Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's All About the Drive: If You Really Want to Be an Animator, It Will Happen

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


Journalman said...

14 years is a long time!

Andy Latham said...

What a wonderfully inspiring post. Thank you!

Jonny B said...

Thank you! I knew I wasnt being crazy when I keep telling myself my drive will pay off in the end

Poetry Man said...

thank you for the inspiring story.. I have the same goal to work for Disney, (or pixar, or dreamworks, or WB lol [well, I wanna do it all]

I will keep having the drive it takes. I realize talent only gets you so far...

Keith Seyer said...

Thanks Aaron. I really needed this today. I've been on the hunt for my first animation job for several months now, and at times it can be hard to remember why I even decided to do this at all. Anyhow, it's nice to be reminded once in a while that things work out eventually if you're not afraid to work your butt off. So thanks.

Hannah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hannah said...

What a great inspiring post! Thanks for sharing your story!

Unknown said...

Man, it sounds like my own story...

Thanhks a lot, this is a great post.

I think it may be the most important thing in many artistic jobs.

Bevin said...

Hey Aaron!

You don’t know me, but I started as a temp at Blue Sky shortly after you left. I was going through a pretty rough patch in my career at the time, and a couple of people there told me your inspiring story.

My journey has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride so far, and sometimes it’s hard to remember that hard work really does pay off eventually when you’re receiving a lot of discouraging news at the present moment. When I hear your story, it really helps remind me that 1 or 2 years of rejection letters really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

I think perseverance is probably one of the most important things you have to have in order to make it in this industry. I like this quote that I read recently:
“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent”
--Marilyn vos Savant

Thanks for sharing your story with everyone!

Leo said...

Great post! Nice to see that drive and determination will get you places in the end. I've been trying for well over a year now to get a break and I don't plan on stopping until I get where I want to be.

Really like the quote Bevin posted too.

vomittocolorido said...

Great inspiring post!
I always thought that if you have a goal it's impossible to miss it if you work your ass off. I just sometimes get lost on the way...between jobs and stuff. But after a while I get back on track.
Maybe my problem is I want to be an animator but also a graphic designer, an illustrator, a multimedia artist and a photographer and all mix up. Maybe it will take longer but I'm sure I'll get there one day :D Thumbs up!

Jeremy Jutras said...

Thanks Aaron, very inspiring. I am also searching for that foot-in-the-door opportunity but I shall not give up!!

Herman Gonzales said...

Just what I needed to hear today, Thanks Aaron. "I just want to find out what will happen when I dont give up",. Have a cool weekend.

I noticed the "drive" (super energy) comes from doing what you love to do.
Appreciate the validation of this concept of reaching it, against all odds.

Constructed Reality said...

This was truly inspiring!!! Thanks a ton for these words. They will certainly add more fuel to the fire inside.....Thanks again. Godbless.

silverandpurple said...

Thank U.Inspirational and Motivational!!!

jonathan said...

Thank you Aaron for your post. Perfect timing as well. I too needed to hear this TODAY! I am working on making my reel better and am determined to make it the best it can be.

J D ! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J D ! said...

I think even I needed this..!!!
Thanks a lot Aaron!! :)))))

Reed Arneson said...

This sounds familiar ... good post.

Anonymous said...


Since about five years ago, I´m really interested in animation, unfotunately, here in Mexico, if you dont have money, you cant study almost anything, animation has been a REALLY big challenge for me. It´s always greats to hear inspiring words like those to cheer you up, especially, when they come form a guy who completed his dream, and we ashare it, I love pixar, The incredibles and Toystory are like a legend for me.
Thanks a lot!

sathya said...

Thanks for posting :)

Kishore Kumar R said...

Wow!!! it's really inspiring, thanks for the post!! :)

Tevi said...

Love this post!!
Thanks for all!!

Erin said...

In my struggle to get a job as a full-time professional artist I spoke to tons of industry pros trying to get advice, and one of them said "Look, you're not going to be knocking on doors forever and NEVER get work, something will happen! Just keep trying!"

I've really learned that his words and the words in this post are true; a drive to do something you love and a positive attitude can do wonders AND get you in the door. There are so many positions in so many companies and if you work hard, someone will recognize that!

Thank you for reaffirming that a dream can come true with lots of hard work and dedication!

Anirudh said...

loved it !

this is exactly what I need at this point of time in my life !

thanks a million Aaron ! you rock man !

.:Rik:. said...

Thanks a ton!!! This is really amazing!!!! Thank you!!

Unknown said...

It is indeed an inspirational and motivational story. But the fact is that out of all the people who have commented so far, only ONE will ever get to animate for a major studio like Pixar or DreamWorks. The rest of you are just daydreaming.

I'm sure Aaron can confirm this by answering two simple questions. How many animators does Pixar hire in a year and how many applications does Pixar receive from animators in a year?

And I may be wrong but I have a hunch that my comment will never be published here because it's bad for business. Animation Mentor wouldn't like it.

Keith Seyer said...


I don't think many of us here are under the impression that they'll actually work at Pixar someday. There are a lot of people that HOPE something similar happens to them, but that hope is anything but a daydream. That's a dream that the people here are chasing down with a fervent passion and an extreme amount of dedication and hard work. To call that hard work daydreaming and pointless is a slap in the face to every person who puts their heart and soul into their work.

Do you really think that there isn't a single person here who doesn't know just how big of a longshot it is to get into a film studio? It's the easiest thing in the world to be a cynic, and every time I sit down and put pencil to paper the first thing I hear in the back of my head is that I'll never be great at it. And if I listened to that voice, not only would I never get anything done, but I'd be miserable too.

I don't think Animation Mentor or Aaron is a party to misleading anyone into thinking that if you go to their school, you'll be hired by Pixar or Dreamworks the second you graduate. Aaron even said it himself, "It is easier to get a spot on an NBA team than it is to get a job at Disney." Everyone here knows damn well what a longshot it is to get into a major studio, and they don't need someone like you to tell them.

This school is still, and will always be, the best decision I've ever made, regardless of the big studio job that I may never get. The truth is that I went to this school because I LOVE this art form, and I'd do it even if no one ever paid me to do so.

I will always be forever grateful to Animation Mentor for giving me the opportunity to learn from the best and to nurture my dream. Not only did they give me that chance, but they did it at far less cost than any major art school in the country would dare charge.

And if chasing down a dream with all my heart makes me a "daydreamer", then I'll happily wear the badge. Because to me, it's far more appealing than the alternative will ever be.

Aaron Hartline said...

WOW. Look at all these comments. Thanks for all the positive responses everyone!!

To reply to your comment Patrick, that only ONE will get to animate for a major film studio. Maybe your right, but why can't YOU be that ONE!

I honestly believe if you work hard and really really want it - then you can achieve your dream, whatever that may be. It may take you 14 years or 40 years, but in the end, IT WILL HAPPEN!

I came from a Mill Town. My father, grandfather, great grandfather all worked for the Steel Mill. I was constantly told what a pipe dream this was. To settle down and get a good paying job at the Mill. I can't tell you how proud my Dad is now wearing his Pixar shirt when he goes to work.

Osaman said...

like this..

About Us said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
About Us said...

Thanks Aaron for sharing this,it has really boosted up my confidence.
Now,i could try for at least another five years to get into Pixar...:)

Rob Somers said...

Like so many others, THANK YOU Aaron for this post -- I needed it last night when I was feeling pretty scared/bummed about the realities of the job hunt now that I've graduated AM. My only notification that a studio even LOOKED at my work was from one studio who was nice enough to send a rejection letter. I have it pinned above my computer and smile when it see it because I know that one day I just might work there anyway!

Patrick -- You've certainly pushed the hot button, and I can't say that you're literally wrong. But the meaning of this blog post wasn't to be literal -- it was to inspire hope. Hope doesn't live in pragmatic numbers and ratios. "How many people does Pixar hire vs. how many reels they get"... sure that, put it that way, it seems damn near impossible to achieve. But like Aaron said, that one person could be YOU!

And that's what this post is all about. Maybe every person commenting here WILL get into Pixar one day.. we just might each hit that goal one year after the person who hit it before us :)

I have already witnessed in my journey toward animation success the number of people who fall away as the road gets harder and harder. Some people never sign up for AM (or any animation program). Some people never finished AM. Some people finish AM, but never apply for jobs.

All Aaron is saying is that YOU never stop working hard, improving yours skills and never stop applying for work, then you WILL land your dream job one day! Those who don't ever land that job, simply stopped trying.

Maybe you can contest that, but it's just how I see the world. And I will be at my dream studio one day!

Unknown said...

the article i hav ever read to knw what passion is..........

Unknown said...

the greatest article i hav ever read to knw what passion is.....

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience! It's really inspiring!

Unknown said...

Well written article and I completely agree. When I started doing 3D 10 years ago I had two big goals/pipe dreams.
To work at Weta Digital and then at Pixar. Yes quite the dreamer ;)
It took me 5 years and odd jobs to get to Weta where I had the chance to work as a 3D modeler on King Kong.
I am now considering very seriously doing AM and I am very excited about the idea of one day working at Pixar.
I'd have to say the reason I got this far is 98% down to working at it for long hard hours, year after year...


Aja B said...

Wow Aaron, this is an awesome post. I've picked through your Horton shots over and over, trying to learn how you put so much magic into every shot, and it's really inspiring to read about how much hard work and persistence you've put into it over all these years. Thanks! :)

mariel said...

Thank you Aaron, I have being trying to get a scholarship or a loan to study at animation mentor for over a year without any success, your experience helps keeping my faith.

Thank you

Zeke said...

inspiring stuff

today was my first day working in an animation studio. I was so excited when I signed the contract yesterday that I didn't sleep a wink.

Willie said...

Aaron, your story is really an inspiration to me because it gives me hope, that one day if I really want to be an animator for Pixar, which I do, then if I really push for it and don't give up, then in the end it will pay off. Thank you for giving me the encouragement to follow my passion, because I know it will be worth it one of these days.

Vivek Choudhary said...

wow! what a great past, really you kept your patience till the last rejection...n 14yrs...oh god! thanks.., thank you very very much for the inspiring thought you shared with us. some of your lines from the story I'll be writing on my desktop wall. so every time I'll be energised, after watching it...!

Irish Chua said...

Sometimes i feel im running out of time and hope. Thanks for posting this. Its really inspiring, and i will remember it every time especially when i want to give up. Must have that drive!

Nathan Ingram said...

Such an inspiring post Aaron! I'm definitely honored that I was able to have you as a mentor when I did. Thanks for everything man!

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