Monday, October 27, 2008
Canaries in the Coal Mine
In 2005 and 2006 my SVA career classes graduated with a large percentage of them finding employment. By 2007 the local industry was beginning an undeniable downturn. Less TV series were in production and, since TV series make up the bulk of our jobs, there was less work to spread around. In particular, students graduating in large numbers (the SVA graduating animation classes alone have numbered over 40 students per year since 2000) depend on TV series jobs more than other more-seasoned animation artists, which have a broader range of opportunities to call upon. TV series require a large workforce with a great deal of assistant work tailor made to newcomers.
I’m amazed at the power the Disney films of the 1990s have held on the current generation of wanna-be animation artists. The success and influence of The Little Mermaid to Tarzan is what has packed the SVA animation department since 2000. I’ll never forget the rows and rows of long faces staring back at me when I taught my first SVA career class held after the announcement that Disney was shutting down their traditional animation department. What I read as merely another headline in Variety, the class took as a deathblow.
Beginning in 2007, there has been a large rise in unpaid “internships” going to students post-graduation. For me, SVA’s graduating class has provided a yearly glimpse into the relative health of the local animation industry. Many of the last two graduating classes have struggled to land even a first break in animation. Some have asked me for help and advice. In each case, it is advice I had dispensed over and over again during my 15-week course. The only problem is, the students weren’t ready to hear it then. I’m not sure they are ready to hear it now.
In each case I ask them to describe their job hunt. The answer is always the same:
"I search on line and apply to ads on craigslist."
That would be fine if it represented 10% of their job hunt, not the summation of it. Some students wait until they are done creating the perfect reel. Others simply let their “dream” fritter away and allow themselves to get swallowed by the easiness of their part time or full time jobs outside of animation. Breaking into animation and securing one’s place in the industry takes as much passion and effort as it might take to learn this artform's craft. One has to network and creatively develop themselves. It’s never enough to be “into cartoons.” This industry eats people alive who are merely “into cartoons." You have to have a hunger for animation. You have to know that you can’t imagine a life working in any other capacity.
Do students lacking imagination and drive in the job hunt make this “canaries in the coal mine” analogy useless? I don’t believe so, because during busier periods in animation, even those who are only “into cartoons” are often swept into jobs (perhaps after being recommended by their more ambitious friends). The fact that this hasn’t happened in the last two years is an indication of a continuing slump.