Saturday, December 12, 2009

Growing Work

*Above image from my final film for Sesame Workshop in 2009. The opportunity to make six films for them grew out of work I've done for their other divisions. Background art by Adrian Urquidez.

Here's something I've never put into writing before: I was a shift manager at McDonalds at the age of 16. I had keys to the store, the combination to the safe, and the responsibility of opening the store for many-a-weekend breakfast rush. Ah, the memories of a misspent youth.

As a shift manager, I would sometimes work the closing shift, where there was always a senior manager on duty. One night my boss was trying to get a leg up by shutting down the grill a 1/2 hour early. That way he could start cleaning the grill parts in the back sink and we could all get out of there a little sooner. Unfortunately, a final customer came in and ordered a burger. Since my manager was also the one working the grill that night, I had to ask him to make the burger. Reluctantly, he marched back to the grill with clean grill parts in hand and cooked the order. He was really mad and took it out on me, wining that I should have turned the customer away. In response I asked, "Are we in the business of closing the store or of serving the customer?" That was like pouring gasoline on a fire. He turned bright red and if looks could kill, my head would have been swimming with the french fried potatoes.

And, as much as I was an insufferable teen back then, I still think of that encounter, particularly how it relates to how us animators or animation studios find work. We all want to be in the business of growing work but we often behave as if we are going out of business. We do this when we don't stay connected to the community, grow new contacts, keep our skills up to date, keep up with new software, or value work above the relationships that are required to get that work and be invited back for more.

The hardest time to build a viable network of opportunity is at the start of a career because one has to begin everything from scratch: honing skills, establishing a reputation, and creating relationships. But, if the start of a career in animation has its challenges, longevity too, can work against us. A New York animation veteran of over two decades confided to me that the two people that used to give him steady work at one company have both since passed away. I find this to be good evidence that even when we are connected to the work stream it's still important to grow new connections. All sources of work eventually dry up. We need access to more than one watering hole.

I have always felt gratitude for every animation job I have ever landed, no matter how big or small, no matter how fat or lean the budget was. As I see it, getting to spend my life doing work I love with the people I love to work with is a privilege, not a right. And, it's a privilege that I work hard to earn and re-earn each and every day. I think when one sincerely holds that attitude one cannot help but to grow work, even in a business as difficult as ours.

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