It’s a tough time right now in animation. We saw drastic cuts in projects from all the major streamers long before the Writers and Actors went on strike. Productions were abruptly ended, even when they were nearly or completely finished. Whole animation divisions were eradicated. I’ve heard estimations that 30% of the animation workforce in Los Angeles is currently unemployed.
For anyone who’s been working in animation for ten years or more, we know the industry goes through cycles. There was a surge in the mid 90’s with the explosion of prime-time animation, the creation of Dreamworks Animation, and the expansion of Disney Feature Animation. Around the turn of the millennium, it went into a slump and then crashed with the stock market in 2008. It’s a cycle we’ve seen before over and over again.
But the most recent high has been particularly tumultuous. The streamers and new players in our business have had a dramatic impact on the animation industry; how it runs is completely changed. The explosion of production was so disproportionately large that there was no way that it wouldn’t crash. That is what we’ve been experiencing: a course correction. Just as the tech industry experienced during the dotcom era at the end of the last century, a bubble has burst.
At the same time, we’re experiencing an attack at all levels of government on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work. From MeToo to Black Lives Matter to LGBTQ+ rights to disability rights, we continue to collectively voice the need for a better world; this has mainly been led by people with disabilities, women, non-binary, queer, and/or BIPOC people. We must be diligent in protecting these efforts and continue to require all employers to value DEI as central to our collective success. Additionally, organizations like WIA, BlackNAnimated, LAXIA, RUA have become even more critical. Groups like ours are more important than ever: we continue to beat the drum, reminding everyone that a diverse and inclusive workforce benefits everyone and is key to the survival of creativity and storytelling.
As we pull ourselves out of the pit of the latest industry slump, the biggest casualties will probably be those trying to get into the industry who are new and unknown to many (and still a largely female population), as well as older veterans of animation who have justifiably worked their way to a higher salary range, and those returning to the workforce (primarily mothers and caregivers). With tightening belts, companies become more risk-averse and need to find those experienced mid-salary employees to lower their budgets.
This is a time to support working people as they stand up for fair participation in the benefits of the work that they do. This is directly connected to the struggles for equity across identities—pay equity and job access sit at the heart of the labor movement. Most people worldwide work for a living, are employed, and get a paycheck. And most of us bring much more value to an endeavor than we reap in return. This is our common ground.
Things will get better. We probably have not hit bottom yet, but soon we’ll see more shows being greenlit, more jobs opening up, and a healthier work environment. It will probably never be what it was like just before the pandemic, and the coming months are going to be rough. When the agreements are settled, and the actors and writers return to work, it will take some time to get production rolling again. We all have to find ways to survive until we turn the corner. The best solution that we can offer is the same one we offer in each letter – COMMUNITY.
It is critical in hard times to connect with others to give and receive support. If you are not currently working, reconnect with the larger community. Find those people that you worked with in the past and see what they’re doing. Form a discord group with your fellow alumna or crew mates. Learn a new skill or take a course in software that you always wanted to learn and connect with others in a similar boat.
To support the community in these tough times, WIA will launch for our members a special series of events and programs called “Animating Resilience: Surviving and Thriving in an Uncertain Industry.” It is a comprehensive event series designed to empower industry professionals of all levels and students with the knowledge and skills to navigate the animation landscape during uncertain economic conditions. Through expert insights, interactive panels, and workshops, attendees will discover strategies to thrive, adapt, and succeed in the ever-evolving world of animation. By providing actionable insights, fostering collaboration, and supporting mental well-being, we hope to contribute to the industry’s long-term resilience and growth.
Also, we have built out our Career Resource Center for members on our website. It includes new resources for unemployed people and a library of recordings of relevant past WIA events, as well as links to existing programs such as The Mentorship Program, the Job Board, and our Talent Database. A Recruiter Directory will be released soon, too.
Please, be strong. Lean on each other and hang in there. The demand for animation continues to grow. It’s changing its shape and focus, but people still like and want the stories we have to tell.