Friday, February 19, 2010

Tales from the front lines

I find myself reflecting a lot lately on what I have done over the years and the experiences that I have gained through fun/hardship/stress/enjoyment of this industry.

I thought I would take some time to do some stream of consciousness writing on my experiences in the animation world.

This is not meant to be historically accurate in anyway but simply what I can remember while writing.

My first job in animation was with a company called Crawley Films in Ottawa. This was 1986.  I was hired in the Ink and Paint department. In order to get the job I had to do a test to see if I could paint within the lines. Sounds kind of silly really but that was the gist of it. I guess I passed as I was hired the following day. I have some very fond memories of working there as well as many tales of stress and chaos. The lens of time has made these feel quite silly to me but at the time they were not so much fun.

I can’t remember the exact size of our department but I do remember that we were crammed into every available space that existed at the studio. There was people set up under the stairs, people in the hallway, long rows of flat desks surrounded with shelves that could house the multitude of cells that we had to work on. I remember a close and cramped world with the smell of bodies and paint with the loudness of headphones pouring out from all around me.

The walls and floor in our area was made only of particleboard in front of cinderblock. The heating system was wildly out of control and at one point we knocked a hole in the cinderblock wall to try and get more air in. In the middle of winter the temperature rose to above 100 degrees and we decided to hold a beach party in protest. Everyone showed up in bathing suits. 

There was a room near us that housed all the old film cans from the years of production that Crawley’s had done. The temperature in there was even more than where we were and at one point we discovered there were canisters of Nitrate films in the hole. Nitrate is a chemical that used to be part of film stock. It was discontinued in the 30’s due to it being a massive fire hazard. Once ignited, nitrate creates its own oxygen and cannot be put out until it is entirely consumed. Even in a vacuum.

I sat across from a guy who was a very vocal bigot/homophobe and didn’t care who knew. I would always get into massively heated arguments with him which I think he enjoyed. I don’t think anybody else did.

We were on minimum wage, which at the time was; I think $3.80 an hour. We had a weekly quota that we had to meet and if memory serves was something like 200 cells a week.  My wife and I (who was hired at the same time) would get out our Walkman and put on audio books that we got from the library. We would get into work around 8 and not leave till 5:30 – 6.  We loved it. At some point there was a bonus system created for those that could do above quota. Quota, of course was increased but the incentive was an extra 50 cents a cell.  Over a few weeks those that wanted to go balls out and paint as much as we could gravitated to one area and proceeded to make extra cash. This was not a big % of the people but enough that we were able to help meet deadlines. Of course the deadlines would constantly shorten from week to week and we started working longer and longer hours. At one point I started cranking out over 600 cells a week. My wife was even faster.  I had my desk surrounded with shelves like a little fort. This was on a project called Yse the Magnificent.  I am sure few people have heard of it since it was never completed.

To this day I don’t have the facts as to what happened. It was a co production and somewhere along the line money ran out and cash became scarce. Our checks started to bounce. People started to leave but many of us stayed. Not sure why other than personal pride. I remember there were a couple of people that threatened to go to the paper and start some investigations. At one point the studio owner showed up with, quite literally a couple of garbage bags full of cash to hand out to those in greatest need. Morale was low.

We fell behind in all departments. On a Thursday a second team was hired in ink and paint to try and make up time. Some 40 people I think. On the Friday they were all let go.

 Despite what it may sound like I have very fond memories of all those that worked at the studio. I remember how personable everyone was in each department, as I would go around and learn more about what they did.  Any chance I could I would find ways to do something else to help the show along. I loved the fact that everything was done in one place and the talent behind each job was incredible.

I can’t remember exactly how it all ended only that we stopped and the doors were locked. I was lucky in that I was only out about 2 paychecks worth of cash. Others were far worse off. This was my first taste of working in a studio environment. Bloodied, tired and depressed I immediately did the only sensible thing that I could think of. I applied for work at Hinton Studios. But that is a story for another time.

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