Computer Animation 101: A Guide for the Computer Illiterate Hand-Animator
Getting a Job
If animating characters in the digital world is all you want to do, then don't try to learn anything else. Knowledge of specific software is generally not important, unless the company is on a tight production schedule and has no time for training new employees. For smaller shops with smaller budgets, or if you want to go out on your own, you will usually be required to know more than just animating and have experience with the software that the company is using.
Your showreels should only contain your best work. If you have 90 seconds of good character animation and 4 minutes of not so good material, make the showreel 90 seconds long. Always put your best work at the beginning. Believe it or not, if you don't capture the recruiter's attention within 15-30 seconds, the tape will often be ejected! To make sure you won't loose the recruiter's interest, avoid using those old clichés that everyone has seen a thousand times before, such as space ships, robots, camera fly-throughs, lens flares, flying logos, or reflective spheres on checkerboards all accompanied by loud techno music. These may seem impressive and professional looking to you, but will make the poor souls on the hiring committee, who usually have to endure hundreds of showreels each week, reach for the air sickness bag.
Pixar recruiting manager Rachel Hannah elaborates, "Animators should include the work that they are most proud of; particularly work that shows their storytelling and acting abilities. We like to see pencil tests, stills, sketches, and so on. If someone has computer experience then, of course, we'd like to see that as well. If someone's worked on a long piece of animation with others, it's best to supply a credit list explaining what their individual role was. Music is not important and [the reel] should only be 2-3 minutes in length."
"If someone is applying for a character animation position, they simply need to show character motion," adds Tippet Studio's Cantor. "Resolution, modeling, lighting and so on doesn't really matter as long as the motion looks good. If you are applying to a company with the following attitude, `I can do a lot of things, where do you think I'd fit in?' then by all means show all your best stuff like lighting, modeling, texture mapping, and so on."
In short, if you're one of the lucky ones who can animate a character with good acting and great movements, finding a job at any computer animation company should not be too hard. Whether there is any computer animation on your showreel really doesn't matter that much, nor is it of much importance if the animation you're showing is from your latest gig as a supervising animator on Hercules, or just pencil tests shot on Super-8 at your college in Vladivostok, Russia. As long as you make 'em move, make 'em act, make 'em live, you have a chance.
Jo Jürgens is a writer and animator based in Norway. He is currently working on Animated Conversations - Interviews with the World's Greatest Animators, which is slated for publication in 1998.
Getting a Job