The most common question I am asked as a Mentor for Media Arts and Animation is: “How do I get hired at an animation studio?” or “Can my son or daughter actually make a living in this field?
My advice may sound strange or off base at first, but as I teach – Todays creative fields are blurring together and more and more we must be able to produce high quality ground breaking work backed by a solid understanding of business, research and ultimately the results we are after.
Take a personal finance course – Odd right? Im sure you’re asking what this has to do with animation or the creative field as a whole. The biggest difference between those who make it, and those who do not, is financial. This is true of every project you will take on. It may look amazing and fulfill the role required but if it blows the budget or time frame for producing it it ultimately will be considered less than successful. The discipline and knowledge it takes to manage project finances and their time constraints is not easy. Animation like many things is a skill; doing it on time and on budget back that skill with something meaningful and measurable.
Take a course in basic business – Wait. What? You just told me about finances! When are you going to get to the good stuff? The US education system fails America because it does not teach students about the basic concepts of business. Business is what makes the world go around. If you learn some of the basic principles of business, your WHOLE LIFE, and your life as an animator will be better. Two great resources on the business of entertainment are Variety.com and Success Magazine
Animate and design right now – Start working for businesses even if it’s for free. The sooner you start working for others and understanding your craft better the better off you are in the long run. You will learn far more working and designing for others than you will ever learn in a classroom. Getting a job is the first step. A studio like Disney will not hire you straight out of college. They want you to have paid experience first.
Graphics Design – Businesses hire artists to design things that have $s on them. Why? because those businesses need to get a job too! Most of the work in the creative world is graphic design based. So be sure to know something about graphic design, layout and the softwares used. Lynda.com is a great resource to help you learn new skills. So brush up your skillset and get out there and start working for a business.
Illustration – Of course you need to be able to draw. In the field of animation today, artists that get hired are at least quadruple threats. They are graphics designers/illustrators/After Effects artists, and _________. That blank can be filled in with the following – cartoonist, musician, 3D animation, comedian, actor, costume designer, etc. No joke. The most successful artists are at least quadruple threats, if not quintuple threats. Just know this – your competition is steep.
After Effects – All of the animation studios I know use After Effects. It is the core program utilized in the industry, so you need to have a solid understanding of it. Period the end.
A great portfolio – You will need to demonstrate all of the above with your portfolio. It’s better to have too many many portfolio pieces, than not enough. Don’t forget too, your phone number, your address, your resume, etc. Bare in mind, you will not fool anyone and if you happen to fool them you will deeply regret it later. Only 1 in 1 million make their living as an avant-garde artist (no joke). So don’t include your bleeding edge work without ensuring its approbiate. Your friends or colleagues may care immensely for Avant Garde work, but very few studios and businesses hire Avant Garde artists.
Make a demo reel – Finally, the only thing your studio will care about is your demo reel. Make sure you have received plenty of notes from everyone on your demo reel before you send it out to get hired. Make sure your demo reel is front and center for all of your hiring emails and correspondence. You can never list your demo reel enough or post it enough on the internet.
Pick another career – Working in the field of animation is very hard. Everyone wants to be a character animator, rather than do all of the other nitty gritty work necessary to make an animation. If you are someone who wants to be a character animator watch the credits at the end of an animated movie and compare how many people animate characters to how many do everything else. Bare in mind 90% of character animators do it for 10 years. So studios only hire for 10% of their character animation team. And of that they usually hire animators who already have years worth of experience. Add to that fact that more and more character animation is being shipped overseas. Have a back-up plan, then you can be free to hope for the best, while at the same time you can be ready for the worst.
I know this list sounds like bad news. But I want you to be prepared for the worst. I see too many talented artists quit their careers because they had financial difficulties or they simply didn’t understand the business that they were in. I don’t want you to be one of those artists. Prepare for the worst. Lay a solid foundation for your life and from there you’ll be able to rise upwards and onward.