Friday, May 25, 2007


This past Monday was a rough day in New York animation.
A studio named Animagic, that'd been developing a PBS show called NATE THE GREAT for many many months now, layed off their entire staff. Kaput; the show's over for them.
We, at the VENTURE BROTHERS studio (World Leaders Entertainment) heared about the layoffs in the morning. The Animagic team, many of them our friends, were having a lunchtime drink to ease the pain of the layoff, and the VB's staff decided to head on over and share hugs and toss back a few with them.
At first, I was happy I went; the Animagic staff was made up of a lot of young talent I knew at KATB*T. Terrific guys like Imario, and Mike Carlo. I stayed for a drink, but felt kind of empty quickly, because I remembered the feeling from just two years earlier--KATB*T was unceremoniously dumped this very same way. Just a lousey feeling.
I'm sad that so many people--those I liked, and those I don't even know---lost their job that day. That sucks.
I'm starting to get a bit frustrated with folks online blogging or responding to blogs about how criminally the production was run; how little vision the producers had; how talent was thwarted with jealous intent; and the questionable reputation of New York studios. Maybe hearing talk like that tires me out so much because I was around during Nickelodeon's reshuffling of REN AND STIMPY. For me, it smacks a little too much of heroic fantasy. It's so easy to blame the producers. It's so easy to blame the business people. To make them the bad guys. I dunno, I suppose if blame needs be placed, the producers would be the ones to point the finger at---in NATE'S case, it certainly sounds like that's so---but it also feels a little childish to me. Business people, on the whole, would much prefer a success to a failure, even if they're not sure how to generate that success, and run a production poorly. Nobody really wants to see people layed off; certainly not anyone at this lower level of the business food chain. And, sure, production rarely, very rarely ever understands artistic intent, because it's not necessarily a job requirement: it helps, but ultimately their job is to get a show on the air, good, bad or terrible, and to keep the costs down. We as artists, of course would like to see good work done, and to feel we contributed to something worthwhile. But in the end, when I hear artists speaking with what sounds like a sense of entitlement---as if productions fail because they're not listened to, or because a vision is not adhered to....fuck, this just strikes me as nonsense. Just my opinion. We in the mainstream animation industry create, but we create in a commercial arena. We create, essentially, so that Mattel can sell toys. It's nice when we're allowed to create something we're proud of. But again, that's not a commercial requirement, that's something, I think, that we project onto our productions. I believe we need to take immense pride in what we do, to utilize our craft to the best of our abilities. But I humbly believe, if you're trying to create the great American animation, you probably really need to do it on your own time, Rembrandt.
Close the gate on NATE THE GREAT's barn if you like, but the horse is already out. What's left, sadly, is that many talented people are out of work. Save your theories and anger; help find these people another job.


C.M.B. said...

I hear a lot of this "It's all the suits, maaan!" from several artists, on blogs, from aspiring artists who think people don't get their genius, and a few other sources. Occasionally I see it from artists who have this pre-determined dislike for non-cartoonist animation writers and producers because some animator told them that was the right thing to think, and having been through art school, there's this....well....implied thought process being driven from a couple professors I've had. It does suck to see something you put your hard work into be thrown away, but unless there was this massive network conspiracy that everyone knew about, maybe it's because the show stunk. Or no one watched it. Or maybe the person complaining is just lazy creatively and unwilling to admit. I'm just trying to think of all the possibilities because everyone isn't always out to get the artist, but it's almost like some artists have this weird psychological desire to be victimized. Similar to some niche fanbases. I don't know about Nate the Great's production, but if the show was canned while still in development, that's too bad. It does feel a bit unorthodox because it was dumped before it had a chance to prove its worth as opposed to having a chance and getting cancelled. On the other hand, if a show's production really is run poorly, the artists and producers don't get along, and people are jealous of one another, then I wouldn't have had high hopes for the show. Why would a show be any good if its there was so much drama between its crew members?

And from what I've been told, the show the animation community tries to rebel against, Family Guy, is actually a show with a great drama-free working environment. All I've heard from anyone on that show's staff is how laid back the various teams are and how everyone enjoys coming in to work on it.

With all this talk about artists' vision and the commercial environment, if I wanted to be successful in animation I'd at least try my best to make the show a success creatively and commercially. It's obviously feasible. Look at shows like Spongebob or Powerpuff.




Garrett said...

I don't think any of us was labouring under the false impression that we were either creating great art or were visionary artists who could have made a show great but got stiffed by 'The Man'. Nate was what it was - a low budget show for pre-schoolers and all that that implies. It was a lame show (which seems to be the PBS house style) that was never going to win prizes. It's not like we got shut down half way through The Thief and the Cobbler. The tragedy and the drama is that sixty five talented artists aren't getting pay cheques every Friday - some of them having turned down better (artistically) jobs for the lure of a two year gig.

C.M.B. said...

A two year gig lure is a big tease. A friend of mine at Animation Collective said some guys left that studio for this and won't be welcomed back. Sucks to hear. I've also been told to avoid reading anything about this on Animation Nation.

On PBS, I actually went up to Soup2Nuts in Boston to interview for their upcoming PBS show Word Girl, and it actually looked like a pretty clever show. Hopefully that doesn't suffer a similar fate. It too was a 2-year gig.

mikecarloooyeah said...

Wow, first of all thanks for the shout out Stephan, and secondly that was the most mature, logical way to look at these layoffs. When we got canned on monday I was oddly enough fine with it. Maybe it was because going through the same thing two years ago was a real education in just how the business can be. It sucks, but it happens. Passing the blame doesn't change it whether you are right or wrong. The pointing the blame thing is so contagious (especially after an afternoon drink) that after a while I had to go home and not be around it because I was finding myself becoming alittle negative.
I wasn't all that upset or angry when we got canned, because if there is one thing all these previous experiences (both good and bad) have taught me, it's that there is work after this, and you just have to plow on straight through it. Not every project is going to be the be all end all, and not every project is going to be the pinnacle acheivement in ones career. We work in a commercial industry, and you have to put 110 into everything and move on when it's done. whether it happens sooner or later or just when you expect it. I was kind of happy I got to go to a lunch time party with my friends.
I hope I articulated myself well in the statement, and I will leave you all with one last word. If your want to make money and not deal with crap open up a bar next to an animation studio, cuz when it goes under you'll be raking in the bucks hahahaha. Thanks guys,

Yeldarb86 said...


Your middle-ground analysis is quite interesting. I'd like if you went into a little more detail about what happened with Ren & Stimpy.
I was one of those fans who was introduced to the series during the Games era, and long after I learned about how the show failed, I always believed that there had to have been more to it than the "big bad executive" factor.
In fact, I did an analysis of my own on the "Reverend Jack Cheese" episode some weeks ago, which revealed a surprising symbolism in its unusual storyline. There's definitely another side of the story that hasn't been told yet.

In order for mainstream animation to survive, there has to be some kind of middle ground between the artists and the executives. If say, some of these artists developed an understanding of the business world, and try learning from the inside out, there'd be less of an issue as to the validity of modern animation.

david said...

i think most cartoonists and others working in animation would prefer that the projects they work on were controlled more by artists than producers/executives. But like you said, the only way this will happen is if each cartoonist steps up to the plate and starts working on their own shit and creating something independently. Sadly, i think at this point a lot are burnt out or just not into the idea and if they do want to create something for themselves, they do it with the intention that it will be a sold show to a network, thus perpetuating the "commerical" aspects of cartoons that you mentioned.

I think the major issue here is whenever a show goes bad, it is always the artists that get laid off, not once have i heard about a whole string of upper management getting booted. We all know why this is. oh well.


This kind of thing is not good for anyone. I hope everyone gets back on there feet quickly. Best of luck to everyone.keepo kicking as in NY.

R. Banuelos said...

This is a little off topic, but I believe you're one of the best cartoonist working today. I like seeing your drawings in animation and your comics. Really great work; it's good to know that there's no ego attached to such talent. All cartoons are pretty stupid when you look at it. Nate the Great sounds stupid too. Lay-off's suck, and it's probably a way to ease the pain to have a group mentality of Let's lynch the landlord.

I think it's cool that we get to see cartoons on T.V. and everywhere, to regular folks who aren't artist they bring a lot of joy and fun and every cartoon looks really creative. People use to quote Popeye and Bugs Bunny and laugh at those cartoons, then Rocky and Bullwinkle, then Ren And Stimpy, the Simpsons, and now Family Guy and Sponge Bob. Cartoons haven't changed a lot to the general public.

You're the best Stephen, I hope I get to keep seeing your drawings in animations and print because they're very fun.

katzenjammer studios said...

wow. this is a pretty concise look at doing your craft in a commercial world. even independent work needs to have a clear understanding of their audience in mind as well as the understanding of risk being worth the reward, emotional or financial. nice blog post, it's an experienced, sometimes harsh, but mature look at the function of our craft.

I really dig your work and your blog man. keep it up.