What exactly is the public perception of what an animator does? I have heard animators talk about how people think of the characters being brought alive by the voice actors. Say to someone "Woody" and they think Tom Hanks.
Now, while I love Tom, his performance in Toy Story is of course only half the story. Noone watches Toy Story and thinks "god, that geeky guy that has spent four years sitting behind a computer screen has done such a good job". I suppose from that point of view being an animator is a bit of a thankless job.
I used to study Physics, and as such I'm used to the following conversation:
Someone: "So What do you study?"
Me: "I study Physics."
Me: "Yeah...ha ha."
Someone: "Well I'll see you around."
I know the nerdy image of a physicist isn't the most appealing, and I know that most people don't have much to say about physics other than "I was always rubbish at science at school", but it did get a bit annoying when noone had any interest in my work.
The thing is that nothing has changed. Now the conversation goes:
Someone: "So what do you do?"
Me: "I'm an animator."
Me: "Yeah...ha ha."
Someone: "So what do you actually do?"
Me: "Well to put it simply, I move characters around to make them look alive."
Someone: "Oh right...well I'll see you around."
I suppose I get that extra question that I didn't get before, but it still feels like noone knows what to say to me. The thing is though, that I grew up leaving cinemas knowing what a cool thing animators had done to put a big smile on my face, so why did noone else?
I think the problem is that most people get to adulthood leaving things like Disney films behind in their childhood. It's considered a bit silly to still be into those things at my age. And even if they have fond memories of those films, then it's the story that stands out in their minds, along with funny things that the characters say. How many remember the funny way a character moves at a particular point in the film? Not many.
I sometimes think that a film like Aladdin or the like could have the worst animation in the world and the general public wouldn't care. I hope they do, but I'm not convinced. Even if they do care, I get the feeling that most of them think that bringing a character to life is a fairly easy thing to do.
To be completely honest, it doesn't matter to me that much. I didn't get into animation for the praise. I got into it because I wanted to do something that has the power to influence people's emotions. If I ever get to be an amazing Disney animator, I'm quite sure that an audience will forget about the movement in a scene I spent months on as soon as they leave the cinema, but the effect my work has on them in the instant that it is seen is enough for me.
And if one child leaves the theatre with a big smile on his or her face, then I'll be very happy.