Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Is it just me or does anyone else wonder if the job and the job title are disappearing? In TV animation the director (often called a producer) is simply a sort of art director. The closest thing to a director in the traditional sense of the word is the writer.

The writer determines what the tone of the series will be, what stories will be made, all the details of the story, what characters will be used, and sometimes even what voice talent will be used. The writer is not answerable to the director, the director is expected to take the script that's handed to him and do the best he can with it. If he doesn't like it, well... there's the street.
A popular book for animation writers outlines the process:

Notice what's missing here? The script goes directly to the storyboarder. No nosey, interfering director to get in the way. What on Earth could a director contribute anyway? The advice to writers, "...nothing is left to the imagination of others", says it all. The director is one of those pesky "others."

I don't mean to say that the author wants to dispense with directors. My guess is that the director was omitted simply because the modern director's role is too unimportant to list in a short summary (obviously this doesn't hold for artist/creator-driven shows at places like Cartoon Network).


Sean Worsham said...

Capitalism, Who needs a director! Sheesh :(

Anonymous said...

I submit it exists only as a title...there because of habit. You're right, the TV director on some shows doesn't get to do much except the organizing.

Craig D said...

I think you're overlooking the job title "animation sheet timer!" Why, they actually co-direct the cartoon. I know this because an ex-sheet timer told me so.

Thad K said...

What happened to when the director actually timed the picture like in the old days?


JohnK said...

Eddie you should put up the part where they say the animation writer is the visual director...

Adam said...

I was stuck in a situation like this for two years. We were a small crew with no director and the all mighty writer worked OFF SITE! Heck, he was even in a different state altogether. We couldn't speak to him. It was miserable. We would get a terribly unfunny script given to us and were just told to make the animation for it. Reading through the script was like an act of torture. He would write down every word spoken, every camera angle to use, and practically every action. It left nothing to the imagination, no chance to plus his boring story/storytelling. All of us working on the animation end had great ideas to improve it but we were constantly ignored. I've since left that studio, but I've heard the CEO has said that animation is nothing more than a "factory job." I wonder if this is the prevailing attitude towards animation now from the management level?

Bring back the directors with small crews doing short animations and lets dethrone these writer overlords. They've taken animation hostage for far too long. Down with scripts and up with storyboards!

Anonymous said...

It starts with no money. No money to really do a series in the first place. Then collusion between the money people, creative execs and studio heads produce an insanely short schedule that DIC wouldn't have touched 25 years ago, when their hackdom was perceived as cutting edge by the unwashed media. The director gets relegated to glorified sheet timer, except many directors today never animated and didn't learn to slug. The writers are often dictated to by the creative execs, and, on preschool shows, by the educational consultants as well. It really has become factory work, but for everybody, not just the disenfranchised directors. If you seek a creative experience in animation, don't pick television.

Kent B said...

Anonymous has it right - The problem is that there are not many people in the industry that actually have the skills to be an animation director. Most people in the industry have never animated, and many have very limited understanding of "the Grammar of Film Language" (staging, cutting, etc). We have done without directors for so long that there is no opportunity for young animation filmmakers to apprentice & learn the skills. This is one reason why Japanese animation is so good - The Director is considered "the filmmaker" in Japanese studios. Writers, designers, animators, painters all work for the Director. It's been this way for the last 40 years in Japan, so each new generation learns the skills on the job, then applies those skills, and the product gets better and better.

In live action no one would think of doing away with the Director's job - but in animation, someone in management decided that they could save some money by eliminating this item in the budget.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

I think part of the problem is that during the writers' strike in the late 80's writers actually gained more power in television. Moreso than the directors, whether it's live action or animation. Writers automatically become producers when they write the script, and the person that use to be known as the head writer is now called the show runner -- basically they are in charge of every aspect of the show, not just editing other writer's scripts like in the past. Directors are just an adjunct in this process; merely there to bring the writer/producer's vision to life.

JohnK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JohnK said...

>>The problem is that there are not many people in the industry that actually have the skills to be an animation director. Most people in the industry have never animated, and many have very limited understanding of "the Grammar of Film Language" (staging, cutting, etc).<<

That makes the writers have even less of an understanding of film language, so why are they calling the shots?

They have no experience whatsoever in drawing, let alone animating or making films.

There is plenty of money to throw away on writers and market research and scads of executives. The big studios could easily bring back the creative work here and do it for less money than the wasteful system they use now.

Every dollar would show up on the screen and they'd make much bigger profits.

Anonymous said...

>I think part of the problem is that during the writers' strike in the late 80's writers actually gained more power in television.

You artists should strike then. Don`t strike for more money, stirke for better managment of it. The Simpsons costs 2 million bucks and a year per episode. South Park takes a couple grand and 4 days. Which has better animation?

This is unrelated, but Eddie, do you think youtube is the ideal medium for puppet shows?

Anonymous said...

"South Park" cost 300K per half hour five years ago. More than "a couple grand", even though it doesn't look it.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Hunsecker: What you said is shocking! The head writer is called a "Show Runner?" That's amazing! I'd heard of one show that used that title but I thought it was a fluke. You mean there's more!!!??? That's unbelievable!

After pulling heists like that how do writers sleep at night?

Can you elaborate on the strike resulting in more power for the writers? I never heard that before. Is that because the directors were on strike?

Craig, Thad, Adam, Anon: Fascinating!

Jorge: I've been gearing up to try a puppet show on YouTube (as well as some other things) for some time now. I think some puppet shows are already up. If you have an idea you should do it. What have you got to lose? It's bound to be fun!

John: I agree! Thanks for saying it so plainly!

Anonymous said...

Eddie, I can't wait to see your puppet show, but I wasn't thinking that for me at all. It struck when when I looked at the puppets Katie Rice made on her site.

I don't have any ideas, except for cartoon characters and surrealism stuff which I have to supress for now because I haven't mastered drawing construction yet. Meet me in a few years!

Anonymous said...

Eddie, do you have AIM or MSN?

Adam said...


Do you or your friends have ideas on changing the current state of animation? Or maybe ideas on how to start a small studio in today's market and make cartoons properly? I'd love to see a post on that.

I see and hear lots of talk about whats wrong with animation, what went wrong, when, placing blame, etc... but rarely see ideas on actively taking part to change it. If its been discussed already, can somebody point me in the right direction?

Stephen Worth said...

John's blog is full of information on how to make cartoons efficiently and creatively. He also puts up the studio manuals that he used at Spumco.

The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive is working to build a resource for research and inspiration for professional artists and students.

There are two great resources for you.

See ya

J. J. Hunsecker said...


Here is the definition of a show runner:

Animated sitcoms like The Simpsons, Futurama and King Of The Hill all have them, and they are usually a scriptwriter.

The Writers' strike happened in 1988. Only writers in television won more creative control over their product. It didn't affect Movies at all.

I don't know if you remember but a similar battle was brewing in 2000, but this time the writers wanted the same power over movie directors that they had over television directors. (They wanted the right to be present on set during filming to make sure their scripts weren't changed, and to get rid of the "A Film By..." credit) If you listen to the director's commentary on the laserdisc of "Big Trouble In Little China" (admittingly not a very good movie) you'll hear John Carpenter complain about this.

It was also featured in an article for DGA magazine, about how film directors should not give up their creative rights, and how miserable television directors had it under the thumb of the writers. You can find the article at the DGA website:

Also, awhile back the WGA was trying to unionize storyboard artists/writers to leave the Animation Guild and join the WGA so they could consolidate even more power over animated cartoons. They were targeting Spongebob and Nickelodeon at the time.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Adam: In my opinion the solution is to bring back the director, give him authority over all creative decisions (subject only to an executive producer), and let him hire and fire his own crew including the writer.

In addition there should be competing units working on the same project, and while we're at it lets bring the animation back to the home studio.

If the animation comes back then the director should be an animator. Our long term goal should be to return animation to the animators.

Jorge: I have AIM but only a few people have the address. I can easily talk for an hour on the phone but I get antsy after two minutes of typing instant messages.

Hunsecker: Thanks much for the links. I won't be able to read them until tomorrow night but I'm looking forward to it. Thanks again for the info. I had no idea that the 80s strike was so significant.

Adam said...

Eddie, thanks for the great response. I couldn't agree more about the director driven studio. To have a whole studio creating one person's vision seems the best way to get the most "flavor" in the storytelling. In my short experience I've seen that too many people offering too many ideas has the effect of diluting the emotional range and impact of a story.

I especially like the idea of competing units. Nothing like friendly creative rivalry to get each crew to outdo the others previous performance. I'm curious what you mean by "home studio" though. Could you elaborate more on that?

Also, my original question was more related to what can the artist working in animation actually do to try to change the current situation to one more like the ideal studio you outlined in your reponse? Is the only option to start their own studio? And if so, is there a way to do that and be outside of the control of the major corporations out there?

Big questions I know. But I'm young and impetuous and want to see this change happen sometime in my career. You don't actually have to answer as I'm more than likely just thinking out loud. I'll keep digging through John K' archives on his blog to see if he's covered it like Steve suggested.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Adam? "Home studio?" Whatever studio is doing the show (e,g. Cartoon Network, Warners, Disney, Nelvanna)should have the directors and animators working together under the same roof.

Adam said...

haha, sorry Eddie. Of course, Home studio! as opposed to outsourcing. My brain isn't working so well this morning. Its funny how you can hear the same thing said a different way and it throws you off. "Back Home" instead of "In House." Well, there's my embarassing moment of the day. Time to walk away with my red face hung in shame.

pappy d said...

If you read between the lines, you'll notice that they've implicitly got rid of the designer,too. Character & BG designs happen AFTER storyboards in this process, as a way to get the 'board guys to do it for free. Obviously, he can't get paid for storyboarding otherwise.

Tom M. once told me how John K, faced with this dilemma, turned in a board where all the incidental characters, dogs & fireplugs included, were in the likeness of Larry Fine.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Pappy: Good point! Glad you brought it up!

Brubaker said...
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