Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is your advice to a graduating student as they begin their career as an animator?

One bit of advice I would give an animator starting out is the same advice that one of my mentors, Gleen McQueen (from Pixar), gave me.

(Paraphrasing) “Get out there and get work… anywhere. Get your foot in the door any way you can – it’s much easier to work your way to where you want to be from within the studio than from the outside. Don’t be overly particular about where you are working when you’re first starting. Any experience is good experience.”

There is pretty much nothing in life that you can’t study and put your observations and experiences to good use in animation. It’s really quite a renaissance art; you need to be constantly observing life in general to create great stories and characters, and you never know when you’ll find an amazing story in any experience. So even if you can’t get work as an animator initially, use whatever you DO end up doing in the meantime to build up your arsenal of skills! If you’re working at a physical job, like landscaping or something like that, just imagine all of the great observations you’ll be able to make about body mechanics, lifting heavy objects, and even just paying attention to what your own body is doing as you are working. If you are working in an office, pay attention to the different personalities and dynamics at play. Watch people interact with each other, pay attention to nuances of body language, the differences in the way individuals stand, walk, gesture. It’s a totally different way of “seeing.” And all of the experiences you have, whether in an animation studio or somewhere else, can be used to make you a better animator.

The other bit of advice I would give is PERSISTENCE. Just because you don’t get accepted to the first batch of studios you apply to does not mean you should give up and find something else to do. It means you keep working on your skills, adding new shots to your reel, getting rid of old work, and send those reels back out again! Studios will keep files on you, and watch your progress. And don’t think that they won’t notice your enthusiasm either.

Guest Blogger Dana Boadway


Bala said...

I'm about to graduate in a few months. Since we learnt both animation and visual effects, one of the questions that keep popping up in my college is, "should I take a visual effects job even if I want to be an animator?". So I guess the answer is Yes. Also, would you recommend having two separate showreels, one for animation and one for visual effects, or should I have just one combined?

Rajesh Gupta said...

Thanks Dana! This is really awesome advice to graduate or those who are near graduation like me. I like what you say "pay attention to the different personalities" etc. This means improving way of “seeing". And keeping PERSISTENCE is also a great advice to us.
Again thanks for great post!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this awesome post. We all need to be reminded once in a while that we can learn from everything around us. All we have to do is just PAY ATTENTION and observe. Make mental notes about all the subtleties in life. At work, at home, everywhere. Living is learning, and learning is living!

kjb said...


I started as a modeler at the studio where I wanted to work when I first graduated (they didn't have any positions open in animation). I was able to work my way over into animation in my first year there! It was a process, but in the three years I was at that studio, I learned so much about modeling, rigging, scripting, shading, layout, etc, AND animation... knowing how more parts of the production pipeline work is always a good thing, especially if you feel you'll want to become an animation lead or supervisor one day, or even to direct your own film.

I would definitely recommend tailoring your reel to whichever job you are applying for, and for that matter, sometimes it's a good idea to tailor your reel for specific studios as well, to show you can do the types of things, in their 'style' (some studios are more live-action, some are more cartoony, etc), that they will need you for.


Nice to hear from you! Hope all is well with you, and good luck to you after grad!! :)

kjb said...

Thanks, Dan!

cheers, Dana

Brendan said...

Keep up the good work Dana. Thanks very much for your article.

kjb said...

Thanks for the kind words, Brendan!

:) Dana

Rahulcool said...

Hi ...nice post DANA...
I need ur advice or help on it.

I had completed my animation diploma last year and still did not get job. Actually, I got one job after completing my diploma as a cleanup animator in a gaming company and i said NO that time, I thought (from fresher point of view)this is not a right job for me to start my carrier as a motion capture cleanup animator.

because I want to learn animation and animation pipeline.

Now i am losing my confidence...plz help me.

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Hi Rahulcool!

I'm sorry to hear that you're feeling down about getting work as an animator.

I can understand not wanting to 'pigeonhole' yourself into the type of work that you're not really interested in, and it seems counter-intuitive to take a job that doesn't feel like it's in the area where you want to develop your career.

The most important thing you can remember if you take a job that's outside of your 'real' career goals is to keep yourself still focused on your main goal in the meantime. So while you're doing that other job, you can still end up getting where you want to ultimately be.

Make no mistake, the skills you will learn while working in other areas of production can only make you a better animator. It gives you more all-around knowledge of how production pipelines work, and can make you potentially more valuable at smaller studios as well, where they may need folks who can manage with several skills, rather than just one.

Getting to that place of animating characters for great films, games, etc, can be quite a journey. But to get there, you actually have to *start*... which sometimes means taking jobs that don't seem related.

I started as a modeler (and rigger, and shader) when I graduated - SO not where my interests lay. But because I was IN the studio, I was able to start talking to people there once I got to know them, and it was much easier for me to move into animation subsequently than it would have been if I had held off and tried to wait for an animation position to become available and tried to get in from outside. A studio is much more likely to put a known entity into an open position, rather than someone they've never dealt with.

And as it turned out, my newly acquired skills that I had developed because of taking on the work in areas *other* than animation, actually saved my job during two big company down-sizes. They kept me because I was valuable to them in several departments, rather than just one.

And now, I have been fortunate enough to be able to supervise, and direct my own short film (still in production), and neither of those things would be possible without my knowledge of how all of those other departments work to create a high-quality production.

So, if you get another opportunity to take a job like the one you were offered to clean up motion capture... take it! I've done mocap cleanup myself, and there have been some quite amazing films out there where those skills PLUS being an animator would be a big bonus... LOTR and Avatar, for example.

And never discount just the fact that you would be actively working IN a studio, getting to know people, making contacts. Becoming part of the relatively small network that makes up this industry is another great reason to take whatever opportunity you can get to get your foot in the door.

It's SO much easier to get where you want to go when you are in the network, instead of looking at it from the outside.

Keep sending out lots of reels, and keep working on updating your reels with newer and better work. Persistence is so important if you want to make it as an animator. You WILL get turned down by many studios, or get no response at all. (I know I have! It's all part of show business. :)

And sometimes part of that persistence is to start off in a bit more of a roundabout route, and there's nothing wrong with that at all.

I wish you all the best!
:) Dana

kjb said...
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kjb said...
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kjb said...
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Unknown said...

Wow Great

Ranga said...

start from the visual effect editor. this is the best starting point.

Almas, Free Soft

Parag said...

Polishing skills is very important in entertainment field. Animation is very good subject. Any event can be be put in to animation and conveyed to the public. Constant application of thoughts will definitely make you a good animator.
Advice to graduating students

RA said...

i am a beginner.. and your post was really helpful.. thanks

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