Animation Skills: Supply and Demand

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.

Quick Poll: Are You Asked To Do Things You’re Not Qualified For?

Just a quick wee poll for today but it would appear to be a common theme running through the artistic professions. Today, the future Mrs. Animation Anomaly, who has a masters in Publication Design, was asked to become an animator despite having no previous experience or even the proper tools to do so.

This got me thinking, is it a common thing for artistic folks to be asked to do something they’ve either never done before or have no experience in? The reason I ask this is that most non-artisans seem to have little appreciation for the amount of effort and skills that go into even the most innocuous tasks. Even a quick perusal of Clients From Hell can provide proof of that!

As herself noted, people can go to school for years to earn a degree in animation but this particular client was expecting the completed job within half an hour!

Has this ever happened to you? Answer the poll below and fire off any stories in the comments.

[poll id=”13″]

Yes, Animation Still Has A Stigma Once You Reach A Certain Age

Fred Seibert re-blogged a post by Megan, a.k.a. animationbits over on tumblr in which she goes into detail about how much she loves animation and how she’s hard at work on becoming a fully-fledged animator.

As inspirational as that post is (and you should definitely read it), what struck me was that while she drew and doodled from a very young age, something happened:

Then, like some of you, I hit an age where suddenly it wasn’t appropriate anymore. At this point I was living with my father and stepmother and suddenly im in a world where it was weird for me to create fantasy worlds and draw cartoons.

She was 18 at that point, and as she mentions, at one point, her father had something taped to the table which read the following:

THIS , this is whats keeping you from growing up – all these cartoons

Thankfully, Megan overcame all of this, but the fact remains that moreso than being a professional stigma for a lot of people; the old “all artists are starving” and “you’re not famous till you’re dead” notions continue to proliferate among society unfortunately. As Megan herself says:

Most of the time this talk comes from people who don’t KNOW of the art industry but base things on very surface conversations or stigmas like ‘starving artist’ .

The fact that this seemed to happen when she reached a certain age is exemplary of the continued stigma that grown-up animation fans continue to encounter here and there. Oh sure, it is much more acceptable now than in the past, but you could say that outside of conventions and industry circles, my Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends T-shirt is not nearly as appreciated.

The thing is though, the whole reason my passion for animation was re-ignited was because I realised that it is grown-ups who are making it and that they are people with real jobs, a real education and life-goals. Until that point I’d always thought of animated studios like Bart thought of the offices of MAD Magazine; a fun-house kind of scenario. Of course that was partly me being, like my father says, a stupid kid. A dose of the real world changed that mindset substantially.

Far from peer-pressure being the enemy of teenage animation fans, it is people who think it’s a profession for perpetual children. Nothing could be farther from the truth and here’s hoping that the stigma will someday be a footnote in history.


Quick Note: Software Skills

Just a quick note because I’m actually waiting for class to start. When it comes to animation and technology where does software skills play into things?

What I mean is that with a wide variety of different programs out there how do you choose which ones to learn?

Are they the ones taught at your school? If so could you end up in a situation where you are being taught outdated or unpopular software?

Even moreso are you spending time learning a new program that may well be obsolete in a few years? Animation software (bar Renderman) is still somewhat new and the pace of development is currently breathless.

What are your thoughts on the topic? Should we revert to the good old ubiquitous paper and pencil or do we commit ourselves to learning something that may only benefit us for a short part of our careers?

PS please excuse any typos, I wrote this post on my phone.