Will Finn, an animator, director, character designer, and storyboard artist with almost 40 years of experience, offered some wisdom this week to anyone whose life’s calling is in the animation industry.
[T]o me a job is something you depend on from an employer. It’s theirs to give and theirs to take away… A career is something I have to be responsible for based on my reputation, my ability, and my preferences. I don’t expect much beyond what I invoiced for last week, and I keep tabs on whatever’s coming up—staying in touch with long-term contacts and making new ones almost constantly. I try to keep at least one ‘Plan B’ in mind at all times. And that’s fine. A career is like a life: mine to tend, mine to succeed or fail at, mine to take credit and blame for, mine to earn. I would not have it any other way.
In the blog post, Finn recounts his childhood dream of working “cradle to grave” as an animator at Walt Disney Studios—a dream that was comprehensively shattered by the reality of “barely nine months” spent as a 20-year-old at Disney, working on The Fox and the Hound, getting caught up in backstage politics, running afoul of higher-ups, and producing work that was, by his own account, “substandard even for a newbie”.
That baptism by fire, Finn writes, made him realize “Each job is not an end in and of itself: it’s a piece of something bigger: something called a career.”
Indeed, since his first ill-fated animation gig, Finn has enjoyed a long career that includes a triumphant return to Disney where he supervised the characters of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast and Iago in Aladdin, as well as working for Warner Bros., DreamWorks, the Don Bluth Studio, Reel FX, IMAGI, Renegade Animation, and others.
Embarking on his third stint at Disney in 1999, Finn realized his original childhood dreams had been somewhat misguided.
Senior Disney artists who I remember envying on that day in 1979 when I got let go were being given their 20th and 25th anniversary pins alongside pink slips terminating their employment. Some of them had never worked outside the studio and the transition must have been difficult. But at that point I knew while I still admired their talent and artistry, I had stopped envying the idea of a long tenure at a single studio long ago. In 2004, I was on the pavement again, looking for work.