The Disconnect That Leads to Industry Breakdown


Any industry is a complicated beast and animation is no exception. The skills in demand are constantly changing and nobody really knows where things are heading in that regard. Many still pine for the days when traditional animation was either hand-drawn or stop-motion. Today, CGI comes in a dizzying, vast array of forms and associated skillsets. How these skills are taught is something that has been discussed here before with this blogger advocating a return to apprenticeships in animation as opposed to undergraduate degree programs that teach skills that may be obsolete by the time students graduate. On a recent post on a related topic, commentator johnV posted a comment excerpted below:

I personally feel that the reason there are more CG films than Traditional Animation is because the lack of talent and the colleges that only teach CG animation. Before, the majority of animators were artists. They went to art school, not to an animation school. They knew how to draw, paint, sculpt, and create art. They learned animation from other animators while working in the animation studio. They knew the fundamentals of ART. John Lasseter said it himself, that all animators should know the fundamentals of art.

Today, most animation students don’t bother learning the necessary principles to creating art. Thus, they become button pushers. There’s not enough people who can do Traditional Animation anymore, because it’s not being taught. Animators who want to animate traditionally, have to teach themselves, watch Youtube videos, and read books. But there are no colleges for that anymore. There are a few that will teach a class or two, but not one that will have it as a degree.

And that’s perfectly fine for the colleges. Colleges are nothing more than a business, they use the technology and computer animation aspect to attract new students. They don’t care about the industry or what is the viable form of animation. They care that they fill seats in their class rooms, sell books and supplies, and charge an insane amount of tuition that the students will be paying back for a very long time.

And speaking of business, the major studios love button pushers… they’re easy to replace. Do you think that a computer animator has the pull and power of a traditional animator…. computer animators are a dime a dozen. A traditional animator is hard to come by. They can demand from their employers. So the studio prefers the control over the computer animators.

I’ve broken the original comment up for clarity, but let’s discuss all the very good points raised.

Learning the Art

Animation is grounded in art. It’s where the inspiration comes from and where it’s influence is felt. It is nigh-on impossible to completely appreciate animation if one does not have at least some appreciation or understanding of art in general.

So the question arises: should students be forced to have a solid grounding in art before undertaking a study in animation?

I would hazard that they should, animation can be taught, but appreciation requires coaching of the kind that education is supposed to provide in an ideal scenario. While many artists employed in studio’s today undoubtedly have artistic talent, we must consider those coming behind us as well.

Skillset Supply and Demand

johnV is right about a shortage of colleges not teaching traditional animation, but it comes back to the notion that a bachelors degree is something that affords the holder the ability to produce animation. That isn’t true, and plenty of the best animators managed to get by without any sort of formal qualification when it came to their animation talents.

In a way, we are seeing the flipside of what CGI went through 25 years ago. Back then, if you wanted to learn CG animation, you had to suss out the information for yourself; hardly anyone was going to teach it in a formal setting aside from a computer science degree.

Do we strictly need a traditional animation degree? Maybe not, but it is the lack of one that indicates how the skill faces a decline as old masters retire and their skills are lost to the ether.

College as A Business

Is college a business? Undoubtedly (at least in the US), it is, and we’re talking about more than the “for profit” colleges of the kind highlighted on Cartoon Brew a while back. Therein lies the disconnect between the education and the industry. Cathal Gaffney of Brown Bag Films has long bemoaned the skills taught by Irish animation programmes that are out of date compared to the ones he needs for the studio. The result is that he must source (more expensive) animators from abroad.

Do universities and colleges strictly care about whether or not what they teach matches what the industry needs? Well, why should they? Employment after graduation is the student’s concern, right? Whose to blame if they learned the wrong skills. Again, it comes back to schools teaching “animation”, a skill that, theoretically, should be universally applicable. Software is software after all and it can be learned or taught separate from the academic program.

We have long ago lost the close connection between studios and schools wherein there was co-ordination and cross-pollination between employees and students. CalArts is the utopian example, but others exist too. Today, employees, as disposable as they are, do not have the long-term relationship with studios that encouraged the notion of investing in oneself for the betterment of the whole. This leads to employees (to the delight of employers) acquiring a set of narrowly defined skills and relying upon them. Not only does this make them more disposable, it also tends to make them cheaper since they now compete against each other rather than everyone. Which leads us to…

Skillset Supply and Demand

Even a basic course in economics can highlight just what it is about supply and demand that vexes most people. They know that as supply increases, the price you have to pay for something decreases, but what if the supply is people, and the price paid is your salary?

In a purely economical situation, your salary will fall relative to the increase in demand. Any time salaries for animators falls, it isn’t so much because studios are trying to squeeze the extra buck (they are), but they can also get away with it because they can still find the labour they require.

CG animators are currently in demand, but there are also a lot of them. As johnV points out, they’re a dime a dozen, and unless you have something over and above what everyone else has, you’re expendable!

That said….a traditional animator may have a large skillset but not be in high demand. How much can they earn? Well, while price goes up with decreasing supply, it can also go down with decreasing supply if demand similarly drops. A traditional animator can hope to earn near nothing if there is no demand for their skills.

Where This Leads to Industry Breakdown

Where all the points discussed in this post tie together is that without sufficient co-ordination of skills, the industry from an employment standpoint starts to break down. We see studios close, artists laid off and production shifted elsewhere.

Colleges continually push students without any consideration for actual demand, that pushes salaries for existing employees down thanks to a larger than necessary supply of talent. We won’t even mention what unpaid internships do for the industry as a whole, but you get the picture.

On the other end, studios continually alter the skillsets they require leaving vast swathes of artists to either get with the program or get out altogether.

In the end, what results is an industry that doesn’t know what it needs and is incapable or producing it when it does.

The end result is breakdown.

2 thoughts on “The Disconnect That Leads to Industry Breakdown”

  1. Been reading through your website. Really great articles Charlie! Very diplomatic ‘on the ball’ points and with broad realistic outlooks. I’ll enjoy future posts.

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