Work/Life: From the Comments


Carol Browne

Our recent interview with Ash Thorp sparked an intense discussion here and elsewhere on the web that went well beyond Ash’s personal take on work/life. We thought it’d be a good idea to share some of those comments here.

But first…

Ash’s interview was just that: one person’s voice. We plan on sharing the perspectives of other successful professionals, many of whom have radically different approaches to the work/life issue. We’re also organizing a poll to get your voice in the mix.

The Bigger Picture

No matter with whom you identify in the comments that follow, there is a profound frustration mounting in the field of motion design. It can no longer be ignored or accepted as “just the way things are.” It needs to be brought into the open and discussed in as much detail as possible.

In many ways, this frustration is not new. Visual effects professionals, for example, have been grappling with labor issues for some time now. The Visual Effects Society is striving to define and solve pressing issues, most of which have grown out of the film industry.

A Pimply-faced Teenager

Motion design sits at an awkward intersection of animation, graphic design and visual effects, drawing on the histories and business models of each of those disciplines. As a definable “industry,” motion design is young. Dedicated motion studios and practitioners didn’t arise in large numbers until the early 2000s. Before then, the field was dominated by post houses who sometimes had a few “motion guys” on staff. (This model still persists, but it’s much less prevalent. There are also many more “motion ladies” these days.)

Motion design has its own set of problems, its own unique challenges — not the least of which are defining itself and delineating its boundaries. It’s a lot like your typical pimply faced teenager dealing with the angst of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. During this time, every decision has formative potential, shaping the future of the field in ways that won’t be obvious for years to come.

The Comments

What follows is a sample of comments from Motionographer’s interview with Ash Thorp. We’ve tried to present the full spectrum of perspectives.

rtwerk said:

Cathartic to read his thoughts on balancing life and work. I’m just now making my own transition, adjusting priorities for our newborn daughter. Right on the money.

leonza said:

Long hours are unfortunately a part of our industry, but voices acknowledging this will hopefully shed some new light on how we can balance our personal life and work life. I’d like to think one day my daughter will understand why dad has to pull 12- to 14-hour days.  This art form is an amazing thing, but at what cost one will never know.

Federale said:

It seems a bit extreme and not something to be celebrated without some healthy questioning. In an industry where personal recognition and career come first, before health and family, it’s a bit scary that no one stops to think … what does this kind of thing reveal about the industry?

I keep running into companies that are willing to work their artists to the ground, driving salaries down and pushing for longer days, all because of a career-first kind of mentality.

On the topic of safety and health, Brand Dougherty-Johnson chimed in:

In many industries there are rules regarding turnaround time — the time between shifts so that a worker isn’t dangerously tired and overworked. In fact just this week the VES proposed an industry bill of rights which addresses this issue: http://www.visualeffectssociety.com/visual-effects-industry-bill-of-rights

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Andrew Hoeveler said:

I hope that your story will begin the big thrust that is needed to bring the working conditions of our industry to the spotlight. We have no union rights as so many other workers in the entertainment industry do. We also have very little central communication within our industry aside from this blog.

I recently moved away from over a decade of freelancing as an animator/designer in Los Angeles to a full-time position as creative director at a company that TRULY appreciates me in the smog-free and slower-paced Seattle area. Sure, I am not regularly working on as high-profile work as the fashion-chasing companies I used to work for in LA, but I am loving LIFE!

ndboy said:

First off, Ash’s work is outstanding. But I’m troubled by people referring to this article being about “balancing work/life.” Because this is a clear example of work/life IMBALANCE.

It is entirely true that it’s hard to gain career traction & leverage in this industry without working your ass off for long hours, but we need to be honest with ourselves that it’s an essentially fucked up system that preys upon young childless and spouseless people, to the benefit of the studios (and their principals who usually make a very overly healthy income). Exploiting recent grads is crappy enough, but the worst part of it is how it marginalizes those same people once they do get married and/or have kids and, like any half-admirable human being, want to eat dinner with their family.

In response, Yusef Cole said:

This is truth. Though let’s not forget that it’s also the fault of clients & agencies shrinking project budgets and thus timelines. Not to mention the rat race of pitching endlessly for cheaper and cheaper spots. The system as it stands right now is not in great shape. And less freelancers for more hours is just a symptom.

30 Comments

Lilian Darmono

Great article. Very useful to have all these diverse key viewpoints summed up in a separate post..

Anonymous

I do agree with the sentiments expressed here.
Perhaps with enough momentum we can establish an official voice – with a statement clearly and strongly expressing what is reasonable from employers. Perhaps we can establish an (international?) mograph industry set of ‘reasonable conditions / expectations’ as some sort of official standard / accreditation that employers can publicly choose to abide by.

Janice Saprano

Never understood why the majority of Americans are averse to collective bargaining. Or public healthcare.

I guess we’ve pretty much given up on government in looking out for the general welfare?

Janice Saprano

It’s just as bad if not worse for people working in console based video games.

Rather than just focusing on the industry, maybe thinking about how american style capitalism works would produce greater change?

I can’t think of many jobs that allows balance while still paying for college tuition and retirement.

Janice Saprano

Another challenge I’ve observed is that it’s difficult to put artists into groups or leagues. There’s plenty of artists that think they are way ahead of everybody else in terms of skill and talent and believe they are better off in negotiating deals on their own terms.

I don’t think I’ve ever met an artist that wanted to be part of a union or guild.

kim vongbunyong

 Life or Work? Comments from the previous interview on Ash Thorp.

Bruno Persico

Hi! I’m a 22 year old graphic design student from Buenos Aires, I’ve been working in the motion graphics field for the past year and half, and this working conditions issue has been floating around in my head for some time. I don’t have a lot of experience, but for what I’ve seen and heard this situation seems to be global.

I’ve just arrived to the scene, and actually i don’t know how it can be fixed. The lack of a union that defends the workers rights it’s certainly a problem, but like it has been said the employer is not the only trouble, the clients and agencies and the entire industry is wrong.

The only thing I know is that I don’t want to accept this terms and that I’ll try to create a more balanced space or something in the future. Wish me luck!

PD: sorry for my english and my lengthy comment.

Janice Saprano

yeah, there’s a lot of disillusionment going on now.

Tom Hemeryk

Alldoh interesting to read, most times it’s more of an individual “problem” rather then a global one. If you don’t want to work harder then don’t. If you do want to work more then do and raise your price. If you cant discuss your pricing with your client then either you suck at communication or you don’t have the right client in front of you.
 
It’s all up to personal choices. But then again you got to take the consequences of these choices. You cant expect to work less and be equally paid as someone who is willing to work harder or has invested loads of time into his skills. 

Balance is an utopia as the scene/opportunities are constantly shifting. You might get an offer tomorrow that is too good to be true or you might fall without work for a long period. People simply have to realise that this job is hard work. 

Sebastian

not sure if one should really accept everything and see the world as a fight for survival of the fittest.

 

Tom Hemeryk

The way I see it is you’re performing a craft, and a craft has always been about dedication & hard work to master. It’s not about accepting everything with your buttocks spread wide open. Those are 2 seperate things.

I completely agree when employed there should be regulations but once you go freelance, it’s up to you individually on what to agree on or what not. Otherwise there’s not really a point in getting selfemployed.

Janice Saprano

I have noticed the self-employed don’t have as many complaints as the employed do.

Justin Cone

That’s mostly because if they complain, they’re tarnishing their own brand, so to speak. Most freelancers, especially newer ones, keep quiet because they’re worried about being perceived as problems by producers or other clients.

I honestly don’t think one group is any happier than the other, though. Not based on the literally hundreds of conversations I’ve had with both freelancers and staffers alike.

Handozo Primero

Craft has also always been about looking out for your colleagues, as well as yourself.  Since the Middle Ages masters of craft have organized guilds to protect themselves and their colleagues from exploitation. It is up to you to set your terms individually, but it’s also in your best interest to agree to a certain minimum standard.  That standard can better be determined when freelancers get together, share in formation, and establish a model for future business.  It worked for doctors in the US at the beginning of the 20th century; when they formed the AMA, a doctor was just another tradesman.  But by organizing a standard of education, skill level, and a group commitment to research and development, doctors built a short-term improvement in business success, and a long-term improvement in their reputations.

Tom Hemeryk

agree, but the knife cuts both ways, introducing standards and rules will imply that some people will be cut out of the scene, others will benefit. The higher the standards, the lesser the beneficiaries.

And later on you’ll get a second scene of those people rejected by the system and a revolution will happen undermining the standards.

Then you’re back at the start.

I also wonder how do you rate an artist ?
The amount of programs he masters ? The amount of plugins he bought ? The speed he works ? The machinery he uses ? The amount of rendernodes at his disposal ? Years of experience ? Education level ?

All these questions are rather subjective.

Anonymous

I think that it is a craft and yes like all skillsets it requires work and time but I feel that the industry clearly will burn itself out and by that I mean, the 1st gen on Motion designers will start having wives/husbands/children or already have (like myself) and at this point, at the mo you have a choice, be a good father/mother and spend quality time with your family and go home on time most of the time and eat with them, talk with them. OR Be a “relevant” competitive designer that can use there experience as well as working every god sent hour like young bachelor designers…There will be/is a growing wave of us that will rather the 1st as it is important to us and because there is no real reason that we cant do great work and have a normal life.

But it requires us to take it upon ourselves to organize that, the system is designed to get as much quality done for the least amount of money (like any other commercial industry) so unless us, who built this place make common ground rules we will be pushed out or stay in and be unhappy.

Janice Saprano

I do wonder if this type of work is like professional sports and players have only a few years to participate before the job becomes too much.

it’s interesting to observe a person figure out how to stay relevant while reducing their work-loads.

Sebastian

I can only speak for germany. as far as i can say, especially for recent graduates it is very hard to get a fair payed job, compared to other disciplines. often you start as an intern and if you are lucky you get payed a litte more after 6 month.

sure you cannot compare small design studios to really big industry companies. but I know from many friends, they really let you sweat for every cent and sometimes you don’t even notice it. you get the feeling that it is super cool to work for this company because they offer you a cool looking studio, an easy going atmosphere some gimicks, a kicker table and so on, but simply to less money. I am happy with my employee, but I have the impression that what I described is often the case. 

12frames

very interesting read:

Ray Alder

“[Motion design is] a lot like your typical pimply faced teenager” love it

Anonymous

Tom is right I think, the key here is choice. Ash made a choice to drive that crazy commute. He could have moved his family to the west side but I assume he felt it better for them to stay in SD. He made a commitment, an investment, by working at Prologue under those circumstances. He didn’t have to but obviously based on his portfolio it was well worth it. Now he will have more choices. As an EP I made a choice to leave LA and go to a smaller market. Better life balance but there are costs too. I am inspired almost daily by this site. The talent in the industry is incredible but I can’t find the talent I’d like to work with locally. They have chosen to go to bigger markets. Here there is a better life/work balance and great benefits but it’s less sexy and there’s less money. So the bright lights call the talent away. They’ve made a choice.

leo lamba

I do hope motion graphic professionals can at some point get together and request their rights for a better work environment. In my experience working on  our industry in the past 17 years says otherwise.

Companies take advantage of young and inexperienced artists. The ones that have experience can stand on their ground but here and there you can see the abuse by companies even to such individuals.

Our industry is very fragmented, we use the ME first approach and because of the increase competition it just gets worse. Artists and companies each try to leap forward without regards to work environment and decent rules. At the end of the day we all lose. 
Look how the pitch situation evolved around time. Now clients take advantage of companies and companies take advantage of artists and great work has been created without proper or no compensation. 

Is it going to change? are we getting together? I do hope so…. but not holding my breath. 

Janice Saprano

Yeah, it’s a tough problem to solve. Americans are raised to be individuals ie; no safety nets, personal responsibility, every person has choice, etc.

I guess it’s not really funny, but I sometimes do find it funny how managers struggle in team building I mean, what are they expecting? We’re trained and nurtured to be individuals.

Gregory

I opened a small motion studio in NY a few years ago.  We’ve had to struggle non-stop w/ common issues like those ppl have presented here, and others like delivering YOUR work on-time every time, while clients send THEIR check 90 days late w/ no real recourse.  (My landlord doesn’t care if Comapny X’s accounting department hasn’t gotten back to me in 2 weeks regarding a late check)

For us, we made a conscious decision.  That being in business for yourself was not worth it if you were miserable.  So we said to ourselves that we are going to hold firm and stop caving.

Why is a 2 man team of poor 20 year olds lowering their rates for major international companies who hold millions in assets.  When it comes time to pay up, they certainly don’t feel the need to cater to us at all.  Not every client is this way, but for many professionals, this is a very common scenario.

Our solution has been to hold firm to our ideals of what should be.  We set rates and refuse to alter them.  If you only have $500.00 for this project total, No problem.  We will absolutely not do the job we envisioned for 500, but we will gladly scale back everything and do 500 worth of work for 500.  And if the job requires 16 hour days, or working through the weekend – again, no problem.  We will just charge you rush rates, and hire the extra staff needed to make this do-able w/o pulling our hair out.

If a job requires 2k worth of work and I agree to do it for 1k, then everything is on me to accomplish, requiring me to work LONG hours.  If I hold firm to requiring 2k for 2k worth of work, I can either get my life back by hiring help so we can finish it together, or I can choose to take the long hours myself, but without the rage that goes with it b/c I’m being properly compensated.
 
This required us to stand firm and possibly lose a few jobs.  In most cases, clients either respected us more b/c it was obvious we were doing ok and were willing to lose the job (which was not true but you gotta keep up apperances), or they went off, got it done cheap, realized that created a horrible product and came back to us to do the job anyway on OUR terms.  Once you show you are willing to lower your rates to something unreasonable to please a client, they will never honor your reasonable rates again. 

As of today, we feel like we’ve been successful at turning our situation for the better.  And for me personally, I no longer get that resentful feeling at 3am when I’m busting my ass, b/c I no longer do 3k worth of work for 1500 b/c the client didn’t have the budget.  If you only have 1500 for this, no problem – we will scale it down to 1500 worth of work. 

Balancing life/work became much easier when we started explaining the amount of hours something will take and started holding firm on our quotes. This resulted in being able to bring on the right amount of staff so that no one had to work more than they should. 

Relating back to work/life balance, I’ve found that once I got the money side of things in better shape, I was able to create teams for projects that allowed me to get my life/work back in balance. 

(I realize this doesn’t correlate exactly w/ Ash’s position of choosing to take a job w/ another company b/c the opportunity was so appealing, but I got on a roll there and had to finish.)

Adam Gravois

It’s my experience that you get the respect you insist on, and far too many people in this industry don’t insist on respect. When you lowball rates or work free overtime, you’re hurting yourself and your colleagues. I’m a big believer in “Work hard, kick ass, go home” and “Charge for value.” In general, I think working people in the US have been trained to have a lot of contempt for themselves. 

For me the most striking thing of the Ash Thorp article was the insanity of driving seven hours a day, just to sleep in one’s own house. The ten-hour days he worked were not so remarkable (although he created some remarkable work) but what is the benefit to him of all that driving? Surely even in LA a shared apartment could be had for the cost of gas & car wear. It’s not like he’s hanging out with his daughter in the six hours he’s home. 

Juan Behrens

There’s a lot of competition and this is making motion designers to low the rates or sell themselves as something more than just a motion designer. The nasty part of this is when you kill yourself for a project, so at the end if you did great on it and want to charge more next time, you will have the same competition as before or worse. And yes, it’s truth: When you lowball rates or work free overtime, you’re hurting yourself and your colleaguesI guess the best we can do is get the rates right, and don’t give in if you see a cool client, this is a business and ALWAYS remember no matter how cool the job is…..it still is about $

Anonymous

I am shocked to learn that people in this field from the US and other countries are also not well compensated for their efforts and long working hours. I thought people from other countries are very happy with the industry. I think there are lots of people out there that deserves recognition, respect, and of course, a just working condition (salary and working hours alike).

But I’d like to share my experience as a motion designer. For years I’ve struggled to learn on my own and grow on my own. With help and inspiration from this blog and peers, I managed to be the best I could be at work. I’ve worked longer hours than most of the people in my previous day job even to the point that I literally spent a whole week working 18hrs a day. It was like being a 1-man production team for a cable channel. I loved what I did, no regrets. 

Passion, love, and self-fulfillment for a job that pays less than $2/hr and a boss/creative director that is NOT creative and has NO direction.

I am now a full-time freelancer online and enjoying better salary, but I don’t think it’s as good as most of you are making.

So bottom line, have fun, love what you do, maybe it will all be good in the end.

Anonymous

For all of you freelancers out there, I would recommend that you examine some of the laws defining ‘independent contractor.’ Based on my knowledge of how the industry works (my girlfriend is a freelancer), it seems like there are serious labor violations occurring in this industry. (See links below)

As a legal media professional, I see hundreds of lawsuits each year being filed over wage violations (unpaid overtime, unpaid meal/rest breaks, etc.). Simply because a company calls you a freelancer, this does not mean that you’re not entitled to protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The nature of the job, rather than the title, defines access to those protections.

If you’ll look at some of guidelines used to determine employee vs. contractor status, you’ll see that freelancers fall under many of the characteristics of an employee. Here are some links for more info:

– http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/scope/ee14.asp
– http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=99921,00.html
– http://www.legalzoom.com/everyday-law/workplace/employee-vs-independent-contractor-differences
– http://www.enotes.com/everyday-law-encyclopedia/independent-contractors-freelancers#avoiding-mistakes

Another thing to consider: If a studio provides you a W-2 and withholds (and matches the employer’s share of) payroll and other taxes, it seems to me that you are being treated as an employee.

I know that many disagree with the notion of freelancers pushing for more labor rights, and think that if you’re good, you can get a better deal and better pay for projects, regardless of status. But it really seems like many (especially young) people in this industry are being taken advantage of severely, and I hate to see that happen.

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