Independent recruiter Pamela Thompson investigates where the industry's top recruiters look for their next hires.
The international box office bonanza of recent animated hits such as The Lion King has prompted every other major studio to develop and produce animated features. Animation has also returned to the small screen's prime time as well as to the expanding cable and syndication markets. Studios specializing in interactive product, commercials, and special effects are also increasing their demand for animation talent. We have all heard about this incredible boon to the animation industr which brings plenty of opportunity for those who want a career in animation and plenty of competition among companies for the best talent.
The Hot Spots
Jacquelyn Ford Morie, a trainer at VIFX and former technologies training manager at Disney Feature Animation, listed several of the Disney "feeder schools." These are schools that have programs coinciding with the type of fundamental art training necessary for Disney animators, and that currently participate in the Disney Animation "Boot Camp" Internship Program. Unless otherwise noted, these schools are especially strong in the areas of traditional animation: Art Center College of Design, Columbus College of Art and Design, New York School of Visual Art (both traditional and CGI), Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Academy of Art San Francisco, Canada's Sheridan College of Applied Arts and Technology, California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), Kansas City Art Institute, Pratt Institute, Ringling (both traditional and CGI), and the Fashion Institute of Technology. Morie also recommends Vancouver's Emily Carr College of Art & Design for traditional animation instruction. These schools are targeted by almost all of the companies included in this article because of their strong fine arts programs.
With new studios being built around the world, are there enough traditional animators to fill the desks? Jo Hahn, the supervising producer at TSC Trickompany in Hamburg, Germany, noted that it's "hard to find talent in Europe." The big problem is the competition from companies in the United States who can offer a higher rate to artists because the typical budget of a feature in the US is about four times higher than in Germany. One of the solutions to this problem is training more people. At Trickompany, many of the artists learn on the job. The artists may be graphic designers or fine art painters who, when they are hired, know very little about animation. Hahn also attends the animation festivals in Stuttgart, Annecy, Ottawa and Pasadena to seek out artists. Moreover, schools in Luxemborg, Paris, Denmark, and Ireland's Sheridan College (yes, there are two) are also scoured for emerging talent. Trickompany artists plan to teach animation at a new animation school in Hamburg, which will be a future source of employees to the company. With 220 artists in Hamburg, and 40 at Tooncompany in Berlin, Trickompany attracts new talent by doing feature films with edgy, sexy, funny material. Trickompany advertises in a newsletter published by the European Association of Animated Film as well, but their best resource for finding new staffers is through the talent they already have. "The main thing is networking," adds Hahn.
A Great Portfolio Is...
Deborah Fallows, production recruiter at Nelvana Ltd., stressed that it's essential for applicants to have formal art training. Without training in basic drawing skills and classical animation, an applicant is "unlikely to be qualified for a position in production." Many of the 400 artists on staff at the Canadian animation company came from Sheridan College, which is only 20 kilometers from Nelvana's Toronto base of operations. Other schools with potential recruits include Capilano College in North Vancouver and the Ontario College of Art. Fallows urged students to "always show their best work in their portfolio" and that the portfolio should reflect strength and a variety of styles. Sometimes students are not aware of positions for which they might be suited. "We like to work with them to determine their strengths." When students apply to Nelvana, they should submit a resume and five to ten copies of their best work. Applicants of interest will be asked to do an appropriate test, which will be reviewed by supervisors and directors. "The test is to determine the artistic strength as well as artistic style, because the shows that Nelvana produces are very diverse."
Sunbow Entertainment, an animation studio with offices in California and New York, finds candidates by placing ads in trade publications. Twenty to thirty portfolios are received and reviewed weekly. "A good portfolio speaks for itself," stated CJ Kettler, president of Sunbow in New York. In production on two series, Sunbow finds that many people are attracted to the company because it is a terrific place to work, providing artists an environment with a "small company feeling." The independent animation house does work for hire at a competitive cost for clients. Kettler's advice for struggling artists is, "It's a great business. Stay in it."
Saban Entertainment, with offices in Southern California and France, focuses their recruiting efforts on the ASIFA Job Expo, part of the World Animation Celebration, and their own "recruitment day," which became a recruitment week due to tremendous response. Producers spent 15 to 20 minutes with each artist, reviewing the portfolio and interviewing the candidate. However, some specialized jobs are extremely difficult to fill, and Saban is planning to start a training program for timing directors. Dana Booton, vice president of animation production at Saban, advised industry newcomers, "Show versatility in your portfolio. Ask for tests and include them in your portfolio. Also include life drawings. These show expression, attitude and line style, which is important."
CGI is Smokin'
CGI is undergoing phenomenal growth, with the demand for talent far exceeding the supply. Vancouver Film School offers a CGI program, as does Ohio State, Georgia Tech, and the University of Central Florida (UCF). VIFX's Morie enthusiastically discussed UCF's Digital Media Institute, and particularly their Institute of Simulation and Training, which is a visual simulation lab specializing in real-time graphics and virtual reality. It should be noted that Orlando and Miami are the fifth largest markets for animation artists after Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
The department head of computer graphics at Warner Bros. Feature Animation, Tad Gielow, said the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida is "turning out students who can get jobs right away. There are at least five that are immediately hirable for features or live action effects. Students there are doing excellent work." Gielow looks for character performance in demo reels from applicants. This subtlety in animation is harder to teach than software. A stand out demo reel would show an understanding of animation basics, such as timing and weight, with some storytelling skills.
Pauline Ts'o, vice president of Rhythm & Hues, a computer animation facility in Los Angeles, says that competition for animators often makes it necessary to hire from overseas. Since the beginning of the year, three of Ts'o's seven hires have been from abroad. Rhythm & Hues is now hiring people with strong technical backgrounds to add to their staff of over 200. Ts'o looks for talent from Texas A&M, the above named schools, and post-production houses. "Working at a smaller company is often good training," said Ts'o. Her advice to those entering the field is straightforward. "For artists, do not be afraid of the technical aspects. Learn it. And for programmers, do not be afraid of the art. Learn it."
According to Brad Reinke, senior technical/artistic recruiter for DreamWorks SKG, many new schools are not teaching the basic principles of animation: weight, squash and stretch, etc. The industry needs artists trained with these basic skills. He sees strong talent coming from several trade programs as well as the schools already mentioned. "The computer is just a tool. Too many people become entrenched in the box. A CG animator must have training in the basic principles of life drawing and animation."
The Idea Folks
Before anything is drawn on paper or computer screen, there has to be an idea, a treatment, a script. Where are the creative executives finding the new hot ideas and writers? Janice Sonski, vice president of creative affairs at DIC Entertainment, found writing talent through a variety of sources including agents, recommendations from networks, contemporaries in the industry, and viewing television shows. Children's picture book authors, stand up comics and writers of live action shows have all written for DIC. Sonski noted that most writers have an agent, manager or attorney, but once a writer becomes well-known, they no longer need an agent to get them work. "Production companies tend to hire the same writers because they deliver the goods, are good with clients and are great storytellers. The writer and production company have to be very responsive to the client's needs. A writer must have very good people skills because a lot of diplomacy is needed." So many skills are required to be an animation writer that "it's almost like directing," noted Sonski. Animation is so visual that an understanding of character development, storytelling, dialog, sightgags, camera angles and staging are all musts for the successful writer.
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is an independent recruiter specializing in artists, producers and programmers in the entertainment industry. Former clients include Disney Feature Animation, DreamQuest Images and Fox Animation Studios. She is a founding member of Women in Animation, an active member of ASIFA, and speaks regularly on animation at industry conferences including the ASIFA Job Opportunities Expo, New Animation Technology Expo and NAPTE's ANIFX in 1997.