Mark Mayerson recently published a blog post entitled ‘The Don’t Want You’. A short but compelling declaration that studios see aniamtors and artists as more a tool than at any time in the past. The paragraph below is the kicker:
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.
That’s the absolute truth. Animators are expensive to hire, maintain and run. They’re also cranky, have off days and are not near 100% productive like they could be. That said, they’re also people, and people tend to be like that no matter where you go or what you do.
What Mark touches on is the fact that animators aren’t hired because they are people, they’re hired because they have skills, valuable skills. The relative scarcity of such skills, and the fact that they are not easily replicable on an computer means that real people continue to produce animation.
The Supply of Animators
People are a finite resource. There are only so many animators out there and only so many new ones coming into the field every year. However, if more enter than leave, then that creates a larger supply of talent from which to pull from, and the result is that studios can (and do) pay lower prices than they would have to if supply was tight.
Consider Brown Bag Films; they consistently have to look overseas to find artists with the skillsets required, and the result is that they have to pay more than if they could source local talent in Ireland.
A topic that is brought up in the comments is the fact that new animators are being produced at a high rate; more so than what the industry is increasing by every year. This is a problem that stems from a couple of reasons but the main ones are the fact that tuition = money and universities always want more of that. Secondly, there is no (or very little) co-ordination between studios and schools in regards to training, skills and potential demand.
If both camps co-ordinated, then students with the correct skills would be graduating and prepared for future careers. As it stands, plenty of 2D animation is being taught despite the fact that CGI has rapidly rendered (no pun intended) the style obsolete as far as mainstream productions go.
The Animation Skills Needed
The key here are skills. Creativity is a small aspect of labour, and studios, while ostensibly looking for creative minds, are also looking for skills. Skills drive their businesses; the very entity that animators and artists depend on for a livelihood.
As with any industry, more does not necessarily equal better. Specialisation does not necessarily equal higher pay. Rather on both counts, variety and scarcity matter more than anything.
Put simply, the greater variety of animation skills you can have, the better your chances are. The downside is that you may be a jack of all trades but a master of none.
If you are a specialist, you will be scarce, and companies like to (and have to) pay more. The risk is that you may be specialised in the one area that may be scarce, but for which their is no demand; e.g. 2D animators in southern California.
So what’s the secret to skills? Well, the secret is to specialise, but to constantly and continually improve and develop them. Always be hungry to learn something new. You may not be a specialist immediately, but you can at least put those skills on your resume in the meantime.
The Determining Factors Are Far Outside Your Control
What angers a lot of people is that they see jobs going abroad when there are perfectly capable people available locally. While this is an understandable situation, you, the person reading this, have to realise that globalisation has enabled not only work to go abroad easily, but also vastly increased the number of people you must compete with for jobs. You cannot control it and more importantly, you cannot stop it.
If an Indian animator can produce the same work as you can for a tenth of the price, there is little you can do about it save bringing him to the States. What you can do, is be a better animator than him, be a faster animator than him or produce animation that he can’t. Those are the kinds of aspects that you can (and should) do something about.
The Life Lesson
The takeaway lesson is that there is no such thing as a job for life any more. Similarly lifelong learning is now a mandatory part of any career, animated or not. Only by staying one step ahead of the competition can you hope for steady employment.