Blue Sky Studios Greenwich CT

Bluer Skies Ahead

Closing Time

It has been a while. When I decided to take this site offline for a bit to redo the whole thing, I wasn’t expecting it to happen when some of the biggest news hit me and so many of my friends. Blue Sky Studios, which was acquired by Disney as part of their buyout of 20th Century Fox, was shut down at the beginning of February. I wrote about this news a little at Cartoon Brew, but beyond that I haven’t written anything about it. Exactly two months later and I still haven’t fully processed the news.

My partner, who was still an employee, lost his job, and with it all of our optimism that, “Hey, maybe we are actually gonna be lucky enough to get through the pandemic without anything bad happening to us!” (For the record, I’d left BSS in 2018.) Of course, this isn’t the worst thing that could happen in this crisis, but I’m not going to pretend it didn’t affect our lives and that it didn’t/doesn’t hurt. It was and has been a searing, deep pain that this place will just be gone and these people will never be in the same place together again. I and so many suffered the gigantic loss of knowing. Knowing the next paycheck was coming, knowing I could afford therapy, that we had insurance and doctors we love and have good relationships with, that we were building our savings, looking to buy property in the area soon, looking for a “forever home” or something like that. Knowing, knowing, knowing. Not having everything figured out, but having a reliable framework in place, a foundation to build from.

Then, all those plans were just gone, and we were struggling and losing sleep over all of the unknowns.

My partner and so many others have been finding new jobs, moving across the country or globe (or starting remotely if able). People are selling houses, trying to find full time work, navigating healthcare and whatnot. It’s been nice seeing so many people bouncing back at big studios like Pixar, Disney, Netflix, and DreamWorks as well as AAA game studios and other well-known vfx houses. But each announcement is a weird sensation: joy at them regaining some ‘knowns’ in their life (or I guess just being closer to making unknowns more clear), but also a little stab of pain as the reality of the situation becomes more absolute. It’s properly death by a thousand cuts, even as I tell myself that I’ll have friends at so many studios to visit.

I’m truly happy for people. Every ‘job update’ post I see on LinkedIn or Instagram makes me want to give that person the biggest hug and ugly cry at them.

And I have to give the recruiting team at Blue Sky major props for setting up a TON of “reverse” recruiting events, and really helping a lot of people. There’s always an outpouring of support from other studios when one goes under, partly because everyone at this point has been through at least one shutdown, let’s be real, but also because that talent ought to go somewhere. Similarly, in my experience, co-workers have been nothing but supportive and helpful towards each other, even when you know logically you’re likely at odds with everyone in your department for work.

I’m very mindful that while I’m seeing a lot of new job announcements, I’m sure there are people still struggling. Struggling to find full time work, or work that will let them stay permanently on the east coast, or with visa issues or trying to pivot to a different role. I’m thinking about those people in all of this, seeing so many colleagues sharing exciting news. I’m thinking about families with kids who have already had so many disruptions now possibly facing other major ones down the road. Even for my partner and I, the road ahead includes many massive changes I was not mentally prepared to deal with on top of the stressful, chaotic, traumatic time we’ve all collectively shared these last two years…

So if you’re a Blue Skier, I’m thinking of you. I’m rooting for you. I’m feeling for you.

I tend to not post too publicly on social media. I share things, but they’re usually not too personal, and infrequent. During the pandemic, I’ve gone pretty silent. The social anxiety I had pre-pandemic has only gotten worse. When my Blue Sky article on Cartoon Brew went out, I received well over 100 messages across text, social media, email, comments. I was overwhelmed, but in the best way possible. It wasn’t expected at all, and the outpouring of love I received has been humbling.

I feel like I’m at the end of (spoilers I guess?) Inside Out, where the yellow and blue orbs were evolving into mixed ones as Riley matured and understood her emotional complexity and capacity on a new level. All of the blue sad orbs I’d accumulated while I had my struggles at Blue Sky turned a bit yellow knowing those memories were the last I’d have in that studio, and the yellow joyous orbs were permanently tinged blue with grief. And red with anger, because this all just felt so unnecessary.

Where That Leaves Us

This isn’t the Animation Complex essay I want to be writing right now, but I really can’t move on until I acknowledge this chapter on this blog. Blue Sky was a big part of the US animation history books, and the biggest part of my animation career so far. As the biggest intersection of both my personal life, my career, and this site, I’ve gotta mention it. I’m obviously not a news site, nor am I trying to be, but this is part of my history. I’ve certainly struggled with the ‘voice’ I’ve wanted for Animation Complex in the past, trying hard to make it sound super academic and formal until I realized and am still working on accepting that my voice is what makes this blog. Not quite the galaxy brain revelation we hoped for, but rather a dull, “No duh, Jen.” I’ll always struggle and work towards finding a balance between my informal style of writing and trying to channel that academic (but accessible) flare. I’ll struggle with how much to share, whether any idea I have is ever good enough to hit publish on, with why I’m so worried and self-conscious when I have been gifted the reminder so many times that I need to just go for things because nothing is guaranteed in life.

I’m very tempted to end this waxing poetically about how we’ll all still be under the same big blue sky together, and this cop-out of a sentence does that a little! But it’s challenging to say that sincerely when everyone is going through such stress. Even the good news comes with new stresses: navigating new healthcare and finding new doctors, possibly moving now or later and all that comes with that, starting a new job, etc., and doing this all while the pandemic is still major problem.

Good Problems

Something my Buddhist-raised partner reminds me a lot of is the notion that all life is suffering.

Bleak, I know.

Let me try again.

In life, problems are inevitable. It is impossible to go through life without problems, and any attempt to avoid them is futile. Biggie was right: mo money mo problems. Obviously less money = more problems. Money = problems. Existing = problems. That sounds super pro-capitalism, but I’m talking beyond money here too of course. Connections with other humans creates problems, as does not having them. Making choices about your life and career create problems, good and bad. You get it.

What you want our good problems. We had a bad problem: partner lost job. It was solved, but that created new problems, but better, good problems (i.e. moving across the country, new health insurance, new job experiences, new budget). These things are all annoying as heck to deal with, and will be a terrible slog to navigate, but we will in time. And then if we’re lucky we can have newer good problems like finding our new favorite restaurant in our new town, looking into getting a dog (and all the wonderful problems that come with dogs), and be stable enough to work on our next film for a consistent period of time vs the stop-and-go nature brought on by the existential dread of pretending to be functioning well in a pandemic amid societal upheaval. Ya know! Life! 

…I swear we’ll get back to the cartoons soon…

But until then, I wish you all blue skies and good problems.

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