Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In Out of the Cold

As a young artist, I bounced around from "farm house" to "farm house". These small studios lived off the overflow from the major studios, producing a contract series with a small in-house crew and a string of free lancers. It gave the illusion of independence but we were all beholden to "The Company". Struggling to learn AND earn, I longed for a staff position at a Company shop so I'd be noticed by the big players. My opportunity came when the HB Company opened up positions for assistant layout artists. I never considered myself as a Layout Artist. I saw myself as an Animator. Layout artists were combination choreographers, set designers, costumers and stage managers. They drew backgrounds and props and positioned the characters on stage and gave basic stage direction. Animators were performers! They gave life to inanimate drawings and made them dance, sing and act. Animators were obviously the preferred artists. After all, they called the business ANIMATION not Layout! Still, they hired layout artists first and a job is a job so I signed up for the new gig.

As an assistant layout artist, my job was taking rough layout drawings and making them look presentable to the animators who followed. When I was an assistant animator, I had to "clean up"the work of oft times lazy animators. These guys would only do the minimum amount of work required and let the assistant finish off the job. Consequently, I was used to doing 14 to 50 drawings in a scene. Being an assistant layout artist was similar except for one big difference, there was only three to ten layout drawings in a scene! I went through a week's worth of work in two days! Soon my layout artist was complaining that I was working too fast. I found it impossible to stretch out so little volume of work to more than three days. I suggested to my supervisor that I be given two layout artists to assist. Instead, he promoted me to an apprentice journeyman layout artist which had more potential but actually paid less!

By now you're probably wondering what's the moral of this story. The lesson is, don't be afraid to adapt to new skills. The Company hired layout artists six weeks before animators so I started my employment earlier. I worked through the summer and then when layout work ran out, I switched over to animation which continued for an additional six weeks. By learning a new job I extended my work season by three months! The best part of it was I established myself as a responsible employee at a major studio and I became a "first call" when work opened up. After a couple of years of this, I was "kept over" the layoff period to work on special projects. At last I was a Company man! I was on staff, year round and permanent emploment became a reality.

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