This essay is an editorial on the role I see SIGGRAPH playing over the years to encourage people to go into the field of computer animation in spite of very serious employment issues in the field. Let me be clear that I am not referring here to the technical part of SIGGRAPH and the role they have played to publish research in this area, nor am I referring in any negative way to SIGGRAPH as an institution in some greater sense, I am however trying to get people aware that people attending SIGGRAPH are making life decisions based in part on the impressions given at SIGGRAPH and that they are being given what I think is a false impression of the likelihood that this field will be able to support them economically.
That is what I hear them say.
Its true that in the last six months over 1,000 people have been laid off of work. At least 500 at Dreamworks, an unknown number at R&H but well over 500, an unknown number by Sony in Vancouver and an unknown number by Cinesite in London. And those are just the ones I know about. 1,000 at least.
"We hope you will apply to our program and that you will attend. We would love to have you. But you should know that there are very few jobs for Archaeologists in this world and it might be better if you also had some other way to make a living."
One panel after all these years is not enough. A Keynote speech that presents successful animation directors is unlikely to be a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred, analysis of where we came from and where we need to go. Its much more likely to be another in a series of Hollywood promotion events: "See how glamourous and rewarding it is to be a director of computer animation? "
I wonder, did anyone at SIGGRAPH stop to think how this Keynote might appear to someone who has been laid off again and again, whose various companies have gone bankrupt around them, who has to work 80 plus hours a week for people who are not fit to be their assistants or who has been unemployed for years? "Here are the successful ones, they became directors," SIGGRAPH seems to be saying, "Too bad you are not one of them, you must be a failure."
Until we as a community come to an understanding of who can be supported economically by this field, I think it is ethically wrong to let people think that they can have a career here. And if they can not have a career here, then I think that SIGGRAPH ought to try at least to help those who have an investment in this field to find another way. We, as a community, and SIGGRAPH as our leading professional organization, needs to get on solid ethical ground.
I have some suggestions on how we, SIGGRAPH, can do that, but whether you like my suggestions or not is beside the point. First, we have to agree that we have a problem here.