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Drawing the Line

Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson

Tom Sito
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Drawing the Line
    Book Description:

    Some of the most beloved characters in film and television inhabit two-dimensional worlds that spring from the fertile imaginations of talented animators. The movements, characterizations, and settings in the best animated films are as vivid as any live action film, and sometimes seem more alive than life itself. In this case, Hollywood's marketing slogans are fitting; animated stories are frequently magical, leaving memories of happy endings in young and old alike. However, the fantasy lands animators create bear little resemblance to the conditions under which these artists work. Anonymous animators routinely toiled in dark, cramped working environments for long hours and low pay, especially at the emergence of the art form early in the twentieth century. In Drawing the Line, veteran animator Tom Sito chronicles the efforts of generations of working men and women artists who have struggled to create a stable standard of living that is as secure as the worlds their characters inhabit. The former president of America's largest animation union, Sito offers a unique insider's account of animators' struggles with legendary studio kingpins such as Jack Warner and Walt Disney, and their more recent battles with Michael Eisner and other Hollywood players. Based on numerous archival documents, personal interviews, and his own experiences, Sito's history of animation unions is both carefully analytical and deeply personal. Drawing the Line stands as a vital corrective to this field of Hollywood history and is an important look at the animation industry's past, present, and future. Like most elements of the modern commercial media system, animation is rapidly being changed by the forces of globalization and technological innovation. Yet even as pixels replace pencils and bytes replace paints, the working relationship between employer and employee essentially remains the same. In Drawing the Line, Sito challenges the next wave of animators to heed the lessons of their predecessors by organizing and acting collectively to fight against the enormous pressures of the marketplace for their class interests -- and for the betterment of their art form.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7148-7
    Subjects: Performing Arts, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction Why a History of Animation Unions?
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 20,000 b.c., Stone Age man attempted to draw movement on cave walls by drawing mammoths with multiple legs. The artists worked until their eyes went bad, they got no pay, they got no credit, and they were eventually eaten by wild animals.

    Animation was born.

    The animation community in the United States is not large: 5,000 people in Los Angeles, 376 in New York, and another 250 in San Francisco. To put this in context, there are 9,000 writers in the Writers Guild, 22,000 actors in the Screen Actors Guild, and 16,000 movie stagehands. Most animators are not known...

  6. 1 The World of the Animation Studio The Cartoon Assembly Line
    (pp. 7-30)

    Animation is a strange art form. It is art and theater produced in industrial quantities. Many more drawings and paintings are discarded than appear in a final film. Inspiration and creative talent are treated like so much raw material. Who are the people who work in such a system? An animation crew is a collection of dozens, often hundreds, of artists, writers, technicians, and support staff closeted in some large space, usually uncomfortable, for months, trying to create a film that looks like it was made by one hand. When working on an animated feature-film deadline, artists typically put in...

  7. 2 Suits Producers as Artists See Them
    (pp. 31-56)

    Much of the union story is about the relationship between the animation artist and the animation executive. In the previous chapter we have examined daily life of the animation artist; we now look at the executive.

    Artists make art but they can’t eat art. They have always had to earn a living like anyone else. Michelangelo was sued for breach of contract, Leonardo da Vinci’s diaries record expenses and budgets as much as scientific experiments, Rembrandt and Vermeer declared bankruptcy. All the Renaissance painters and sculptors paid union dues to the Guild of Saint Luke. History records the names of...

  8. 3 Hollywood Labor, 1933–1941 The Birth of Cartoonists Unions
    (pp. 57-76)

    By 1927, American animation had gone from experimental trick films created by a few newspaper cartoonists in their spare time to a booming business tied to the major Hollywood studios. Cartoon factories headed by men such as Walt Disney, Walter Lantz, Paul Terry, and Max Fleischer employed hundreds of artists and technicians in New York and Los Angeles.

    In that year the industry threw a black-tie party in New York to celebrate its achievements by toasting the granddaddy of American animators, Winsor McCay.

    There were pioneering animators before him, but Winsor McCay seemed to dwarf them all. His superb draftsmanship...

  9. 4 The Fleischer Strike A Union Busted, a Studio Destroyed
    (pp. 77-100)

    As American industry collapsed into the Great Depression of 1929–1941 and the animation industry formed its first trade unions, it was no surprise that the first city to have a major animation strike was New York City, where many radical ideas took their form. The first striking cartoonists were the children of immigrants; ironically, their anger was directed against another immigrant who all acknowledge was a good employer.

    Max Fleischer was a gentle, diminutive man who wore a three-piece suit, a gold watch chain, a Charlie Chaplin mustache, and a broad smile. His brother Dave, the taller of the...

  10. 5 The Great Disney Studio Strike The Civil War of Animation
    (pp. 101-152)

    Probably no single event in the history of Hollywood cartoons has been more subject to spin and hurt feelings than the Great Disney cartoonists’ strike of 1941. It was an event that splintered the unity of the animation community and affected hundreds of careers. The strike spawned new studios, new creative styles and characters, and new comic strips and changed the world of animation forever. For the people who were there, it was a defining moment in their careers. Friendships were broken, and many carried their anger for the rest of their lives. Trying to piece together the complete picture...

  11. 6 The War of Hollywood and the Blacklist 1945–1953
    (pp. 153-196)

    Animators don’t work in a separate universe. Their livelihoods were affected just as much by outside conditions as those of any toolmaker or bus driver. To understand how the U.S. cartoon business changed in the 1940s, in this chapter we examine the broader political and social turmoil that engulfed mainstream Hollywood. The rival backstage live-action unions battling for dominance brought their struggle to a violent climax that dragged the animation community into the maelstrom. At the same time, the political currents flowing in Washington also had an impact on the fate of U.S. animation and its unions. These external conditions...

  12. 7 A Bag of Oranges The Terrytoons Strike and the Great White Father
    (pp. 197-212)

    In 1914, long before Winsor McCay had made his sour conclusions about the animation business, he was the guest at yet another New York cartoonists’ dinner party. In the audience was Paul Terry, a young newcomer from San Mateo, California, who was searching for his place in cartoons. As he watched McCay lecture and show his masterpiece,Gertie the Dinosaur,Terry was inspired. “And all at once it consolidated, right there.” He knew what he wanted to do.¹

    He immediately began drawing and bought an old, secondhand camera. He produced a small short,Little Herman(1915), and sold it to...

  13. 8 Lost Generations 1952–1988
    (pp. 213-246)

    When I entered the animation business in 1975, I noticed something curious: All the animators and directors were in their fifties and sixties, but all their assistants were in their teens and twenties. Only a few were in early middle age. There seemed to be a twenty-year gap between the golden age generation (1930s) and the baby boomers (1970s). Why was that?

    The odds are that if you graduated from school any time between 1958 and 1975 and you wanted to become an animator, you were told you were crazy. The business of animated cartoons was said to be dying....

  14. 9 Animation and the Global Market The Runaway Wars, 1979–1982
    (pp. 247-284)

    There was no decree that Hollywood, a small town of orange growers situated on the western edge of the Great American Desert, would come to dominate the world’s media. The social, political, and creative reasons for that evolution are too large a subject to be explored here. Suffice it to say that the cataclysm of World War I, the subsequent global depression, and America’s emergence as the world’s economic superpower caused a physical as well as aesthetic weakening of many competing film communities. Backed by America’s corporate muscle, Hollywood’s film output soon overwhelmed all competitors. Hollywood’s message of pleasure and...

  15. 10 Fox and Hounds The Torch Seen Passing
    (pp. 285-292)

    Films can be important for different reasons: blockbuster box office, the creative apogee of a particular performer, the debut of an innovation. The Walt Disney Studios’ 1981 releaseThe Fox and the Houndis probably not on many top ten lists for best animated films of all time, but it is uniquely important. It marks the turning point when the golden age artists ofPinocchioandBambipassed the torch finally and forever to the baby-boom generation.

    The Fox and the Houndis the first Disney animated film that Walt Disney himself had nothing to do with. It was the...

  16. 11 Camelot 1988–2001
    (pp. 293-318)

    From 1988 to 1998 while digital animation was taking its first baby steps, traditional hand-drawn animation experienced a renaissance of interest. The public’s love of pencil-drawn animation peaked in a way not seen since the 1940s. This created in Hollywood a boomtown atmosphere of fast careers and fast profits that carried within it the seeds of its own destruction.

    In 1978, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution telephoned a production executive at Walt Disney Studio in Burbank. He said the Smithsonian was planning an exhibit entitled “Industrial Arts in the Entertainment Industry in the Twentieth Century.” They heard that Disney...

  17. 12 Animation … Isn’t That All Done on Computers Now? The Digital Revolution
    (pp. 319-344)

    In 1987, former Disney animators Bill and Sue Kroyer createdTechnological Threat, a short cartoon that makes fun of the dawning digital era. The film combines, or interfaces if you prefer, 3D characters and traditional 2D characters. It is about a Tex Avery–style cartoon wolf that works in an office slowly being taken over by pyramid-headed computerized artists. It won awards including an Oscar nomination. And it turned out to be more prophetic than anyone could realize then.

    The 1990s had been a boom time for traditional animators; every Hollywood studio had a large crew ensconced in cubicles with...

  18. Conclusion Where to Now?
    (pp. 345-352)

    This book has been written as the art of animation is entering its second century. Decades have rolled by since Winsor McCay, John Randolph Bray, Walt Disney, and Herb Sorrell took meetings in Tinseltown. Pen and pencil have yielded to pixel and stylus, wax recordings to MP3 players, and torn-paper trick films to billion-dollar blockbusters. The generation raised on Felix and Koko gave way to the generation of Dumbo and Bugs Bunny, which in turn yielded to the generation of Ariel and Bart, who yield to SpongeBob and Mr. Incredible. Children will continue to smile and adults to be charmed....

  19. Appendix 1. Animation Union Leaders
    (pp. 353-358)
  20. Appendix 2. Dramatis Personae
    (pp. 359-372)
  21. Appendix 3. Glossary
    (pp. 373-386)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 387-408)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 409-414)
  24. Index
    (pp. 415-426)