Animation Industry: West Coast vs. East Coast

NY animation studio

Last week I had the pleasure of being the guest speaker for Dave Levy’s animation career class at SVA (School of Visual Arts). It was a lively conversation, owing to Dave’s skillful moderation and plenty of excellent questions and comments from the SVA senior class. A significant portion of our discussion revolved around comparing and contrasting the Los Angeles and New York animation scenes. Dave Levy has summarized and expanded upon that class discussion with this post on his blog. It’s a thought-provoking read for artists both east and west.


  • Sarah

    So from what I have read the big difference between NY and LA animation industry are “NY doesn’t have one” and “It all comes down to Financial stability vs. Freedom of expression.”

    I live NY and I hope to attend an art college next year. But I did some digging on my own when it came to animation industries in NY and of course I found out much earlier that there really wasn’t any. I started to wonder if I should move to LA and attend college there instead, but thats not going to be easy for someone loves NYC. I left once for a few years and I felt really home sick.

    I have to admit I this article did help and I plan to do some more research before I make up my mind about schools and job opportunities. I would like to hear other opinions on this topic though. This article seems to be a bit one sided.

  • Buzz Potamkin

    Amid – what’s the pix?

    It looks like a non-production promo set-up to me:

    If animators, why no blinds or shades on the windows?

    If I&P, where are the drying racks, white gloves, etc.?

    If BG, why is the guy in the foreground painting a cel?

    Do you have a source?

    P.S. – DBL’s post hits the high&low points nicely – it’s been that way as long as I can remember, which now is 43 years….

  • rumpelstiltskin

    Jack be nimble
    Jack be quick
    Jack be smart to turn NY tricks.

  • Danielle

    Sarah: I don’t know if this’ll help, but it’s entirely possible to go to school on the east coast and get a job on the west. I can’t speak for the west coast schools, but Dave’s right in that the animation programs at northeastern art schools seem to focus heavily on the artistic side of animation. I went to University of the Arts in Philly, and that’s very much the sort of animation program they have there. After graduation, some of my peers went on to work in NYC, others in LA and San Francisco. It’s harder to make connections while your in school if there’s no local animation work (and in Philly, there’s very little), but it’s not impossible.

  • amid

    Buzz: It’s a stock photo that’s identified as Transfilm ca. 1950. Transfilm, a NY studio, was mostly a live-action commercial producer though they also had an in-house animation unit. I’m sure the photographer took plenty of liberties with setting the shot up. I agree that it’s confusing shot but still kind of a fun image.

    Sarah: Your understanding of “Financial stability vs. Freedom of expression” is correct. Bear in mind that this is just a generalization and there are exceptions to every rule. But understanding what each city has to offer is important, especially if you know what you personally want to do in the animation field. For example, if your goal is to work on commercial product like Shrek or Foster’s, it makes much more sense to build a career in LA. And if you’re trying to become an indie, there is a lot more support and infrastructure in NY to facilitate that path.

  • Buzz Potamkin

    Ah, Transfilm (I only heard the stories) – it was a stop for Jack Zander prior to Pelican (and his partner Joe Dunford came from there too) – don’t forget that Pelican had a large live action component, one which eventually pulled it down – same thing happened to Focus.

    IIRC Transfilm was owned by Buckeye (or some name like that), which was a mid-Western industrial company.

  • http://www.jjsedelmaier.com j.j. sedelmaier

    Patrice and I have been running our studio in White Plains (NY) for 18 years now – and quite successfully. NY has afforded us wonderful flexibility and opportunities that I’m not sure would have been as available on the west coast. Ad agencies, MTV Networks, SNL, Daily Show, etc., they all look for nimble minded folks to work with. As far as I’m concerned, NY has ALWAYS provided that. It’s always been inhabited with small “boutique” studios that like to play with the craft, and not as influenced by long-form theatrical/network formulas. I wouldn’t trade our geographic location for anything. . .

  • http://www.stupixanimation.com Jonathan Lyons

    SARAH, enjoy your time in NY, you can get a great education there. However, educate yourself on what studios are looking for.

    Amid, how is there more support and infrastructure for independent animators in NY?

    Perhaps back in the day when you needed an oxberry camera to shoot your hand painted cels, a negative cutter, and sound syncing tape machines, like I used at NYU. But in today’s digital world it hardly matters. I’ve worked 10 years in LA, and 10 years in the Bay area. There are plenty of resources, (organizations like asifa, siggraph, animation coop, etc. ) in those places too. I can’t imagine moving back to New York. (no offense to prof. Canemaker)

  • http://timrauch.blogspot.com Tim Rauch

    Johnathan asked: “Amid, how is there more support and infrastructure for independent animators in NY?”

    I’m sure Amid may have something more to say about this, especially since the question was for HIM, but I’d like to take a crack at it myself!

    I’ve never even visited the West Coast (sure would like to!), but I can say that NY has a great scene for being an independent. Personally, I like being surrounded by a lot of other independent filmmakers/animators who really are working with a variety of methods and styles. It allows for a lot of “informative experience” and plain old inspiration to someone like me who is VERY young and new to the game. There are also so many cultural experiences that New York has to offer outside of “animation”: the incredible museums, galleries, performances, etc. Something that Amid, Dave and J.J. all touched on was the greater tendency in NY animation to buck trends and produce distinct creative voices and I wonder if this has something to do with the access we have to all of that. Again, I am a neophyte in the truest sense of the word, but this is my feeling about NY, why I love to be here, and why I would encourage anyone interested in being an independent filmmaker of any sort to give it a look.

  • http://www.animagicstudios.com James

    New York is really trying to push to have more animation completed there. The West coast is too saturated and there is a lot more competition there, whereas NY animation is new and intriguing to companies. With the West coast being so saturated it drives the prices up som companies are either forced to pay it or simply outsource the work to another country. People are realizing this and animators are begining to make their mark on the East Coast!

  • robiscus

    Ummm, i’m sorry to say but i think its quite clear that media consolidation and the change in rent laws has created an environment in NYC that is not conducive to those old smaller studio days. Sure there are some left(and I’m impressed with their longevity), but the days of NYC having a thriving atmosphere of smaller animation studios are long gone.

    Television networks by and large want things produced in house(los angeles or atlanta) now. Its not like the old days when they would fund small studios to create content. Todays television executive wants to pretend they are creative (and aren’t we all so thankful for that!) and lord themselves over the artists. Networks very rarely fund satellite studios. Add to this that the rent laws in Manhattan have changed so smaller commercial spaces are not really available like they used to be(smaller apartments too).

    I lived in NYC for 6 years before moving out to LA in 2005. during my tenure in NYC i watched the vibrant animation community shrivel up into a shell of its former self. Is Los Angeles better? It’s different, but also what one makes of it. I don’t mean to be a “negative Nelly”, but i think its important to cite what NYC once was in relation to how great it is now. When viewed through that prism it has a long way to go to get back to that.

    We used to have softball games pitting animation studios each other after work in the summer… are there enough studios and artists working there to even do that anymore? Not from what all my friends who still live there tell me. Remember when MTV used to hire independent animators to make interstitials and station IDs? What the hell happened to that network? Its a nightmare; like a large scale sociological project where they handed over a network to a college fraternity. Meanwhile all of the cartoons on the tv stations look the same – and with good reason, they are all done by the same studio. Its a damn shame that NYC’s eclectic landscape of smaller studios has gone the way of the dodo.

  • amid

    Jonathan – Like Tim who commented above, I believe a lot of that infrastructure exists in terms of people who live here. For example, one thing I see quite frequently is how independent animators and small studios in NY employ many of the students who graduate from local schools like SVA and Pratt. This would be not possible in a market like LA or San Francisco because animation students would opt to work at major studios that pay better and produce more mainstream work. But in NY, a lot of graduating students are interested in pursuing independent filmmaking and freelance careers, thus creating a continuous new pool of talent for established indies to draw upon. It’s a cycle that allows both indies to produce films on limited budgets and creates new indie filmmakers.

    And you’re correct in that plenty of resources like ASIFA, Siggraph and Animation Co-op exist in other cities. NY has those institutions as well, but it’s real appeal for an independent is the sheer number of other independent artists working here. I see a lot of collaboration and support between these artists that doesn’t take place as part of any formal setting but happens between artists.

    The NY fine art scene also offers a receptive environment for animators who create more experimental and non-commercial work. I’m sure the work of an animator like Jeff Scher would not find similar success if he was working in LA or SF. But here, animation and fine art cross over frequently creating outlets for artists like Scher.

  • Dave Levy

    robiscus,

    There are still small studios here in NYC. Actually work has been plentiful all the way up to 2007, two years after you left. 2008 is marking the beginning of a downward cycle, but it could be a short one. We all miss the jobs and opportunities that MTV animation offered in their glory days. The thing you are not understanding is that when such a studio vanishes, it weeds out those not fully committed to working in animation or not fully committed to living in New York. I assume you left so you could continue to work in an industry that is more consistent.

    Those of us who stick around in NY for the long haul enjoy freedoms and rewards for our efforts. We may not always have enough artists to form softball teams, but we are still a close knit community and are all the more creatively enriched as a result.

  • robiscus

    There aren’t that many small studios at all. You can count them on one hand. 10 years ago there were a dozen.

  • wanderboy

    Just putting this out there – but doesn’t NY just have a similar ebb & flow as any other city – including LA?

    Atlanta, Portland, Vancouver, Phoenix, Toronto, Montreal, London, Copenhagen, Berlin all seem to ‘have no industry’ if you lump NYC into that pile. But it isn’t my reality. I’ve managed to work happily in most of those cities above, and everyone has had similar facets to their scene.

    Sarah, I truly doubt it’s so cut-and-dried as ‘choosing indie over commercial’ animation based on geography. In any of these cities, you’ll find everything from features to commercials to games to indies. Just pick a spot that suits you and go from there, is my advice. Or do what I did and take every opportunity to try somewhere/something new. Nothing’s permanent no matter where you happen be.

  • http://gr8ball.blogspot.com Chrissy Fellmeth

    You were an awesome speaker — definitely convinced me to give L.A. a shot. I was all about staying here in NY and I’m going to take your (and Dave’s) advice and travel out to L.A. during the summer to see what it’s like over there. I just hope I don’t fall in love with it too much… Then I’ll be stuck out there!

    thanks again for coming and speaking to our class, it was a great session.

  • http://www.jjsedelmaier.com J.J. Sedelmaier

    The luxury of having a small studio in NYC I agree is pretty much gone. Even networks have trouble justifying it. But just like many illustrators and designers discovered a while back, you don’t need to be in a large metropolitan area to work in the industry – let alone DO GOOD WORK. And it’s really only NYC that has the mentality that you’ll get a nose-bleed if you leave the the city. Everywhere else subscribes to car culture. We opened our studio up here to have a family and work close by to home, but what also really clinched it for us was the fax machine. There had already been plenty of times that I’d done spots and never met the clients in person, so why not live close by, offer a “reverse commute”, lower rents, (although White Plains has recently transformed itself into an “upper east side” environ), and try to conserve funds in the process ? Basically we figured that if we can provide opportunities to do good work, people will come. I love being close enough to NYC to take advantage of what it has to offer, and when you’re young it’s an important part of growing as an artist to be exposed to the unique world of Manhattan, but you’ve got to save as much money as you can if you’re going to run a studio. . .

    So what the hell’s my point ?! Can you make a living in the NY area ? Yes. Can you make oodles of $$$ ? I guess it’s possible, but not likely. You’ve just got to ask yourself where your priorities are. If you can’t help yourself from being an animation filmmaker, I think you’re in a terrific region. If you’re first and foremost, out to make lots of money, than you’re DEFINITELY in the right region, just the wrong industry.

  • Dave Levy

    robiscus says:
    “There aren’t that many small studios at all. You can count them on one hand. 10 years ago there were a dozen.”

    I’m happy to correct this. I’ll stop counting at 17, but no doubt, i’m leaving out some.

    Currently existing are these independent studios:
    JJ’s, Buzzco, Michael Sporn, Augenblick, Cartoon Pizza, Curious Pictures, Asterisk, Dancing Diablo, Mechanism Digital, World Leaders, Word World, Wachtenheim and Marianetti, Little Airplane, Animation Collective, 4Kids, Pat Smith, Bill Plympton.

  • amid

    Not to mention digital boutiques like Shilo and Psyop, among others.

  • robiscus

    JJ’s – not in Manhattan.
    Curious Pictures – does not have animation projects currently.
    Wachtenheim and Marianetti- is not a studio. they are two incredible animators that hire a couple people sometimes.
    Michael Sporn – is a great guy whom i have worked with, but his studio lists four people and then an intern. thats a very very small operation.
    Bill Plympton – again, this is a brilliant animator. not a studio.
    Pat Smith – see above.
    4Kids – as far as i understand(and i may be wrong)they are ending production.
    Word World isn’t producing anything last i heard(correct me if i’m wrong of course)

    i’m not familiar with Mechanism Digital, or shilo or psyop – but it seems that they are not animation houses in the ture sense. no content is produced there. a script never makes its way through its doors. if that the prerequisite for an animation house, then MTV is still an animation juggernaut no? they do broadcast design. they add rainbows and shooting stars to their bumpers.
    and there’s nothing wrong with broadcast design. i worked in a broadcast design studio for years. i just think thats pick up work for animators. its not creating content. its not furthering the artform, and NYC used to have tons of studios that were at the forefront of creativity. they were dreaming up their own visual dialogue and stories. now it apears the cast majority of anmators in NYC do exactyl what an ad executive tells them to do – and that not that impressive if you ask me.

    first off, i am in constant contact with all of my friends who are animators in NYC and according to ALL of them, the city isn’t what it used to be. the conditions i mentioned above have create a perfect storm for this glut in NYC animation. i lived in NYC for 7 years and i didn’t do it because i hate the place. i did it because i love it. i’ll be damned though if people who weren’t around when i was are going to tell me that i got the facts wrong. it was better before.

    thats not to denigrate NYC. don’t figure me wrong. if anything, its a challenge to everyone who cares about animation. NYC eserves to be much better. it needs more smaller studios. how that situation is solved is open to interpretation and suggestions. but lets not get too sensitive about stating the facts. i’m not insulting NYC and i’m not insulting NYC animators. I’m recalling my personal experience in that town and they are validated by the fellow New Yorkers whom i worked with having the same experience. -but don’t take my word for it. ask the genius animators you listed above: Plympton, Sporn, Smith. i remember these guys were around in the mid nineties and the town was booming. i remember getting out of college in the eighties and my trips visitng studios lasted for weeks. today i could do it in 3 days. its not the same as it used to be – but it SHOULD be. i love New York.

  • amid

    robiscus: I don’t have a dog in this fight but I do wish that readers wouldn’t spread misinformation to other readers.

    Wachtenheim and Marianetti “are two incredible animators that hire a couple people sometimes”? Wrong. Far more than a couple people, and not sometimes, but consistently. Plympton is an individual, not a studio? Wrong again. Plympton employs as many artists if not more than Sporn, and Michael Sporn Animation is most definitely a studio. Shilo and Psyop aren’t animation studios and simply “add rainbows and shooting stars to their bumpers”? Wrong once again. You obviously haven’t seen their work, like Psyop’s Coke spot “Happiness Factory.” These guys are as much animation studios as any other studio on the list.

    You’re entitled to your opinion of the NY animation scene, but it’s based on a very skewed and misinformed perspective.

  • Dave Levy

    robiscus,

    I would guess some of your conclusions are based on the old school series work that currently isn’t done in NY on the scale it once was. In your time in NYC, there was pre-production work available on out sourced productions. These included MTV’s shows (Beavis, Daria, Downtown, The Head), Jumbo/Cartoon Pizza (Doug, PB & J,Stanley, 101 Dalmations, Sabrina), Curious (KND, Sheep), Stretch (Courage). But, the trend has been that series work in NY moved to the digital realm, mostly as flash productions. Currently, in flash production in NY right now, are these series: Assy McGee (which I’m directing for Clambake Animation), Super Jail (Augenblick), Speed Racer (Collective), and After Effects based shows Umi Zumi and Wonder Pets (Nick and Little Airplane). Coming soon to NY is season 4 of Venture Bros (World Leaders), which resembles the type of out-sourced to Korea production you are familiar with. There’s also work going on in NY for these out-sourced gigital shows: Super Why (Out of the Blue), Backyardigans & Bubble Guppies (Nick), Pinky Dinky Doo (Cartoon Pizza).

    NY animation continues and will continue into the future…and it’s a thing that goes in cycles, often 4 fat years followed by lean times. Maybe your crowd left in NY doesn’t know this, but, it’s a familiar pattern to most of us here.

  • Mike Lucy

    robiscus,

    both Word World and Curious have multiple animated projects in various stages of production. Trust me, I am working with both of them.

    Maybe do some fact checking before smearing a city’s industry.

  • robiscus

    hey Mike,

    why don;t you READ my posts before accusing me of smearing an entire industry? that would be a good start. step 2, would be ditching your sensitivity because its going to keep you from discussing things intelligently. i stated

    “i remember these guys were around in the mid nineties and the town was booming. its not the same as it used to be – but it SHOULD be. i love New York.”

    there’s no smear there.

    I’m happy to hear Curious has animated projects in the lineup. you would know more than me because you work there, but the fact remains that there was nothing in production for a while. thats a giant hit to the animators in that city.

    when there are ZERO companies that offer animators job security, competitive salaries, benefits and the like, you have a struggling industry. thats the fact! I’m sorry its ugly. i really am.

    but Curious Pictures has a long and storied history of not taking care of its talent. they have them come in and use their supplies and facilities and rotate them out as freelancers without offering any stability…and Curious Pictures is the biggest animation company in New York City!
    thats not a good thing. you should recognize that. don’t get defensive. don’t blame the messenger.

    you guys deserve a better slew of companies with better projects. NYC should be where it once was, but it isn’t and thats why i’m voicing my earned opinion. i’m not attacking the animation community and if members think that i am, the facts at hand demonstrate that they are acting reactionary and petulant.
    there is no reason why a drop in steady employment for animators can;t be criticized. criticism brings about change and awareness.

  • Bill

    JJ…sounds great! Are you hiring?!

  • josh

    David Wachtenehim is my dad!