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The State of the Recruiting Nation

Boom or eventual bust? We hear from headhunters around the world.

Everywhere, it seems (including in this issue of AWM), we read of soaring potential in the animation job market. However, is this a true boom or an eventual bust?

Jane Baer (Baer Animation, Burbank, California), Keith Ingham (Walt Disney Animation Canada, Vancouver Studio) Robin Lyons (Siriol Productions, Cardiff, Wales) and Rachel Hannah (Pixar Animation Studios, Richmond, California) shared their insight with us on the following issues:

Has the current demand for talent been met by the supply?What will the needs of the industry be in the future? What advice can you offer aspiring animation talent as a result?

The experts' answers all have strong correlations, whether they represent an independent or a major, and regardless of their location--experienced talent is at a premium, and the computer is going to play a large role in the uncertain future. Take heart, however! Everyone agrees that nothing replaces basic, strong drawing skills.

Jane Baer, Baer Animation

"I don't think that the current demand for talent has been met by the current supply of talent. Really talented and experienced animators are in short supply, as are animators who also have computer training. The large studios have been in "bidding wars" for talented artists and have bid the rates up to the point that smaller studios can't compete.

Since our industry is blending its art with technology more and more, we are going to need animators with computer training. We are also going to need highly experienced computer programmers and technicians to invent and upgrade the computer systems, operate them and keep them functioning.

My advice to aspiring animation talent is to not only hone their artistic talents, but also become proficient in all the various computer programs that are now being used in our industry.

At the present time, we [Baer Animation] are not reviewing portfolios. We will resume reviewing at the beginning of July. Because we are a small studio, we do not have the capacity to train new artists. We look for experienced animation artists with a minimum of 2 years studio experience and strong drawing skills, i.e. life and animal drawings. In other related areas, we look for the following skills: storyboard artists should have all the technical and creative skills essential to boarding, layout artists must reflect a thorough knowledge of animation and perspective drawing, and background artists must have a good color sense along with airbrushing and painting skills. Computer software experience is an added plus."

Keith Ingham, Walt Disney Animation Canada, Vancouver Studio

"The current demand for talented and trained people in the industry still needs to be met. I think the main ingredient that seems to be a premium is experience. We all have to start somewhere, and I think, that regardless of one's experience, it is most beneficial to approach each job as a chance to learn. This industry needs people who can draw, who are willing to explore new techniques, and who have the patience to hone their craft. Fortunately, it is a good time to find access to many working environments and experiences.

The industry's needs in the future, at least on the classical animation side of things, will generally remain the same. We will need storyboard artists, designers, animators, layout artists and writers that understand animation. The finer points of new techniques and systems can be learned along the way because these systems constantly evolve. Technical information that may be helpful is a general understanding of digital paint systems and the digital camera. Varied experience in different aspects of animation production would help add to an overall understanding of how a show is put together. Having once done someone else's job is an invaluable experience.

If you are in school, take advantage of the chance to draw as much as possible and learn all you can. You'll need it. The best advice I can give is to keep your eyes open, and know in advance that the garbage pail is your best friend. Don't be afraid to feed it with all those bad drawings that you will inevitably do in the course of a lifetime at this craft. Learn from others around you. The craft of animation is not a goal to be reached, as much as it is an ongoing artistic development and journey. Keep your ego out of the work, and in doing so, you will let in more experience. Keep your portfolio up to date and don't be afraid to edit out a piece that no longer reflects your advancement as an artist. Above all, draw. Always."

"The following is what I look for in a person that I am interviewing:

A strong portfolio with solid life drawing and gesture sketches, as well as more evolved pieces. Whenever possible it is helpful to note how long these drawings took to do.Animal drawings.A sketch book. This shows that the artist is actively practicing their observational skills.Please note that all of the above are not drawings from the imagination, but rather from real life. Animation, after all, is an illusion of life.Drawings that show an understanding of perspective, notably layouts or sketches of architecture.All of the above should be presented in a neat, uniform format. Never use originals if mailing the portfolio.A demo reel edited to no more than 3-5 minutes. This should be titled and fully labeled with your address. It would also be helpful if there was an accompanying list of contents briefly stating exactly what you have contributed to each piece.Confidence without arrogance.

Robin Lyons, Siriol Productions, Cardiff, Wales

"In Wales, we have a small, but fairly constant and loyal talent base. Most of the animators working in the area have been trained in our Cardiff studio. Our studio alone can tackle the pre-production of a large series (26 x 26), or the whole production of a small series (26 x 11). I do not know of anyone who has recently left Cardiff to work in either London or the States.

Very few of the colleges in Britain seem to understand the needs of studios like ours. The main problem is that animation is still taught at art colleges, and the average animation graduate has a keen sense of design, but no real drawing or storytelling skills. A couple of colleges at Bournemouth and Pontypridd encourage their students to face the industrial realities of television animation production, but most are content to provide designers for commercials.

To combat this, CARTOON UK has got together with other partners to provide vocational courses for the industry. The British Animation Training Scheme for assistant animators at London's Museum of the Moving Image and The Welsh Animation Training Scheme for key animators, which happens to be at our studio, are included in this program.

We take on a few trainees every year, and the talent base in Wales is slowly expanding. We have recently opened a second studio in Scotland, and I expect our production slate to expand considerably in the next year or so. This should also enable us to take on a number of new trainees.

Aspiring animators need to decide whether they want to be penniless independent filmmakers or take on skilled work in a studio. If they choose the latter option, they can do worse than knock on our door."

Rachel Hannah, Pixar Animation Studios

"We've been very successful in hiring talented people. Pixar, like all of the other studios in the industry, has faced the fact that there are not a lot of experienced people available. This results in the need to target younger talent loaded with potential and we have found them. Yes, it's hard to find experienced artists, but there are plenty of talented younger folks available.

It's hard to say what the needs of the future will be. We're seeing a lot of smaller shops folding, many of them in the interactive industry. We're also seeing a lot of studios attempting to take on what Pixar was so successful with--fully animated feature films. The next few years will be interesting, but I estimate that within the next 2 years, most studios will have hired most of their talent.

My advice to an aspiring talent? GET TRADITIONALLY TRAINED!!! Learning how to animate on a computer should come second."