Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Frank and Ollie Timeline and the Back to the Future Effect


I have vivid memories of being teased for being 'the kid' at work, like it was just a few years ago.  But through my own lack of vigilance, time accelerated 36 years into the future, slip-sliding to the year 2020.  2020!  When I was starting out in animation, sci-fi movies portrayed the year 2020 as a dystopian future where the environment is ruined by man's greedy industrial pursuits and chaos rules - like that could come to pass.

Since moving back to Los Angeles after thirteen years on the east coast, I have been living in my own, personal Back to the Future sequel.  Everything is the same, but different. Landmarks I once used for directions are gone. Downtown LA is barely recognizable.  And no more Mo's, Billy's Deli, or World Art Supply. 

Recently, I crossed the threshold where friends and colleagues die, and not by accident.  Two passed this summer - Kelly Asbury and Sue Nichols.  I attended a memorial service for Kelly last month.  Arriving late, I sat in the back of the outdoor venue.  I saw the backs of a lot of older people in masks, then  realized - these are my peers!  They appeared to wearing age makeup to appear older, except they weren't.  I just had not seen them in 20 years. The Back to the Future Effect strikes again.

After the service, we all said our hello's through masks and distance.  They seemed to be experiencing the Back to the Future Effect themselves.  Standing there with former CalArts classmates Chris Sanders, Gary Trousdale, and Jeff DeGrandis,  we talked about the incredulous reality of aging.  "Consider this," I said,  "If we juxtaposed our career timelines over Frank and Ollie's, we'd be at Aristocats."

That comment was met with groans, gasps, and cartoon takes.  None of us feels like we're anywhere near the twilight of our careers.  Our skills are the sharpest ever, and our resumes speak to the solid experience we bring any production.  But the reality of how we are perceived by the industry cannot be denied. I've met many recruiters and executives since returning from New Jersey,  all much younger than me, all fascinated to meet someone who actually worked on A Goofy Movie.  It's like they are surprised I'm still at it, still hustling for work at my age.  It might be a different story if storyboard artists and animators got residuals like voice actors, but alas....

Where are you on the Frank and Ollie timeline?  If you're at Pinocchio, you may want to consider fighting for those residuals.  It's a fight that has been fought before, but never with the number of artists that animation has today.  David's odds against Goliath are the best they've ever been.  But do it soon, the Frank and Ollie timeline moves fast!  Once you've reached The Sword in the Stone,  the industry doesn't take you seriously anymore.