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How to Find a Job in Multimedia

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson shares her expert advice on how to break into this burgeoning field.

Almost all game designs start with the basics: drawing on paper. This background design is for the interactive game, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. © Oddworld Inhabitants. All Rights Reserved.

Before I help you get a job in multimedia, let's first define what this monster is. Multimedia is the combination of more than one medium, such as text, graphics, sound, animation and video, in a digital format. Digital formats include game platforms, CD-ROMs, online systems (which include the web and Internet), interactive television and kiosks.

Content must be created for a wide variety of applications including reference, children's products (storybooks, learning and productivity products), games, location-based entertainment, virtual reality,* digital periodicals (such as Animation World), special interest including museums, erotica, music, performance, education, business, training, presentations, and marketing and sales. Every industry is affected by the technologies and techniques of multimedia including non-profits and government agencies.

Opportunities are everywhere for the artist wanting to work in the field of multimedia. The development of technology and increased memory in game platforms and CD-ROMs, as well as the explosion of the Internet, has created new opportunities for artists because the capacity for graphics is much larger. The Internet, a relatively new medium for artists, is a vast network of computers developed by military and educational institutions. The development of the graphic interfaces and web browsers has made the Internet much more popular among the general public.

You don't have to move to a major metropolitan area to find work. To find out more about multimedia in your area, contact your local library, universities, computer companies and design studios. Or look for a local chapter of the International Interactive Communications Society (IICS), other professional organizations such as SIGGRAPH or Women in Animation. (Phone numbers follow this article to help you)

How Do I Start?

One of the ways to get into multimedia is to develop your own web site and list it on your resumé. First, however, be sure that you follow the five steps in web design which are: Planning, Designing, Building, Refining, and Evolving (make sure you keep it up to date, with your best work). You could also develop a multimedia title or an interactive portfolio on your own, but these may be more involved.

Another way to get in, is to develop multimedia products as part of your current job. Perhaps your company needs a web site or an interactive marketing piece?

A third way is to get a job at a multimedia company. Research the market, so you know what type of company you want to pursue and which company in particular. Working as an assistant or intern on a project can get your foot in the door and a credit on your resumé. Working as a digital artist at a nominal wage can give you the required experience you need for the next job.

Since there are so many directions to take in multimedia, you need to make a plan. Your plan should include identifying the type of work you are suited for, positioning and marketing yourself, finding opportunities, approaching companies, qualifying companies and accepting the job.

Identify Your Interests

There are many different jobs in multimedia; from animators to graphic designers to programmers to web site developers. Other jobs include game designers, interface designers and web masters. You need to figure out what you like to do, and at what you are really good. Assess your skills. If you are interested in computer graphics, understand that there are many roles in this field including graphic design, icon design, web design, animation, lighting, modeling and texture mapping.

What Do I Need To Get A Job In Multimedia?

You need to be versatile and adaptable. You will be working as a member of a team and strong communication skills are vital. In addition to strong traditional animation and life drawing skills, many video game companies look for artists with knowledge of software packages such as 3D Studio Max, Lightwave, Alias, Softimage or Photoshop. Web designers should know HTML, Photoshop and Illustrator. Remember though, the willingness and ability to learn are more important than familiarity with any particular software package.

Marketing Yourself

Positioning is the strategy a person uses to frame what others think about him or her. Marketing is the process of implementing that strategy. Position yourself so that potential employers are attracted and impressed. Narrow the focus of what you are looking for so the producer can figure out where you would fit. Your marketing tools include a resumé, portfolio and demo reel. The purpose of these tools is to get you an interview with someone who can hire you.

Drawings are translated into three dimensions in a computer. This wireframe model was created in Alias/Wavefront. © Oddworld Inhabitants. All Rights Reserved.

Resumé/Credit List

Be sure your resumé positions you for your next job. Concentrate on what you want to do, not merely what you've done. Emphasize the projects you have worked on and what your role was. If it is unclear about what position you are looking for, include that in an objective near the top. Be sure your name and phone number are easy to read. List the software programs you know.

Portfolio

For artists, a demo reel and portfolio are more important than a resumé. If you have worked on an interactive project and want to submit your portfolio in a digital media such as CD-ROM, call the company before you send it, to be sure they have the appropriate equipment to view it. Be sure to include a breakdown of how each piece was done and the constraints of production. Your best bet is to send a print portfolio or a VHS cassette. If you send a VHS cassette be sure it is labeled with your name and phone number, contains only your best work, shows variety, and is no longer than four minutes. Be sure to include a list of exactly what you did on each segment and put the very best segment first.

Business Cards

If you use these, be sure to include some information about your software knowledge as well as your name, street address, phone numbers (fax, pager) and email address.

Networking

Whenever you attend an industry conference, trade show, association meeting or software user group, make it a goal to meet at least five new people. Networking is one way to market yourself for jobs that may never be advertised. Build on these relationships. (A listing of these networking sources follows this article.)

Finding Opportunities

People are making money on the Internet through developing web sites, online gaming or providing web access. If you want a job at a web site developer, study the market. Check out web sites you like. Contact the people who developed them. Read online job postings.

If you want to get into video games, go to the stores and study the boxes. Contact the game companies that make the kind of games you enjoy. Many companies post openings on their web sites. Other online sources for jobs could be bulletin boards, gopher servers or chat rooms. Trade resources such as Animation World Network's Career Connections, and magazines such as this one, as well as Animation Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety are also good sources for want ads.

Approaching Companies

Research a company and find out who has hiring influence or authority. A contact person is usually listed in job postings. Artists will want to contact the art director, creative director or art manager. Ask them what materials they would like to see and in what form. Follow their instructions closely and provide them with the materials as quickly and as professionally as possible. Include a resumé/credit list whenever you submit to anyone. If you must have your work returned, include a self-addressed stamped container. Before you apply to a company, you should be familiar with their products. Be prepared when your outstanding portfolio gets you an interview. Plus, remember, this is a two-way street. Make sure you find out enough about the company during the interview to decide if you really want to work there.

If you've determined that you need to learn new skills, choose a training program that provides hands-on experience and select a course based on the teaching ability of the instructor. Check out the equipment you will be working on and make sure there are enough computers so that everyone in the class will have their own machine.

The finished product: one of more than 500 fully-rendered color backgrounds used in the game Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. © Oddworld Inhabitants. All Rights Reserved.

Qualifying Companies

If you are interested in a company, research their products or services. Find out what their reputation is. Look for people in responsible positions that you respect and ask them what they think. Try to determine the long-range prospects of the company by looking at their goals and target market. Look for a company that is growing. If it is a publicly traded company, check it out on the stock market report. Larger companies will have publicity materials. Study their press releases. Most importantly, look for opportunities to learn from exceptional people.

Accepting The Job

Before you accept the job, ask for an offer letter which should include a job description, your title, start date and salary information. It may also include term or duration of employment, performance bonuses of various kinds, medical, dental, and life insurance plans, vacation, royalties, credit offers, education allowance or reimbursement, retirement benefits, such as stock options, stock purchase plans, 401K, etc, relocation expenses, low or no-interest loans, period payment of company-related expenses of various kinds, luxury perks, contingency clauses (golden parachutes), severance conditions, and contract-termination conditions (for both employer and employee). An agent or independent recruiter can help you in negotiations before the offer letter is drawn up. The difference between an agent and a recruiter? Agents are paid by the talent (you) and work to find you a job. Recruiters are paid by the company, which means they are working to find them the best talent for their needs.

What Impresses A Recruiter?

Be professional. Know your strengths. Be clear about your career objective. Be open and direct. If you are unwilling to relocate, make sure the recruiter knows this. If you send a resumé be sure to enclose a note with salary requirements, geographical requirements and any other pertinent data.

Conclusion

What's ahead? A lot of hard work. You must be passionate about working in multimedia. If you are, why not pursue a career in it? Once you land your first job, work hard to be a productive member of the team, meet all deadlines, consistently produce top quality work, maintain a can-do attitude and keep records of your jobs to build your resumé and your career.

Good luck out there in the exponentially expanding world of multimedia.

*Virtual reality, or VR, uses CAD (computer-aided design) and multimedia environment-building techniques with hardware to immerse the user in a digital environment and suspend disbelief. The hardware includes such peripheral devices as headmount displays or data gloves and tracking devices. The user "steps inside" the program and is represented in the environment with full motion up/down, right/left, forward and back direction in real-time. There is also the ability to pick up objects, move them and create the sensation of movement through a computer generated world.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is an independent recruiter. Her past clients include Walt Disney Feature Animation, Fox Feature Animation, and Dream Quest Images and Engineering Animation Inc. and interactive companies such as Raven Software, Hollywood On Line, Activision, and Adrenalin Entertainment. Thompson is also a consultant to colleges and universities helping them design their animation training programs. As manager of art at Virgin Interactive Entertainment, she established the art department, recruiting, hiring and training 24 artists, many with no previous computer experience. Her animation production background includes features such as Bebe's Kids, the Fox television series The Simpsons, and the original Amazing Stories episode of Family Dog. Thompson is a founding member of Women in Animation and active in ASIFA. Her articles on animation, business and management topics have appeared in over 40 periodicals including Animation World Magazine on the Internet. She is writing a book called The Animation Job Hunter's Guide.

Be courteous. Be aware that the recruiter has a limited amount of time to spend on the phone, so keep your conversations brief and to the point. Any time you use to speak to the recruiter means that he or she doesn't have that time to call clients and find out about job openings. Use email or voice mail to communicate a full message to the recruiter so a call back isn't necessary. Recruiters hate playing phone tag.

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