Employment in the Animation Industry

This afternoon, while out trying to find my brother a summer job (we’re in the northern Baltimore suburbs and he has retail experience, e-mails with tips to the usual address please), I began to think about employment in the animation industry.

First of all, I’m not gainfully employed in any aspect of the animation industry (yet) so this post may be somewhat speculative. Feel free to comment if I get something wrong. First of all, the coast you are on is a big factor. Typically, the East coast scene tends to be on a more individual level. Sure there are studios, but chances are you will get a position through word of mouth more than anything else.

The west coast side of things is an entirely different animal. Being the nexus of animation in the US, Burbank studios tend to be much larger, so it is more unlikely that you will get a job based solely on word of mouth or personal recommendations.

What struck me about being a job seeker is that you are much more likely to land a job if you know someone, or someone knows you. Would you rather give a job to someone you know or a name on a piece of paper? The answer is pretty clear.

In terms of the animation industry, the nomadic nature of work means that a sizeable number of people are looking or work. More so in the current recession, but that’s the same for everyone unfortunately.

The industry is one that also has trade union representation in the form of the Animation Guild. Their blog is an excellent view from one side of a coin and while I do not necessarily agree with many (or indeed any) of the points made, it is always a good thing to keep up to date with others’ thoughts, especially those of the union guys. (For a take from the not-quite-other side of the coin, I highly recommend The Business of Animation: A Commentary, a blog that dispenses the author’s thoughts with refreshing directness.)

Ideally, you should be hired on your merits. In other words, can you draw, stick to deadlines, have artistic skill and follow instructions. Realistically, filling in an application form for a job is like someone repeatedly smacking you in the face just because you decided to apply for the job. Why make things so complicated? Sure the new employee is going to cost you money, but if you treat him or her right, they’ll generate you much more. Why beat them over the head before they’ve barely walked in the door.

The important lesson from all of this is to network extensively and maintain a wide circle of contacts who you can rely on should things go pear-shaped. In return, you’ll meet wonderful people who will eventually turn to you for advice and recommendations. Sadly, too many people don’t do this and end up feeling bitter about their whole experience.

My advice, God helps those who help themselves, get out there and get to know as many people as you can and be genuinely passionate about your place in animation, no matter what it is.

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