“The art is not something you apply to your work
The art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude toward it.” – Charles Eames
The famous (and incredibly comfortable!) Eames Chair and Ottoman, designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1956.
Some people think art is something you add. It’s why many organizations can’t seem to understand their creative staff or be able to get the most out of them. Catch phrases like it’s “all about the team” or “all about the family/company” may gain compliance in the short run but will tire quickly when not backed up by real support (which includes the reward of recognition as well as fair compensation and sufficient rest). There must be real accountability.
Extreme quota demands. Monotonous repetition. Continuously harsh and inflexible deadlines place incredible strain on the animation artist. Turning creative people into widget makers simply doesn’t work.
Oh, those TPS reports! From Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy classic, Office Space. (It’s hard to believe now, but I once had a job like this!)
When art becomes something that is applied like icing on a cake, the end product looks and feels like something from a production line. Don’t expect creativity or innovation if what you mainly demand of your staff is productivity and/or compliance. If you treat them like widget makers and provide the kinds of conditions conducive to generating that kind of work, you shouldn’t be surprised with the kind of results you’re seeing. Nor should you expect loyalty (i.e. it won’t be the weakest members that will jump ship but your very best and most reliable because real talent, that which is truly indispensable, is rare and always in demand). If that doesn’t scare you, realize this; don’t expect loyalty (or a great reception) from the paying customer either.
If you expect predictable and easily measurable outcomes (numbers) you certainly can’t expect artistic or financial breakthroughs. Your organization risks becoming, as the marvelous Seth Godin points out, a follower, one that can only sell its brand by doing it cheaper and faster – a road ultimately doomed to failure in a world of expanding global competition and technology that’s become more available to more and more organizations world wide. It’s like making common running shoes and your only choice will be to spend the most in marketing your product to make up for a lack of distinction in quality or impact. Any and all financial benefits gained from cost cutting in the first place will be completely eliminated, especially considering that marketing costs these days can be as high as 100% the cost of actual animation production.
Walt Disney Studio’s box office hit, Frozen, cost approximately $150 million to produce, but at least as much or more to market and distribute. Fortunately, its artistry and its ability to connect to audiences world-wide helped it reach over $1.2 Billion in gross revenues .
So it’s not surprising to commonly see disharmony and disenchantment within the production environment. Animation as a product requires the input of so many people that it multiplies the complexity of product and people management. It’s also a product whereby the consumer has come to expect greater and greater quality. How can you whip and chain so many to comply? What possible gimmick, motivational speech or rule change could be used to streamline the creative process and get exciting yet regularly productive results? The answer is none – the only solution is trust, freedom and respect between a company’s leaders and it’s creative members. People have to become self-accountable and self-guiding for a company to be strong and manageable.
Respect and cooperation is usually the best solution. Harvey Keitel’s Mr. Wolf from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, is one of the coolest characters in modern film history.
Artists need respect. They are fragile beings sure, but it isn’t because they are weak but precisely because they are courageous. Artists bravely throw their heart and soul into their work – a risk few others take on a regular basis – exposing themselves to constant rejection and failure, being vulnerable to judgement by others and even more harshly, themselves. (Hear how Milt Kahl would torture himself while animating here).
After all, what artist strives to disappoint? It’s a very humbling process.
“There’s no amount of external validation that can undo the constant drone of internal criticism. And negative self talk is hungry for external corroboration. One little voice in the ether that agrees with your internal critic is enough to put you in a tailspin.” – Seth Godin
But provide the right atmosphere, one that honors people and allows for freedom and risk of the unknown, and you’ll be rewarded with the kind unexpected ingenuity and loyalty that is unmatched. Artists who feel respected and happily engaged in their work regularly, put in countless unpaid hours building and solving problems for their organizations (after work, during their sleep, and even on their vacations!) This is an attribute usually applied exclusively to entrepreneurs, who you’d correctly expect to worry day and night about their investment.
Brad Pitt plays Floyd, the ultimate slacker, in Tony Scott’s 1993 film, True Romance.
On the flip side, artists who themselves disrespect the work and craft, and only do hack work, shouldn’t expect accolades or the respect from their employers or even their fellow artists. Somewhere along the way they’ve stopped being artists (and just because you’re animating or holding a brush doesn’t mean you are one.) Being an artist is about a soulful, personal commitment to the craft. It’s being part of a unique membership – it has to be earned, much like the professional athlete on his team or musician in an orchestra.
Burgess Meredith tells Rocky the hard truth, in Sylvestor Stallone’s 1976 Best Picture-winning movie, Rocky. Screenplay by Stallone himself, the film changed his career (and grossed over $225 million worldwide while sporting a nifty production cost of less than $1 million).
Work that’s done like a job, and done only because you’re getting paid, is not art. Artists should know better. If an environment is set up for you to learn, with flexibility and resources to be collaborative and creative, then they should reward that support system, by respecting the work itself. The old saying applies – any job worth doing, is worth doing well. That said, even if things aren’t perfect, you still must respect yourself, by respecting the craft. As the wonderful Neil Gaimen noted:
“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”
But for the most part, the slacker animation artist is rare. This incredibly difficult and risky field is one that invites the dreams and labors of creative, emotionally dedicated and diligent investors of passion and energy, not the free-loader.
So, to you supervisors, directors, producers, executives and owners out there, know your artists (which includes your programmers, technicians, production assistants etc.) Provide and care for your teams and they will reward you in such unpredictable and intangible ways that you’ll marvel at the results – results that will help your product, your team and organization standout and prosper globally, and thus, financially.
Good work done by good people in good work environments. That’s a win-win-win.