Artists adjust to digital age

LOS ANGELES — Animation’s digital evolution over the last decade has created an escalating problem for experienced hand-drawing professionals, a challenge that has been magnified during the recession, artists say.

The entertainment industry, which is heavily rooted in Glendale and Burbank, has increasingly moved away from two-dimensional cartoon-style productions, to digitally rendered computer graphics that have put many veteran artists out of work, experts say.

As financial strains have forced major motion picture and television studios to slash their employment by more than 25%, animators are facing an uphill battle to compete for fewer jobs, many of which are being snapped up by digital experts from overseas, said George Palazzo, business representative for the International Assn. of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 729, a union representing more then 50,000 industry workers, most of whom are in Glendale and Burbank.

The challenges facing animators was the inspiration for one of the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board’s latest federal stimulus-funded projects crafted to help workers reshape their careers and become more competitive job candidates.

The board is also allocating some of its $5 million in federal stimulus aid to training potential nurses and electricians, or counseling struggling manufacturers fearing potential job cuts, among other employment-related concerns in the area.

But the board also decided to focus on the entertainment industry because of its sizable foothold in the area.

“There’s such a huge need for more training,” Richard Roche, the board’s chairman, told his colleagues Thursday.

The group met at Studio Arts, a Los Angeles training center for entertainment-industry artists hoping to rejuvenate their careers.

“It’s pretty hard for artists because imagine you’ve been drawing your whole life, and now you’ve got to do something completely different,” artist Steve Muller told the group.

Muller is one of 16 artists benefiting from the board’s allocation of $115,192 to cover costs for a quarter of classes at the center.

In a presentation to the board explaining how work on the center’s computer systems had helped him and others become more confident with the transition to digital media, Muller said he hoped the program would turn their fortunes.

“It’ll keep the studios from filling positions with H1 [foreign worker] visas, which they are giving out in droves,” he said.

At least five program participants have already been able to leverage their new skills to earn jobs, said Eric Huelsman, president of Studio Arts.

With so much animation work taking place in the area, the board’s investment in local workers would help local economies, Muller said.

Pointing to a pie chart from the Animation Guild that showed about half of the union’s 2,565 members working for DreamWorks Animation and the Walt Disney Co., both based locally, Muller said, “The numbers speak for themselves.”

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