There are a number of books kicking around on the subject of starting or furthering a career in animation, but you’d be hard pressed to find one written by an author with as impressive a resume as Steve Hickner. From humble beginnings as a pencil tester at Filmation, Steve has worked his way through Disney, Amblimation and DreamWorks Animation studios as a storyboard artist, producer and director. His credits include movies such as The Little Mermaid, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Prince of Egypt, Antz, Father of the Pride and Bee Movie, and his decades of experience have seen him working alongside some of the most iconic figures in modern day cinema; Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Richard Williams and Robert Zemeckis to name a few. When it comes to animation, if there's anyone you should be taking career advice from, it's Steve.
His first book, Animating Your Career, is jam-packed with practical, thought provoking advice on how to land a job in the competitive world of animation, as well how to advance your career and move from the role of an artist to that of a supervisor, producer or director.
The first half of the book, "Making Your Dream Happen," is dedicated to breaking into the industry. It's a frank and honest discussion on the character traits of those who enjoy successful careers in the entertainment industry vs. those who fail. As Steve highlights - the key to enjoying a long and prosperous career in the film industry is to be a good people person. And as such a lot of the advice here centers on adopting and projecting the kind of attitude that will make others WANT to work with you.
Many of Steve's points are accompanied with real world examples of how they have paid off in his own career, or the careers of those around him. This section of the book serves in many ways as a call to arms designed to motivate the reader into taking positive action to get their career off the ground. It very much succeeds at this. Most will come away with at least a few ideas of how to better present themselves to any potential employers.
In the second half of the book, Steve moves on to discuss the challenges of moving into management oriented roles, such as supervisors, producers and directors. As Steve highlights, the role of an animation supervisor is very different to that of an animator, and in many studios artists can be moved from creative roles to management roles without any real training.
To that end, most of the material here is business focused. As with the rest of the book, one principle shines through: being a good people person is key. And as with the first chapter of the book it is teaming with examples and anecdotes on everything from organizational and self-management tips, to how to inspire confidence in those around you, how to deal with low morale, how to put together a good team and how to manage them effectively. A lot of this advice and insight is difficult to find elsewhere, except perhaps in specialized business literature. But of course, those kinds of books don't necessarily relate to the production of animation.
All in all Animating Your Career is an extremely valuable source of practical career lessons and advice. You'll find it to be a quick read - not because it's thin on content, but because it's so damn difficult to put down. Whether you're at the start, middle or even at the end of your career in animation, I would strongly urge you to invest in and take the time to read a copy of this book. You will not be disappointed.
Paul Younghusband previously served as editor of Visual Magic Magazine and has contributed to publications such as Animation World Magazine and VFX PRO.