Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tom Joad: Animator

Regular readers know that sometimes I have to disguise my true stories because the people involved are still around, and, like me, still working.  Usher House Studios is no particular studio, an amalgam of them all.  Toddy Totsworthy is no particular production manager, but a Mrs. Potato Head arranged to meet the story's needs.  That said.....

"Your footage count is flat-lining!  And what we're getting is pretty limited.  I mean, your animation.... it's cute.  It's nice.  There's a lot of people trying to work here, y'know, and the guys upstairs, they look at the numbers.  Spreadsheets. And how can we get more for our money.  I've got guys doing twenty feet a week and you're averaging less than one! "

This long, lumpy shit curl was served up hot for me by good old Jennifer "Toddy" Totsworthy, the production manager at Usher House Studios. I had it coming to me. How dare I ask for my first raise in my five years?  It was 2001, and I was lucky to be working, period. When Disney dumped their 2d "team",  there was a glut of A-list talent floating around looking for work.  People were losing there homes, and in a few heartbreaking instances, some committed suicide.  The production heads knew the score and offered no compassion,  lording it over us like we were migrant workers in The  Grapes of Wrath.  To them, hiring an animator was like hiring someone to pick grapes, any warm body will do.  And what you picked in the past was irrelevant.

I had known Toddy for a few years, and she always had that bubbly, fake enthusiasm you find in a lot of upwardly-mobile Hollywood types, an enthusiasm you might associate with a bi-polar disorder or a coke habit.  In Toddy's case, it may have been a double-whammy, inflamed by Red Bull.   She had always been super nice to me, making me feel I had found a home at Usher House, a studio where I was appreciated.  I always worked toward doing my best, not having the best footage count.  So it was with blindsided numbness that I sat, hearing but not so much listening to her verbal bashing.   I studied her angry face - the deep dimple between her frowning brows, the bulging vein in her neck, the way she avoided eye contact.   I thought, "I could put that in a great villain."

Toddy tirade was as factually void as it was unexpected.  While I didn't focus on footage counts, I did keep a personal goal in my head of two feet a day. That's how much I could get through doing my best work.  Some days I could do a lot more, some days a lot less.  Focus is a fickle thing, and there are days when it's just not there.  Some scenes were simple, while some had multiple characters and camera moves,  but it all averaged out to eight to ten feet a week.  I worked that way for a very long time and never had anyone complain about my footage count.

But wrong as Toddy was, she was also one of the overlords.  Arguing with her would do me as much good as a garlic clove in my light box.  So, like the French, I put up little defense and let her goose-step  up and down my Champs Elysee.  I needed my job and she clearly needed to rant, so it all worked out great.  She walked away quite pleased with herself, and I got to go back to work feeling like I had lost my talent and that some wunderkind would soon be pushing me out of the business.

Now lets make a movie!

I made some adjustments, drawing rougher, leaving more work for an assistant and things settled down.  Toddy moved on to other victims, namely, the assistants whose footage counts had dropped because they had to do the extra work I passed onto them.  Eventually, Usher House outsourced everything  to a mo-cap studio in Vancouver and we all lost our jobs, Toddy included.  In hindsight, that was probably the source of her stress, the cheap, greedy men at the top cannibalizing the studio until there was nothing left.

I can look at their films now and be proud of stuff that is in the movie forever because I did it.  I wonder what Toddy sees?


Read more Usher House tales here....

and here...

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