Friday, January 30, 2009

The Shit Filter

Anybody who thinks being a supervisor is an easy job has never been one. You answer to way too many people and you are responsible for the work of way too many others. The difference in pay is negligible or less than what a good, fast artist can make. I say FAST because commercial animation art is all about volume. As a Layout Supervisor I was responsible for turning out 300 scenes of layouts in two weeks time. This required being able to do the layouts that my crew was unable to do or did incorrectly. Why not hand the bad layouts back to be done over or corrected? I did, if there was time. If not, I found it faster to do them myself. This made for a lot of late nights.

It was also essential that I know the strengths and weaknesses of every artist on my staff. Not all artists are born equal. Some are very good at landscapes but weak at character drawing. Some can produce great poses but have no idea how to draw architecture. Animal drawings are no problem to some artists but automobiles or bicycles are beyond them. Casting the artist to his strength was a mark of a good supervisor. Of course, background layouts are often more difficult and time consuming to draw then a simple close-up of a character. In order to keep on schedule and prevent rioting, I would have to balance out how many background heavy scenes I gave to everyone. The scenes that demanded a good background went to good background artists and when excellent character acting was required, I'd cast a great character artist. That meant, I'd have to correct character posing in the scenes that the background artist had to draw and adjust the background in the scenes that the character artist couldn't do.

Once I had my crew running smoothly and our quotas were being met, they gave me another show to run at the same time! Oh, I got more people, of course. Instead of doing one show with a mere staff of six artists, I now had ten artists to do two shows! By the standards of the day, this seemed management. This challenge required a division of work. The solid background artists were pulled off into a separate unit to draw nothing but backgrounds for the two productions. I had to hire outside "free-lancers" to make up the difference in personnel. Their work was competent but I had less time to require I did them. I had little time to train new people, least of all a new assistant supervisor I was required to take on. I was issued an ultimatum; either I choose an assistant or the department head would. I picked a solid, if unimaginative, artist with good work habits for the job. He thought it was an advancement until he started to make repairs and excuses for his crew. I felt vindicated when this former worker came to me and said; "Until I started doing this job, I never realized what jerks my co-workers were!" Supervisors aren't born they're made.

1 comment:

Mike Milo said...

another great read... and as I was once a supervisor myself I totally understand what you mean by 'casting artists'. I also found it hard to make friends with the crew because if I did eventually they would try and use that friendship to goof off or come in late and it would always end in trouble for me. But it was also a necessity to be friendly at the same time. Being a supervisor is a tightrope walk to be sure.