Several of you wonderful folks have been occasionally checking in with me to see how things are going, and it’s meant a great deal to have your support. It’s felt in a strange way like I’ve had a team of kind souls backing me up. You have all brought smiles to my face many times throughout this 6-month dry spell. I’m happy to report that the rain has come again.
After a 34-day submission/interview/pacing back and forth process and enough negotiating on my part to unravel the plans of even the most steadfast suicide bomber, I will at last be entering a new job this coming Tuesday at DIMG (“Dim-jee”) – the Disney Interactive Media Group – in North Hollywood. They make and maintain the games for Disney’s website, including the Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Toon Town games. I’ll be helping out on those three starting immediately.
I worked with a guy years ago who knows what kind of work I do, and out of the blue he asked me through online channels if I knew of anyone like me for an upcoming vacancy in his department. I said “Yes, me!” This will be contract work for now, as Disney is extremely cautious about full-time hires. They like to try before they buy, which is okay with me, as I will be making about the same salary I had been making, minus the benefits, and I plan to wow them from the get go. If they like me, I can gently nudge them into hiring me on full-time, which is pretty standard there. I have a strong suspicion they will like me, as previous employers have, and my role here will actually be a tighter fit to my skill set than any position I’ve held before.
I’m not sure about other fields, but in my industry, jobs often come with an absurd list of requirements. It often seems as if the person writing up the job listing forgot what they were doing and began playing a game of trying to recall every bit of software they’ve ever heard of being used at their company, as well as every other company they’ve interacted with. I’ve come across online postings that list literally dozens of programs, many I will have heard of, a respectable chunk I’ve used, some no one I know nor myself have heard of, and a few that won’t even show up in searches on Google (did they make a few extras up as a test?). On more typical listings I’ll know 5 things well, be somewhat of a pro at 3 more, have heard of a few others, and maybe haven’t heard of the last couple. For this job, the requirements were not only 100% within my purview, but if you listed everything I’m very good at, then sorted them in order of my personal favorites, the requirements were a subsection of that, on the favorite end of the scale. It’s in many ways my dream job, the kind of thing I do at home for fun, because I can’t help myself.
I’ve always been an animator, and went to school for that, but I’ve long been much more into rigging characters, scripting tools, and building pipelines. That’s what they want. My current company has been great, but my boss didn’t much like me creating tools, despite that they always saved us tremendous amounts of time, and even saved us from missing milestones, or from having to come in on weekends. Still, he’s told me flat out that while he doesn’t know how to plan for the time I’d need to write a tool or batch processing procedure, he understands how to take a list of 3000 of the same kind of tasks, break it up over the 4 person team, multiply that by how long it takes one person to do a few items, and come up with a good time estimate, scaling it up to buffer against trouble, and then taking that number back to the head of the project and getting that time approved.
However, too often that leads to a lot of features being cut from the game, because we spend all of our time cranking through stuff that the computer could do for us, and it really saps our creative energy, as well as the time leftover for us to use that dwindling energy for good. Too, we’re human, so in a huge list of repetitive tasks, we make mistakes, and it can be hard to stamp them all out before we ship. While we’re reexporting assets, we’re not innovating or making things cool and fun. That’s a big problem in my opinion. The real nail in the coffin for me, though, is that things always change, so we always end up having to go back through big lists of tasks to redo them some new way to account for some change. My stepdad is a wealthy man, and one of his personal mantras is that whenever you do something twice, you lose money. I’ve pondered that often over the years, trying to find a crack, a way around his logic, but it sure does hold up well to scrutiny. Regardless, doing things well the first time is hardly ever a bad thing. A script/toolset can be modified in some small way once, and then run back over all of a set of assets to redo everything for you. Any change to the game (or anything) that requires a reworking of the assets is just a small change to a script and a re-batching – automated by the computer – away.
Because of my boss’ reluctance, however, whenever I write a script, I’m doing it in secret, rushing to finish up while he’s at lunch, or busy elsewhere. It’s always paid off in spades, but I’ve also always felt guilty. I explained this briefly to the team at Disney, and they said “Oh no… that’s exactly the stuff we want you to do here. If you keep speeding things up and making us cool tools, you’ll be our hero.” A single tear rolled down my cheek. Hooray! Too, they work very reasonable hours for this industry, there’s a nice, even mix of men and women (it’s been all men everywhere for years at my companies) which will be a welcome change (nice to have some additional perspective in the creative process), and their idea of overtime, which has been unbelievable at times in my career (e.g. 7-day weeks ‘til past 10PM every night for months straight) is instead occasionally an extra hour. I laughed. I wouldn’t even notice that :)
The crew is older than average – average being 20s-30s, this place being more 30s-50s+ – so it’s a more mature, laid-back crowd of been-there/done-that types who roll with the punches and know how to keep up a friendly attitude. The people have cool backgrounds. My direct boss has a long line of fun credits, including work on the Beauty and the Beast movie. Another guy I interviewed with and will be working with was an Imagineer, and prior to that operated the controls on R2-D2 for one of the Star Wars movies with ILM. He was interested in the creative things I’ve done, and it seems like we’ll hit it off pretty well. I’m going to fully absorb any story he’ll bother telling me. It seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Now I have to remember how to get to bed on time (it’s 3:30AM right now – bad start – though it is Friday night, and I got back late from a campfire weenie roast with friends ;) I also need to relearn how to exist without all-day gmail/YouTube/instant messenger and all of the rest of the things that have been filling my unemployed world for half a year. This offer couldn’t have come at a better time. I got to tell my pals at the cookout tonight, and there was much rejoicing. Moreover, my rent just went through, and I’m officially at “significantly less than one month’s rent” in the bank, the lowest I’ve been in more than half a decade. I’ll be getting my first weekly paycheck from the new job in time to pay rent again next month. Phwew! That was a close one.
The down sides are few, but worth noting. My drive time one way goes from literally 3 minutes at my current job to as much as an hour if things are bad to this new place. I’ll find ways to speed that up, but it’s LA, and you can only do so much during work rush hours. I guess I’ll be learning Spanish and listening to audio books! No benefits as I mentioned, and if they hire me full-time, my salary falls to account for the addition of benefits. I’d then be a bit less than where I’ve been for years now, but I could fix this by climbing to a senior position and getting a pay bump. The stability is a nice counterbalance to this, as many of the people have been there for 10-15 years. It’s incredibly stable, unlike where I’m still technically employed, and too many other places.
Another downside – the one folks here will sympathize the most with, perhaps – is that I’ll have much less time to play out in the garage now, though I’ve honestly felt a bit guilty for months whenever I go out there, because I’ve needed pretty desperately to find a job. Hopefully I’ll learn some better time management and use the weekends well, and squeak in an hour or two after I get home from work each night. I’m not going to complain. I’m thrilled to be able to afford to stay here, and to again be able to pick up some replacements for all that has worn out or broken in these past 6 months.
Thanks again for the support and well-wishes, friends! We did it!
-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator