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:
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:
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.
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.
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 :)
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:
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:
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