Friday, December 05, 2008

Mr. Big Shot, Squisher of Dreams

I've been fascinated by animation since I was little. By my teens I decided I'd either become an animator or the person who did storyboards. But how would I get to be either of these? Sure, loved to draw and tell stories, but so did a lot of people, many more talented me. And it wasn't like there were animation studios on every corner. Did I have a chance? How could I increase my chances?
I read everything I could find. Information was limited. These were pre-internet times. The main library only offered a few outdated books. So did branch libraries. Bookstores at the time were modest barbershop sized places. I had some luck, but still wasn't sure what I should start doing now to increase my chances.
I wrote to the Disney studio to ask what to do. I figured I'd get a form letter that would set me on the right track.
The reply wasn't a form letter. It was from a higher up (not an animator or a story department person, I might add). We'll call him Mr. Big Shot. It opened like this:
"You sound confused. Do you want to be a writer or an artist?"
His answer to my questions?
"Why don't you take it upon yourself to do some research at the local library?"
I forget other details, but the gist of the letter seemed to to be that I either lazy or clueless, perhaps both-
"If you want to make money, go into law" he concluded (did he think I my main motive was getting rich?). Brief nebulous nonsense about magic and dreams followed.
Magic? I thought dreams!? It was like hearing "You can play with us if you become cool enough" on the playground.
My animation dreams died with that letter. I'd learned nothing. Mr. Big Shot at Disney seemed disgusted with me. Maybe I'd even blacklisted myself. Had I really sounded so stupid in my letter? Maybe I was stupid.
Well, it's just as well, I thought. I can't really draw that well anyway.


linda said...

I'm aghast.

You go, Namo!

Namowal said...

Thanks, Linda,
Classy guy, huh?
I wonder if he was just having a bad day, or if he shot down aspiring creative types every day?

walterworld said...

That's awful! Hard to imagine that someone took the time to write back, only to send along a big dose of discouragement...

Namowal said...

Hi Walterworld,
I agree it seems odd.
Even if I'd written something like "Gee, making cartoons sounds like an easy way to make a pile of dough. I want in!" the response would be unprofessional.
The fact that it came from someone high on the food chain* as opposed to an artist may have something to do with it. He wasn't at Disney because of his drawing ability. Was he jealous of those who had?

*but not a household name.

stray said...

What a cruel person. It's a wonder we arrived at this age with any self esteem intact. Doesn't it just make you wish you were in a position where you could write to aspiring creative kids and encourage them as much as possible?

Namowal said...

You said it, Stray.
In addition to encouraging younger people, I'd remind them that the snottiness of any advice is inversely proportional to how valid it is.

Sally said...

This post makes me so sad. And so mad. And so sad. And so mad.

I could tell nasty stories about seeking employment long ago as an animator or anything you'll hire me for, but they never stuck the needle in that deep-- that's what's so horrible.

I mean I can remember some stupid guy saying, "You have nice legs. We'd like to hire you to paint cels for us." With my toes? Not the same kind of crap "sit on your face" meanness.

As I understood it, Disney had a structured approach for possible employment, for a long time, involving specific criteria for portfolio review. This guy over rode it.

It sounds as if the guy who usurped your chances there may have wanted to become an animator himself but decided to become a lawyer or some kind of suit instead, and was taking it out on you, though you couldn't imagine it at the time.

There was only a really brief time in the last 25 years when traditional animators were paid well and in demand, if it makes you feel any better. This was around 1998. I wasn't hired, but I taught one semester at Cal Arts then. There was so much demand and recruiting going on that it was a problem for the school: they couldn't even keep the students to graduate.

I read your post a few days ago and have been thinking about it off and on. Hate Disney, hate that place.

Namowal said...

Hi Sally,
"You have nice legs. We'd like to hire you to paint cels for us."
Geez. Where do these yo-yos come from?
I agree that this fellow was probably a former (or would be) artist and had a chip on his shoulder.
I feel bad for anyone who graduated from animation school when the era peaked, only to find their dream jobs yanked when the animation divisions started to close. Yowch!

STAG said...

I hate to try to defend such a bozo...but I have walked a mile in his moccassins, so I have a touch of sympathy. Only a touch since I suspect he let his inner bully come out. Or maybe, Namowal, he was telling it like he saw it. Do you suppose, upon reading it again as an adult, you would feel the same soul crushing discouragement you felt as a teen?

I have a business that is pretty artistic in nature....I make suits of medieval armour. Real suits. In a real blacksmith shop. Sounds pretty cool right? Like working for Disney? And sure as the calendar changes months, I get the bi-weekly inquiry from some kid who thinks my job is just too cool for words and will I take on an apprentice.

Once a year or so I would take one of them on, and it would last a day, maybe two, and then the horrible discovery would kick in that this job is a jay ohh bee, and the work involves Doubleya Oh Arrgh Kay! (emphasis on the arrgh...) My most hopeful "apprentice" decided after only a week that couch surfing with a lovely and lonely courdon bleu chef was preferable to pushing steel into place. Funny that. She would bring food home from work.

I disovered that I was spending an inordinate amount of time answering these young hopefulls, and so created a form letter. I now send them the form letter, and await in vain for their positive responces. Do you think I am being too harsh? Letting them know that you have to get up in the morning, that you have to eat? That you might get a blister on your pinky?

What do you think?

Namowal said...

Interesting perspective.
In retrospect, I think was his "you naive fool" attitude that frosted me. Maybe he did get a lot of "gee I want a fun job like you got" letters but mine wasn't one of them.
A form letter saying listing specific skills required (like yours) would have been more useful.
"If you want to be an X, you'll need to be able to do A. B. and C.,
Be warned that this job has drawbacks X, Y and Z."
Since I work in the entertainment industry, I sometimes get the "that must be so fun" remark myself. But people who look over my shoulder and see what I actually do say things like "you mean you have to do that for every frame!? How tedious! No way I'd want to do that."
Then again before I was in Visual Effects I was a school teacher(!) Compared to teaching, what I'm doing now is fun.