Gen Y and the future of Animation.

So its time for my first full on editorial (ramble) on the new ARC page. I'm afraid its not an educational thing exactly but an observational thing.

I want to talk about Gen Y, I saw a documentary on “them” just the other night. It followed the lives of several Gen Y'ers as they entered their adult years, examining where and how they lived and worked. As I watched I couldn't help but think that people like this would never make it in the animation business.

Article on employing Gen Y.
Wikipedia on Gen Y.

Now if you were born in the 80's or early 90's don't go and get all indignant on me, I'm dealing with some very broad generalisations here, there are of course people who buck the trend in any generation and that could be you. But there are several documented general trends, that I think have potential implications for the future of our craft.

You see in every article I read or show I see about Gen Y two words keep coming up that I just can't reconcile with our industry. INSTANT GRATIFICATION. There are very few industries where the practitioners are further removed from instant gratification than in animation, its the modern day equivalent of building pyramids, potentially years of work before you see the results of your labour, and even then they a fleeting and the complexity is under appreciated by your audience. It can also take years of practice and training to master single elements or disciplines within the job, mastering the whole thing is a life long pursuit. I'm not saying animation is not rewarding, quite the contrary I believe the rewards are amazing, but one word I would not use to describe them is instant.

In the documentary I watched the young folk would often change jobs or careers because they didn't feel there current job was “taking them in the right direction”, paying them enough or promoting them quickly enough. I just can't see how this is going to fit with animation, I inbetweened for almost 4 years before getting a shot at the next step, and outside of a few feature studios where the income generated from the animation is high the bulk of the industry around the world runs on the tenacity and passion of individuals constantly working above and beyond what they are paid for. If everyone is going to jump ship as soon as times get tough then animation is in big trouble because tough times is often the norm, either the quality of work will have to drop so it can be done quicker or it just won't get done at all.

There is more bad news too, as well as expecting more for less, apparently Gen Y folk feel a need to be constantly communicating with other Gen Y'ers. Again this just doesn't fit the animation mould as we know it, there is no way of getting around it, animating requires long periods of sitting there focused on one thing with your mouth shut. I haven't seen an animator yet of any generation who can come up with a good character performance while gabbing away with their friends. My teenage daughter is mysteriously controlled by her mobile phone and Hotmail messenger as, she would have me believe are all of here peers. How can you ever animate well if you can't tell everyone to leave you alone for a while to focus?

I was talking to a senior animator who supervises a bunch of younger employees the other day and he was telling me how he just doesn't feel he has to concern himself with younger more talented and harder working animators challenging him for his senior position for now because non of the younger employees are willing to focus on one thing long and hard enough to understand it as much as he can. We joked about how lucky he was to be in a safe position, but as I reflect I can't help but think that this sort of thing is going to bring down the standard of animation over time. Older animators need to be kept on their toes and younger ones need to aspire to reach or surpass the level of the more senior animators, its all part of the betterment of our craft.

We also need to remember that while the Gen X, Y and Z thing is a mostly a western phenomenon, animation is an international industry. There are plenty of studios in poorer parts of the world that have been churning out our cheep Saturday morning cartoons for years now where the younger employees are not so used to having instant gratification. If they are consistently more hungry and patient than the new generation of animators coming through in the west then it is only a matter of time until things start to shift and they start getting better (maybe they already have). It won't be because of international trade issues or globalisation, it will be because we don't deserve the higher quality work any more, if someone else in the world is willing to work harder for longer then they deserve it.

I'm not sure I see a solution, but I feel obligated to try and find a positive note. I'm not John K, I don't just bitch about what's ticking me off and end it there. I guess this means that if you are a member of Gen Y then you have quite an opportunity. Just maybe it will be easier for you to stand out from the pack, all you have to do is shut up for a while, work harder for less and be patie....... mmmmm.

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