Friday, 17 June 2016

"Putting Your Best Foot Forward" - Animation Careers Advice at Annecy

Annecy Panel "Putting Your Best Foot Forward"
Yesterday I got the chance to speak on a superb panel discussion organised by the School of Visual Arts (SVA), talking about how animation graduates can best find work in the industry.

The panel discussion was titled:  Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Animation Talent Search. On the panel were recruiters from Pixar, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. It was fascinating to hear these representatives of top studios talk about what they are looking for in fresh talent.

So, what then are the secrets of breaking into the animation industry?

On the panel were:
  • Ryan Howe, University Relations Program Lead at Pixar
  • Ariel Goldberg, Studio Recruiter, Nickelodeon Animation (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Megan Nairn, Animation Talent Development Manager, Cartoon Network. 
  • Eric Goosen, Founder, Walking the Dog (Brussels, Belgium)
  • Alex Williams, Head of Animation at Escape Studios (that's me)
  • Moderator: Angie Wojak, Director of Career Development, School of Visual Arts (New York, USA)
Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to hear from Pixar's Ryan Howe. He talked about how students should show "only their best work" on their demo reels, to leave out "adult material" (they are a family company after all), and to make sure that your animation helps the audience "feel the emotion" of the character.

Pixar are looking for animators who can give their characters an emotional life, so that the audience "understand what the character is thinking and feeling", and can relate to the emotion. They want to audience to feel what the character is feeling: "sure, I understand that - I've been there".

Pixar also offer internships, which are offered to "currently enrolled students and recent graduates", and these are closely supervised by the studio, with an opportunity "to pitch projects at the end".  These are of course, needless to say, highly competitive.

Ariel Goldberg of Nickelodeon called for "quality over quantity" in student work, and he also identified some career paths into the industry. One entry level job is script editor, and this can lead to being a full-fledged writer, and eventually to being (potentially) a show-runner.  Starting as a production assistant can lead eventually to being a creative producer.  Beginning work as a storyboard artist can lead to becoming a director.  These are all well-tested paths into the industry.

from left: Alex Williams, Eric Goosen, Anjie Wojac, Megan Nairn, Ariel Goldberg, Ryan Howe

Ariel also cautioned students against plagiarism or imitation, and said he looked for student work "which is not derivative". He looks for talent which is "new and fresh - but also marketable". One question he was asked was "how long does he look at an individual portfolio?" "Have a guess", he replied. "Five minutes", came the answer from one audience member. "Actually", he responded, "it's just seven seconds" (gasp!). After all, he said "five minutes is a long time. If I'm looking at a portfolio for five minutes, that means I love it and I'll probably pass them on to a producer or director".

This means, of course, you have just seven seconds to impress.  Meaning....only include your best work!

Ariel added that one of the most important things he looks for in a portfolio is the right kind of work for Nickelodeon. If you do "post apocalyptic creature art", don't send that to Nickelodeon - that's not what they do. So consider breaking up your blog or Tumbler into sections, with different styles in different areas.

Megan Nairn of Cartoon Network said that they "focus on portfolios, not demo reels". After all, they don't do the animation in-house. They want writers, designers, creators - artists with an imagination.

Cartoon Network are "all about storyboards", so they "want to see short films", and students with "high quality drawings skills".  They also offer internships, and these are for "currently enrolled students" at university.  But they are a "global business" with studios (and therefore opportunities) all over the world, including London.

Here at Escape Studios our undergraduate degrees - starting this September - will focus not just on software training (though this is very important) but also on a broad range of artistic skills. We want our students to have all the technical skills necessary to work in the modern high-tech industry, but also to have the artistic and creative skills necessary to create, innovate and come up with fresh material themselves.  Who knows? Our students might create the next "Peppa Pig" or "Bob The Builder", shows which did very well in their local UK market and went on to be global success stories.


The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MArt starting in September 2016, follow this link.  To apply, visit the offical page here.

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