What Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and Monty Python have in common

Last week’s post about Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and the place of executives generated a lot of feedback, including this email from Bruno Afonso in France:

Recently, you posted a great video with Frank Zappa, about how the old-school executives were way more hands-off than now. It reminded me of something I had seen in a BBC programm called “Comedy Connections” about the creation of the Monty Python. It was more or less the same thing. When they made their first TV series, the BBC executives just told them “Well, you’ve got an order for thirteen episodes, go and make them, you’re on the air in September” and that was it! I found the clip on YouTube where the Montys explain it. They say it in the first minute. I, for one, think it’s quite interesting that all of these geniuses (Tex Avery, Frank Zappa, Monty Python) made their best work when left alone.

For the sake of posterity, here are the comments from the castmembers. John Cleese said:

“I was incredibly impressed with the risks they’d take. We went in to see Michael Mills and we explained extremely inadequately what we had in mind. There were huge gaps absolutely everywhere and at the end of a thoroughly unsatisfactory meeting, from Michael’s point of view, he said just go away and make thirteen.”

And from Eric Idle:

“Well, the BBC was a much more laid back place. It was a bit more like a retirement from the RAF filled with people who were having offices and going off smoking their pipes and having beer. So they were very laid back about it. They said, “Well look, here we are, we’ve got thirteen of them, you’re on the air in September and see you then,” and they sort of left. They didn’t really care. It was fabulous. It was the golden age of executives. There weren’t any.”

Personally, I find the contemporary balance of power between executives and artists very curious. Why do non-creative people exercise so much control over artists in the creation of animated projects? Does it make the finished product any better? Is there a precedent showing that quality work was previously created in this manner? The answer to that latter question is clear at least; if one looks back at the history of how classic works of animation (and other media) have been produced, in every instance it was different from the way animation is produced nowadays. How much of that is the fault of the artists themselves? If somebody accepts the input of a creatively inferior person and gives equal weight to that person’s opinions, doesn’t that eventually legitimize that person? In other words, could it be that industry artists have weakened their own standing throughout the years by consistently collaborating with creatively inferior people?


  • Pedro Nakama

    There was an old joke that executives don’t change things because they need changing, executives change things because they can change things.

  • Barx

    It’d be great to hear from some artists in the industry who have had this sort of freedom during a TV series production. Does it exist at all in this day and age?
    From my vantage point it feels like the cast of executives that need to have their say in all creative matters gets larger and larger every year, and the power of the director and the artists seems to diminish.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    All of the Pythons had done well-received work on other BBC shows previously so the executives weren’t making an absolutely blind choice when they greenlit Monty Python, it was an informed choice based on having observed some good work in the past and expecting that would happen again.

    Since they never had to sell advertising time for BBC shows, I suppose they didn’t need to operate on the premise that there’s a lot riding on a particular show.

    If they really were putting on shows like “Horse of the Year” then it sounds like they had pretty much crossed the anything-to-fill-airtime line already. I imagine some bad shows came out of that environment too and their overall batting average wasn’t any better.

  • Mike L

    I work in educational animation and get grief all the time from people who see my job as “too easy” or “too fun”. Usually this is from people who’s jobs primarily consist of data entry or sorting through forms.
    I have seen this extend into management but also the opposite, where management wants to get involved but really has no business past establishing milestones and deadlines…. okay so they do have to keep the ideas on target for what the customer wants…but in many cases too much gets cut/held back (especially the creative “fat”).

  • http://chippyandloopus.typepad.com John S

    “How much of that is the fault of the artists themselves? If somebody accepts the input of a creatively inferior person and gives equal weight to that person’s opinions, doesn’t that eventually legitimize that person? In other words, could it be that industry artists have weakened their own standing throughout the years by consistently collaborating with creatively inferior people?”

    The naivete evident in this statement is astonishing. You make it sound like we have a choice. We listen to executives because that is the condition underwhich we remain employed. Period
    This is the way it has always been. There was a time when the folks holding the purse strings preferred to not get involved. They preferred to go yachting, or go to the track. They were not creative and had no allusions to the contrary. This simply is not the case anymore. Modern execs like to “get their hands dirty”. I don’t know what changed our how it changed, I simply know that it has.
    To even attempt to imply that the artists are in anyway responsible for this is asinine.

  • G

    Could it be market investment that changed it? Or…to put it simply…everyone wants to live the dream? And what I mean by that is that everyone wants to be the artist who does the animation…or writes the ideas…but doesn’t want to put in the work.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    Interesting to note that by the time the Pythons were gaining momentum, the censors began to have a hard time with them, particularly with Gilliam’s animated shorts.

  • http://www.candlelightstories.com Alessandro Cima

    John S,

    So don’t stay employed. Quit. If there are people with dirty hands around you too much during the day, just up and quit. It’s a bad economy and there’s tons of company out there without a job.

    Artists can always work at waiting tables and make their movies on off time. It’s always a good option. Actually it’s probably one of the best options if you really want to ask my opinion. But oh well I don’t know anything anyway. But I do know that when you have a creative boob bouncing around in his chair, adjusting his tie and saying things like, ‘Well, but what if we just made this part a little more clear or maybe a little funnier,’ well I know that what you do then is reach up and pull a gigantic shroud of wool over that person’s eyes and make him feel good about himself and pleasantly shoo him on his way. That’s what you do. That or quit. Take your pick.

  • amid

    John S: There’s nothing naive about that statement, unless maintaining one’s integrity has suddenly become a naive sentiment. I’ve never heard a passionate artist say that they’re willing to compromise their work to “remain employed.” It’s important to recognize that there are just as many people who understand the inefficiency of the current production system and choose to forge their own paths. In other words, there are plenty of alternatives unless your only priority is to remain employed. Sadly, most people choose the convenience and security of a steady paycheck even if it means that they are contributing to the growth and acceptance of a broken production pipeline.

    Robcat2075: Bad work will inevitably come out of any system. Nobody bats 1000 in art, especially when risks are being taken. However, the best work, that which has the clearest vision and point of view, tends to all come from a similar production background, and that is one in which the creative talent was left to their own devices.

  • http://siskavard.blogspot.com corey

    make your own animation on your own time.

    viola! no executive interference.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    I’d really love to argue with you about this, Amid, but I don’t think I can.

    It used to bother me a lot, I’m finding more and more we get contracted based on what we’ll bring to the project and have an awful lot of freedom to execute. Of course, this isn’t always the case and most of the time we’re doing peculiar work.

    It does remind me of something Tissa David shared with me. Talking about the great Hubley films for the Electric Company, CTW didn’t see model drawings or pencil tests or rough cuts. Hubley showed up with the negative after a few months of production and that was the first time any “execs” saw them.

    Of course, none of us measure up to Hubley -but there is something we can take from this.

    Production involves personal politics. There are ways of presenting yourself as an “artist” which demand “execs” pay you heed. There are ways of accomodating the guy who signs the check without compromising quality.

    Ultimately, every situation is different. Sometimes cigar-chomping bigwigs have their fingers in everyone’s ****, sometimes cigar-chomping bigwigs let the lunatics run the asylum.

  • Gerard de Souza

    Hmmm. More execs should smoke.

  • http://invaderpetblog.blogspot.com/ Brandon

    Executives are like our parents, you are never going to change them. They will always be on your ass.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    “…Could it be that industry artists have weakened their own standing throughout the years by consistently collaborating with creatively inferior people?”

    Analogy: I knew a “star” comic writer/artist who used to complain that creatively inferior publishing execs were holding him back. Then, when he got a chance to work with hands-off execs, he began complaining about creatively inferior editors holding him back—because “everyone knew” the best editors could only be those who had worked exclusively in our particular area of comics, and his editors had done some work in other genres as well.
    Then, when he got a chance to work with a crew of people “bred” entirely in his specific comics genre, he began complaining that some of THEM were creatively inferior; they didn’t understand his vision. Eventually, creatively inferior, or something like it, came down to meaning “everyone who isn’t my fan.”
    Finally, at last untrammeled, he produced a series of rambling, extremely esoteric comics—that lost him a lot of his earlier fanbase. Taking advice from a critical eye of some kind isn’t the same as subjecting oneself to a know-nothing.

    Don’t get me wrong: the fight against disinterested, counterproductive “creative” suits is an incredibly important battle. But as long as we’re working in the business—not just the hobby—of animation, we cannot afford to actually be snobs about it, or assume we’re innately right in all arguments because we’re right in some. That way lies egotism.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/magicalplatypusint ted

    I’ve got to admit I find this debate interesting, but I think we may be forgetting something. If you make the choice, ( and there is always a choice, no matter what we poor, trodden-down closet geniuses would like to think) to work for someone else who is paying the bills, then you have absolutely no right to complain if they want to change something. You can certainly try to steer them in more sensible directions, but you are their employee and they are your employer.

    I know that doesnt’ stop me from complaining from time to time. Loudly. It bites the big one to have a “creative” executive offer “brilliant” revisions to make a show “better”.
    But they sign our paycheques, so they make the rules. In their production. That’s where their powers stops! That’s it! That’s the only time they have a say. Everything else is ours! So why focus on what we don’t have? Complete artistic freedom with someone else’s money is a pipe dream! Forget it!

    Traditional business models are nearing irrelevance, and more opportunities are available for artists to show their work than ever before. Seize the frikkin’ day already and create YOUR OWN CARTOON!!!

  • http://www.chippyandloopus.typepad.com John S

    Alessandro, I was not complaining. I like my job and in this economy, I’m thankful to have one. I enjoy what I do for the studios and have discovered that I can do my own thing in my spare time and I do. During work hours, I do the best I can, but at the end of the day, they are calling the shots. It’s a collaborative medium, and I’m okay with that.
    In the evening, I do my comic strip, and I write my own stuff. Good or bad, it is mine.
    As I said before, was not complaining, I was merely stating the facts. Why should I quit when this is how I earn my living? If you want to wait tables in order to suffer for your “art” be my guest. I like what I do and as a bonus, it puts a roof over my head and feeds my family.

  • http://www.chippyandloopus.typepad.com John S

    Oops! Didn’t see your reply, Amid.
    You are obviously arguing from the point of view that anyone who works in the studios has “sold out”, which is very facile argument.
    I got into this business because I love it and do my best to do good work. I’ve worked on good movies and bad. You win some, and you lose some. However, this is also how I feed my family and pay my mortgage. I must “remain employed” so that I do not “become homeless” and “starve to death”. Not all of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouth.
    Your heroes at UPA understood this, and that is why they did commercial work as well as the artsy stuff they like.
    Brad Bird spent a number of years as a consultant at Film Roman, I suspect so that he could feed his family. All the while, I’m sure he was writing things like “The Incredibles” in his spare time. Perhaps you would rather he not support a “broken pipeline” and have him live in a cardboard box with his wife in kids in order to protect his integrity.
    In addition to the work I do for the studios where I must please someone else, I do my own work for me.
    Your arguments sound naive to me because they are those of either a young man who has never had to pay a real bill in his life or do any real living, or someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

  • Tim

    Seems to me that execs start meddling when the products start making significant money. Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, et al got so much freedom because it wasn’t worth the Bigwigs’ time to interfere. And when they stopped making money, the studios simply shut down the shorts divisions.
    When Eisner came to Disney, he and Jeffery kept animation at arm’s length, outside of making some serious trims on “Black Cauldron”. It wasn’t until the animated films started making money (including “Roger Rabbit” even though it wasn’t made on the lot), that they started paying attention. And for a few years, between Mermaid & Lion King there was a fair balance between artists & execs making creative decisions (many would argue this point).

    (Little Mermaid had a $40mil budget. It grossed around $100mil US and over $200mil worldwide. And that’s not including licensed products, and music sales. Even adjusted for inflation, that is a very low-budget film. No wonder it grabbed the interest of the big cheeses.)

    And since the films were making so much, more and more execs had to get their stamps on these successes. This lead to the over-price, underperforming films of the next seven years. Yes, there were some highlights like Lilo & Stitch and Mulan, but the majority of the films found it harder and harder to earn back their budgets. It got to the point that any film that didn’t reach $200mil in US box office was a flop. And with each film that underperformed, the execs felt more and more compelled to get involved more and more to protect their investments, thus making the products less and less entertaining.

    Outside Disney, studio execs didn’t really bother animators pre-1980. They didn’t understand the medium, the process, and the budgets were low. (Secret of NIMH was $7mil – about half of a Disney feature at the time). Bakshi always seemed to get away with whatever he wanted, though I hear Steven Speilberg was involved a lot on his associations with Bluth. But he’s not quite what I consider a suit.

    After Dreamworks was started and more studios opened animation divisions, the budgets had risen so dramatically, everyone had to have their fingers in the pie. Animated films were “proven” to be cash cows, so more stuffed shirts need to take credit for a film’s success.

    Bottom line is that the more a film cost (animated or live action) the more the top brass is going to feel the need to meddle because more of their cash is on the line. Yes, they back off a little with a proven director, but creative battles are always ongoing.

    It is a cycle that will be repeated again and again.

  • amid

    John S – My argument is not that anybody who works at a studio has sold out. There are plenty of good studios to work at, and in fact you’re lucky to have worked at some of them. My argument is that the industry suffers because too many people choose to work on weak projects, and the reasons are all too clear for why those productions are weak.

    And this has absolutely nothing to do with you, but I’ve heard the “I’ve got to support a family” excuse time and again for why people choose to work on crap. People love throwing that one out at the first suggestion that they worked on something they knew was bad. It’s a weak excuse in my opinion. I’ve never understood the idea that somebody would blame their family for their own shortcomings and lack of artistic ambition.

  • Joshua

    Tim: I am not sure that $40 million would have been considered a low budget in 1989 when “The Little Mermaid” came out. I am aware that reported budgets need to be taken with some skepticism, but even “Batman,” the year’s highest grossing movie and obviously a big budget film, was not reported to have cost $50 million.

  • http://highlyrecommended.blogspot.com Satorical

    There’s an article in the current New Yorker about movie marketing that drives home a related point: much of how the studio system operates has to do with risk management, not art.

    So when Amid (rhetorically) asks if working within that system helps make better art, the question is almost irrelevant. The system is designed to generate mass appeal. If that means including a character with “attitude” to interest the preteen set, so be it. If it means eliminating “weird” ideas to avoid offending anyone, so be it. If the result is pablum that turns a profit, yay!

    Here’s a question: when will the equations used to determine movies’ potential revenue begin to account for alternatives to theater-based distribution? The mass-appeal formulas that water down artistic vision shouldn’t have to matter when digital distribution is so much cheaper, and there are other ways to make money besides selling tickets. I look at something like Nina Paley’s proposed distribution plan for Sita Sings the Blues, and I think “That is absolutely the future.”

    No executives required.

  • slowtiger

    BBC? We never had something as good as the BBC. I know it from a fellow animator that when he got a job from one of germany’s bigger TV stations, all the exec wanted was that the animation was done “in Flash” because he had heard it were oh so cheap. He didn’t care for any production design, any character design, any good reason to do it with other tools. The result looked as crappy as could be expected because Flash was clearly the wrong tool for this certain job.

  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    I have worked directly with creators who made children’s shows in the early 70s for the BBC and their experience would echo these Monty Python comments. They would go in to see the BBC guys and the BBC would ask, “so what have you got next?”, the creators would give them no more than a one-line pitch and perhaps a few drawings and the BBC would tell them to go away and get on with it. And that was the extent of their involvement.

    This changed.

    I think the change occurred in the late 70s, though it may have been the early 80s. They started turning down the creators that had done so much great work in the 70s saying, “Well we’ve seen your work, we’re not a charity” and they actively started closing the doors on the old favourites and started working with new people, people they now seemed to want to mold. Or mould. One of those. Whichever one doesn’t bring up mental images of people covered in icky hairy bits.

    But the BBC is a whole different entity now. And has been several different entities since then.

    BBC aside, however, for creatives, this end of the world is a good place to be. Outside of the BBC, nobody has the money to commission any children’s shows completely. So only a small amount of funding comes from broadcasters, a small amount from distributors and some from public money. The result is that nobody has a large enough contribution to dictate a damn thing to the production company. They can ask nicely but, unless they are putting up a massive amount of money, that’s all they can do.

    So, Barx, that creative freedom does exist today and I know because I have been part of it. I’ve been blogging a little on children’s programming but it’s something I can go into a little deeper if anyone is curious.

    Getting a show off the ground requires a serious amount of work and luck and a show that can enthuse a lot of people to get a whole bunch of different people to commit in order to raise the finance, as opposed to the days when one person could green light a show on a whim. Few people take risks these days. But, once they do, they’ll totally leave you to it.

  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    Oh, by the way, just so it’s clear – I’m talking about the way things work in the UK and much of Europe. The US system is a whole different beast.

  • Jay Pennington

    At the risk of this sounding like a “yay, meddling clueless execs” post (which is not the intent): as in David G’s example, it might depend on the artist. Look at John K: the quality of his work has been direct proportion to the amount of suit interference he has endured.

    Some artists need reins.

  • freehand

    What cartoon snobbery.

  • http://cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    “I’ve heard the “I’ve got to support a family” excuse time and again for why people choose to work on crap.”

    Okay, you went there. There’s “bad cop” behavior, and there’s just insults. “I’ve got to support a family” isn’t an excuse—it’s a damn good explanation. A lot of my friends have needy families or infirm relatives who need active assistance and can’t easily be moved to locations where the jobs are better. My friends have no choice but to work unpleasant jobs to support them.
    And since there are varying degrees of unpleasantness, working on lousy animation may bite—but it’s still better than mopping floors or adding up clients’ taxes.

    I will only condemn people stuck in these unenviable positions if they’ve had chances at something better and willfully turned them down.
    Many of us can’t afford to wait for the ideal job.

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    I’ve never understood the idea that somebody would blame their family for their own shortcomings and lack of artistic ambition.

    That is an impressive sentence, well done Amid.

    could it be that industry artists have weakened their own standing throughout the years by consistently collaborating with creatively inferior people?

    The answer is of course yes. Then why do artists keep doing this? Because they are afraid. They may express this as fear of poverty, living on the street, and/or making their children starve, but that’s a form of catastrophizing* that evades a more immediate reason: ridicule. Now that “Sita” is successful, I enjoy more and more public support, but it frightens me to imagine not having that to balance all the ridicule I still receive for opting out of the system. I’m called unoriginal; not an artist; a harm to myself and others; lazy. The comments here indicate the epithets facing anyone who refuses to work for others: oppressively elite (“born with a silver spoon in their mouths”), arrogant, snobs. No one wants to be called these things.

    And what if you risk it all and make a fool of yourself? What if someone says of you, “some artists need reins”? It may be true, but oh god, the embarrassment. No one wants that.

    *It is possible to live on less than you’re used to and still be OK. It is possible to be poor and not live in a cardboard box while your children starve to death. Really, it is. Most real artists don’t have silver spoons in their mouths; they are simply willing to do without as much material security, or should I say illusion of material security. I don’t fault anyone for choosing a steady income over the hardships of artistic risk, but it is a choice.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Amid – perhaps you are just being inflammatory, which is fine.
    It stimulates discussion, gets people thinking, brains ticking away.

    Or maybe you actually want people to think you’re a naive, arrogant fellow.

    It seems to me that either way, what you say here is just as destructive as everything you condemn in your posts.

  • amid

    Satorical : Great point. We have increasingly unique types of animation, at least in the world of features ($9.99, Waltz with Bashir, Sita Sings the Blues, Idiots and Angels), but a distribution system in place that cannot accommodate films which are not intended to be mainstream crowd-pleasers. As digital projection, online distribution and other technologies change the economics of the movie industry, I think the content of the movies delivered via these new technologies will also broaden and change.

    Slowtiger: Thanks for the anecdote about the German exec. It makes a great point that simple ignorance on an exec’s part is not the key to success. An exec like Warner’s Leon Schlesinger or the guys who greenlit Monty Python are quite smart. They maximize their potential for success by giving opportunities to the most talented and creative people in their organizations. In other words, they recognize talent and know how to build teams. Once they’ve done that, they interfere minimally and allow these people to do their thing.

  • grit

    Must be easy to be a real artist if you don’t have a family to support

  • http://invaderpetblog.blogspot.com/ Brandon

    Okay, how about executives who demand changes on a show that doesn’t need changes, and when the show flops as a result of the changes that the EXECUTIVES wanted, they fire the creators, or at least blame the creators for their “incompetence”. Are we going to defend those executives too?

  • http://www.candlelightstories.com Alessandro Cima

    John S,

    There you go. Nina Paley is on here commenting and she is making movies with her own hands and very little else. She does not take orders from nitwits offering paychecks. She may in the future. But for now I suppose she doesn’t. And there’s no silver spoon in anyone’s mouth in 2009 that I know. There’s many ways to earn one’s keep and build a roof. Most animators are technically competent intelligent people and can do all sorts of jobs. The silver spoon comes into play in one’s own mind when one firmly believes that one can and should only earn a living from doing what one loves. That is silver spoon thinking. I can earn my living in a number of ways. I can write software. I can lay foundations for skyscrapers. I can build walls. Lots of things. I could choose any one of them to put the roof over my family.

    I think that Amid is writing about artists. Not employees. If that’s naivete, well, I love naivete. I seek it out and practice it myself.

    Furthermore, executives who know their business hire artists to act like artists.

  • L

    I suppose it’s like this: If you don’t have kids, it’s shameful to make bad work because the money’s good. If you do have kids, it’s shameful to do anything else.

  • freehand

    Alessandro,

    Do you see a difference between artists and employees?

  • David Levy

    To get anywhere in this discussion we need to stop stereotyping each side of the table. Not every artist is a “Tex Avery” waiting to happen (if only some exec would only let them). Yet, there are lots of wonderful artists that make up the ranks of any animation production and contribute on many creative levels in this commercial occupation. And, there are a lot worse things one could do than spend their life as a paid artist working in animation.

    Furthermore, every executive is not engaged in willful or unwitting creative sabotage. While I have met and interacted with some truly horrible execs that lived up to the worst descriptions as labeled above, I have also heard most every sane veteran series creator speak very highly of some of their respective development execs.

    Artists are free to think whatever they please about the current system and the development executives that play a part in it. But, artists should know that the ball lies in their court. They have the power to spend their own time developing their artistic voices. Who knows where such self discovery will lead. But, if one goes through their career thinking they are under the thumb of a so-called terrible executive, then they just might use that as an excuse to not accomplish anything. When that happens, who’s fault will that be?

    • Neofcon

      “if one goes through their career thinking they are under the thumb of a so-called terrible executive, then they just might use that as an excuse to not accomplish anything. When that happens, who’s fault will that be?”

      As an aspiring writer who had this exact type of anxiety, I have to say thank you Levy. I needed that.

      And besides, it’s like with executives too. The artists/creators take the risks of working for these execs in the first place, so they make the bed they sleep in. They have something they like and they show it to said terrible executive who wants to maul it because they “know better”, then they’re boned.

      Still makes me want to delay my passion projects.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/elastic_spam Jenny

    Amid: how can you condemn Animators who work with executives when you praised Adventuretime?

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    @Jenny:how can you condemn Animators who work with executives

    I believe Amid is only condemning animators who compromise their work beyond moral conscience and then justify this because an executive told them to. Plenty of good work gets done with the help (read: money) of executives; plenty more work gets ruined by excessive interference of misguided executives. Since bad executives won’t correct a bad system or themselves, artists should stop blaming them and focus on what they can change: their own decisions. Studios and corporations are quite capable of producing good work, Adventuretime being one example. They also frequently produce bad work. It’s up to the individual artist whether they want to participate in a godawful production. “I vas chust following ohrders” isn’t a good answer.

  • Steve Burstein

    When I was in my teens, in the 70s, I fantasized that I would be part of the next Monty Python, thinking that there would always be mentors like the ones the Pythons described. Little did I know that such conditions had already dried up by the mid-70s in Britain-and I’m not even English! And alternative comedy looked easier to get involved with than It actually was. It looked to me as if these groups had just shown up. I’m not the next ANYTHING(except next in line at the unemployment office)

  • http://www.mytoons.com/toonedbob Bob Harper

    Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Ed Benedict and John K are but a few names of artists who have worked on projects at one time or another they considered crap. Does this imply they had no integrity or were weak because they had to compromise to fit into scheduling or budgets dictated by non creative types? Some did it to do things like pay bills, learn the ropes and oh yes the lame excuse of supporting families. Are their legacies ruined or do we cling to what they did that we liked.

    Once your are earning a paycheck to do somebody elses product you are not an artist in that situation, but an employee. So the question is would I choose to be an employee at a place, using skills that I worked hard to learn, that will allow me to take care of my family, while a pursued my own artistic endeavors or to take a fast food job to make crappy food and not take care of my family so I can kid myself that I’m maintaining my artistic integrity while my kids wonder why we only eat burgers and fries.

    Yogi Bear, the Flintsones etal are not art. They are products for consumers, plain and simple. Most the guys I talked to from that era pretty much agreed it was just a job, nothing special, something to help take care of the families (ooo – there they go again).

    It seems that those who don’t have families find it so easily to dismiss those who wish to take care of theirs by using their skills to make as much moola they can in a shakey business and an unstable eonomy. Scoff if you want to but I don’t think it is unoble, considering that we do the best we can given the opportunities.

    Since there are so few productions for craftsmen to choose from, it is lofty to think that we are in the catbird seat of chosing what we deem worthy of allowing our awesome selfs to work on.

    By day I provide services to work on somebody elses product, at night I create my own, without compromise. I feel that I’m the same as anyone who works at a retail store, fast food restraunt, manufacturing plant etc. while pursuing being in a band, acting, writing etc.

    There is no shame in working for a living and oh yeah making sure my kids get by.

  • Sad animator

    I don’t think Amid has children as he would never make a stupid comment like that. I have a family and they are more important to me than working on something that will please his sensibilities. I have lost alot of respect for you Amid.

  • http://www.chippyandloopus.typepad.com John S

    Nina, I admire what you have accomplished, but you will not win ANY arguments by comparing necessary artistic compromise with Nazi-ism, ala your pithy “I vas chust vollowink orderz” comment.
    In fact, I’d say you just lost it, but then I’d expect no less from someone who thinks “I’ve never understood the idea that somebody would blame their family for their own shortcomings and lack of artistic ambition.” is a brilliant sentence.
    I’ve never heard anyone blame their family for their working situation.
    I’ve been doing this for 16 years, and almost every single person I’ve met has some artistic endeavor on the side. Some draw comics, some paint, some sculpt, some write, some make short films, and some play music. Just because they are not displaying their “Artistic ambitions” in the way in which you approve, doesn’t make them any less an artist. We must all follow our own path. Some of us work in studios on projects which you deem unworthy in order to make a living. To judge us the way you do makes you no better than the people you say have judged you unfairly.
    Bob, I think you hit the nail right on the head. Well said.

  • pat

    re: Amid and Nina’s naive comments-

    “could it be that industry artists have weakened their own standing throughout the years by consistently collaborating with creatively inferior people?

    The answer is of course yes. Then why do artists keep doing this? Because they are afraid. They may express this as fear of poverty, living on the street, and/or making their children starve, but that’s a form of catastrophizing”

    Hands up, those who have been homeless or had other catastrophic experiences in the course of a professional artistic career. Right here

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    Hands up, those who have been homeless or had other catastrophic experiences in the course of a professional artistic career. Right here

    My hand’s up right here.

    John S – I want to emphasize where (I think) we agree. If you have kids, the kids should come first, period. What sort of compromises that entails, I should not judge.

    I know at least two artists who abandoned their children to pursue art. Both said they would have killed themselves otherwise, and I believe them. But it is still tragic.

    I don’t mean to – and can’t – judge the choices anyone here has made. My apologies.

  • http://therealjohnyoung.blogspot.com John Young

    You should all rush out and see revolutionary road, it’s about exactly what’s being discussed here and it’s bloody good.

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    @John Young – great recommendation! I just saw Revolutionary Road tonight. Excellent, and totally nails the discussion here. Thanks.

  • http://www.watchmike.ca /\/\ikahl

    I agree with John S.

    But why is the argument so bi-partisan? I’m willing to bet a lot of animators make a decision to work based on feeding their family AND a bit of artistic integrity. I’ve often heard people going “Well I was going to work here for the money, but this other place was a little less money and had better people/creative control”. Or vica versa. And often WHERE the studio is determines who applies to the studio.