Interested in the magical word of animation but not sure where to begin? You're not alone. In the same way that animation is magical, it's also very mystical. Aspiring animators typically have hundreds of sketches and art pieces to prove their passion and talent, but they might not know how to get their foot into the door of an exciting and innovative studio.
To help you bring all of your magical ideas to life (and land an awesome job), we've thoughtfully compiled a list of invaluable tips:
Find a school and select your focus.
A career in animation all starts with an education. There’s really no way around this one, as becoming an animator requires an extremely specific set of skills and hours of practice. The good news? A career in animation won't require you to go to a fancy university to earn credibility. Employers in this field are MUCH more interested in samples of your actual work than where you earned your degree. Still, a diploma/certificate will reassure them that they won't need to waste their valuable time (and money) teaching you the basic skills you should already know.
There are plenty of options when it comes to education in graphic design and/or animation--including two year programs and online possibilities. The Animation Career Review's extensive list of schools will be your best friend in finding a school that fits your needs. Simply select your location + the type of program you're interested in, and a list of schools will generate automatically:
You'll also need to pick a speciality within your program (i.e. 3-D animation, 2-D, or hydrotechnics - think Disneyland’s "World of Color"). Don’t stress if you haven't quite figured this one out yet; as you gain more experiences in school, you'll start to realize what you’re good at and what types of projects you enjoy the most. Take advantage of your time in school - get your hands dirty and try out as many experiences as possible! By doing so, you'll not only gain a diverse set of skills, but you'll also be able to pick your true speciality with a little more accuracy. Check out this tool to get a better idea of what different specializations in animation entail, and how your role as an animator might vary.
Build a toolbox.
As previously mentioned, you’re going to need a very precise set of skills if you wish to become an animator. Pixar has clearly laid out the specific skills and characteristics they look for in their (future) animators:
Acting. Believe it or not, being a good actor is going to be paramount in animation, especially if you wish to do character animation. Being able to communicate emotion through a character’s body language and face are huge and this comes from knowing how to portray emotions. It’s your job to bring an inanimate object to life, as well as making sure the audience can empathize with the character. The word "acting" here is used loosely...there’s no need to be able to recite Shakespeare in front of a large audience! The main idea is that you simply learn to understand how people express emotion and communicate through movement (and then be able to translate that into animation).
Traditional art. Maybe this one is a given, but to become an animator, you have to be good at drawing, painting, and really anything that involves replicating reality. It’s very important that your foundation in art be rock solid. Pixar even emphasizes that although computer skills are obviously important, your art skills are even more important. As they explain, you should be able to "bring the character to life, independent of medium. Computer-graphic technical prowess is of course important, but the emphasis is not as strong within the Animation Department.”
Software skills. This one is also a bit obvious, but it’s essential that you stay on top of trends and changes within the computer animation world. Places like Pixar use their own proprietary software, meaning there’s no one specific program you should focus on learning. Instead, make sure have a general idea of how several different programs work. These skills will develop over time and while you're in school, so don't worry if your toolbox is looking a little bare right now.
Teamwork. Being an animator, no matter where you work, will always entail working alongside other animators. Bringing ideas and sketches to life requires team effort, so having the communication skills to work efficiently and effectively in a group environment will make you an extremely desirable candidate. You’ll probably get plenty of chances to work in groups during your time in school - make sure you take advantage of those opportunities!
Build a Portfolio.
An animator without a portfolio is like a building without a foundation...Harry Potter without his scar...a marketing guru without Google analytics. Basically: a portfolio isn't just "important" --i's 100% necessary. Your portfolio will allow you to visually showcase your talents and passions; it's literally what you'll use to prove to employers what you're capable of. And as previously mentioned, your portfolio will likely outweigh your school and/or other credentials. We can't stress enough that you're going to need to spend some serious time and energy in creating an awesome portfolio that highlights not only your projects, but your personality. While some animators might opt to create their own website, not everyone has those skills. If you're one of those people, we encourage you to use Portfolium to showcase yourself. Needing a little inspiration? Click here to check out some awesome projects!
One last tip: don't just focus on displaying your school work. School projects might be overdone and it's possible employers have already seen them a thousand times over. To really stand out, we recommend that you include a few side projects that truly capture your creativity and ability to think outside of the box.
Get some experience under your belt.
As with any other career, internships and real-life work experiences are going to be critical. Big animation studios like Disney and Pixar have extremely comprehensive (and naturally, competitive) internship programs that can last anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on the program. Pixar even incorporates some class work into their programs.
Internships will provide you with invaluable knowledge that you simply can't learn sitting in a classroom or at a computer. And of course, there’s always the exciting possibility of that "little" internship transforming into a full time, paid position. Other reasons to actively seek internship experiences include:
- You'll have more content to add to your portfolio--which as you already know, will be a KEY component in landing a job
- More real-life experiences --> more opportunities for networking!
- You'll learn to apply what you're learning in school to a real-life setting
- You'll get to work alongside some old-timers in the business
Find a mentor.
The benefits of finding a mentor are endless; they give you great advice, write your letters of recommendation, invite you to networking events, and even prevent you from making the same mistakes they once made. The way we see it, there really is no reason to not look for a mentor. So how exactly do you just stumble upon a mentor? Well, this is where your internships will come into play...expose yourself to as many networking opportunities as possible. However, it's important to remember that you shouldn't develop a professional relationship simply to exploit someone-- you should always expect to give them something in return. This article will walk you through the process of finding a mentor in a professional and respectful way. Keep in mind, you might have to go through this process a few times until you find someone that you truly “click” with (just as you would with any other human relationship!). Be open to others guiding you, regardless of their age. You can never learn too much!
Well folks, that's wrap. We hope that we've provided you with some valuable tips and resources to help you get one step closer to becoming an animator.
Good luck and Happy Sketching!
-Your Portfolium Team