The rise in popularity in using technology for animation has brought about a subsequent explosion in creative output. For decades, animation was the preserve of a few who had the right resources and location to do it. That’s all changed though, and while today anyone can create, produce, and distribute animated content, many offer only excuses as to why they’re efforts do not produce results.
By now you’ve likely read the regrettable news that Digital Domain has shuttered their Florida studio that was producing the company’s first feature film, The Legend of Tembo. It’s devastating news for employees and it will naturally be an economic loss to the locality and indeed the State of Florida, but today’s events do highlight a couple of things that everyone should keep in mind.
Maintain an Online Presence and Keep it Updated
I can’t emphasise this enough. In today’s very liquid, very mobile job market, maintaining an online presence is essential. Things like an online portfolio or demo reel will pay dividends if your next job is hundreds of miles away.
A blog or otherwise online journal shows continued personal development and a desire to move your career forward. Bear in mind that a tumblr of your art or sketches isn’t necessarily enough. Motivation is what employers look for and the more you exhibit, the better your chances will be.
Twitter and Facebook don’t count in this context. While they are good at communication, they don’t exactly convey any particular skill on your behalf.
And of course, keep everything updated on a regular basis. You can have the best portfolio/blog in the world but it it’s a year out of date, that says as much to an employer as it needs to, and it isn’t necessarily good news to their ears.
Maintain Your Contact List
Even more important than an updated online presence is an online real world presence. Contacts are what drive many industries and animation is no exception. Have a list of colleagues, co-workers, classmates, etc. and converse with them on a regular basis. Even a quick note to say hi is better than nothing. In deference to the above, twitter and facebook in addition to e-mails. phone calls and meetings work best in this regard.
Remember: It’s not who you know, it’s who know you. If your name is out there, the more people who know it, the greater your chance of you picking up another job is.
Be Prepared Financially
We live in a capitalistic society. Companies can go south for any reason at any time. The general rule is the larger they are, the harder they fall. Being prepared financially is an absolute must for anybody in the workforce. A good yardstick is at least 6 months salary squirreled away somewhere that can be easily accessed.
Some may wince at the idea of having to keep so much stockpiled, but the more you do, the greater your comfort zone will be in looking for another job. It also means that you won’t be under the same pressure to accept the first offer and can hold out for a better one if you so choose Once you find it, build that savings pile back up for the next time, because you can be sure you will need it again at some point in your career and you’ll be glad it’s there when you do.
Over on his blog, Disney story artist Paul Briggs answers the question of how to make a successful career for yourself in the animation industry. I won’t repeat it here because you really do need to read the full post. However, suffice to say, hard work absolutely plays a part. Much more than just hard work, a deep desire and long-term goals can help get you where you to where you want to go.
To add on to Paul’s points, I can honestly say that luck also plays a factor. Although I hasten to emphasise that when I say luck, I mean to say that you have to be receptive and open to opportunities. Sometimes you may have to seek them out, sometimes the end result will be hardly connected to the decision that made it possible in the first place, but either way, if you can spot the opportunites and act accordingly, you will become an exceedingly lucky person.
I say all of this from experience of course. 🙂
Having travelled the world, Australian animator Elliot Cowan is well-placed to offer advice, and his latest blog post is no exception. In it, he details no less than 19 things that graduating animation students should do now that their structured life of goofing off studying has come to an end.
There is next to nothing I can add to this excellent post that is more than worth your time reading, whether you’re a fresh graduate or not, but suffice to say, doing something is better than doing nothing.
Dan Santat is a cool guy. Besides creating the Disney show The Replacements, he’s also a full-time illustrator with many books (both personal and c-created) to his credit. He recently talked with Rob Sander’s over at the Picture This! blog about his creative process and how he got his start in the business. Here’s the really important part:
Rob: What three things have you learned that illustrators breaking into the picture book biz need to know?Dan: First of all, I have to start off by saying is that I hate networking and meeting art directors and trying to solicit my work. Personally, that experience for me feels like it’s less about wanting to get to know someone and more about trying to get something from someone for work and the whole experience feels insincere. I took the route of trying to expose myself as much as possible on the internet. Share your work with every site you can, and be consistent. So, my first piece of advice would be that if you’re not working on a paying job then just keep working to grow your presence on the internet. Just keep making art and be consistent about it. It’s that simple.Second, you should share that work. Post it on your blog or Tumblr account be consistent about posting something every week. It’s the consistency as much as the quality of the work that keeps people coming back to see what you’re doing.Third, I would advise a person to really focus on their art not for the sake of making a buck, but instead to fine tune your style until it really speaks about how you think and do things. If every illustration you do is money driven and you constantly find that you’re asking yourself, “Can I sell this?” then you’re not being true to yourself and your work is suffering because of it. When you constantly worry about being able to make a decent career in the arts many folks tend to rely on imitating the big names out there who are making a big splash with their work. More often than not, their own work suffers because it is derivative.
While Dan is primarily an illustrator, the quote I’ve plucked could be equally relevant to animators, especially those just starting out or are still in school. It’s funny how a lot of what Dan says is common sense, but is still overlooked by a lot of people.
You may remember a post by Daniel Schier (a.k.a. Waveybrain) from earlier this year where he talks about how to get started on your career in animation. It’s a very good post and well worth your time reading if you have not done so already.
However, the one part that stuck out for me was the following:
One thing you may learn as I have, is that predicting where you’ll be is futile. You’re better off living in the moment while aiming for your goals. But, having goals and taking the right steps to attain them has been pretty key for me.
This is the 100% absolute truth. You can try to map out a career (think Carton Banks’ master plan of his life) but in the end, circumstances are constantly changing, and you may end up spending more time trying to plan around them that you neglect where you’re currently at.
Daniel’s right in that you can’t predict where you’ll be either. I certainly couldn’t. Five years ago if you’d tolf me I would be where I’m at today doing what I’m doing I would have probably laughed at you (in a good way). But that’s the truth. Life has a habit of throwing challenges at us that can pull us in different but ultimately satisfying ways. Don’t be afraid to take those challenges on you will probably surprise yourself with what you achieve.
Having a goal is an absolute if you want to have a career. Saying you’d like to work in animation is one thing, but what if you said you wanted to become a feature film director. Well now you have the necessary direction to know that you first need to get either the education or experience together and then to hone your craft while playing the political ball game. In time, you’ll be well placed to helm a feature.
Without a plan or goals like these, you might well flounder in a lower position, and animation becomes a ‘job’ rather than a ‘career’.
This morning, Fed Seibert has a great post about the ongoing revolution in video we’re seeing thanks to YouTube and he has this choice quote (emphasis mine):
But that’s not where the action is. Remember, Adventure Time first blew up on YouTube; we absolutely never would have sold the show without the explosion of interest from their community.
That’s the money quote right there, and the secret to any piece of entertainment’s success. A community will do more to make you money than any advertising can ever hoper to achieve.
He follows it up with this advice:
There’s ways to make money if you’re popular, and more importantly it’s where the audience is.
The old ways of doing things are falling. You simply cannot expect to make money or reach an audience the same way they did in the old days.
Thankfully, the tools to do so are so readily accessible and cheap, like Fred says:
Any of you making films should be making more and posting them.
Making a personal film is no easy task. It just isn’t, for a whole host of reasons. It’s a complicated, arduous process that may or may not end up the way you expected it to. Lots of people never finish there’s, but are these the reasons why you’re not starting yours?
1. I don’t have the time
Ah, do you really not have the time, or do you think you don’t have the time. There is a big difference between the two you know. Unless you work 12 hour days or 7 days a week, you really aren’t in a position to say you don’t have enough time. Besides, it’s not about the amount of time you have but how effectively you use the time you’ve got.
When it comes to these kinds of things, the quickest and best solution is to set aside time on a regular basis, say a Sunday morning or an hour every night after dinner. Perhaps more important than setting the schedule is actually sticking to it. You might find it tough, but over time, regular actions, even small ones, can have big results.
2. I don’t have an idea.
Well, go and find one! There are plenty of ideas that could be put on film. Remember, this is a personal project, so essentially, it’s all about you! And the best part about a personal film is that you’re completely unrestricted. The only person telling you what to do is yourself! However, a note of caution, once you have decided on a subject, plan out how you intend to move forward, don’t get stuck in your own version of “development hell”.
3. I don’t have the money
For years, this was the sticky point. Making a short film does cost money. However, the amount that it’ll cost is totally dependent on how much you’re willing to put into it. You could make a film for a million dollars if you wanted to but budgets ain’t the whole story. At the end of the day, be realistic. Do set a budget, and stick to it, that’s just basic common sense.
If cash flow is a problem, the best solution is to trim expenses and/or set aside some funds on a regular basis. You’d be quite surprised just how quickly even $20 a week will add up.
Also remember that while the cost of technology has dropped significantly, you don’t necessarily need the latest Cintiq tablet or Flash software. There are plenty of free alternatives that may not be as feature-laden but will accomplish a lot of the same tasks.
4. I don’t know what to do with it when I’m finished
I’m not too sure about yourself, but films are generally meant to be seen, by lots of people! Throw it up on YouTube! That blog you started to track the production (because you figured it would be a smart idea)? Throw it up on that! Show it to some friends! Have them show it to their friends! Put it in your portfolio! Show it to your boss! Take it to one of ASIFA’s open screening nights!
The possibilities are endless when it comes to a personal film. Some people are happy just to let as many people watch it as possible, others like to get awards from festivals, some folks like to make money from their short films. Although be aware that charging for a personal short may preclude you gaining a reputation first.
5. I don’t see the point
A personal film is essentially a proof of sorts. It says to the world that you can be uniquely creative. It says to potential employers that you have a logical enough mind that you can conceive and create a project using just your own initiative (employers like to see that). It also gives you plenty of unique experiences that you’re unlikely to have anywhere else.
To conclude, there’s very little holding you back from undertaking a personal film. The challenges can appear to be insurmountable but only if you let them be. Figure out a game plan and before you know it, you’ll be making one.
They say God created the earth in seven days although I have a sneaking feeling that if he hired David Levy, he would have got the job done in five, and still found time to write a book about it.
Theological jokes aside, David really is that hard working. Besides being an animator, he’s also a teacher, President of ASIFA-East and if that wasn’t enough, he’s also managed to find the hours in the day to write three, count ’em, three books over the last couple of years. Suffice to say, he puts those of us who take a full 8 hours of sleep to shame!
Directing Animation the third
part of the Holy Trinity installment of animation books written by him, the previous two being Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive and Animation Development: From Pitch to Production. If you haven’t already read those, they are an absolute must, even if, like me, you don’t work in animation on a day-to-day basis.
With those two successful and critically acclaimed books under his belt (and under my bed), David has unleashed his third masterpiece where he zeroes in on a very important position in the animation process.
As a seasoned director on [Adult Swim]’s Assy McGee and numerous shows before that, David is well placed to write this book. Sure there are the technical aspects to the job like laying out a scene, timing shots, etc. but there was definitely a gap on the bookshelf when it came to managing the human element of the process.
Thankfully, that gap has been filled thanks to Directing Animation. Chock full of sage, professional advice from the best in the industry and plenty of tales of both the good and not so good side of the job (but mostly the good side).
With a focus on what it takes to be a director, being dropped in at the deep and and devoting a chapter each to indie films, commercials, TV series, feature films and the internet, Directing Animation covers all the bases you could expect to meet as an animation director and then some!
With such a broad range of topics to cover, one might think the books skims over one or two of them. Not so! The utmost attention has been paid to every aspect of the book and with such a broad range of folks interviewed, there is no doubt that you will be thoroughly prepared to direct once you have finished reading it.
As I was reading the book, I realised that when it comes to animation, there is much more to it than just TV shows and films from the big boys. The prevalence of indie shorts and flash animation on the web has made it so that anyone can become a director, even if you’re only just out of school! Directing Animation is excellent in its coverage of these slightly less well known areas of the animation landscape.
David’s conversational writing style makes the 240 pages fly by with ease and yet everything he has to say is easily absorbed. Add in to the mix his impeccable sense of humour and wit and you have an altogether excellent read from start to finish.
Directing Animation is not a book to be glossed over, even if you don’t think of yourself as a director, you will realise you are taking away much more than you expect. It is thoroughly recommended for anyone even remotely involved in the animation scene.
Directing Animation can be purchased over on Amazon.com.
It was a year ago tomorrow that I wrote the first of what would become what I would consider a ‘daily’ post on the blog. Sure, it existed before that and I averaged about one post a week (although sometimes less) but on this day last year (April 1st), Gilligan over on the Retrospace blog posted some advice to bloggers. After I read that, I made up my mind that I needed to put in much more of an effort.
Before I knew it, a whole year had passed and here I am writing about it. I honestly didn’t think I had it in me to sustain a blog every day for an entire month let alone a year. Funnily enough, I’ve never run out of things to write about and I’ve barely repeated myself at all.
Yet it’s funny to look back and see that I’ve come a very long way with my blogging. I dare say my writing has improved, what I write about has become slightly more nuanced than simple reviews and my commentary has become more vocal instead of simply relaying the news.
All of this I still enjoy very much. Even though I normally have a gym session under me before I sit down at 6am to write the day’s post, I don’t feel any overbearing obligation when doing so. Oh, sure there are some days when inspiration can be a bit hard to come by, but those are relatively few and far between and I always resolve them in the end.
Why mention all of this? The answer is simple, you CAN do it too.
There are tons of people out there who have a blog (or tumblelog, twitter, etc.) and update it every now and again. For some of them, I am forever grateful for the invention of RSS, because without it, their blogs wouldn’t be getting a peep of a visit from me. I simply don’t have the time to check back and see if they’ve written something new or not.
I think the main reason is that you do have to schedule time for your blog, otherwise its just not going to work. I do it in the morning before work, perhaps you can do it before you go to bed. Either way, if you don’t specify a time to work on it, it’ll never get done.
For animation types, I simply cannot fathom why some of them don’t update at least once a day or at the bare minimum, once a week. As creative types, a blog can serve as a great output for your work, inspirations or even your non-animation hobbies.
Besides all that, blogs are stupidly easy to set up and maintain. This blog began on Blogger before it moved to WordPress.com (where it went daily) and before it moved to it’s own host using WordPress.org. Along the way, I’ve garnered some experience that continues to serve me well.
My point is that only you can make your blog the best it can be, no-one else will or want to. Put in the effort and you’ll be surprised what you get out of it. I sure am.