Where the Animators Roam... A Sort of Survey.

Hi there, everyone.

I'm curious to get an idea of where in the world the highest concentration of stop-motion animators might be. I'm curious for the sake of curiosity, but I also might be interested in moving somewhere in the near future that would better fit my interests and pursuits in animation. I hear there's a lot of folks out in L.A. in the U.S. but it also seems like there are quite a few animators in Australia and the UK as well.

So anyway, where do you reside on the big blue marble? Do you work professionally at a studio or at home, or do you pursue stop-motion as a hobby? Also, have you ever re-located for an animation job? And was it worth it enough that you would do it again, or suggest someone else to if the opportunity were there?

Eager to hear your replies. 

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I mostly pursue it as a hobby in my own studio, though I have worked for pay on two short films in the last couple of years.  I used to work at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and produced several stop motion productions, but they closed departments and shrank to the point there was nothing left for me to do there. 

There are a few stop motion animator here in Melbourne, Australia - I could probably come up with a dozen names, maybe more.  Probably because we have a couple of animation courses here, at the VCA and Swinburne, and with no ongoing productions, graduates never earn enough money to get the fare to go back to where they came from!  Once every 10 or 12 years a bigger project comes along to actually hire a crew for 12 to 18 months so some of those crew are probably still here, begging for loose change at the railway station. The last one was Mary and Max released in 2009, before that it was Plasmo in 1997, so maybe we are due for another one going into production around about 2020.

Professional (but only occasionally actually employed making films) animators and directors in Melbourne include Anthony Lawrence (Plasmo series, Looking for Horses, Grace Under Water),  Qscar winner Adam Elliot (Harvie Krumpet, Mary and Max), Oscar nominee Anthony Lucas (Slim Pickings, Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello), and Isabel Peppard (Gloomy Valentine, Butterflies).  The developers of Stop Motion Pro are here too. 

I am a professional cg animator who is working hard to get into the stop motion field. I've recently had Stoopid Buddy Stoodios reach out to me, so I'm on the right track...haha.

As for the USA, I would say LA has the most concentration of studios doing stop motion work. There are quite a few bigger studios there and from what I can tell, once you have your foot in the door you pretty much cycle through them all as projects come and go. Here are some of the ones I know of: Stoopid Buddy Stoodios http://www.leagueofbuddies.com , Shadowmachine http://www.shadowmachine.com , Starburns Industries http://www.starburnsindustries.com , Screen Novelties http://screen-novelties.com , Bix Pix http://www.bixpix.com .

There are plenty more smaller studios doing stop motion too.

As for moving for a job. I can tell you I have moved on two occasions without having a job lined up and both times it didn't work out. After 4-9 months of living off savings and not finding steady work I had to move back to my home town...haha. If your work is good enough then you can get the job first, but at the same time it only works in your favor to already be local. It's definitely an awesome adventure!

Good luck!

Being local only works if you know people and they like you. And you have the same sleep schedule as they do so that you can go to animation events and mingle, instead of sleeping through every one of them. That's only half-serious. 

I have decided to become a master of clay animation and that requires an afterlife of solitude and meditation. And cleaning the clay out from under your fingernails every so often.

Ok, that was a quarter serious...Less dry, Don...We'll get there. 

The honest truth is that you gotta have a GREAT demo reel, be friendly with people who work at the studios, and never, ever step on anyone's toes- even accidentally-not even jokingly- that's dangerous...And this will lead to the best-case scenario of getting consistent work, making new contacts, getting promoted...And above all, do not respond to flame posts on forums, especially if someone there has an axe to grind. Because that can negatively affect your internet reputation, and if Employers and contacts are googling that crap, your life as a whole. 

As careers go, mine was pretty much murdered in 2011 along with my nom de plumage. I hope that doesn't happen to you. It's not for everyone, being murdered,  but I'm having fun as the standalone corpse of a creative entity. Because now I know how to do things that I only had questions about when I was alive and the results are 100 times better. If it leads to getting hired somewhere, that would be great, but I don't expect it. What I do expect, is to help other people along their journey, because I can't help myself any more than I can help being a ghost.

Great responses so far! Each of you has shared a unique personal perspective that sheds even more light than I was hoping to glean from asking these questions. Thank you very much for that.

~ StopmoNick: It sounds pretty rough for animators over there. Still, it also sounds like there's a lot of talent there as well. It's a shame there isn't a more permanent studio set up. Everything I've seen come out of Australia is brilliant! Marry and Max was fantastic! $9.99 was another great one, although I don't know if that was shot in Australia or Israel. 

What do you think the reason is that studios come to town and leave? Are they not making enough back to stay open and make more films? Is there also just not a big demand for stop-motion in broadcasting anymore? It does seem like CG is replacing that niche that stop-motion used to fill in TV. From what I understand, CG is less expensive, but, with the entire VFX industry protesting that they aren't getting paid or recognized enough, I wonder if that's only because the CG people are being taken advantage of. If that's the case, and wages for VFX workers end up increasing, maybe the financing scale will tip in the near future.

~ Dieter Wagner: That's great, Congrats! Thanks for sharing the names of some studios out in LA as well. Those will definitely be worth looking into when I finally get a reel together.

I lived in San Francisco and worked in San Diego for a couple years when I was just starting out in my last career. Like yourself, it didn't work out for me either. It was a pretty brutal chain of events that lead to me boomeranging back home again. Quite a humbling (if not crumbling) experience. Changed me almost completely. Some for better, and some took a while to shake off and get centered. Workwise, it didn't work out here either though, so I've been considering another adventure to try my luck again in a (sort of) new direction. I've always been a little nervous about LA though. I feel like I'd need to muster up a much thicker skin to survive out there, haha.

~ Pram Maven Films: I appreciate your brutal honesty. Seems like you've had an interesting experience. What do you mean by stepping on anyone's toes? That sounds like something I'd definitely want to avoid. haha.

As far as the internet goes, oye vey... I hear you loud and clear about that. I do my best to try and keep embarrassing things off the net, but my early twenties self was a bit of an arrogant, narcissistic, asshat sometimes. haha! I've grown up quite a bit since then, but all I can do now is hope to build a better reputation that precedes the former one.

Thank you internet for keeping an archive of mistakes we can never take back. haha!

I'm 19, originally raised in Louisville, Kentucky (where the animation is non-existent) I started animating as a hobby around age 12. Self taught learning everything I could from books, internet, asking questions from people online. I started making short films and practicing different things. I learned a lot by getting my films into festivals and seeing a lot of great films and meeting other animators. Then I started doing animation work for hire for local companies and then some from different parts of the country. I moved out to California a few months ago and am now at CalArts studying animation focusing on stop motion learning especially from Stephen Chiodo. I have also interned at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios on Robot Chicken since September where I have learned SOOOO much about animation production! I am now working on my first year film at CalArts.... And that folks is my animation life story.....

There used to be a few small studios that made a living doing commercials. I think Anifex in Adelaide, South Australia, is still going. These studios generally had a regular pool of modelmakers and animators, but only hired them short term, for a particular project. Feature films like Mary And Max hired a building and set up the studio just to produce that one film, then everyone left at the end and they sold off eir equipment and vacated the premises. It was the same for $9.99, which was shot in Sydney. One of the animators, Sharon Parker, was here in Melbourne, but went there to live for the duration. I think it was about 12 months. I had a chance to animate on it, but would have had to resign from the ABC, which would have been too great a financial sacrifice. Half the pay, rental accommodation to find, leaving my partner who was tied to her job here... And I would have missed out on the redundancyayout that covered the cost of building my studio in the back garden a couple of years later. But that is a reality for most stop motion animators, they have to go where the work is, then move on when the project finishes. It gets more difficult as you get older and more tied to a place.
There seems to be steady work in LA for some.
Laika probably keeps some core people on for the whole production, and they may even go almost immediately into,the next one as one film wraps. But I imagine a lot of the crew would stop and start as the film moved into different phases - designers and storyboard artists first, then the puppet and set makers, then bring in the animators when they are ready for them.
Aardman in Bristol would be another place with continuing production, with pretty steady work on tv productions like Shawn the Sheep and Timmy Time. Features like Pirates would probably hire a lot of extra people in for the duration, the same as other features without a permanent production house like Frankenweenie. That was shot in London.

Los Angeles, Portland and a few in San Francisco. I would say that is where most of the US stopmo animators reside nowadays. I was able to get a lot of work in SF for a good 10 years in the late 80s & 90s. Gumby Series, ads at Colossal Pictures, Skellington Productions: NMBC and James and the Giant Peach, Bump in the Night, Phantom Investigators, plus some CG work at Tippett Studio and Pixar. However, since about 2002 I've been traveling outside of the Bay Area for work. Laika in Portland: Coraline and ParaNorman, Corpse Bride in London, small projects with Jamie Caliri in Southern California. Now in Montreal working on The Little Prince. So yes I've had to move around for work. Yes I'd do it again. Moving around is tough but I've had some great experiences. Sure it would be nice to find all my work in one location but in order to work on the best projects, I've had to relocate.

It's neat to hear The Little Prince is being remade (or re-imagined). I can't imagine moving from place to place. I tend to put down roots and stay for years. Much respect for anyone who can continually relocate without feeling lost.

Oh! stop motion Little Prince could be beautiful! might even just top Old Gene Wilder as the Fox in the classic movie...

good luck with this, and keep us informed!

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