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Monday Mouse Watch : No Studio for Old Men

Monday Mouse Watch : No Studio for Old Men

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I returned to the Walt Disney Studio in the early 1970s after a brief dalliance with my own production company. Not surprisingly, running my own shop proved to be a rather daunting task, and the thought of steady work at the drawing board didn’t seem all that bad. Plus word was out that there were opportunities galore for young artists aspiring to be animators. I thought I would be welcomed, having already logged ten years as an assistant in Disney’s animation department. However, it turns out I was wrong.

One afternoon, Disney veteran Art Stevens stopped me as I made my way down the hallway of A-Wing. “Why aren’t you in the animation training class,” he inquired. I informed Stevens that the studio was looking for young animators, and because of my age I wasn’t able to apply for the class.

I was 37.

This should have been a wake up call for everybody in this crazy business. When you’re deemed “over the hill” before you reach the age of forty, you know things are truly out of whack.

A Floyd Norman original cartoon
Not only is he a good artist, he's also potty trained

From that day on, I thought differently about my career and the careers of my colleagues. It was as though we had all been stamped with an “expiration date.” Unlike the old guys of a generation past, our “shelf life” as animation professionals was clearly limited, and the wise industry pro had better be aware of that fact. No matter your skill level, talent or experience, you will one day be replaced by a younger, less experienced but more cost effective worker. As mob bosses might be inclined to say, “It’s nothing personal. It's just business.”

Let’s not bag on the cartoon business alone. This practice of shedding older workers for younger ones is now part and parcel of corporate America. After all, younger workers cost the company less, and in today's profit-motivated world that’s really all that matters. Before I spin off on a tirade against our obsession with profit and greed, I’d better get back to our little world of fairies and bunny rabbits.

When we came into this business as kids many years ago, we remembered the bosses who occupied the corner office down the hall. They were the “old farts” that had paid their dues, and were now enjoying what they had earned. These were the guys and gals who had toiled in the ranks for decades. They were knowledgeable and experienced, and the studio considered them an asset. We took comfort in knowing that if we worked long enough and hard enough, that future would one day be ours. Boy, were we wrong.

We awoke one day to realize our new bosses could easily have been our children. Eager, young hotshots with business degrees replaced the experienced old codgers who once ran the studios. Fresh from the Harvard Business School and Stanford, it mattered little that they knew nothing about the businesses they were supposed to run. After all, who says knowledge is a requirement for success? Besides, all these young kids just out of school were a helluva lot smarter than we were. I know. They told me so.

Meet our new director - original cartoon by Floyd Norman
Your kids are older than this guy

I have friends and colleagues who have either lost their jobs, or are about to. I understand their confusion and concern as they wonder what’s going to happen next. Most had successful careers that were hard earned. Their portfolios are impressive, and their résumés, lengthy. Their demo reels showcase years of experience, and on occasion, the company even lauds their accomplishments.

Of course, there’s always retirement. It’s a graceful exit from the business, and an option many are taking. That is, assuming they can afford to retire.

Finally, this is not a tirade against the young, because I’ve had the opportunity to work with many an aspiring young animation artist. I’ve enjoyed welcoming them into our business, and they’re the ones who will carry on after we’re gone.

Today, I look back on my Disney animation rejection with amusement. I was “thirty something” and already over the hill. Of course, the studios will continue to hire kids because they’re dumb, and better yet -- they’re cheap.

Don’t get too comfortable, smug young managers. The day is coming when pre-teens will manage corporate America.

Who's that old guy? An original Floyd Norman cartoon
  Watch yourself. Those guys might be in management.

Did you enjoy today's cautionary tale about toiling in Toontown? If so, Floyd Norman currently has three books on the market that talk about the joys & perils of working in the entertainment industry.

These volumes include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • A very poignant article, Floyd. It needed to be said. I myself know the parents of a very talented female artist who was shut out of the Disney intern program despite being far more skilled than her counterparts. She was 35. Too old to be taught, I guess. (By the way, I'd like to think her age was the problem. Surely it wasn't her GENDER...surely THAT old prejudice has fallen by the wayside...)

  • I set out 38 years ago to gather knowledge and experience in Themed Entertainment.  Every dream I've ever had about working in the field has been accomplished and surpassed and I continue to work in the field, demonstrating every day my willingness and ability to learn and grow as an artist.  I was looking forward to passing this knowledge on to the next generation of performers.  But The Company's Creative Arm has decided that I'm too 'Old School' to be of any value.  Time to smile, say thanks for the ride and move on, folks.

  • I always wondered why "behind-the-scenes" features never showed any old animators busy at work.

  • If only shareholders realized the value gained by retaining expensive talent.

  • Is this still true in the current regime? I would suspect that John L would have more respect for the old guys since he was trained by alot of the original old guys.

  • I've heard most of Hollywood is run by 25 year olds, since they have seen a lot movies they think they can make them.

    I would be far more interested in seeing movies crafted by guys like Mr. Norman.

  • The gravest sin I ever commited while working for Disney was turning 40.

  • Unfortunately, Floyd's right - it's the way of the business world these days, but especially in the entertainment business, where the old coots at the very top of the food chain feel that the only way to reach the young people who are their core audience can only be reached with the aid of young junior executives. (Interestingly enough, the shareholders never feel thhat the old coots at the top need to be replaced, but I digress.) The "kids" themselves don't have any experience and really don't care to learn about the business - they've been taught in business school that all businesses are interchangeable and their real goal should be to make a name for themselves within a couple of years and jump ship to a better job offer.  

    I think movies used to be a lot better when you had people like Floyd that took the time to learn their craft and were dedicated to the finished product. The "kids" help guarantee that that Hollywood will continue to crank out $200 million films with amazing special effects and forgettable plots that will make most of their money on their opening weekend and disappear.

    And for the record, I'm 40. Now you darned kids get off of my lawn! :)

  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: http://dismarks.com/Media/Floyd_Norman_Monday_Mouse_Watch_No_Studio_for_Old_Men

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