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random #36: Employment update

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 05-24-2010 09:07 AM 1760 reads 0 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Several LJ friends have written to ask how the new job is going, and I’ve told them all that I’d post a little update here, and here it is! It’s a big update!

Everything is amazing and awesome so far. The building is big – 4 stories – but each has a kind of lobby wall after you exit the elevator, so you can’t appreciate how big the building is until you get behind that. My first trip behind it was my first day on the job. The interview process was all in little rooms in front of the wall. Behind it, my heart sank a bit. I felt as though I’d strolled onto an ocean liner. It’s so much bigger than I expected, and I don’t do well at big companies usually. My first industry office had 2 small rooms and about 14 employees between them. My second had less than 20, and grew to 45 over the years. I worked at NC Soft for a time, and there were something like 11 of us in that small office on the 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica, which is all small spaces. I did do a stint at EA in LA, and that was also 3 or 4 stories, and very big inside – hundreds of employees – but somehow it paled in comparison to this. It feels like a little city on floor 3. In fact, the lady who brought me to the desk of the friend who referred me to the position, back near our small party of animators got lost 5 times on the way there. It was quite a walk, and a bit of a labyrinth!

The 1st floor lobby:

1st floor lobby at my new job

Something that’s apparently new, but wonderful to me, a person who loves things visual, is that they decorated the entire floor. Beautiful scenery with characters from various recent movies have been high quality printed at wall-sizes and used as wallpaper, so everywhere you go are majestic scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean, the Tinkerbell movie, Cars, and several others. Because so many are artists, their work adorns the inside and outside of the majority of the hundreds of cubicles on each floor. I’ve worked at about 5 games studios, and been to a handful of others, and while there were very good artists at some, these are Disney artists, so it’s nothing but the most solid stuff everywhere you look. I almost caught a bad case of being-impressed poisoning walking around those first few minutes. It was a tad intimidating, I’ll admit.

My direct boss is great. He’s supposedly 60, but seems in his mid 40s to me, and he has a laid-back, happy, been-there/done-that/don’t worry so much attitude, which is disarming and relaxing. My first assignment took me a week and a half, after I thought it would be 3 days, and when I explained some ideas I had for speeding up my workflow, he shrugged and said “Whatever. This was fine. Don’t code yourself out of a job.” He’s worked on some cool projects, like 1984’s “Ghostbusters” (he helped make the proton pack energy beams that would lasso the ghosts). My first day I was dropped off at his office. The guy who told me about the job – a friend from a previous job where we were coworkers – was in there, and 2 other animators. That’s basically my team. There are 5 of us, and a 6th guy who sits confusingly far away – most of the way across the building. We see him occasionally. It really feels like a very large small company, and all of the issues I’ve had working at places like EA don’t seem to exist.

It’s an older, more mature crowd, and they’re pretty much all very friendly and outgoing. I’ve never had so many people smile and ask me how I’m doing, except that time I visited Nashville (ridiculously friendly people there). I didn’t expect that would be such a pick-me-up, either. I went to the kitchen the first day, and some guy I don’t know said hi and asked if I was new. He got in a long conversation about working there, and then said he’d see me later. I ran into him at lunch, having brought something back, and he asked if I had anyone to sit with at lunch and invited me out onto the patio (3rd floor, overlooking the city), and there I met about 5 other people who all talked with me the whole lunch like I was an old friend. Lots of laughing and good times. Then I found out the guy to my left had been with the company since the 80s, and was actually kind of a higher up. He was in jeans and a casual button-up shirt, but otherwise just seemed like one of us, and no one treated him like he was 3 boss levels above us. The rank seems more like a suggestion here. Later at a full company meeting with a couple hundred of us in there, he got up and gave a presentation for one part, and afterward came back and sat near me and went back to being one of the crew. I love that. EA had insane levels of red tape. You weren’t supposed to talk to some people, and there was a lot of attitude.

The 3rd floor kitchen:

3rd floor kitchen at my new job

On Thursday I didn’t know what I was doing for lunch, so I just wandered out of the building and looked around. I heard a crowd calling to me, and it turned out to be 7 people from my area of floor 3, and suddenly I was off to lunch with them. All 7 were Asian of various places (Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian), and we ate at a Japanese/Chinese place, but I was the only one using chopsticks instead of a fork, and they were playing US top 40 hits of the 80s softly in the background. Not very authentic ;) The next day a guy leaned into my cube and asked if I wanted to join them in the courtyard of the building for lunch. I’ve eaten with probably 8 completely different groups now, and they’ve all been super friendly.

The courtyard:

courtyard at work

My first day we went to the Disney Feature Studios (this place), because that’s the only place you can get your official Disney photo ID (which now gets me into the park with friends for free, and maybe a few other things, like discounts on merchandise – not sure, as I’m contracting currently). We ate at the commissary, where I failed once again to see any celebrities. The first half of the pics on this page show some of the cool architecture and the commissary. I think I’ve been there 3 times now – the other times with a friend who used to work at Disney Feature.

He’s seen many big stars, like John Cleese at a table next to him in the Commissary, and Jennifer Garner from Alias passing him in the hallway. If you’ve ever watched “Alias,” the front of the office building that is her spy headquarters is actually one of the buildings on the Disney Feature lot with a sign stuck on it. He even had lunch with about 50 pirates one day – extras from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie on their lunch break. It’s a working film studio with lots of those huge hangar buildings, which we also wandered by and nosily peeked into. I’d love to work at a studio like that and watch the colossal construction that goes on inside, like all the epic photos on this page of a Pirates sound stage. It looks like so much fun. It’s amazing how big it all looks in real life, too. I feel like my eyes aren’t designed to see things that big, because I’m always looking at bench tools or my computer.

Anyway, where I sit is great. It’s a big, comfy, attractive cube with low lighting, which I prefer, and it’s ambient. The lights shine on the beige ductwork and reflect down pleasantly. No blinding fluorescents. I have a 24” Dell flat screen monitor and a 21” Wacom Cintiq, which is a monitor you can draw on with included stylus. You can see a guy using one on YouTube here. Some cool features – finger-zoom bars on the sides – just rub up and down to zoom in and out – pressure sensitivity which you can hook to whatever – press harder for darker, and/or fatter lines, or whatever else you want that to influence, like color changes based on pressure. The monitor swivels for easing drawing, just like the old animation desks. Also, it recognizes separate pens, so while you can go through the motions to change the parameters of pens as you’re drawing, you can also save time by having a bunch of pens set up as different tools with particular settings, and then you can just put down the ‘pencil’ and pick up the ‘airbrush’ and keep going. The back of the pens has a functioning digital eraser. This is one of those things artists drool over getting – $2k/ea. – so it was weird to just walk in to my cube and see that I have one, and so do tons of other folks. Also, there’s a small TV and VCR combo on my desk, and for no discernible reason, VR goggles, something like these. I’ll have to find a new power cord for them and try them out.

My workspace:

my cube at the new office

There are many games being worked on at once here. There’s the section that makes casual games – the quick things you go play for 5 minutes and then leave behind. They make about 100 games per year. We have several big projects going, including a Tinkerbell game, a Cars game, a Pirates of the Caribbean game, and one that’s been around for most of a decade for Toontown from Roger Rabbit. I started in on Toontown, and am being brought into Pirates more and more. Each team is separate – something they started years back – except for the animation team. There are artists who only work on cars, and artists who only work on pirates, but animation serves all the big teams, so last week, my 3rd week, I was fielding requests from Toontown and Pirates back and forth all day. I love it. Unexpectedly, that seems to be how I love to work – jumping back and forth. I guess it makes sense. I must have 50 projects started here and always switch between them.

The unexplained TV/VCR – might as well bring in some movies :)

TV/VCR in my new office cube

I’ll be in the middle of some new thing for one job and someone will stop by with a pressing matter on another project, and I jump to that for 15 minutes, save the day, and move back to where I left off on the first. I’m pushing to make a name for myself as a Fixler who can fix anything, and also to help lighten the burdens on some of the more stressed directors. Early last week two folks I report to who always have a million meetings and seem somewhat worn out all the time stopped by with something that clearly was confusing them. Once I figured out enough of what they were saying to take over, I told them I’d rope in whoever I needed to figure out the solution and send them an email later in the day. They seemed palpably relieved to have someone who would just take the burden away. It was easy from my end, so I think it’s going to be easy to be a very helpful person. I’ve left each night so far feeling like I helped out a lot. It’s pretty satisfying.

My Aeron chair and more cabinetry:

Aeron chair at my new cubicle

Apparently the guy I replaced was a real bear to be around, and I haven’t found anyone so far who had good feelings of any kind for him. Once you’re full-time it’s really hard for them to let you go, and I think they jumped the gun with him. It took many months for all the paperwork, probation periods, and whatever else was necessary to pass before they could get rid of him. He was extremely unhelpful, and even a bit of a womanizer. By default, they seem to love me just for the fact that I’m not such a giant pain. Just being introduced to people as that guy’s replacement, I could see this relief sweep over them as they would each vigorously shake my hand and give me a very big, undeserved smile, like I was going to save everything. But hey, I’ll give it my best shot! Speaking of the full-time thing, I’m currently a contractor. Disney apparently loves to do that, and there are over 100 contractors in this building, some having contracted for most of a year. The limit – legally – is 18 months.

I’m chipping in money each week to be on a contractor health/dental plan, so at least there’s that. I’ll finally have coverage of some kind again. I’ll also be contributing to a 401k again, finally. It’s been years. I’m also making a good chunk more than I’ll make if/when they put me on full-time. Because of other benefits, they pay full-time folks less. That’s unfortunate for a few reasons. I did the budget this past week and realized that I’m just barely breaking even after all of my bills – rent, cable, phone, internet, gas, electric, food, and my monthly truck payment. If I’m made full time, I won’t be making enough money anymore, so I need to solve that, but at least this job saved me for the time being. I ran out of money entirely just as it landed, and in fact just got the first 2 paychecks and just barely have enough now for rent this month.

I’ll be unloading things through ebay, trying to sell some woodworks through Etsy, looking around for things I can make at night while watching TV to bring in more money – things I can sew, for example, on my sewing machine. The big change might be moving north. It would put me a lot closer to work, saving me the $50 every 7 round trips, would give me back a bit more of my time (45 minutes to work, about 30-40 back home 5x a week), and rents up there seem to be a lot cheaper than around here. Everyone (except me) wants to live near the beach (no interest – I never go), so prices around here are stupidly high. My parents bought 10 acres of beautiful woodland with a 2-story house and shed on it in NJ for $150k. This is a 0.18 acre lot, and if I were to buy it with the old, dilapidated house and 1-car garage on it, and with neighbors shoved right up against me on 3 sides, it would be about $700k. That means $15k/acre in the secluded woods of NJ converts to about $3.9M/acre in the cramped burbs of LA, or about 260x the prices in rural NJ to live in west LA. And I’d far prefer to live in secluded woods surrounded by 50’+ trees, as I did growing up. This is a weird place :)

And now, some shots from various drives through the mountains on the 405. It’s a pretty commute:

405 on rainy, foggy day

405 clouds

405 with overlooking homes

405 through the mountains

405 near The Getty Center

Here’s some of the drive south after work on the 405, just passing the Getty Center on the right. The 405 was being nice this day – no stopping!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator



18 comments so far

View degoose's profile

degoose

7196 posts in 2822 days


#1 posted 05-24-2010 10:05 AM

How cool is this…

-- Drink twice... and don't bother to cut... @ lazylarrywoodworks.com.au For lovers of all things timber...

#2 posted 05-24-2010 10:07 AM

oooh gary i am truley sorry tou have to drive the 405 every day.my last time through there was about 4 years ago.catrans would only allow me to travel through LA after 9:00 pm as i was 12 ft wide 245 ft long and weighed around 2hundred thousand lbs that was going on estimate of the manufactor of the asphalt plant i was pulling.even at midnight there was a lot of trafic out there.my hats off to any one who can drive that area every day

-- i wonder if obama stood in a wind storm with them big ears of his would he start spinning like a drill bit

View jockmike2's profile

jockmike2

10635 posts in 3714 days


#3 posted 05-24-2010 12:55 PM

Goof things for you Gary, good luck.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View rhybeka's profile

rhybeka

2682 posts in 2588 days


#4 posted 05-24-2010 01:13 PM

‘grats Gary! It sounds like a great experience so far! One of the things I have to do for my portfolio class this week is take a list of my top 6 companies I want to work for, and they’re on that list :) tho moving isn’t something I’ll be likely to want to do any time soon. Contracting is always a great way to get in the door – I did that where I’m at eight years ago and got hired on in 7 months. It’s just a precaution. They’d rather spend more money up front to make sure they’ve got someone that’ll work out then hire full time right on the spot. Have fun and enjoy the success!

-- Beka/Becky - aspiring jill of all trades, still learning to not read the directions.

View Eric_S's profile

Eric_S

1551 posts in 2662 days


#5 posted 05-24-2010 01:24 PM

Congrats Gary. That sounds like a really fun job. You are very lucky. That is an awesome chair they supplied you with too! I need to get me one of those for home use.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8523 posts in 3115 days


#6 posted 05-24-2010 03:02 PM

sounds great. we should all be this lucky. making the waiting period worth it doesnt it?

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Paul2274's profile

Paul2274

330 posts in 2579 days


#7 posted 05-24-2010 03:35 PM

Fantastic! It’s a good way to start off the week with good news. Looks great… not only a beautiful building but it sounds like a great group of people to work for and with. May your employment be fun and long lived!

“To Infinity and Beyond”
Can’t wait for TS3!! (and yes I have young kids :))

Paul

View patron's profile

patron

13538 posts in 2808 days


#8 posted 05-24-2010 03:55 PM

great news , gary .

glad it’s working out .

it takes a while to get back to even ,
i just took 6 months ,

enjoy !

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View GaryD's profile

GaryD

623 posts in 2836 days


#9 posted 05-24-2010 04:20 PM

Good to hear the news Gary, good luck and keep us posted on how its going. It is amazing what we can do when we are pushed to do it.

-- Gary, Little River,SC I've Learned that the Lord didn't do it all in one day and neither can I

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

115206 posts in 3044 days


#10 posted 05-24-2010 04:37 PM

good news

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View woodpeckerbill's profile

woodpeckerbill

205 posts in 2740 days


#11 posted 05-24-2010 05:35 PM

Glad to hear that all is going good for you.
Bill

View Bearpie's profile

Bearpie

2601 posts in 2485 days


#12 posted 05-24-2010 05:49 PM

I’m happy for you Gary, hope you find much happiness with them and stay a loooonnnngg time with them. Don’t give up woodworking!

Erwin Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View clieb91's profile

clieb91

3494 posts in 3402 days


#13 posted 05-25-2010 03:05 AM

Gary Sounds like a great fit for you. Sorry to hear about the drive but the scenery sure looks nice. Hope everything stays on track.

A thought from Walt for you… “I happen to be kind of an inquisitive guy and when I see things I don’t like, I start thinking ‘why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?’”

CtL

-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- PortablePastimes.com (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 2676 days


#14 posted 05-25-2010 04:06 AM

Congratulations. It sounds like the perfect place for you.
It also sounds like you got a liberal sprinkling of pixie dust your first day. :) (Do they still call it that?)

I think Walt would have been pleased at your first impressions. Is there anyone left there from Walt’s day, I wonder? I suppose not.

I worked in the Park off and on for a few years—omg, it was 35+ years ago! It was several years after Walt had died. I could tell you stories of my own, but I had some friends who had worked there from the very beginning and I loved listening to their stories about Walt. He had an apartment above the little fire station on Main Street and would frequently spend the night. (Last time I was in there, his slippers were still by the bed and his robe hung in the closet. I suppose they might still be there.) He used to walk around the Park in his robe and slippers in the mornings before it opened. It was his idea that everyone had a name tag with their first name only on it, and he was on a first name basis with many of the employees, and he insisted they called him by his first name as well. The way you describe your supervisors, it sounds like that tradition lives on.

Can’t help but wonder what the guy who drew Steamboat Willie would think of the things you do in your job.

View BarbS's profile

BarbS

2434 posts in 3552 days


#15 posted 05-25-2010 04:17 AM

Wow Gary, Congratulations on the success of the new job. I hope they find you indispensable, and jack up your pay. Sounds like a good place to work, in spite of its size.

-- http://barbsid.blogspot.com/

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