One of my occasional favorite hobbies is complaining about the animation industry on the most popular animation site out there, Cartoon Brew . One of the chief editors on there, Amid Amidi constantly likes to play devils advocate with some of the things he posts. Ironically in his recent post about the Celebrification of Animators, Amid, makes reference to his own tabloid post about another animator. He posted a story a few weeks ago about a Dreamworks animator who beat a dog in the head with a hammer and was sentenced to jail time, and then in his current post he made reference to a majority of people who gave him flack for posting it, especially since in that same post he put a cute picture of a chiuahuaha with a bandage over it’s head under the post title. The “majority” of people who complained in that post….well, I think I probably did the most complaining. I was pretty angry that on the animation industry’s most read website, he was exploiting the personal life of an animator, even if he was trying to prove some point. Opening the comment boards up to hecklers to say obcene things about this person left me a little flabbergasted. We may not know the whole story about what this animator did and why he beat this dog (defense, mental health issues, etc), but to see outside hecklers doing this, and no work friends coming to this man’s defense, it’s quite sad to see the broken state our animation community is in. Amid of course wanted to prove a point that to a younger generation, thanks to the internet, animators are achieving high celebrity status, even going as far as being subjects for news headlines where animators beat dogs with hammers. But it’s not my concern that animators are reaching levels of celebrity recognition. What concerns me is the psychological impact this kind of celebrity worship is going to have on a younger generation of animators entering the field.
The image above, for those reading who don’t know, is Glen Keane, who is presently the most well known Disney animator, hence the Jesus symbolisim. This image of course comes from a parody site, http://fyeahanimationbosses.tumblr.com/ , but several images from this site were posted on Cartoon Brew to show how more and more people are identifying the artists behind everyone‘s favorite animated films, bringing these artists not only to recognition with the public, but also into emerging celebrity status.
But seeing so many of these parody memes posted at once, it started to bother me again, and I started to feel a little repulsed by what I was seeing. I suppose it was one thing for these images to remain in obscurity on somebody’s private Tumblr site. But it’s something else when several of these images are posted all at once on a major site like Cartoon Brew, in a post which glorifies the celebrity status of these major animators. When Amid posted the article, he considered these meme posters as progress for the recognition of animators. The thought of encouraging celebrity profiles for animators annoyed the hell out of me, and my first comment I posted, I was a little pissed off at Amid. Here’s what I wrote:
What progress are you referring to? Animators being worshipped like pop stars? Kids worship pop stars based on hearing the same kind of song played over and over again, just as the dudes who made these memes blindly worship Pixar and Disney, who…lets see…have been telling the same story over and over again in every animated feature for the last 20 years. They don’t recognize this as art. It’s a blind programmed response to what they’ve been fed since childhood about what a cartoon is supposed to be. They’re Otaku for American animation. I respect a lot of these animators posted. But what’s this expectation that they should be worshipped like Jesus or Tom Cruise? It’s a blessing in disguise that some of these master animators/artists live in general obscurity from the general public. Most of the big celebrity guys like Seth MacFarlane, or John Lasseter, or even Brad Bird became major celebrites once they GOT AWAY FROM ANIMATION. People no longer associate Brad Bird with what animated feature he’s going to direct next. The public now wants him to direct fucking Star Wars. How’s that progress for animation? Promoting these animators as gods is bad…it’s a pipe dream…it’s an illusion that will attract fewer artists who actually have something in this medium as opposed to those young artists who desperately want to be Milt Kahl, or Brad Bird, or John Lassater, when they should concentrate more on what they want out of their work and what they want to say about life. Most of these animators worshiped made their mark, but only because they spent their careers working for someone else. God, I love Harryhausens work too, but he’s also worked on a lot of shitty B movies. We can admire and respect these people for their work. But even joke humor like this gets young animators worshipping a golden calf as if working in the animation industry is plagued with fame and riches. Its not. And it shouldn’t be. Just because most animated features are box office smashes doesn’t mean they’re good. The public is only responding to their expectations for what they think an animated film should be, and it’s exactly what the major studios play into to get into people’s wallets. No matter how differently the film is dressed, its almost always the exact same story. Posters like this glorify all the things that are wrong with our field to begin with. So if your a young artist or someone who wants to dedicate their life to animation, John S. is right. These posters are not funny, their a bullshit waste of time. Don’t get sucked in.
I got no response from Amid of course, and just a few jibe remarks from a few complainers, saying that I had no sense of humor about these posts and that I was taking it way too seriously. That seems to be the knee jerk defensive response I get when I’m trying to point out something. It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor. But many people out there seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to the context of these messages they’re being spoonfed from sites like Cartoon Brew. Even at one point, an old timer animator from Walt’s days at the studio (he posts fairly often), chimed in about the rest of us having no sense of humor about the parody images. So, not directly responding to him, I chimed in again, abeit briefly:
We do want animators to get recognition for their work. But not like this. To the naysayers who want us to stop taking these images so seriously…the one thing you may be right about is that these images are taken out of context. And really, if this is supposed to be parody, in what context is it supposed to be taken in and by whom?
You might want to take a moment and listen to some of the people who are repulsed by this. There are young naive artists out there who will take these images seriously as fan worship. It’s panders to their own insecurities about themselves, putting their idols up on unreachable platforms instead of allowing themselves to bring their idols down to their level and ask…where did those people start? What made them who they are today? How did they find their inspiration, and what can these great artists teach me to find it on my own?
There are a lot more young animators in the industry coming in through places like trade schools that teach them the tools, but with a very limited understanding of their own artistic voice. They are like a lot of us who grew up as kids on Disney or Pixar with dreams of becoming an animator, but without understanding their calling as artists, they go for the straight path, and are trained at these trade schools to create formula animation (which is part of our current problem with every animated film having characters that move and act exactly the same way). And a lot of these young guys come from backgrounds where the only things they’ve watched are Disney/Pixar films, or whatever Cartoon Network/ Nickelodeon shows they grew up with. They’ve never watched a Frank Capra film or a John Ford/ Billy Wilder movie. They’ve never studied Laurel and Hardy. Most of them couldn’t tell you who Paddy Chayefsky is. These idols/gods they’ve spent their lives worshiping in the images above are all they know about their artform, and they blindly worship them without understanding what really made those people who they are. These young animators are here NOW working in the industry. I’ve met them! They’re all over the place.
I get why you and others on here would want to defend this simply as stupid humor. But we have no idea what this is supposed to be satarizing or what the humor is supposed to be. Did the guy making this think these artists have bloated egos? Is he making fun of the current students who worship these artists? Did he expect a lot of us to be repulsed by this?
Regardless of what the intention, these images will have an effect on someone, a young kid who will look at them and never believe they have any self worth or a unique vision of their own compared to those who came before them.
Over the years, even after Cal Arts, I’ve come to know and meet a lot of animators who work in the industry. If there’s one thing I’ve come to learn about animation artists...it’s they’re a very sensitive people. I include myself in this. You see a lot of animators who come from strong religious backgrounds. They were raised on Disney movies and Cartoon Network shows. Animators, like sheep, travel in herds with their own kind, like minded individuals, who all have the same programmed worship button in response to just about any American animated feature that comes out. They are a proud people as much as they are stubborn.
Within a lot of these artists however, no matter how good they are or even the ones who have obtained some form of success…they are also a frightened people, skiddish, and emotionally vulnerable inside. It’s not a big surprise why these artists create main characters in most animated features are outcasts who want to be accepted in the world. Most animators are afraid to stray from the path of their friends. They will stay together in groups, even when working at the major studios and working alongside their idols at the studios, their idols are still worshiped like Gods instead of just being seen as ordinary human beings. But worship has its limits. For one thing, those young animators blindly walking the already trodded path have never discover their own sense of self worth. They don’t believe their capable of finding anything greater in themselves, which makes it almost a futile effort for them to strike out on their own and find what their own destiny is calling to them. It’s the problem of religion (in this case, religion of the animation idol), in which a persons field of vision is so limited their stuck in once place, afraid to take a leap of faith into the outside and expand their world view. Doing so means stepping away from all your friends and striking out on your own…and into a world of danger…and the adventure of your life.
I didn’t voluntarily leave my animator friends, but the more I saw the path in front of me and started realizing it may not be the right way, it was inevitable that my friends and I began to grow apart. And I fell apart after that. Things reached its peak when life was suddenly forced on me, to the point where now it’s pretty much impossible for me to go back to my old self. It’s painful. It’s harsh. It makes a man or a woman want to scream at the cruelty of the universe. But in looking back at all the suffering I’ve had to endure so far, I can see a new side of myself emerging. One thing I do know, it’s how all of my idols in the animation industry became who they are. I know some people I went to school with, and people I met early on who have made their careers in the animation world. Some of them even have their own TV shows. But even some of those people, despite their success, they have still never stepped off the beaten path. I can see the ones who found their dream job, but once they got it and without any further direction to guide them, they’ve started spending their time taking up expensive hobbies on their Facebooks…their job isn’t enough anymore. Some of those people try acting or sewing. I saw one person who makes a better gymnast than they are an animator! The job isn’t enough anymore, and they’re searching for something more. It’s why you see a lot of working animators doing Children’s books on their spare time. They are looking for their voice in search of something to say.
It’s a miraculous thing to get your dream job that you spent so long working towards. But once you have it, the inevitable question is going to be, what now? What do I have to say? This is where many people who have followed their idols end up. But for someone to be a true artist, is the job really enough? And to tell you the truth, it’s at this point where our idols fail us. Then pretty soon the inevitable happens: We are alone.
So I guess the big question we have to ask ourselves is if all this celebrity worship is really worth it. Admittedly, having our heroes is important, if anything to give us a push into the life we want to dedicate ourselves. But our heroes can only take us so far. If we continue to hold onto them, they only serve to become a golden idol…a false hope and a status we will never obtain. Because their path is not your path. We are each destined to find our own way. There is always a price. There is always a personal sacrifice that has to be made to find out who you are destined to be. It’s okay to have your heroes.
But Celebrity Animator? Those are just bullshit words. If that’s really what you are striving for, then you are definitely in the wrong business.