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It's only Fair

Nathan Strum


Back on December 9th...

I showed up to work (the Character Animation program at CalArts - by the way, isn't that just about the worst website you've ever seen? Yes it is.) only to find the hallways abuzz with all sorts of lighting equipment, people I didn't recognize, cases full of gear and… alumni.

Now, alumni aren't unusual around CalArts. A bunch of them teach there. We see them during the year as guest lecturers. But this was different in the sheer quantity of them. Feature film directors. TV series creators. The CCO of Disney and Pixar and Principle Creative Advisor to Walt Disney Imagineering. Yeah… so something was going on. Usually if any one of these guys shows up, it's a pretty rare thing. But a bunch of 'em?

Several classrooms were staged with lights and props, with a number of our students standing in to adjust lighting and such.

Oh, and rumors that Annie Leibovitz was on her way. Yeah, that Annie Leibovitz.

Vanity Fair was there to take photos for an article featuring alumni from CalArts called "The Class That Roared". I guess it's a play on "The Mouse That Roared", which doesn't really make any sense since that was an old Peter Sellers cold-war era comedy, based on a 1955 novel about a tiny country attacking the United States, which really has nothing at all to do with Disney. Maybe it's a metaphor.

Or maybe it's a reference to the other book "The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence" which is some sort of essay on how Disney portrays themselves as a provider of wholesome entertainment, while in fact they're a manipulative, greedy, corporate machine bent on brainwashing the youth of the America, bending them to their will and dominating the world of entertainment.

Well, duh.

Everyone knows that.

Guessing that's probably not it either.

So anyway…

Pictures were taken. Selfies were taken (I understand that's a thing now). Books were signed. And pretty-much nobody got anything done all day.

Apparently, the article was published. I say apparently, because I didn't get a copy. I didn't know the magazine was out until a couple of months after the fact. You'd expect them to ship us a box of 'em or something, but no. Like all of the rest of the plebeians, I had to read it online. We don't even have one in the office. Just a lousy photocopy. What's up with that?

Feel free to head on over to Vanity Fair, and read about where I work, as it existed in the 70's. And check out the photos. Given all the hullabaloo, they only ended up using one from the shoot.

This one:


From left, top row: Brad Bird, Jerry Rees, John Musker, Kirk Wise (in beige sweater), Rob Minkoff
From left, middle row: Steve Hillenburg, Mark Andrews (in ape suit), Chris Buck (with Viking helmet), Mike Giaimo, Walt Disney (just kidding), Brenda Chapman (w/glasses), Glen Keane, Pete Docter (with giant hat and ukulele), Rich Moore
From left, front row: Tim Burton (on floor), Genndy Tartakovsky, Leslie Gorin (in light blue shirt), Andrew Stanton (on floor by himself, because of that whole "John Carter" thing), John Lasseter (in "Weird Al" Yankovic's shirt), Henry Selick

Right - so there's a fair number of notable alumni there, at least if you follow animation.

Funny thing about that. They weren't all there. Tim Burton was in London, and Brad Bird was in Vancouver BC. They were Photoshopped in later. Take that honesty in journalism!

But hey, it's Vanity Fair. That's like expecting journalistic integrity from People, am I right? :D

So, why am I posting this? Is it to brag about how phenomenally well-funded CalArts is because of all of those alumni who are cranking out hits?

For example, Frozen just hit #8 on the all time international box-office list! Cool! So how much of that do we see?

Well… we got mentioned in Vanity Fair.

And actually, the room they're in - the famous A113? Yeah… we haven't used that room in about 25 years. It belongs to the Art School now. So we really didn't even get our picture in there. They might just as well have photographed them in a closet.

We don't really see much out of any of it, other than bragging rights.

I've griped about brought up the whole box office thing before, when CalArts posted a largely unreadable infographic showing the films and their box office totals.

But I can give you a little better look at it than that.

Y'see, I did the research on it. I came up with the idea after seeing a list of directors of animated features, and noted how many came from CalArts. It wasn't a complete list, and didn't include box office figures.

So I did some digging, and came up with the following list:

Box Office Revenue, Films directed by CalArts Animation Alumni (RTF)


And actually, this list isn't complete either. Jerry Rees (not to be confused with Jerry Reed) isn't on it, for one. That's because there aren't readily accessible records of who actually went to CalArts.

Ya'd think someone would get on that. And maybe keep this list updated (the Institute asks me to update it for them, because I'm guessing they don't have internet access).

Right, so $30 billion in box office revenue, and we see diddly-squat out of it. And I don't consider that the fault of our alumni, either. I blame the studios. They're the ones who actually control the money. And this is just a fraction of it. This doesn't include TV series, merchandising, theme park attractions, home video, video games, and everything else our students have created and/or contributed to.

I figure someone owes us at least a new building.

But those bragging rights are good, right?

Sure. CalArts loves it when it can brag about alumni, or it gets on a "top colleges" list. Newsweek ranked us the #1 Artistic college in the United States! That was, however, three years ago. But still - it's awesome because, of course, everyone looks to Newsweek to pick the college they're going to attend. :roll:

Then just a few weeks ago, The Washington Post put us in the top five not-for-profit private colleges in the United States! How awesome is that?

Unfortunately, that list was the top five most expensive such colleges.

After taking into account financial aid.

How about them bragging rights now?

Anyway, the reason for posting this whole thing, is that because once again, we're coming up on our end-of-year shows. The time when all of our students (150+ of 'em) turn in the films they've been working on all year, and we get a glimpse into the next generation of people who will join that list of people driving and shaping the animation industry.

Frankly, I could care less that the studios don't have us rolling in money. As long as our grads end up getting paid to do something they love to do. That's what really matters.

Because, you know, of that whole "fifth most expensive college" thing.

Gotta pay back those loans somehow.

Anyway, in a few weeks I'll post links to some of their films as they appear online, and you can get a glimpse into the future, too.


Recommended Comments

Some website I've never heard of just ranked us as the #1 animation school both on the West Coast and in the entire U.S.


Interesting… I didn't know I ran one of the largest animation labs in the country.


I need a raise.


Also, we're not housed entirely in a 500,000 square foot facility. 41 of our animation students have to work in a triple-wide trailer parked outside (that's well over a decade old), because we don't have enough space in the 500,000 square foot facility for them to have desks to do their work.


Speaking of that… they turned in 162 films yesterday. 6 1/2 hours of 'em. I have to put them all together into a show over the next few days. Going to be a long week.

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