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CTN 2017 Wrap Up

CTN Wrapup

I’ve spent the last three days visiting with people at CTN-X. CTN is an amazing thing. It’s kind of like the invasion of Normandy except with portfolio cases instead of guns! Platoons of people being dropped off to storm the beachhead of animation in an endless stream. It’s a bit daunting and exhausting. My voice today is a croak from all the conversations!

I’m going to start with a general note… I refer to young animators as “kids”. That isn’t meant as a pejorative thing. When I was in college people like Frank Thomas and Mike Lah and Grim Natwick would refer to me and my aspiring animation friends as “kids” too. They were honest and straightforward with me. They spent time sharing important information that I still use. I’m here today because of their generosity and kindness and the reason I do what I do is to “pay it forward” to the new crop of kids the same way they did for mine. If I call you a kid, it’s a compliment. I’m telling you that you have what it takes and are worth investing into.

That said, here are some of my reflections on CTN…

When I would sit down to talk with a young artist, I would always start with a few questions to find out who they were and what their experience at CTN had been like. I learned some very interesting things. A lot of young artists were fresh out of college and were eager to show their work. They lined up to get their portfolios reviewed by studio recruiters, but when I would ask them what the reviewers had told them about their portfolios, they all said that they got very little time and feedback. The reviews were brisk, pretty general and the critique was not specific enough to be helpful. Most of the time the feedback was “Not yet. Keep working on it.”

That shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the job of a studio recruiter to identify artists who are qualified to fill their available positions. It’s not their job to let applicants know how to become qualified.

More and more schools are offering programs in animation. I met a lot of recent graduates who were looking for their first job in the business. I would always ask them if they were finding that their education had prepared them to find their first job in animation. Every single one of them answered the same- no.

That also shouldn’t be surprising. It’s possible to give a student an overview of the general points of what it means to work in animation, but learning the specific skills is their responsibility. School isn’t a place where you buy an education off the shelf. It’s a forum for learning. The self study students do in school is even more important than their classwork. It takes self study to get the fundamental skills to land the first entry level job. It takes self study to advance those skills to get promoted to a better job. If you want to advance and grow as an artist, that self study is what gets you there and it never ends. Grim Natwick was setting aside two hours of each day to study when he was 95 years old. It’s important to develop that drive and focus to learn on your own early in your schooling. If you wait until after you’ve graduated to figure that out, you’ve wasted four of the most valuable years of your life. I see kids with the “deer in the headlights” look on their faces all the time, and events like CTN just remind them of all the things they should have done but haven’t made the effort to do yet.

I met a lot of kids that “get it” and a lot of kids that don’t. I sat down and talked to them and helped them as best as I could and gave them the time it took to get to the point where I asked, “Do you have any more questions?” and they said “No, I understand.” My other AR Board Members Taber, JoJo, Pez, Paul and Mike were all there generously doing the same. After one of us had spent a half hour or more helping explain what is needed to work in animation and how to acquire those skills, every single aspiring animator said the same thing to us. They told us how much our honesty and clarity meant to them. No one else at CTN had given them the same kind of help that we had.

That shouldn’t be surprising either. Companies at CTN are there to serve their own purposes- to sell their product, advertise their services, recruit candidates for employment- no one is there specifically to help and support artists… except for Animation Resources.

When I explained to people what Animation Resources was all about, I would see a look of puzzlement in their eyes. They would be trying to think of another group to compare us to. There’s the Union that’s focused on the business aspects of animation. There’s ASIFA which has become a professional organization, but they don’t really address the needs of aspiring artists or independent animators. There are schools, but they are focused on a tuition based curriculum. Women in Animation do good things, but they are focused on women who work in the business.

Animation Resources is different. We’re a non-profit group that is dedicated to serving artists. We are “artists for artists”. Nothing more. Nothing less. You would think there would be a lot of that, but there really isn’t. It’s just us.

I kept seeing that expression of puzzlement as I would explain that we were an educational group that supported self study- meaning no formal lessons, tests or grades. Our charter is to pile up golden reference- the best of the best- so people who want to study can study from the best. Animation students generally didn’t know they even needed that, and many professionals I spoke to had never considered that they might need to focus on objective analysis and study if they want to sharpen their skills and advance.

But as I talked to them, I would see the look of realization form in their eyes as they began to understand. Then they would get excited and grab a brochure with our website link so they could sign up as soon as they got home to their computer.

We live in an era of social media. Everything is bite sized. I understand that. This article I’m writing now is too long for Facebook. Very few people will get to the end of it. But you can’t get the ideas across that Animation Resources is trying to get across in 140 characters or a five minute portfolio review at CTN. I’m counting on the people who are serious enough to want to become animators to take the time to absorb the treasures all of us at Animation Resources are taking the time to digitize and share with you.

Two professional animators came up to me at CTN and said that they follow us on Facebook and Instagram. They raved about how great the frame by frame breakdowns are- the ones Nicholas John Pozega posts for us every day. They said they are always amazed by the images we post. I asked them if they had ever clicked through to the website. They admitted that they hadn’t. They are on their phone and not on a computer, and it’s hard to read articles and view galleries of images on a phone. I told them that as professionals, they should have enough of an interest in their art form to figure out a way to bookmark important reference and follow up on it. The purpose of Animation Resources isn’t to entertain. It’s to inspire and facilitate learning. The lesson for students is the same as the lesson for professionals. The responsibility for learning, growing and advancing as an artist is up to you. We’re willing to help you with that, but ultimately it’s still up to you.

Seeing the spark of understanding and enthusiasm in young artists’ eyes is a great thing. I finished up my conversations with all of them the same way… I pointed out that Walt Disney pushed the art of animation forward light years between Steamboat Willie and Snow White. In that short period of ten years, he set the standard of quality and expressiveness that we all look up to. The way he did that was by instituting a program of self study under Don Graham that taught artists how to analyze and break down reference and apply it to their work. We look up to films like Fantasia and Pinocchio to this day. Some people talk about a “second golden age”. But we shouldn’t go backwards. We should build on the knowledge of the past and apply it to creating a future that is relevant to today and reflects who we are as a society. Reboots and aping style won’t do that. Mining the past for technique and observing our world for personalities and things to talk about will create something better than the golden age. I would end our conversation by saying “Make cartoons that I want to watch.”

I also have to say that speaking to professionals was gratifying as well. I met a few folks I worked with twenty years ago and haven’t seen since then. They told me how much they enjoyed working with me back then and that was very nice… but they also said that they have kept up with what I’m doing now with Animation Resources and thanked me for it. I had a gentleman come up to the booth and put his hand on my shoulder and say “Are you Stephen Worth?” I said yes, and he said, “I’m here to thank you and apologize.” I was a bit taken aback because I didn’t recognize him. He said, “I’ve been following the Animation Archive for many years. I’ve used your material and appreciated everything you do. I thank you for that. But I apologize because I’ve never sent you any money to help you support the project. When I get home, I’m going to correct that and send you a check.” I told him, “Don’t send a donation. Join as a member. That’s the best way to show that we are helping you.” “Done.” he said. I asked if he was an artist. He said, yes I’m a director… and then he told me a couple of the films that he directed. I knew instantly who he was. He was one of the keynote speakers at CTN. I had never met him and didn’t recognize him by sight, but I sure knew all about his great work. I was floored that he knew all about me and my passion project.

Sometimes those of us at Animation Resources don’t know if the messages in a bottle we’re packing up and sending out through the WWW and social media are getting out there over the vast ocean of the internet. I thank Tina Price and all the people behind CTN for creating this great opportunity for the family of animation to get together and celebrate our art form. For me, CTN this year was like thanksgiving. Now I can make my turkey and have another one! -Stephen Worth

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