Like Sweeping Up The Latrines

I’m in the middle of reading the biography of Walt Disney by Bob Thomas (which I highly encourage you to seek out if you have not done so already) and came across this quote from the man himself.

I was making conversation with a guy who asked me, ‘Goin’ to California?’ ‘Yeah, I’m goin’ out there.’ ‘What business you in?’ I said, ‘The motion-picture business.’ Then all of a sudden, ‘Oh, is that right? Well, I know somebody in the motion picture business. What do you do? I said, ‘I make animated cartoons.’ ‘Oh,’ It was like saying, ‘I sweep up the latrines.’

While it is safe to say that animation is not viewed in nearly the same way now, there remains a whiff of it here and there. There are still plenty of people out there who look down on an artistic career with derision, or even pity.

There are plenty of examples out there of people who have worked hard and carved out a full career for themselves in animation. The shame is, the public at large were, and still are, surprisingly ignorant when it comes to the people who make their, often-times, favourite films.

4 thoughts on “Like Sweeping Up The Latrines”

  1. There are two issues here. One is the amount of respect that animation and the people who work on it get. This has increased somewhat over the years, as the general public has gained a greater understanding of the animation process and the amount of work involved. The medium still struggles with the mistaken idea that it is exclusively for kids, particularly in the U.S., but I fee like it’s getting better. What may more of a factor in animators not getting the respect they deserve for their work is the rise of computer animation. While I don’t know if anyone really believes that you can just type up a script and the computer will spit out a finished film, there does still seem to be a gap between what the public knows about computer animation and what actually works, making it tougher for the artists who work on such films to get the appreciation they deserve. On top of that, there’s the equally flawed idea that artistic talent is something you either have or don’t have, that if you’re lucky enough to be born an artist, then every kind of art comes easily to you.

    The second issue is that most people who watch animation don’t know the names – let alone the faces – of the people who created the animation that they’re enjoying. That’s a trickier problem and one that sort of comes with the job. Most of the people who make an animated movie are seldom in the public eye. A live action movie, while it still has its share of people behind the scenes, put eveyone from the lead actors to the multitudes of extras right up there for the audience to see. Animators are necessarily behind the scenes. Many people are more likely to associate an animated character with the actor who voices him or her rather than the animators who worked on the character, especially now when computer animation often has animators assigned to scenes rather than characters. Still, I think it’s getting better. “Art of” books, DVD special features, and yes, the internet have all made it easier for anyone with the slightest bit of interest to learn how animated films are made and get to know the people who make them.

    1. I suppose it depends on how much you, as an animator, put your name out there, or how much effort you spend getting your name recognised. For example, Matt Groening puts his name on everything, and he’s synonymous with The Simpsons, even though Sam Simon is the guy who put in the same if not more of an effort to get the show off the ground, and he’s hardly known outside the right circles.

      The same goes or John Lasseter and Pixar, Chuck Jones and the Looney Tunes. These guy’s names are known because they have such a close link with their creations. The main difference, as you point out, is that not being visible on-screen affords them a certain amount of privacy when it comes to going about their daily lives, as Dave points out above.

  2. There’s no doubt on going attitudes that make animation artists second class citizens in the entertainment world, but then on the other hand, how cool is it that Stephen Hillenburg (SpongeBob creator) can go into Burger King without being pursued by TMZ? And, he could buy and sell Tom Cruise!

    On this issue I always think of my dad’s advice: If you want respect, get a dog.

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