20something profile: Tim
From the time I was a young kid, I pretty much always knew that I wanted to work in the animation industry. In particular, I wanted to be a traditional (or “Hand-Drawn”) animator. A mentor showed me an article from Variety Magazine highlighting the high wages of Disney Animators in the mid-nineties. So, by middle school, I had formed a plan, and it seemed pretty straightforward. I’d go to art school and then land a job at Disney as an animator. Things didn’t really work out like that though.
When I graduated high school in 2003, several things had changed from when I was just a kid. Disney had been underperforming at the box office with their traditionally animated features, and they started the process of downsizing their traditional animation departments. Over the next few years, they would lay off more than 2,000 artists. This was a pretty devastating blow to the industry, as most other animation studios viewed Disney as a trendsetter and followed similar courses of action.
The debacle going on at Disney, and in the animation industry in general, caused me to reconsider my career path during my second year at Nassau Community College. Instead of transferring to an art school, as was my initial plan, I chose to do something completely different.
In those first two years of college, I found myself volunteering a lot with local youth and thought that this could be a new career for me to pursue, one that had purpose and whose necessity wouldn’t go away because of a lack of profits. So I transferred to a Christian school with a youth ministry program.
Who was I kidding though? I am an artist — always have been. It quickly became apparent that my efforts to abandon an artistic path were futile. So, after just one semester in the youth ministry program, I transferred to The School of Visual Arts and began studying traditional animation.
Although I was “following my heart” again, I soon noticed several funny things about animation school. But the main thing I noticed was that, overall, it sucked. Most of my professors could not draw even as well as I could, and the one that could draw better than me (my drawing professor) only drew with a classical method that was largely irrelevant to animation drawing.
After two years of that nonsense, I started talking to my parents about dropping out and trying to intern. I thought maybe if I get my foot in a door someplace, I could get on-the-job training and find myself a career that way. They seemed pretty hesitant. After all, our K-12 education brainwashed us all into believing that if we don’t have a college degree, we are going to be, at best, panhandlers for a living. It didn’t faze me though.
A month after I dropped out of college, I landed a job in a startup animation studio in central Florida, first doing storyboard work and ultimately becoming the primary character designer of the studio. It wasn’t traditional animation, but it was close enough, and I loved it. Unfortunately, the dream didn’t last. The studio went belly-up, and after a couple years, I was out of work again. I moved back in with my parents, where I still live.
Over the past few years, I’ve had to do a careful balancing act of making money while still building up my “animation industry” résumé. In the first couple of years after I lost my studio job, I worked part time as a janitor (yep, it sucked, but it paid bills) and accepted freelance jobs doing illustration. As my résumé became more filled up with freelance jobs, getting animation related work became easier and allowed me to quit my janitor job. But I’m still not at the point where I could comfortably move out of my parents’ house.
Something about a lack of huge success motivates me to do better and to be my own boss. Freelance design work is great, but I ultimately want to own my own successful business. That’s why about a year ago, a friend and I incorporated our own business, which seeks to make mobile apps for kids. We’re still in the process of developing our platform, and don’t have anything for sale yet, but the goal of course is to sell bajillions of apps and finally “start my life.”
As I’ve watched my friends graduate college (you know, that thing I didn’t do), it’s been weird. Even though I don’t have a degree, I’ve found more animation-industry success, albeit lean success, than many of my school colleagues. It’s pretty sad to watch a person go through a 4-year program, sink an inheritance worth of money into an education, and only receive a great “check-out counter” job as a return on their educational investment.
My personal opinion? College is getting ridiculous nowadays. There is a reason why the baby-boomers only had like 4 majors to choose from for college, and those who didn’t go to college learned the family business, learned a trade, or joined the military. It is because most of the new majors found in colleges are useless and cost more than a small house costs.
The housing bubble really screwed up our economy in 2008, but I think we are going to see an even worse financial disaster when kids from our generation who borrowed money for college turn into adults who can’t pay it back. I can only hope that the failures and lack of reward we’ve seen for our educational efforts will spur on a generation of the best entrepreneurs this nation has ever seen.