonymous said...

Mark mayerson is such a hypocrite. I am not saying this trying to start trouble, but as an honest opinion. He is just trying to deflect blame why the industry is the way it is.

He is part of the problem churning out thousands of naive grads every year to non existent jobs. Flooding the market so that each position advertised on a simple website gets 800 plus demo reels making it impossible to hire in a just manner or grads with mounds of debt needing more than what entry level jobs pay.

Sheridan alone is so misguided, I worked with a high up professor there that was a production assistant (did not even animate anything), was helped on a daily basis and is now teaching at Sheridan saying they worked for a top name company, not actually mentioning what they did there. It's really dishonest.

You say companies don't care? Yeah they don't, because they don't have to. You keep supplying them with rich kids that can live off their parents till they are in their 40's (I kid you not) so they don't care about anything but "living their dream" but it's making a nightmare for the rest of us.

I am not saying don't teach animation, but it's become excessive. The education of animation is probably employing more people than production and it 's got to stop by having common sense, but nobody cares when kids have money to waste to flood and dilute an already flooded and shrinking industry.

People like Mark will just take the money and run and then write blogs about how the mean companies don't care about you. What a hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

@Anon: If vfx teachers, like Mark, are part of the problem, then by teaching they are hypocrites, you say, "I am not saying don't teach", and then disclaim it by saying "but it's becoming excessive." I don't get that.

I think that vfx professionals are in a muck and because we all have different aspirations in life (beyond vfx) it is difficult to find a happy place that we can be proud of and not have to worry about our integrity or our income.

Perhaps Mr Mayerson, like most of us (if most of us can be honest about it), are in a conundrum -- not hypocrisy -- of trying to find the best thing to do. I quit teaching (taught 1.5 years only) because I needed to be back in production work to stay sane, but it doesn't make me a better professional, because at the end of the day we, as wage earners, are not powerful enough to rule our own profession. I still need to negotiate my way through the much with what I have, not just with what I believe; I have to _compromise_ because I'm not always in a position where I want to be. Sure, that's unfortunate, but that's why I like Mr Mayerson's connotation that we should work towards fending for ourselves; thinking long term, that's the way forward. I'm not there yet -- some people are -- but hopefully, down the line, we won't have to keep on selling our rights or souls away.

JPilot said...

Hey Mark,

Your post sounded like you took a page off George Carlin's monologue about the "owners of this country" when he says "They don't give a f..k about you! They don't car about you, at all! At all! At all!"

I think what needs to end is the worship of big corporations. That careers will not be justified unless they can attach the names Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks to their resume. For one thing, people in third world country will have more chance of having these corporations name on their resume under "work experience" then they will.

So, to me, the only hypocrisy in teaching, is promising those big corporate names will hire them at the end of their training. If any student reading this can take away one thing, is if ANY important figure at your school is promising you this at the end of your training, either walk away and ask for your money back, or record the conversation with your smartphone, video would be preferable, and then sue the school when you are out on your ass waiting tables.

15 years ago I taught for one semester at one of these "animation puppy mills" where students were promised a job at Disney upon graduating from their program (unbeknownst to me, I should add) and that was what turned me off teaching animation for a long time.

The next time I did teach was Storyboarding for one session and fortunately the students had no such illusions.

But blaming Mark and teaching animation as a whole for all the problems in this industry is nearsighted and ignorant. When I graduated, the industry was just dead, but back then the studios that did hire were run by artists.

Now the big studios are run by ex banking executives, accountants, lawyers and shareholders.

So if the company you are working for goes public and you are out of a job 6 months later, do not blame the newcomers or the schools, but the yachtload of bloated rich stockholders that see the company they just acquired as they see Scarlett Johansen: very attractive but "top heavy".

Anonymous said...

@anon and @jpilot

You miss the point. I'll try and explain it to you in a different way. Speaking from experience there is a difference from teaching animation because you have a passion and working for an institution (usually worst than any corporation or company) that just takes kids money churning out thousands of students to jobs that are imaginary, handing out diploma after diploma. How long is it until students realize they were ripped off more than any corporation will ever rip them off? Or maybe they will do what the schools hope they do and blame themselves, because they are talentless or didn't work hard enough. It's criminal and should be stopped.

I can say from my class of 30 people, maybe 5 got jobs. 3 worked in the industry for awhile then moved on to something else. Only myself and another work in the industry today, not because we are more talented, we just got lucky. Even we both know our future is not secure.

Mark Mayerson blames the companies for not taking value in artists with skills that he tries to teach.

WHAT A JOKE! The reason the companies don't value these skills is because there are so many students being churned out all over the world, flooding the market.

It's not about getting a job at a "big corporate" name studios, it's about making a living in the industry. Which even Disney has stopped the fairy tail animator working at what he loves without a care in the world image they put out in the 90's and early 2000's.

You think they are just going to change their ways because they "love" animation, that is just a non experienced and dumb point of view.

Mark Mayerson IS one of the major problems with the industry as he complains that companies don't value the very same skills he cheapens everyday by pushing out thousands of students with valueless skills, the very skills he complains companies don't appreciate. What a hypocrite.

EVERY industry is about money. If you don't believe that then you are naive.

Do you go out a cry about sharks eating fish or crocodiles eating animals? NO, because that is what they do. Then don't go blaming companies for trying to make as much money as possible, that is what they do.

The least someone like Mark can do is stop providing an endless stream of food for the sharks, then complain when they eat too much.

Wake up.

Pete Emslie said...

I'd like to address the argument being made by "Anonymous":

You are right in suggesting that there are too many students being churned out from the various animation schools, Sheridan included, resulting in a flooding of the market. On that you will get no argument from Mark Mayerson or from any of those who teach at Sheridan. The faculty discusses these things among themselves and then we raise these same concerns at the staff meetings. But no matter what our concerns, we are not the ones making decisions on what the BAA Animation program does. You are being naive if you do not realize that a college is still a business like any other. Just like a corporation, a college has a "Head Office" that decides on what route the business will follow over the coming years. The college teaching faculty are akin to middle management at best - we can raise our concerns, make recommendations on what should be done to address a situation, etc, but beyond that our hands are tied. "Head Office" is going to do what it wants, whether or not it takes our concerns into account. That is why Sheridan, as of this year that is winding down, brought in an additional 25 students into First Year, up from 125 for a total of 150. Those of us teaching in 2nd Year are worried as to how it's going to affect our teaching (and grading!) when we get them all next September.

As I said, the faculty at Sheridan are no different than employees at any other sort of business. We can offer suggestions, but we are not the ones making the decisions. Therefore it is completely wrongheaded on your part to suggest that Mark is somehow a "hypocrite" for flooding the market with more animation grads competing for too few jobs. Many employees at any sort of business do not agree with decisions being made at the top, yet would you suggest that they too are "hypocrites" for continuing to maintain a job position where they're just trying to do their best to solve problems on the front lines? The fact is, Mark Mayerson has far more integrity than practically anyone else I know. As a course co-ordinator, Mark is always handling faculty concerns, trying to get administration to address and help solve the problems that arise week to week. And more than that, he is a huge champion of student concerns. I've seen him go to bat many times in resolving a situation for individual students. Sheridan may have its share of those who pass the buck, but I can tell you that Mark has never been one of them.

As for you, I would have to ask why you are so quick to post your bile under that "Anonymous" handle. Are you so much of a coward that you lack the courage of your convictions to post under your own name, or at the very least, a distinct net name that can be traced to other comments made elsewhere? Sorry, but your credibility as a serious critic is compromised by such cowardice.

Anonymous said...

You call me a coward Mr. Pete Emsile, but you are the one passing the buck and blaming the "Head Office". That is truly being a coward. Not your problem right? You get a steady pay check by flooding the industry and taking advantage of kids, so defend the status quo because you aren't giving up that pay check just because the MAJORITY of your students will never find work in the industry. I wonder how you sleep at night?

Ah yes, just blame me for having the nerve to point it out. Blame the worthless talentless students who never worked hard enough to make it. Blame the economy. Blame those EVIL companies that don't care about you. It's not your fault.

You say I am right, but it's not your fault because you are just middle management. Well the "Head Office" is not blog posting about how companies don't value skills that you dilute and make worthless.

What I say does not need a name behind it because the message rings true. That is why we vote anonymously that is why you blame an anonymous "Head Office" for the problems I have pointed out. The message is the point, you seemed to have missed that. I am sure you use the same blame game on students that complain about not finding work or about the school. Now that I have experience I know how misguided Sheridan is and have many professors there on my linkedin that have asked me to speak at Sheridan and I always say NO.

The fact you say 150 students per term. That is just in the animation program at one school. You have a "computer Animation program" for a year that churns out even more students a year. A game development program for one year that churns out even more. Sheridan alone (I don't mean to single out Sheridan but it's a prime example) is pumping out 1000 of students a year and you devalue the market flooding it, then Mark blames the companies for not valuing anyone and you blame the head office.

Hey what ever helps you sleep at night. Maybe you should be akin (Sheridan folk love that word, even though they use it out of context. Akin is a natural relation not used to compare random points) to taking responsibility and just do your freelance cartoons and stop contributing to the flooding of an industry. I doubt you would do that, because that would be brave and bold to stand up for what you believe in. Also I doubt you could make a decent living doing it. Prove me wrong.

It's easier for you to just attack ideas and opinions than actually make a change and say what you are doing is not helping your students, the industry or anyone working in the industry. You are helping those companies that "don't care about you" and yourself. That's it.

Anonymous said...

But Mark Mayerson was teaching the "animation" class. And we never seen his animation demo reel even.

Now that some of us are working in animation, we can in hind sight tell, that he could only teach us a limited amount of what someone who works full time as an animator for many years could have taught us. But yes, he meant well. And was a nice guy. No one denies that.

Mark has history as software developer in side effects, and I don't know when was the last time he filmed himself acting out a reference to animate a complex acting shot.
I would believe an "animation" teacher in a school like Sheridan should be an active animator with proper animation credentials.

So these kids got out, and no sh#$% no one wanted them.

Those who succeeded dug for info online, from websites of pixar/Dreamworks animators, Cal Arts etc. Cause that's the level the industry wants.

Lots of kids after Sheridan are now paying for animation mentor and iAnimate to continue to learn. Because 4 years at sheridan, were not enough. Not that animation mentor or iAnimate guarantees a job these days either, but the reels DO look better for what it's worth.

Mark Mayerson said...

I'm shutting down the comments on this entry as it has degenerated into a flame ware. Anonymous, my email is listed on the main page of the blog. You're welcome to contact me directly for anything you want to discuss.