For starters, the 40 hour work week is pretty much dead across a variety of industries. Most professional “desk jockeys” tend to work a 50h week (8-6) and don’t get paid by the hour, negating the idea of overtime. The more advanced your role, the less likely that you’ll be on the clock. I know a number of people who, because of their role, are just about always on call 7 days a week.
As a CG artist, regardless of your role, it’s never going to a be a 9-5 job. If you’re “only” working 40 hours then you’re probably a unicorn. It’s not uncommon, especially in the stretch of a project, to put in 60-80 hours and work the full 7 day week. At the very least, 50+ hour weeks are the norm. You never really get paid what you’re worth. Then again, if you’re doing it to get rich then you’re in the wrong biz.
Most bosses probably won’t scream at you to sit back down or stop stretching. Whip cracking rarely motivates. That said, because you’re expected to be a team player, you’re never going to be that artist who puts in only 30 hours when the rest of your team is putting in 60. There’s always this unspoken rule of, “Get with the program or find another job.” Again, nobody really says that directly and, if anything, might openly say the opposite to avoid lawsuits and such, but that’s the score. As an at-will employee, they’ll just terminate you and find somebody else who WILL get with the program. FWIW, this is also very much the mentality overseas in anime studios too.
Even if you were to avoid a formal studio situation and just work freelance, it’s almost never 40 hours either. I had one project that, over the course of 18 days, had me working 16 hour days. Brutal. On the surface, the pay was decent. Broken down to an hourly rate, it was barely minimum wage. I’ve since learned to price better, but the hours are rarely ideal or conducive to having a decently active personal life.
CG art… ANY art… takes time. Art is a process and rarely something that you can just egg timer your way through. Being a CG artist is not like working checkout at Walmart. It’s also VERY easy to lose time on the simplest of tasks and not notice until your stomach grumbles or you have to go to the bathroom. Worse than that, there are just some tasks that you can’t stop in the middle just because it’s quitting time.
Being a CG artist requires hardcore dedication. Passion and enthusiasm for the art won’t last forever. In fact, they disappear pretty early into the process. What’ll get you through are focus, structure, and discipline. If you find that you cannot maintain focus no matter hard you try then I strongly suggest that you seek professional help. Your problem might well be medical. No shame in having ADHD. I know a number of successful artists who do.
If it’s not medical and just you… I’m going to offer you a bit of friendly advice wrapped in anecdote.
I know a guy. Let’s call him Bill for the sake of this discussion. Bill is the sort of guy who will go in for a job and absolutely nail the interview. Total pro. When he gets in, he loves it [the job] more than life itself.
Then, after 2 or 3 weeks, the enthusiasm fades and his professionalism begins to wane. He starts to look for reasons, however trivial, to quit. Maybe Bill doesn’t like the commute. Maye he doesn’t feel that working more than 35 hours is appropriate given his role. Maybe he just doesn’t like a co-worker. To make matters worse, Bill often self-sabotages to the point where, by month 3, he gets fired. Bill rarely lasts beyond that 3 month probation period typical to most jobs.
The thing is, Bill isn’t a bad employee. No. He’s actually rather brilliant and amazing at what he does. Bill has focus issues and always makes excuses. He’ll start a job, love it, hate it, quit or get fired, and then start the cycle all over again. I’ve known Bill for decades. Consistently, Bill has had 3-4 jobs a year - every year - for his entire adult life. I don’t know the exact total, but I would conservatively estimate that Bill has had 100-150 jobs in his lifetime. Maybe more. His full unedited CV reads like a magazine.
Bill has focus issues. Bill has issues with self-discipline and structure. Bill may be talented, but he is also his own undoing. Bill is what I like to call a “permanent temp” and that’s really no way to live. Decades of doing what he’s great at, but ultimately nothing to show for it.
The lessons here:
- Work is work. If it were fun then it wouldn’t be called work.
- In any field, a 35-40 hour week is a big nothing burger. It is the least that any full time job will ask of you. Welcome to the adult world.
- Don’t have the discipline? Find some. Quickly. You don’t want to be like Bill and find it late in life.
- There are ALWAYS reasons to hate your job. Your co-worker is nosy. Your boss is an ass. The expectations are unreasonable. The commute sucks. The schedule isn’t perfect. There’s always something. HOWEVER, there’s always one reason to stay. A stable, adult life.
40 hours is a lot to ask if you’re not used to it. However, make no mistakes, you WILL have to get used to it. Doesn’t matter if you’re an artist, a cable TV repairman, a dock worker, or a CEO for a pharma company.
I’m almost 48 now. Not OLD old, but old enough. One of the super powers of getting older is the power of hindsight. I did stuff when I was, say, 23 I now just facepalm at. Stuff that didn’t seem to matter at the time, but had a lasting impact down the road. Ultimately, there’s no UNDO button on mistakes you’ll make or the years you’ll screw up.
I need you to know that you can still avoid becoming Bill through one magic phrase: “Suck it up.” That’s what my dad always told me when I was a kid and things got too hard, too unpleasant, or my anxiety started to weigh me down at the worst times. “Suck it up.” Yeah. It sounds nasty to say and worse to hear, but that’s the long and short of it. Part of living in the adult world is doing stuff that is inconvenient and out of your comfort zone. That includes, minimally, working 9-5 to bring home that bacon to ensure that you won’t end up eating cat food when you’re old.
Nobody (reasonable) is going to REALLY scream at you for getting up to stretch or take your HR/state mandated break. However, f***ing around too much to break up the monotony will surely cost you your job or reputation for quality and professionalism.
My final pieces of advice are simple:
- Take your lunch break away from your desk even when you’re not hungry. Just take a walk. It’s a sanity thing. Work time is work time. Lunch time is your time.
- Use that vacation time, or whatever they opt to call it. Your mental health is important. Giving the job you time is one thing. Giving them your sanity is something else.
- At the end of the day, no matter much you love what you do, remind yourself that there is more to you and your life than your job. Get lost in the work and you stand to lose a bit of yourself. Having hobbies or things to look forward to outside of work can help keep you sane.
Nobody’s telling you to be a doormat or allow yourself to be abused by your boss. It’s just… push comes to shove… There are necessary evils in life and work is one of them. 40 hours is nothing. ESPECIALLY for CG artists. If the idea of long weeks, well beyond 40, is too much for you then… yeah… CG might not be your best job option. Just saying.