Getting a job in Animation
This is meant to be as a small guide to help people who want to work in the Television Animation Industry in the United States.
I’m going to try to write this for people who have no ties to the industry, someone who wants to know what they can do to join the animation workforce. I’m writing this for people who did not attend art school and did not have the opportunity to network with people in real life.
A little about myself- I have been working in Animation for a little over 7 years as a Revisionist and Storyboard Artist- and can only speak on what I’ve experienced, so I asked a friend of mine, who is a Creative Executive, what advice they have to give.
I also asked on twitter if people had any questions and they were answered here as well.
We are both POC and have experienced the industry in different ways. My friend has been in the animation industry around 8 years, working as an assistant for two of them, but still working in development.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR
Searching for animation jobs can lead to studio job listings online. But the listings have short, matter of fact, statements for what they look for. It can seem daunting and rigid.
Undeniably, the first and most important part is your portfolio.
What should be in it?
(I am not someone with hiring power but these are some things that have helped me land jobs.)
If you know the production you are submitting for, I recommend tailoring your portfolio to show that you can match the show’s sensibility. This doesn’t mean you have to change your art to match the visual style- but if the show is a comedy, include comedy samples. If it’s action- include action etcetc.
Whenever I submit for a position I rotate out my samples based on what I am applying for.
If it’s a kids board driven comedy- I include a sample from something that I did that fits the requirement.
If it’s a scripted adult show- I include samples that show off how I can stage scenes to enhance the written word.
If the job listing doesn’t give any information beyond the generic ‘strong storytelling skills’ etcetc. Put in what YOU want to draw.
How do you build a storyboard portfolio if you have never worked on a show?
You must draw your own boards. BUT they can be anything-
-Keep things between 20-90 panels.
-Make sure that there is at least one interesting beat in there- a joke, an emotional change, a shift of power- something that shows you can move a story forward.
-If writing your own dialogue seems daunting there are tons of scripts online you can work from if you need a scene to draw. (I listen to a D&D podcast and boarded out a scene from there and it helped me land a job. So even if you feel like something is too close to the realm of fanart- you can use it to your advantage)
- Board a scene or conversation from real life!
-They don’t all need to be super clean and polished- having a couple clean panels every so often is enough to trick the eye into thinking it’s all the same level of finished.
Having two to three varying boards will beef up your portfolio.
Unfortunately, animation is not yet at the point where they can effectively communicate feedback. You can be left with no news for weeks, months and even years(!)
This is something that leadership needs to address. But for informational purposes to the person reading this- that is what could potentially happen after applying.
That being said- Rejection does not mean that your only chance is gone. It can be a long process to navigate.
BUT here are parts of the conversation I had with my Exec friend that hopefully will help.
(Some of these questions were from Twitter)
“Do you need a degree?”
My exec friend said to submit your work regardless.
I know many people who did not go to school/dropped out of high school/college/changed career paths.
Artists who have attended school will have an advantage because this is what they are training for every day. If you are not taking formal classes it will be necessary for you to constantly elevate your skills. This is an extremely competitive industry.
I would not be writing this if needing a degree was a cold hard rule.
DO NOT LET SEEING ‘COLLEGE DEGREE’ ON A JOB LISTING STOP YOU IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A DEGREE. YOU ARE NOT DRAWING WITH A PEN MADE OUT OF A DIPLOMA.
The point of a College degree in animation, I feel, is to signal that you had training and have built up some skill. HOWEVER, all it tends to do is discourage talent who don’t have the same resources, even if studios don’t realize it.
“What skills/jobs look good on a resume if you haven't had any jobs in a creative field (hr and customer service for me) and where to find entry level jobs or internships that lead to storyboarding, or how to stand out and get picked over candidates with prior experience”
(I will post the links for entry level jobs in a separate section)
Your portfolio is your strongest weapon for sure. However, if you’re writing a resume consider adding anything you did that can be viewed as work. If you run an online shop- if you table at conventions- if you draw commissions- print your own comics- put a sketchbook pdf online for people to download.
All of these things show that you are able to get things done. I worked in customer service for over 10 years. My resume included every single self published comic I’d ever made, even if it was just 4 copies.
My exec friend chimes in:
“What quality do remote applicants (foreign or otherwise) need to have that will convince recruiters to hire them?”
I am not someone with hiring power so I can’t really add to this conversation.
“WHERE do you find talent- HOW do you hear about it-what do you look for- what makes someone stand out- is it drawing? Storytelling? Range of styles? Big online presence?”
They then mentioned a scene from something that is NDA but the advice at the end is:
Applying online at studios is ONE way to get your foot in the door.
Which brings us to-
The following is meant as a guide for what could be useful if you manage to meet with an exec. Networking with artists is similar, but I feel as though there is no real way to know how to behave when you meet someone who is in charge.
Networking is hard. You’re selling yourself but also trying to genuinely make a connection.
Conventions are a great place to Network, but it is also an overwhelming experience. All of these things take time and money.
Attend panels hosted by execs- get to know their faces, hear what they have to say about themselves, how they approach story and animation and figure out if you want to work with them.
There are execs there who are actively looking for talent. That is their whole job, they want to meet you. But what can you do to make sure that it’s a positive interaction?
A simple introduction as well as-
If you are working to get hired- you are hoping to build a relationship that will last your whole career.
I asked a question about hiring timelines after finding an artist you like, and it’s not really something that they can answer, but I reworded it in a way that is more applicable.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
After applying/interviewing networking what have you- The next round involves TESTING.
Storyboard Testing is a complicated subject, the Animation Guild testing committee has been working for years to streamline the process but it’s difficult to track every test being sent out.
You will usually sign a non-disclosure agreement and receive a PDF with information on what the test is.
It can be assignment such as “ Draw characters x,y,x in this situation and how they resolve it”
It can be boarding a part of a script-
I’ve seen a few tests where it’s just drawing the main character in fun poses- the point of a test like that is to see if you can really capture the tone of the character’s personality.
*VERY RARELY DO YOU GET OFFERED A POSITION ON PORTFOLIO ALONE.*
Tests should not take longer than a day. Abusive tests do exist- so if you feel overwhelmed- be aware that this is not something that should be happening. If you are in the animation guild REPORT IT.
If you are not in the guild, please do not think that this is your only chance.
*IF YOU ARE GIVEN A TEST FOR AN UNAIRED SHOW DO NOT POST IT OR PUT IT IN YOUR PORTFOLIO UNTIL AFTER IT AIRS*
It’s no good to break NDA before you even get a chance to get hired.
Alternatively- Pitching your own ideas for a show~
After making contact with a studio executive, they may ask if you have anything that you’d like to pitch.
Have an Elevator Pitch ready- What that means is one to three sentences- a story you can easily tell when you’re riding from the 3rd to 1st floor of a convention elevator.
*this is writing advice and i’m not a full time writer BUT
Research Log Lines to media that you enjoy.
Log lines are the quick summaries of tv shows or movies that give you a quick glimpse as to what your story is about.
Most log lines are on IMDB- It’ll help you get a feel for how they are structured. It’s important to have this memorized.
Idk- example from Pacific Rim:
“As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.”
(i hope this makes sense this is not my area of expertise)
It’s important to also know what shows and stories exist out there already. Studios have many projects in production and a r