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Animation Boom Paints Rosy Picture for Artists

Blockbuster films have sent the demand for animators soaring. Major studios will seek recruits at a job fair in Universal City.


Pixar is planning to send recruiters down from the Bay Area.

Fox Animation is coming in from Phoenix.

And Disney will be there, too, hoping to discover the next Glen Keane or Andreas Deja.

The event is the third annual Animation Opportunities Expo, to be held Feb. 24 at the Universal City Hilton and Towers. According to coordinator Wendy Jackson, 60 animation studios and related companies have signed up to participate in the expo--making it the industry's major job fair. Among the top players: Disney, DreamWorks SKG, Pixar (the small but red-hot company that made the first computer-animated feature, "Toy Story," for Disney), Warner Bros., Fox, the new Turner Feature Animation and Hanna-Barbera.

A few years ago, most people didn't know the name of a single star animator, including Disney's Keane and Deja. Today, most still don't. But animation is suddenly the hottest thing in the entertainment industry. As a result, says Jackson, this year's expo is expected to attract 2,000 people and has been moved into a much larger space than last year's.

Jackson is general manager of the Burbank-based International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, which is sponsoring the event.


The expo will bring prospective employers together with people who want to work in animation and related fields. In the past, becoming an animator was a good way to make sure you never became rich or famous. That has changed dramatically since Disney recharged the industry with a series of animated blockbusters, starting in 1989 with "The Little Mermaid."

But salaries for animators didn't begin to soar until 1995, when Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney and founded DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. When DreamWorks announced it planned to make animated features, salaries for seasoned animators doubled overnight.

The reason is simple. There aren't enough animators to go around.

"Now that Disney is actually getting some competition in feature animation, and with all the TV animation, there's a real hunger for talent," says Jackson. Gifted animators, even relatively inexperienced ones, have their choice of jobs. Animators are suddenly being treated like prized athletes. Studios are trying to poach each other's talent with star salaries, signing bonuses, and even profit-sharing deals.

At CalArts, widely regarded as the premier educator of animators, many students leave before getting their degrees to work in the industry. CalArts is one of a dozen schools participating in the expo. A number of multimedia companies are also signed up.

Many of the studios are trying to make up for the paucity of experienced animators by starting in-house training programs, a practice that Walt Disney pioneered in the '30s.

"They're looking for people who have good drawing skills and can be trained, not only for people who are already trained animators," Jackson said.

Jules Engel, who heads the experimental animation program at CalArts, said that such expos can be useful for students, even if they aren't yet seeking jobs. "All that stuff is good," he said. "It's an experience. It's an exposure. They need to get away from the desk. They need to have contact with that world."

ASIFA-Hollywood, which has about 800 members, sponsors the Annies--animation's equivalent to the Oscars.

Jackson said people who come to the expo should bring their portfolios, voice-over demo cassettes and video show reels, as well as resumes. Seminars will be held throughout the day on opportunities in computer animation and other topics.

* Animation Opportunities Expo, Feb. 24 at the Universal City Hilton and Towers. Advance tickets are $10 for ASIFA-Hollywood members, $15 for nonmembers. Tickets at the door are $15 for members, $20 for nonmembers. For further information, call (818) 842-8330.

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