Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shorts Goals 6 - Where Can Cartoonists Get Well-Rounded Experience Today?

Where do you get all-around experience in each department today?

What Does a Director Need Besides Talent?
The best directors are the folks who not only have talent, but who know how each department fits into the whole of the product. You can only get this knowledge by doing a number of different jobs over a few years to see what the function of each job is. Then you have a view of the whole system.

Most directors of the classic cartoons started as inbetweeners, worked their way up to animators, and if they were especially talented at telling stories, became directors. This took a few years within a very sensibly built American capitalist merit based system.

My Own Way Of Gaining Varied Experience At A Bad Time In History
In the 80s, when I started, the system had come apart creatively and became a cold factory - but it still separated many of the jobs and did them i the country. I worked as an inbetweener at a commercial studio, shot camera, then did some animation, did storyboards at TV studios, then layouts. I was really excited when I got my first official designer job on Heathcliff of all things. From there, I got into doing presentations for HB and TMS. I broke into some writing at the same time. I was learning bit by bit how the whole process worked (or didn't). By the time I got my first directing job, I was as ready as anyone could be in the late 80s.

I at least knew how everything was being done currently - and the handicaps of the system too, and I also knew kind of how they used to do things on the cartoons I liked. I knew real well who many of the most talented artists in the business were. So I combined the realities of modern TV production with some of the sense of the old system. A director isn't just a guy with some abstract idea that he got by chance spastic molecular activity in his brain; he is someone who knows how the all the parts fit together first, then is able to build his ideas (if he has any) around practical reality. And he needs a crew of very specialized talents who work well with him.

Today, I don't know if there is any way to get even as much experience as I accumulated before creating my own show. Animation is done overseas so not many in the business today actually know how cartoons are made - because studios hire other countries to make them for them. Or they do them in Flash, which amounts to the same thing.

Starting At The Top Is Just Plain Dumb

People start out in the business today doing jobs that used to require a lot of experience.
Storyboarding - without ever having animated, assisted or done layout, writing without ever having even drawn a storyboard! Storyboards aren't even used to write stories anymore. Ridiculous.

Model sheets are made by non-animators.

Most studios don't even do layouts anymore so there is nowhere to learn that.

Directors (the top creative position) are seemingly pulled out of a hat. It's open to anyone who walks in and can barely scrawl a stick figure out but can somehow convince a non-creative manager that he's got some latest in-thing (which usually is just a watered down poorly drawn copy of something that already exists). The execs even admit it's hard to deal with these young immature folks because they don't have a realistic or experienced overview of how cartoons are made. (I have to hold their hands through the process, one exec told me) Well, "D-uh" as they say.

Animation has turned into a mystery religion.

Standards so Low Now That There Is Nothing Even To Aim For

When I was starting out, the studio system was pretty awkward and inefficient, but at least I had lots of old cartoons on TV to record and study - and there were some old timers around to ask questions about how they made their cartoons. So I pieced together a picture of how everything fit together and when I got my chance to try it out, saw what worked and what didn't, then was able to continue adapting the production system to favor creativity and artistic ambition among the cartoonists.

The old cartoons also had much higher standards than the current ones, so it encouraged some of us to aim high, regardless of the junk the studios made us pump out in the 80s.

Now sadly, there aren't many classic cartoons on TV anymore to at least inspire people to want to aim high, draw well, or let alone create lasting characters with personality. Any kid in high school can look at cartoons on TV today and say "Hell, I can do that!" And then they do. And each year cartoons become more primitive and get poorer ratings.


A sensible shorts program has to solve these problems in order to increase the chances of finding top talent and hits. Right now, the programs are all set up as crap shoots. Toss a pile of money in the air, hire 50 inexperienced kids and call them directors, then water down the actual experienced talent pool who has earned the right to maybe try directing by splitting it into 50 sub-standard units and hope one your 50 handicapped shorts somehow flukes its way into success. It's an admission by the management that they have no idea what makes something work. Extreme gambling with the companies' futures.

Let's use simple math:

50 units x say 8 people per crew = 400 artists you have to find.
OR: 50 cartoons made by 3 units of 8 = 24 artists.
Is it more likely to find 24 very talented artists than 500 for one program? Are there 500 really talented artists in the whole business? Let alone in 1 studio? There might be 24, though.

These 24 top talents each would get to make 16 or 17 shorts instead of just 1 each, and learn by experience and get better with each short.

The 50 crews each get one chance - all or nothing to get it right.

Which system sounds like it has a better chance to succeed?

How We Could Benefit From A Little Logic
No one uses their shorts program as an empirical way to create as many hits as fast as possible and to develop top talent who can consistently do it. And that's what the whole purpose behind a shorts program used to be. To kick the Hell out of the competition. Isn't it?

So another main goal of a shorts program should be:

To Give Cartoonists Real Experience - climb the ladder, earn your way up

Give cartoonists a ladder to climb so that when they finally get a chance to direct, they at least know how things work.

to be continued...





3-to-discover Talent


5-let-mistakes happen