As early as I can remember, I always viewed myself as a artist. Even in preschool, I took pride that my Snoopy drawings were worthy enough to be hung outside in the halls for all to see. As a child, I moved around a lot, from Chicago to D.C., Florida to Atlanta and then back to Chicago. New schools with new kids was always difficult, but my art seemed to open doors - kids would want to talk to the new kid that could draw their favorite cartoon character. But with each new school, I soon realized that there was always another kid that was considered the "best artist." And sometimes that kid was a lot better then I was. But rather than packing up my paper and pencils, I would set small goals for myself. If the "best artist" was in the school newspaper, then I would be in the paper as well. If the "best artist" was painting props for the upcoming school play, then I would take drama and also make props. If there was a call for artists to design the cover of the yearbook, each artist would submit one piece while I would submit three.
In college, I went to study animation and again I realized I was way out of my league. Some students had been animating for years already. Students were talking about the Nine Old Men, and I was thinking to myself 'I thought there were only seven dwarfs?' I knew that I would never be able to compete, they had too much experience and practice. I was in way over my head. So again, I put my head down and learned as much as I could, focusing on the little goals. I noticed studios were starting to turn to computer animation, so I took a night class to learn Softimage. I noticed that animators that posted their animated short films on the internet were getting a lot of exposure, so I worked 9 to 5 on my day job then 5 to 2 a.m. on my own short films - submitting them to SIGGRAPH and Mind's Eye videos.
I knew I was not the best - that there were many more out there that were way more talented then I was. But I knew I had something much better then talent: drive. I figured, if everyone else was going to be more talented, then I was going to be the most driven. I seriously believed if I kept working and working at it, one day, some day I would get my foot in the door.
I remember taking the Disney back lot tour of animation down in Florida when I was in college. I brought my portfolio along in hopes that they would look at it. When I handed it to the animator giving the tour, she turned to the rest of the tourists and announced, "It is easier to get a spot on an NBA team than it is to get a job at Disney." My mom looked at me and said, "Are you sure you want to do this?" DEFINITELY!
The day I saw Toy Story was the day I knew I wanted to work for Pixar. Well, it ended up taking me 14 years to get my dream job. For a long time, I had a board so full of rejection letters next to my desk that they were literally falling on the ground because the pins couldn't hold that many papers layered over each other. But after a mile long of rejection letters, many demo reels, interviews that didn't pan out, and countless hours in front of a computer working on the next thing that might get me into Pixar, I'm actually animating a Buzz and Woody.
If you really want it bad enough, and you put everything you have into it. It WILL happen.
Guest blogger Aaron Hartline