Some animators are in a tizzy because the NY Times, Washington Post and LA Times all wrote about the mo-capped dancer, Savion Glover, who performed for Happy Feet. It seems more and more articles are being written interviewing the performers who wear the ping pong balls than the guys and girls who work their slow magic to turn that into something worth watching. But it’s the way the system work. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mark Mayerson points out Happy Feet director George Miller’s disparaging remarks about the insufficiency of animators to handle all the subtleties of a professional dancer’s body in motion. (Mark chimes in that he’s none too pleased about the cooments, too) To quote our good director…
“I knew even the greatest animators in the world would take a lifetime to pull off the nuances of dancing that a gifted dancer is able to pull off,” says “Happy Feet” director George Miller, speaking by phone the other day from Sydney, in his native Australia.
Ouch. Dude, it’s bad enough we’re the lowly hired oarsmen rowing the galley of your success, but don’t throw your poop bucket on the crew while you’re at it. Mark thinks the problem is that animators are not in the habit of blatant self promotion. And he’s right. Performers, dancers, actors, comedians- all are adept at the game of grabbing headlines and getting their name out there. They hire publicists, do press junkets, etc. But by and large, animators are a quiet, reclusive lot. Some time during the 90’s some Disney animators got a fair amount of press and as a result got some pub- Glen Keane & Andreas Dejas being the two that come immediately to mind. James Baxter has a big following, but mainly only among animators. The rest of the Disney crew? While some managed to get paid well because of their abilities and the demand for their services, outside of the chosen few you don’t hear zip. Some of it is the natural timidness of animators under the spotlight. Some of it was the studio wised up and realized that when they promote animators and make ’stars’ out of them then they have to pay them accordingly. By the time Cg got rolling the studios had pretty well figured that out and as a result there aren’t any public Cg animation ’stars’. Seriously. How many people on the street can name one single CG animator? Not many I tell you. When it comes to film animators, anonymity is the fate of just about all. (except for those few who can carve out a little in-house industry notoriety due to their prolonged internet presence. Ahem).
Feature animators are the great anonymous mass. In the current animated film market it’s about subjugating your own tastes and desires to meld into the great collective borg of the film. Your fame and worth is borrowed from your employer or the film. Your individual contribution is practically indistinguishable from everybody else’s. CG is even better (worse?) at this because it eliminates the variable of personal drawing style, further driving individual animator contributions into obscurity. No wonder the articles are about dancers or comedians in ping pong suits. They’re actually interesting! No wonder why directors and producers slam the skills and contributions of animators. They’re all just interchangeable parts- like oil filters or light bulbs. Like I said, most animators tend to be laid back, quiet folks who don’t like to make waves. We’re team players usually, so we keep our ideas to ourselves. Plus there are political realities involved: this is a small business and we’re always living under the shadow of searching for that next gig. So anything that might possibly jumble that (like, say, ohhh.. an opinion?) gets put away. Most animators would rather not offend anybody so they keep their opinions unpublished and keep picking up the anonymous paycheck as the migrant farmer of the digital age. Which is cool. Each to his own. But with that comes some kind of a price, and that price is you’ll NEVER get the kind of credit and or respect that you think animators (or you) deserve. So if you’re gonna work in the bowels of the machine as an interchangeable motion creation cog, then yeah, you’re gonna get passed over by the NY Times when the time comes to spit out a 1000 word write up on the creative forces that went into the latest CG animated movie. And a dancer, Tom Hanks or Andy Serkis in a mo-cap suit makes for a better story than some pasty, slightly over-weight slub in a dark room staring at a monitor moving a mouse for 9 hours a day to create an astonishing 5 seconds of motion each week.
So is animator really a position of notoriety? Or is it something else? Being a great animator does not translate into publicity. If anything it’s almost an antidote to it! The trick is to make something that is the opposite of the film system- to create something that has your personal mark on it. Something with your style, your voice, your ideas, your tastes- your name. Bill Plympton comes immediately to mind. Others follow quickly. Until you take that bold step and get out there and release something with your name on the front of it you are way down the foodchain in a publicity sense. For me I hope 2007 is the year we see more of us (myself included) step out of the anonymous fog and do something bright, fun and different.