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How To Get Hired At An Animation Studio, In Ten Steps

Posted by Steve Day

Reposted from ideaMachine Studio the sister studio of Whiteboard Animation

A common question I am asked is “How do I get hired at an animation studio?” or “How can my son or daughter work at your studio?” 

Our studio has seen a hundred animators or more cycle in and out of our studio, most of whom move on to bigger studios like Network Television, Cartoon Network, Pixar, and Special Effects Movie houses. We’ve seen our artists grow from green students to Emmy Nominees and Animation Domination directors. So our studio is in a unique position to answer this question, because we would be a “starting studio.” That is a studio where a college student can get hired and given the skills to move on to bigger and better things. Here are our ten steps:

1. A college degree is not necessary - We don’t care. We only care about your demo reel. Many of our applicants attend very expensive art schools only to discover they will be sixty when they finally pay off their student loan (I’m not kidding). I’ve heard many animators say online tutorials are better than what they learned at a university. There are many free and cheap tutorials that are just as excellent, if not better, than the professors at some of the best art schools. If you have to go to a college go to a public college. If you don’t know Lynda.com check it out right now.

2. Take a personal finance course - Odd right? Wait?... Aren’t you an animation studio? Yes, we are. But the biggest difference between those who make it, and those who do not, is financial. The discipline and knowledge it takes to manage your finances is not easy. Animation is a life-long journey; handling your finances well will ensure you are in it for the long-haul.

3. Take a course in basic business - Wait. What??? You just told me about my personal finances! When are you going to get to the good stuff??? The US education system fails America because it does not teach students about the basic concepts of business. Business is what makes the world go around. If you learn some of the basic principles of business, your WHOLE LIFE, and your life as an animator will be better. Two great resources on the business of entertainment are Variety.com and KCRW's The Business.

4. Get paid to animate and design right now - Start working for businesses even if it’s for free. The sooner you start working for others and getting paid for your craft the better. You will learn far more working and designing for others than you will ever learn in a classroom. Getting a job is the first step. A studio like Disney will not hire you straight out of college. They want you to have paid experience first.

5. Graphics Design - Businesses hire artists to design things that have $s on them. Why? because those businesses need to get a job too! Most of the design work in the world is graphics design. So be sure to know graphics design and layout in and out. Lynda.com is a great resource to help you learn Graphics Design. So get out there and start working for a business.

6. Illustration - Of course you need to be able to draw. In the field of animation today, artists that get hired are at least quadruple threats. They are graphics designers/illustrators/After Effects artists, and ________. That blank can be filled in with the following - cartoonist, musician, 3D animation, comedian, actor, costume designer, etc. No joke. All of our artists are at least quadruple threats, if not quintuple threats. The competition is steep.

7. After Effects - All of the animation studios I know use After Effects. It is the core program utilized in the industry, so you need to have a solid understanding of it.

8. A great portfolio - You will need to demonstrate all of the above with your portfolio. It’s better to have too many many portfolio pieces, than not enough. Don’t forget too, your phone number, your address, your resume, etc. Bare in mind, you will not fool anyone and if you happen to fool them you will deeply regret it later. [Note: Only 1 in 1 million make their living as an avant-garde artist (no joke). So don’t include the really weird stuff. Your college professor may care immensely for Avant Garde work, but few studios and businesses hire Avant Garde artists.]

9. Make a demo reel - Finally, the only thing your studio will care about is your demo reel. Make sure you have received plenty of notes from everyone on your demo reel before you send it out to get hired. Make sure your demo reel is front and center for all of your hiring emails and correspondence. You can never list your demo reel enough or post it enough on the internet.

10. Pick another career - Working in the field of animation is very hard. Everyone wants to be a character animator, rather than do all of the other nitty gritty work necessary to make an animation. If you are someone who wants to be a character animator watch the credits at the end of an animated movie and compare how many people animate characters to how many do everything else. Bare in mind 90% of character animators do it for 10 years. So studios only hire for 10% of their character animation team. And of that they usually hire animators who already have years worth of experience. Add to that fact that more and more character animation is being shipped overseas. We are a small studio. Only one in every 600 applicants earn a salaried position with us and we only look at the applicants in the NYC area. Get another career as a back-up plan, then you can be free to hope for the best, while at the same time you can be ready for the worst. 

We know this list sounds like bad news. But we want you to be prepared for the worst. We see too many talented artists quit their careers because they had financial difficulties or they simply didn't understand the business that they were in. We don't want you to be one of those artists. Prepare for the worst. Lay a solid foundation for your life and from there you'll  be able to rise upwards and onward.

We wish you all the best. The ideaMachine Team


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