Friday, May 7, 2010

How did you get your first job at a studio? Do you have any tips on what to do?

The process of landing my first job had a profound effect on my life. I call it the “Build Your Own Crowbar Approach.”

A bit of back-story: I entered animation school at the ripe old age of 33. At that time I had a wife, a one-year-old child and another on the way. People were telling me how difficult the industry was to break into and that I'd probably never be able to feed my family.

I graduated in February 2003, and immediately hit the streets. I began by mailing out 50 demo reels and waited. Nothing. Not a single response. My first thought was, I needed a better cover letter and a flashier DVD jacket. Oh, and color labels! I opened Photoshop and worked through the night, and in the morning I mailed out 25 more reels with new and improved packaging. Problem was, the content was the same, and (no surprise) so were the results.

Two months passed, and I had two hungry children and no job. Around that time a friend showed me some animation from another student who had just landed an internship at Pixar. I couldn't believe what I saw. I initially felt completely dismayed by the high standard of his work, but after I calmed down, Cameron Miyasaki's animation became my personal yardstick. I closed Photoshop and got back to animating. I would bump into people who knew someone who worked in the industry, and I would hunt them down and beg for their feedback.

I called an animator at Radical Games in Vancouver who looked at my work and told me the quality was such that it would be a waste of time to show his supervisor. I fortified my ego and asked him for specifics. He gave me a list of notes and brushed me off. I hung up the phone and worked through the night. The next morning I dropped off a new reel with his revisions. He called me that afternoon and said he'd try to get me in for an interview. It never happened, but I knew I was on the right track. A few days later a friend introduced me (via email) to a character designer at Pixar named Jason Deamer. Through Jason I was put in touch with Victor Navone who graciously agreed to look at my work and provide me with feedback. I was already a big fan and completely blown away to be receiving his input. Over the next few weeks, I slaved over my computer, determined not to waste Victor's time. He was extraordinarily generous with his critiques and my skills began to rapidly improve. During that time, I would occasionally mail out a reel or two, but I was so fixated on the work, I kind of forgot about the job search. Eventually I received a phone call from Brian Moylen, head of the VFX department at Rainmaker Animation. They were gearing up for the first Garfield movie and he invited me in for an interview. It was not only my first interview, but my first response of any kind from the industry.

When I sat down in Brian’s office, he reached into his desk and produced my demo reel. I was struck by what I had submitted... a clear DVD jewel case with a blank CD on which I had scribbled my name and phone number with a sharpie. No inserts, no labels - nothing. When he played my demo reel, I was struck a second time by the absence of my school work. It had been five months since I had graduated, and in that time, I had replaced two years of student work. I landed the job, fed my family and eventually worked my way up to the position of animation supervisor. At one point, shortly after I started working at Rainmaker, a fellow artist approached me and told me the tale of his friend at Radical who talked about a guy who asked him for a critique of his reel and then resubmitted a new reel the following day. Small industry.

Guest Blogger Mark Pullyblank


Herman Gonzales said...

Your determination is inspiring, thanks for sharing

Rick O'Meara said...

Funny thing... Victor Navone did the same thing for me.

I was working on my senior animation project and decided to send it to him to see what he thought. The worst I could get was no response, right? About a month later I get this page and a half long critique that completely opened my eyes to everything I was missing. I did everything he said and the difference was like night and day. That critique helped me land my first job at Midway Games. To this day, I continue to work on Mortal Kombat (but now under Warner Brothers)

I hope to one day shake the man's hand!

Cheers to you and your generosity Victor! ;^)


An-Lon said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Mark! Your story has rung through my head constantly since Class 2 of AnimationMentor - a lot of what you said in crits and whatnot has almost had more impact over time than at the moment you said it - it's as if it hibernates in my head until it's ready to click!

Best wishes and hope you are well! :)

An-Lon Chen

Christopher said...

Mark, as someone in their mid-30s who's about to start AM (in Maya Springboard now) and has been a bit hesitant about starting a brand new career I really needed to hear that. Thanks :)

West Munz said...

Thanks Mark! It was great to read this because I graduated Animation Mentor this past summer at the age of 32 with a wife and two kids in tow. I've always worried that maybe I was late to the game, so reading your story and what you've accomplished now is truly inspiring. I completed an internship at a games company in March, but am still looking for a job. However, now I don't feel so down about the job search. I am in the process of recreating my reel right now! Thanks again, this is what I needed to hear today.

PS If you feel the need to pass the torch down and look at my reel, I won't stop you. It's at just in case.

Nilabh said...

Very inspiring! I have not sent a single reel out yet but I will be ready for whatever there is in store for me. I feel very confident now and yes, I will never stop bothering them with my reels :-)
Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Great post Mark. Thank you for that. I am 33 with a wife and child and I am considering getting back into animation.

Hey West, I like your demo reel. The game animation was solid, but something about the characters turn seemed off. Unfortunately, I can't put my finger on it. Keep animating.

ployplay said...

thank you very much for share your story!! it's really encouraging!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, very motivational!

Anonymous said...

Mark mentored me for a term at Animation Mentor; the man's a legend. Attitude to work is a huge inspiration and something I aspire to.

Thanks for the blog!

Brendan said...

in the words of an american.. Awsome! loved it

Tom said...

Mark, I am 38 years old with a wife and two kids and I'm about to embark on an animation career. I can't tell you how inspirational your story is for me. I really appreciate it!

Mark Pullyblank said...

Thanks for reading, I'm glad you all found something useful. Best of luck to all of you.

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this animation tips the blog sharing.

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