Monday, November 22, 2010

Animation Tug of War

I was at an animation expo this weekend, and sometime during the course of the few days, a veteran animator and his wife happened to be in a conversation with another ex-Disney employee and me.  The discussion had started around the recent death of Roy Disney and his pet project, “Fantasia 2000,” which I worked on.  We talked about the freedom that working on the bite-sized segments of “Fantasia” allowed us in adjusting schedules as needed, moving plans around, and letting the artists expand their creative abilities. 

We were in a separate building for most of that production, and as a result, were not in the midst of the heightening pressure and the rabbit-breeding paced growth of VP’s in the division at a time when the feature animation department ballooned to about 2000 employees over two huge buildings.  The bottom line is that we were protected by none other than Roy Disney himself.  Roy wanted the project to be finished the way he wanted it, which was carefully, and not to anyone else's pocket watch, and Eisner knew not to push back.  There was even an artist who used to bring his dog to work with him. 

The animator said in our conversation that he missed those days of having that kind of freedom, and he mentioned a philosophy he developed in his many years of working on projects.  He framed his experience of a balance needed in production in this unique way: 

“In animation, there is always a struggle between the artists, who want to take as long as they like doing their work and putting forth their opinion into a project, and the management, who want to quantify every bit of the process and finish as soon as possible while putting their opinion into a project.  That conflict is necessary; both sides need to be pulling equally, but not winning.  If one side wins, then everyone loses.  Right now, management has won.”

I wholeheartedly agree with this animator whom I respect a great deal.  If you imagine the artistic extreme, that is, a slow, meticulous animation department that is compulsive about not letting the artwork continue down the pipeline, but rather keeps re-doing scenes an ignores scheduling guidance, the enterprise becomes unworkable. 

And then if you imagine the other extreme, in which artists are so rushed to make a weekly quota that they lose all enjoyment of the creative process and are unhappy with their own product, the conditions become unbearable.  It seems that the pendulum has swung well over to the latter since about 1995. 

Hopefully, with a market more saturated with so many varying forms of animation, and not just two companies fighting it out to dominate the industry as was the case just before year 2000, a healthier balance can be attained sometime again in the future.  I hope so.  I want to be there on the day that dogs are allowed to hang out in animation buildings again.