Mentor Tim Ingersoll may work at DreamWorks Animation now, but he’s worked at a variety of other studios—both very large and very small—throughout his impressive career! We asked if he prefers working at large studios or small studios and here’s what he had to say about the pros and cons of each.
There’s an old saying that says “Size Matters”—even McDonald’s has a SUPER SIZE menu.
And that is somewhat true. Haha.
My name is Timothy J Ingersoll. I have worked at many studios large and small. I will try to break this down as simply as possible.
First off, they both have advantages and disadvantages. For dramatic purposes, I will wait until the end to give you my preference. Some of the big studios I worked at were Filmation Studios, Disney Animation Studio, Turner Feature Animation Studio, and Dreamworks Animation. The small studios I worked at were Bluth Animation, Dale Baer Animation and James Baxter Animation. I’ve also worked at many freelance studios, such as Film Roman and too many others to mention.
Let me say this before we go any further: I’m a strong believer in unions. Most large studios are union studios and some small ones are, too. Both Dale Baer and James Baxter Animation were UNION! When you are a young buck, you rarely think about retirement. I never really did, but boy I am glad I was under that union umbrella. Now I can retire a whole lot happier, healthier, and richer.
Big Studios: The Pros and Cons
At big studios you have the advantage of working on Blockbuster films. Some that I’ve worked on are The Little Mermaid, The Road to El Dorado, Spirit, Prince of Egypt, Over the Hedge, Shark Tale, How to Train Your Dragon, and many more. So it’s nice to see your name in lights, in the titles, when the credits roll, at the end of the film. You can never get that feeling from anything else!
Another great perk of working for the big studios are their wrap parties. They really spend a ton of money, promoting and basically making the artists feel like they contributed. It’s a very proud moment in the life of any animator.
Some of the others perks are free food—mainly at DreamWorks. We’re talking gourmet food. Breakfast and lunch! Omelets, bacon, bbq grill, salad bars, yogurt machines! And all of the extra learning opportunities to grow as an artist. For instance, at lunch time we would have life drawing, improv classes, painting, sculpting, screenwriting, and much more. This is really something to add to your toolkit as an artist and also to stimulate you to do better at your job.
At the big studios, you also have opportunities to pitch your movie ideas. I’ve had friends that have had their story ideas made into movies. I myself actually got an amazing opportunity to create my own film while at DreamWorks. Basically, it’s a pipeline video on how we make our films. It’s been shown to all the interns, new hires, and visitors to DreamWorks. Here it is:
Now for big studio politics versus small studio politics. In a big studio you sometimes feel like a spoke in the wheel and extremely easy to replace. They may encourage you to speak up, but be aware that everyone is watching. There are so many talented animators that want your job, and the big studios know it. So play nice, and nobody gets hurt. Haha. Just use common sense. Don’t be overly negative or condemn people or the studio.
A small studio, however, might accept your input more readily and your opinion can actually make a huge difference. And quite frankly it costs a lot more money and time for a small studio to replace you then it does a big studio.
Either way, be cautious at both
Okay, that’s enough for big fish studios.
Small Studios: The Pros and Cons
Let’s move on to the small fish studios. I guess the greatest thing about working for a small studio is you really feel like you’re contributing. I’ve been on a staff of fewer than 10 people. Presently I’m working on a heartwarming, spectacular 2D film with Andreas Deja called Mushka. It’s his own short film that he is producing, directing, writing, and animating. I’m not quite sure how many, but the staff size is minimal. However, the rewards are maximum. There’s a true feeling of community and making a difference on a much larger scale than with a large studio.
You have opportunities to do many things and wear different hats. Like at Baer Animation, Dale Baer was so kind as to let us all try different departments. So one month I might be animating special effects, the next month storyboarding, the next month character animating and so on. You are never bored, and you really feel like you can do anything.
Also at the small Studios, you get to work with really amazing people on a more private, one-on-one level. I mean Dale Baer and James Baxter are two of the best animators in the world—not to mention the most humble and nicest guys you will ever meet—and I got to work side-by-side with them. Because it was such a small studio, I had daily access to them and those golden moments are so fulfilling as an artist, to learn from the very best.
The only trouble with smaller studios is that their budgets are leaner, and if there’s a problem in production, they sometimes can’t afford to keep you…. and you might be looking for work sooner than expected. Smaller studios can be known to go out of business, because its very costly to run a studio (BIG or SMALL!).
So now to the part where I tell you my preference (drum roll…please).
BOTH!!! For all of the reasons that I stated above. Each of you reading this should experience the big guys AND the little guys. Life is short, but oh so sweet. Squeeze the juice and enjoy both flavors…big and small. You won’t regret it.
But either way, if you can, go UNION!
I got to live my dream and then some. I may be the luckiest man on earth. Every day I do what I love, so I never work a day in my life.
Keep animating, working hard, and reaching for the stars. You will get there. I promise!
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