Adam, an animation student from Full Sail asked me this recently:

It’s only about 6 months until I graduate and get thrown into the world and have to begin the search for a job. I was just wondering if maybe you could give me any tips on getting my first job as a character animator. Maybe some do’s and don’ts.

So I told him I would turn it into a post for everyone else since a lot of people have similar career concerns. Now, this is just from my personal experience in commercials and Feature Film environments after I graduated. These are mostly things to be aware and to think about:

  • Once you graduate, continue working on your animation education. Just because you graduated, doesn’t mean the learning ends there. Quite the contrary. You may get rejected when applying to jobs because your skills still aren’t there…so my main advice is to continue learning the craft.
  • Don’t apply to the main studios and expect to get an answer (good or bad) right away. Some people are lucky they get in right away. A couple co-workers at Pixar got hired because their talent showed potential even with their lack of computer animation training. But this is rare, and you could be waiting a really long time. Instead apply where you want to apply, but also apply to other smaller places. Chances are, you may have to start from small and then keep aiming higher. I know of some students who passed on great studios who made them offers just because they didn’t get a call from Pixar. This in my opinion is a big mistake because they could be learning elsewhere and not waste their time waiting for a call that may not even happen.
  • Be respectful and professional with the recruiters. I don’t think it’d help if you keep calling them to see the status of your reel. Chances are, if they need you they’ll contact you. Focus back in your work to make it better…and re-apply in the future.
  • Enjoy the journey no matter which places you are at. Just because you are not working at your dream places doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time. A lot of what we do, is the people we work with.
  • Once you are in the industry and in your new job, be ready to work in a team…no matter where.
  • Be confident in your work…however, don’t refuse feedback. Sometimes, we look at our work so many hours, we start to lose the essence of it, and we can’t see some major things going on in the shot right away. So having fresh eyes will always help.
  • On getting feedback: Be open to ideas, suggestions and feedback constantly. Don’t get feedback from 20 people…or else you could be pulled in 20 different directions in your shot. However, maybe get feedback from 3-5 people whose work and/or experience you respect, and show them your work. If the majority comment on the same issues, then you know something in there needs to be fixed.
  • On giving feedback: give feedback that’s constructive. A simple “what the hell is that” or “the animation is off” won’t help anybody. Try to help whoever is showing you their work in which areas they can improve. Also let them know which areas are working. It’s nice to hear we are doing at least one thing right.
  • Learn from your peers, regardless of their experience or age. Someone can bring something to the table, whether they have 20 years animation experience or if they are fresh off School.
  • Be professional at work. Don’t be stuck up, and don’t have an attitude/ego or no one will wanna work with you again. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
  • Help your peers. They’ll help you when you need them.
  • Make your environment fun. Simply have fun with what you do…and try not to look at it as a job. I know it’s hard…especially with deadlines. I’ve been there. But try to find the fun aspects of what we do as it’ll make the journey a lot more fun and less stressful.
  • You’ll work with all sorts of different people. Some may be more difficult to work with than others. However…leave the personal things aside, and find a way to work on things because ultimate you want the final product to not suffer.
  • Keep your animation habits healthy. Meaning…stay organized in your workflow and keep things simple. That’ll make it easier once you get changes from directors/supervisors.
  • At one point, be ready to call your shot done. We can polish things to death…but some places/productions will need you to move on.

I hope this helps.

Carlos.