Disney layoffs, 2D animation, and you

6 min read

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tombancroft's avatar
By tombancroft
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A very nervous animation student (he didn't say, but I assume he is studying 2D animation) asked me about my opinions on the state of animation these days.  What are the companies thinking with laying off all the employees, not doing 2D animation, canceling great TV series, etc.?  Are the business people just evil?  AND the even bigger question: Is John Lassiter a jerk (or worse) for letting all the 2D animators at Disney go yesterday?  

MY ANSWER:  I have a slightly controversial (for an artist) perspective on businesses and business people.  Over all, I like them.  At times, I have even been grateful for them.  (Steady paychecks should never be taken for granted.  Wait till you don't have one one day, then you'll know!) Remember, we live in a world where businesses are expected to make money to stay alive.  It's called capitalism. Others call it "business". That means, the animation world isn't any different from any other job/company. I see the other side of the equation since I owned my own company for about 8 years. It was a small studio, but until you work "out in the real world" away from mom and dad's money and/or a companies' steady paycheck, you have no idea how hard it is to stay afloat as an artist. I don't suggest it to people right after art school by any means. That doesn't mean I think that studios are run poorly at times.  They OFTEN are.  Its is near impossible to find a person that understands creative people AND knows business well enough to run a studio.  That person was NOT Walt Disney, as many of you think.  Walt had his brother Roy, to handle the money side of things and make sure Walt didn't destroy the company.  And he would have.  Imagine a world where Disney animation only made "Snow White".  That's the Disney company with Walt as the sole head.  You need both sides and I admit, the Disney company of today (and for years now) is short sighted.  They want quick money and are not looking long term at investments and legacy, as they should.  They say they are, but its obvious they are not.  

Has power gone to John Lassiter's head?  Is he an evil businessman now?  Not evil, that's for sure.  More business minded than ever before, yes, he has to be.  Its part of his job.  It was when he was just creative head of Pixar, but it could take a back seat a bit in that job (there were other "Roy's" that could do that heavy lifting).  Now, he has MUCH more on his shoulders and he's spread very thin.  As far as the 2D animators that just got laid off?  He was the guy that KEPT them there for the past couple years when they (largely) had very little to do.   They were making money for YEARS and not doing much.  Ask them, they will tell you the same thing.  Its not what they wanted, and they have been fighting to get some 2D projects going the whole time.  But don't think that any other studio/ studio head would have kept about 20 highly paid (based on years of service and compared to some of the younger CG guys for sure) for years without an actual production for them to work on!  No way.  Only at Disney and only under John's eye/hand.  They were his friends and he wanted them there.  At least until the Board couldn't stand the bleeding ink on the stocks, etc.  I don't know the whole story, few do, but this is how these things work.  Believe me, Lassiter is not a saint, but he knows talent and values good people.

So, do you go into animation/ stay in animation school or not?  Well, if you can see yourself doing ANYTHING ELSE and still be content, then maybe you should look into those things. Your life will be easier. If you can't imagine drawing and being creative every day, then go for it. Your life won't be easy, but it will be happier. Its really that simple. Also, keep in mind, time moves forward. Things change. When some companies close, others open up that you never thought would. So, pursue what your dreams (with some 'safety measures, like learning computer animation also, perhaps) and have faith that life happens weather you are happy or not, so choose to be happy.  There's nothing wrong with doing a "boring day job" if it pays the bills for your family and you stay up late doing your creative dream project.  That may happen too.  As long as you flex those creative muscles, it might be nice to not have deadlines and pressure of paying bills with your artwork.

© 2013 - 2021 tombancroft
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BFan1138's avatar
Here's an eye opening article I just read about whether or not 3D animation ACTUALLY makes more than 2D generally:  www.examiner.com/article/does-…

It consists of 4 parts, but I couldn't find any links leading to the next one, so you have to change the part number in the URL to continue.  It certainly makes me question the motives (as well as intelligence) of studio executives.
Though Animation is a commercial art for Feature Studios, it is truly a High Art when such talents as those Disney Features had as a team are brought together. Their films educate, archive knowledge and help to design the future of our society. Animation is an art form that requires pooling together the talents of every High Art in society to create the singular High Art of the Animated Feature Film (2D and/or 3D). It is hard to hold any studio responsible for such high ideals as the High Arts, being it is business and a commercial art, Disney did achieve High Art during it’s renaissance. Disney did this because of the choices made by the collaboration of incredible talent brought together at the time. We, the artists, felt responsibility for our creations and a love for the art and those people who enjoy it. I and my amazing wife, Norma, had the incredible privilege of being part of the legend. The legend was the team, the amazing pool of creators we belonged too. To us, they are family. Whether we got along or not doesn’t matter because we all wanted the same thing. We wanted to achieve greatness in our art. We loved the same things and decades later we still love the same things. We are family. The journey of Beauty and the Beast, Alladdin, Lion King, etc. etc. was historic to our art form but what was most amazing was the legendary team we were. The amazing talent working and struggling through the trenches of production, accomplishing the seemingly impossible, “Building Dreams”.

I met my wife at Disney. We were married during the production of Beauty and the Beast. I was an artist on The Beast and she was an artist being used by The Bell team at the time. While she was drawing Bell and I was drawing The Beast, we worked in a building called The Heart Building. Teams, Dreams …Disney… made our future.

It is sad to see the Traditional Animation team broken up and some may consider it the loss of a legend. I don’t see it quite that way. You see our art form is a fine balance of funding/budget, quality and time. Most think of it as just an issue of quality. Recognizing that the team we were at Disney was a pool of some of the best talent in the world, I also realize how important it is to seed the world with the best to, in fact, raise the art form of animation as a whole. This is actually what is happening now as a result of Disney releasing so much of their talent. We are now seeing a great thing happen though it may feel, to some, like the rose flowers have been cut off the plant. Disney has always been masterful in bringing the most incredible talents together to create, as a business and commercial art, some of the most lasting High Art Animations in world history. It is very likely they will continue to do so no matter what path animation as an art form takes in the future. They will build legendary teams and those individuals will spread the knowledge and art throughout the world. As they do so, new legendary teams will form in other places as funding is raised. This is the miracle of our business and the wonder of animation. To continue having gorgeous flowers, the rose must be trimmed, nurtured, and cared for, and you must even dump some manure on them otherwise it’s just a thorn bush. The world of animation is a multitude of colors and tones when it grows everywhere. 2D animation will never die but rather take root in different forms. If the world truly wants the old art style of 2D animation, funding will come together for it at some amazing studio and audiences will flock to the films again. The art must evolve with the audience though just as the audience evolves with the art.

The artists of Disney are legends because the art form is legendary. Having been granted the privilege of being part of the team during those legendary times has been an honor, a wonder, an incredible journey and one of the most amazing parts of my life so far. My best wishes to every artist and creative talent of Disney who are part of molding our world. You are the Legend. The artists of all Feature Studios like those I’ve worked for; Sullivan Bluth, Kroyer, Amblimation, etc. ect. are the true legends. We build the dreams that build the world. Hope grows in the heart of art.

Johan Klingler
DelDiz's avatar
Tom, I'm curious, do you think Disney bases the assumption that 3D is more popular than 2D on the fact that Tangled made more than Princess and The Frog?
tombancroft's avatar
It usually comes down to money in all these biz situations/decisions, so yes, that's a big part of the equation.
DelDiz's avatar
What I mean is, Tangled's release date coincided with only one or two other family movies out at the time. Princess and the Frog was released at Christmas time, alongside several holiday films, family films including Alvin and the Chipmunks 3, James Cameron's Avatar, not to mention UP was still showing in a few select features. Despite all the competition (some of it good some of it bad) Princess and the Frog still made a great profit. If it had been released when there weren't as many family films to choose from, like Tangled was, who's to say it wouldn't have matched or even done better than Tangled profit-wise?
tombancroft's avatar
Really good point.
DelDiz's avatar
Do you think that was taken into account at all by Disney?
tombancroft's avatar
DelDiz's avatar
Common sense, to what far shore hast thou flown?
DelDiz's avatar
Well, there's something that's been bothering me about that factor, and I don't know if I'm just being naïve about this, but it seems like it would have made a big difference in the profit margins...
Tom, i'm curious. Are u still working at Disney?
tombancroft's avatar
Not now, but I worked in feature animation for 12 years about 10 years ago.
Wow, that's a long time.
I mean, do u still work for Disney? Sorry I messed up at my words.
Will there be a strong future for the animation style used to create paperman? I really loved it and it won best animated short.
tombancroft's avatar
Who knows, but I doubt it. It was a very labor-intensive, expensive process, I can't see anyone doing that for a feature film.
So do u think theres any hope left for 2D animation?
tombancroft's avatar
It will still be around, just in shorts and European films.
I hear that Disney is in early development of a feature film that's using the same techniques as Paperman, and it's being directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.
awesomestarz's avatar
I need to ask this, as I want and pray to become a successful animator in the future.
How much money do animators make annualy?
Also, what schools do you recomend that I attend to study in this field?
tombancroft's avatar
They make enough. But, if you only want to do it for the money, become a plumber. I would go to Ringling School of Art and Design, CalArts, or SCAD, amoung a few others.
Yupasama's avatar
I read mostly all your comments.

I want to say something:

if you put your work on internet, even just some teaser for bigger thing to buy, we will be there.

I love 2d animation, I try to buy short movies from small companies or individuals. I buy arts from some animators in exposition, in France.

There is many initiative on internet.
I follow stuff like
- [link] (the times are very hard for japanese animators too)
- [link]
- [link] (a short movie by young animators with help from japanese government for studios training students)

I follow a lot of blogs, websites, deviant users and so on, whom I think they can become professionals one day and support them by buying their work. There is many works from Russia, France, Korea, and so on. There is a market for it, but you have to think globally (I least to provide subtitles).

You can't do alone, because an artist is not a business person, but you have to build a portfolio, put it on vimeo, youtube, blogs, festivals and so on.

Don't be shy to ask a price. Your work has value. It can be painful to read angry cheap people complaining, or to not win many money thanks to your artwork at first but you have to try and build it with time. Some stuff free, all the other paid. I will pay to see the whole work, I will buy bluray. I already do that.

Time are tough, but you are not alone and you have to think global market. I'm not from the US or Canada but I can support, not everyone, but as much I can, I want to see more animations and stories, I'm not the only one.

The point is: put your work or part of your work on internet and we will find you. Easier than if you put nothing.
tombancroft's avatar
Great perspective. I agree, we all need to stop protecting our "babies" and get them out there. I am starting to do that as of this year. Thanks!
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