Thursday, June 3, 2010
The Frame Drain
Image from Chris Prynowski's MTV Animation series "Downtown," a production from 1999, the last era where work was abundant enough to temporarily slow the flow of NY animation talent heading west.
In the 1960s Europe faced what became known as "the brain drain" as individuals with technical skills or knowledge emigrated to the United States and other places where they could earn more for their skills. Since 2008 or 2009, New York City animation has undergone what might be called "the frame drain," as some key animation talent has moved to Los Angeles to continue careers or, in some cases, start them.
For example, Kat Morris and Rebecca Sugar, two of the most talented animation artists to graduate SVA in recent memory, both headed west to take advantage of the greater opportunities out there. Venture Bros. director Ian Jones-Quartey recently split as did N.Y. stalwart and Codename: Kids Next Door creator Tom Warburton. Another departure was the amazing husband-wife team of Toni Tysen and Danny (Kano) Kimanyen. Indie superstars PES and Patrick Smith also got out of Dodge (to La-La-Land and Singapore, respectively).
Now I've heard word that four more of our brightest and best are planning to scoot (two because of scoring a two-year artists' residence in Europe) and two because of L.A.'s sweet siren call. Even as a booster of the N.Y. animation scene, I can't deny the advantages that Hollywood provides. For one thing, there's an actual animation industry there. When you work on a TV series for Cartoon Network, for instance, you work in a building bearing its name. When the series job comes to an end, there will likely be another job for you on another series down the hall or on the next floor. There hasn't been anything like that in NY since MTV Animation quietly shut down in 2001.
All this departing talent of the past two or three years could sound pretty disheartening to those of us remaining in the Big Apple, if not for one important thing: the natural renewal that is already in progress. Animation, like many industries, seems to have up cycles and down cycles.
At this point in time, I can happily report that most of my peers have either full or part time work. Even the most pessimistic among us would admit that things were a lot worse as recently as a year ago. How well this translates to opportunity for recent graduates is yet to be seen. I suspect there is still a long way to go in that area, but the arrival of new studios such as a Saatchi & Saatchi’s commercial animation division and the July 2010 arrival of the New York branch of Chris Prynowski's successful L.A.-based studio Titmouse, Inc., gives us reason to believe there's even more opportunity brewing for the second half of the year. Knock on wood.
Besides, New Yorkers departing for the West Coast is nothing new. It's been happening since Walt Disney first put California on the animation map. All of us animation folk are gypsies of a sort; whether we pack up and head west or not, we all exist from job to job, opportunity to opportunity. And, no matter what path we each take, we're still a part of the extended community that is New York animation.