What I tell myself everyday.

To all the people watching, I can never ever thank you enough for the kindness to me, I'll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask is one thing, and this is.. I'm asking this particularily of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism - for the record it's my least favorite quality, it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen." - Conan 'O'Brien

September 22, 2015

Do you really want to step into the animation industry? Part 3.

Continuing from my previous post....

Update : Double Negative Sg just laid off 80 people. Insight of the closure, I have realised that this article written 5 years ago.. is even more relevant today. And it is still a downward spiral.

recently in the Straits times, there were articles about the closure of a few "big" animation companies in Singapore. Big being relatively in size compared to the rest of the cg/media/animation company in Singapore.

One part of the article "Egg Story closes down" stood out for me. Which is that "while Egg Story Creative Production closed down, Egg Story Digital Art School is not affected by the closure."

The fact that the education industry for animation is actually doing relatively well while the actual animation industry in Singapore isn't, for me is a very worrying sign.

I think that the reality of the situation here is actually pretty dire. The market is getting crowded with a lot of graduates jostling for a shrinking pie.


The major polytechnics NYP, SP, NP, TP, NTU are offering diploma courses. NTU, LaSalle and I think Digipen offering degrees. Tisch I think is offering a Masters. As well as those on WDA courses from 3D sense, Egg Story and CG protage. Not to exclude those that came back from overseas for studies and in some of smaller private schools.

A lot of graduates are finding full time employment hard to come by. Besides the big company like Lucasfilm, Double Negative, and to a certain extend Sparky and Frameworks in Batam etc... animation graduates functions more on a freelance basis dependent on the needs of the companies.
There are of course boutique shops that service the local media industry as well as architecture visualisations for new property development. But these also extensively use freelancers based on projects.

For local students this is still sustainable but for foreign students on govt grants bonded to work in Singapore, this put them at the mercy of companies that may exploit their predicament. There is little or no CPF contribution from these companies as well.

These graduates quickly discover that the pay does not really matter on the qualifications you have but the level of skills they possess.

Unfortunately even then, there is a dwindling number of companies that they can apply to.

The REALITY of the industry here is that turnaround for profitability for animated TV shows and movies is still slow and companies need a huge cash flow to survive the gamble that their shows can sell. Often companies cannot manage to survive the gamble even with generous subsidies from the govt.

If you count the number of companies that have opened and closed shop over the last 10 years, the statistics make for grim reading.

On top of this, despite the cost of software and hardware going downwards, salaries remain the biggest expenditure for companies here. And yet on average local animation graduates are among the lowest paid compared to the rest. Obviously the inherent artistic ability that an individual have and the quality of education they received plays a huge part in their salary and potential career path.

Unfortunately the animation industry locally really still functions as a service provider. No different from manufacturing or fabrication. Animators and the like functions more as craftsman and artistes that is dependent on the appeal that the shows they are working can sustain. And companies will always source for the best available quality at the most efficient cost.

Singapore animation companies cannot compete on a global stage staying a service provider long term. Against China and India where there are academies with thousands of hungry and talented trainees run be state funded companies, these are overwhelming odds to overcome for costs and efficiency. Previously we could claim that our exposure to the east and west cultures could have placed us at an advantage. But not so anymore. Have a read here.

http://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/the-vfx-scene-in-china/#more-684

Understandably in China, they are caught in a price war.

Even if we are to create independent IPs or co-production, we are still gambling on a rapidly moving and expending chessboard with many companies overseas creating their own IPs and actually owning the distribution companies.

I believe that for Singapore to survive in this industry is to improve the odds. And to do this is with the quality of your skills and education.

When I mean skills, I do not mean
how well you can model a car. But the nuts and bolts of how 3D works mathematically. How a vertex is translated over space. What a sprite is and how is it displayed. The not so sexy but very very crucial stuff. This is what will keep you employed and a step ahead of the competition. PERL, and scripting. The more skillsets that you have that others don't, will make you more employable and get you more pay. Again, supply and demand, If you can something that others can't, you will be in demand. So why are these not taught in schools? :)

The most critical flaw with the current model of having specialised courses just so that the students can get into Lucasfilm, D Neg is heavily flawed. Because all you are churning out students who are one trick pony following tutorials and step by step in doing a prescribed way of working. They are severely limited by the skillsets that they have. And once you are in the industry, it is very hard to have time to improve them. And not to mention when they are in production, the lack of understanding in other areas affects their ability to trouble shoot and problem solve.

I will probably get a lot of stick for this but I feel that the level of education in the polytechnics
and private institution severely still lacking. From personal experience and observation, a lot of the people in animation education field are in it precisely because either they cannot find a good enough job as a professional or is worn out by the animation industry and wants a slower pace of life. And the good, genuinely sincere lecturers last a few years before get worn and beaten down by the bureaucratic political hoops they have to jump through. As well as the top down mentality so prevalent in our culture and society. (More in a later post).

For a student, it is important to find out who the people they will be learning from are and the quality of edcuation that they can acquire. I will touch on this later on a later post.

A accreditation of a school by an independent recognised body is the bare minimum and crucial for the students to have the assurance that the school they are attending meet the guidelines and determine the standards that they must meet.

Often I have to work with fresh graduates for the various schools on projects and the skill set levels differ by a fair distance from those that only stick to the books and those that seek out knowledge by themselves. This is a unrelenting and everchanging industry. If you are to survive and thrive as an artiste, besides being artistically inclined, the skillsets that you have possess must constantly be upgraded.

Animation is still a technically laborious career and. And to acquire these skill set requires years of practice and training for even the artistically inclined. But this is the reality of the situation here. And I feel this is what will eliminate those really interested in this field compared to those that feel it is just something cool to tell their friends.

If you are working the 50-70 hours a week being perpetually behind a deadline , it is very hard to have the energy and more importantly the drive to pick up new techniques and maintaining an interest in it.

I hope that students thinking about stepping into this line and career understand what they are getting themselves into before getting drawn into the "cool" aspect of the industry.

Its still the choice of the person making the decision. All we can do is to give as much information for them to make an informed choice.

10 comments:

  1. I found your blog via VFXSoldier. I have been going through your previous posts and I had to comment on this one.

    A little background: I am a VFX artist with 11 years experience in games, feature films and vfx work in the US. At the moment I'm working as a contractor at one of the biggest VFX facilities in the industry. I have fought and suffered my way into this industry like everybody else.

    I completely agree with everything you've stated in this post. Not only does the predicament apply to Singapore (where some of my friends work) but also to the US. In short, the industry sucks. The big fallacy amongst animators is, it's an artistic job. Artists think with their heart, not with their heads. If you try to tell them the negative reality of their future, they respond not with logic but with misdirected indignation. They think if they care enough and work hard enough they will be the "exception".

    The animator attitude, the willingness to sell themselves cheap because they don't think they deserve better is part of the reason the job is a dead end. We have undervalued ourselves far too much and the studios and facilities have been more than happy to take advantage of this.

    The industry in the US is like this--animated films and vfx films are the biggest earners in the industry. They continuously sell the highest ticket sales and their merchandising tie-ins have made the studios more money now than ever. One would think the earning power of animators would be strong. Actually it is the weakest it's ever been and it's plummeting.

    My wife and I just had our first kid. The simple fact is, if you are the sole wage earner in your family and your spouse wants to stay at home and raise your kids, you can barely afford to have one kid. An animator salary in a place like New York, LA, or San Francisco (where most of the work is located) is not enough. By the time my child is old enough to go to college, tuition at most schools will cost around $80,000 USD per year. There's no way I will be able to afford that. Not only that, but it's impossible for my wife and I to afford having more than one child.

    As you know, all animators work a ton of overtime. Facilities try their best to not pay overtime, but in the US, we have labor laws that make it illegal to do that. Not so in Asia. That free overtime you work is time you should be spending with your spouse and children, not at the office making some producer or facility owner rich. No wonder my Asian friends' parents think animation is a joke job. They're right. It is.

    In spite of having successful gigs on big movies, I still have no leverage, and I have not been able to negotiate a raise in 6 years. As more facilities go out of business due to under-bidding and outsourcing, this will get worse.

    (continued)

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  2. Here's how the US animation studios/facilities view you, the overseas worker:

    1. They LOVE you. They love the fact that you work hard like us, but are cheap.
    2. They love the fact your government doesn't have labor laws forcing your facilities to pay you overtime and sick pay and benefits. You save them a lot of money.
    3. The studios love the fact your government takes money out of your paycheck in the form of tax subsidies and gives it back to them. On top of your low salary and no overtime pay, this is a great deal for them.
    4. US VFX facilities are banking on you never wanting to go anywhere else. They want you to stay in Singapore and keep working for cheap. They don't want you to get better or get more experience because then you may start asking for a living wage or open up your own shop and compete with them.
    5. The Hollywood studios are more than happy for you to open up your own shop because you'll underbid the US facilities and they'll get more work for cheap.
    6. The studios never ever want you to make your own IP because they want to own all the IP out there. The IP is what makes them tons of money--Iron Man, Transformers, Harry Potter, etc. They want you to be a worker ant, not a creative individual.
    7. US workers are international folks who like working with people from abroad. Innovation is fostered that way. I know you want to get your break with the "big boys", so you can build your reputation and get better opportunities. Unfortunately, US facilities are making this impossible. You can't come here because there are no jobs to be had. They're already being outsourced to you.
    8. Facilities use the above scenario to keep US animators scared so they don't ask for a fair wage. "You're lucky you have a job at all." is a common attitude. If this is the way they want us to view ourselves, how do you think they want you to view yourself?
    9. Lucasfilm and Pixar just got caught by the US Department of Justice for illegally price-fixing animator salaries. If you think this doesn't affect you, think again. We're all in this together.

    Once I knew I was having a kid, I realized one day he may tell me he wants to be an animator. If there is even an industry in the US by then, I owe it to him to not let him do that. Furthermore (and I know you may not print this) but I will never let my child pay money for an education in animation or CG. For the same reasons you pointed out--the industry is being destroyed by greed but the education side of it is thriving. That's because they're making money off students. The pay you are going to get out of school is not worth going into debt to get the education. That holds true for the multitude of online schools as well.

    My advice to aspiring VFX artists/animators is to pursue it as a hobby. Read all the online materials available and post your work on youtube and on forums to get feedback. Do it for fun and because you love it, but don't expect to make a living at it. Unfortunately Hollywood studios and the VFX facilities are working to make sure it's so.

    Pursue another career that gives a better hard-work-to-reward ratio than animation. I myself am looking for a way out because I want to have more than one child and I want to be able to send them to college. I would feel guilty if I didn't share this advice because I feel like I owe it to the young students out there. I wish them luck!

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  3. thank you for ur kind comments. These are experiences that we have been through. It is hard for someone like students who have not been down this road to experience what we are talking about. All they can hopefully do, is equip themselves and let them walk their own road. Who knows where it will lead them to.

    cheers.

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  4. I also have 11+ years in animation and I'm dismayed at what the 'industry' has become.
    The investment you put in vs the return is just not there.
    It's impossible to build on experience and knowledge because there's always something new and as VFX becomes more industrialised the work is more like a production line that is easily offshored- just look at what happened to 2D in the 80s...
    Maybe when you are young and inexperienced you just want to be guided by your passions in life and your time is not worth a lot to you - then you realise you have to work smarter, not harder.
    Any parent owes it to their children to read Thomas Friedmans views on future proof jobs:
    http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/the-world-is-flat
    Technical jobs are too easily outsourced but there will always be work for leaders and
    visionaries...
    http://vimeo.com/14803194

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  5. thank you vished. It was a very informative video. In the end, its their choice.

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  6. Yes i do and i will fucking love to!(get into the animation industry) Many people spend too much time worrying about if this or that is right for you rather than actually doing it.

    Personally, i would put all that effort into creating more stuff i love rather than spending time analyzing and complaining about how screwed up this industry is.

    While its interesting to read these articles, complaining won't make any difference here. So why not improve our skills, keep doing what we love to, stay positive, be the best, and make a difference. Shape the future of OUR industry with our own hands.

    As Steve Jobs says: "We're here to put a dent in the universe."

    So let's go create! Awesome blog btw! 8D

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  7. Thanks. I am not really complaining. And I don't think they are too.

    The selfish reason for me is just thinking out loud how to make things better for myself in the future.

    Thank you and good luck on your journey into animation.

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  8. Thxs for your encouragement, sorry for the one sided naive view from me. haha! keep writing awesome stuff bro.

    will be reading often! :D

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  9. Everything you said applies to Computer Science as well. Basically to almost all technical jobs. Schools are teaching kids the "tricks" the industry (currently) demands, not the general skills they need to adapt and do well in the long run. In a field like CS, they teach the popular programming language, how to use the latest hot libraries/framework, but not the core (read theory/math) stuff. The young kids starting out may scoff at the need to learn the math. Why do that when you can just "build"? But I say, what can you "build" if no ones write the library for you to call? And pulling in dozens of dependencies for a project just for the few functions you need in each one? That is why the *core* R&D for most big firms is not done in SG. The mentality of the policy makers is that this sort of work should be managed like traditional manufacturing, whereas it is anything but.

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