Thursday, June 21, 2012

Advice For Animation Graduates

The following advice for just-graduated animation students comes from animator Elliot Cowan's blog.  It's great, down-to-earth and unflinchingly honest and echoes much of what we've been banging on about for months now, and happily, Elliot swears almost as much as I do.  

I've pretty much lifted Elliot's 14 points from his original post; some of them are more Stateside-centric, but the points are universal, and everyone on CG Arts & Animation would do as well to take a moment to give this stuff the once-over and reflect on the principle message - which seems to be 'be amazing, don't be an idiot, blog/promote your work always, keep going, be ambitious, be realistic, keep going, don't be an idiot, be amazing!'

Amen to that.

Elliot is kind enough to suggest that, if you have any more questions for him, you should leave a comment at the original post and he'll do his best to offer up a reply.

1) Do not expect to walk out of college and into a job. Although this does certainly happen, it is uncommon. Be prepared to wait some tables, walk some dogs, whatever. 

2) Do not make the mistake of thinking your classmates are your competition for jobs. Or the students at the school nearest to you. Not only are there schools producing very high quality students, but there are animators (like myself) who are applying for the same jobs. Many of us have been doing this for a long time and we are much better than you.

3) There may be a superstar in your class. He/she draws better than all of you. Paints. Sings. Does everything. And it comes naturally to them. It's possible this person, if they have the confidence, will indeed walk out of university and into a gig. This can be very hard to take. Get over it as soon as possible. It'll kill you eventually.

4) To work in animation you need to be really, really, really fucking good. Or, at the very least be pretty fucking good and have a bunch of other desirable stuff under your belt (like me).

5) Being really, really, really fucking good is not enough. The confidence, networking and the ability to sell yourself without acting like a prick are equally as important. If you are shy and retiring and introverted, work something out.

6) If you live in Ohio and would like to work on Adventure Time (which is produced in California) then it would be useful to be in California when you apply.

7) Students often ask me "Should I move to California to get into animation?". The basic answer is "Yes", My other answer is "You should move to California to wait tables, meet people, sleep with hot chicks/guys, network and get a whole bunch of other life experience under your belt".

8) If you are not working in animation then you should still be animating. Start with 2 second films. Then 5, then work upwards. Then post them online. Always post anything good you've done online.

9) It's a myth that festivals don't want your film if you've posted it on Youtube. A bunch of shit really. I've had more festival invites from programmers having seen my film online than anywhere else. You are doing yourself a massive disservice by hiding it away. It's also totally pretentious and self important. Put the thing online. There's the potential for more people to see it than if it played at every festival in the world for a year and a half.

10) If you have studied in New York or would like to work in New York then there is work here to be found but you MUST be constantly on the hustle.

11) There is very little full time work in animation. Regardless of where you're working, remain vigilant and keep hustling. Your show, movie, studio, whatever can close or wrap up in the blink of an eye and this is not the country you want to be stranded in without health insurance.

12) Learn Flash, After Effects, Photoshop or you will not work. Nobody will thank you for working traditionally on paper in exactly the same way that you'll not be thanked for riding a horse to work instead of driving. Learn some 3D too, please. You'll be infinitely more employable.

13) If you've just graduated, keep your reel short and only put good stuff on it. If you follow my advice and continue to make short, short films, you'll eventually start improving and you can swap some of the reel stuff out for the newer better stuff.

14) Don't be a fucking idiot. Nobody wants to hire a fucking idiot. In our industry, the successful people are generally those who people want to work with (because they're not fucking idiots). Be interested. Be eager. Be humble.

15) It is really, really, really hard to get into the big studios. If you really want in, then keep applying and keep doing better work and keep working on your reel.

16) If you don't care for the films of say, Pixar, then don't apply for a job there. If you get in you will be a cog in a vast machine and they'll expect you to fulfill your role with a minimal of squeaking. Toy Story 4 is not the playground of subversives and dissidents.

17) If you want feedback and advice, find a few folks whose opinions you admire and ask them. Posting something on Facebook and asking for commentary is a waste of time. The feeback will mostly be from your classmates who know only as much, or less, than yourself.

18) Learn to use social media. Personally, I've found Facebook to be a very, very useful place to make contacts and meeting interesting and creative people. If you are going to use something like Facebook then I cannot stress enough that #14 is something you should pay very close attention to.

19) Although students loans do not necessarily afford you this, try and chill out for a bit. Take a break between graduation and applying for gigs. Apart from the fact that EVERYONE is applying at the same studios that you are and everyone is flooded, it's good to take a breath before leaping in.

20) Apply to as many jobs as you like but you'll have more success meeting people and networking. Referrals are a major part of this industry. Being a good classmate puts you in good stead for being recommended by one of your other classmates! 
In short: Be really, really fucking good. Learn to network. Be good to work with. If you're not working, don't stop animating. 


  1. This is really F'ing good advice! :)

  2. I didn't see this until now.
    Thanks for passing it all on.