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'AWN' Training & Job Survey: How Did You Get Started? — Part 1

AWN polled its readers to see how they are training for their careers and getting jobs. Rick DeMott reports back with the findings and highlights.

Whether youre working in 2D or 3D, the fundamentals one needs to learn are all the same. All images courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

In June on VFXWorld, AWN published the first batch of responses to its survey of readers, regarding professional training and education. Questions included:

In order to get up to speed and get a job, how did you get your training?

a) Self taught with offline/printed materials such as books, magazines and/or tutorials?

b) Self taught with online materials such as articles and tutorials?

c) Video training and/or DVDs

d) Art school courses

e) University courses

f) Technical school training courses

g) Online workshops, courses and/or other distance learning

h) Other

Please describe your training/educational experiences

What was your big break into the industry?

Did you have a mentor that helped your career? If so, what did you learn from him or her?

Explain your career path and how it shaped what you do today.

As reported then, more than 1,000 people participated. Forty-five percent of those people surveyed were from the U.S., 10% from Canada, 9% from the U.K., 8% from India and 3% from Australia. However, the responses came from all parts of the world, including the United Arab Emirates and Kenya.

More than half (64%) of the people surveyed have self-trained using books, magazines and/or tutorials; 44% self-trained using online materials; 37% and 36% took art school or university courses, respectively, while 24% went through technical school training; 22% have used video or DVD training with 9% partaking in online workshops, courses or distant learning; and 80% of the people surveyed have trained using at least two of the above criteria.

Below we have a sampling of what people said:

Axel Bunge now works at Casual Monday in Argentina. At first he received a degree in Industrial Design at the University of Buenos Aires. He started working in the web design industry, which was his first move into animation. After that he received two Masters in animation one at the Discreet Training Center in Madrid and finally at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. His graduation project was his first short film, which had great public acceptance. He worked one year in an animation studio and since has been working as a freelance animator.

Mark Ingram studied graphic design at university, which led him to freelance design. He returned to school for animation while he worked part-time work in small studio and worked on short film. For mentoring, he credits his animation lecturer at university, where he learned principles of animation, techniques, industry info, production methods and made industry connections. From there he landed a traineeship at Disney studio in Sydney.

Jerome Co also worked at DisneyToon Studios Australia. He studied Architecture in college in the Philippines, then went on to work at an animation studio in Manila. In 1989, he qualified for the TV animation training program for at Hanna-Barbera. Co learned from his tutors, but also independently studied books written by Whitaker and Halas, Blair, Thomas and Johnston etc. From architectural jobs, he learned the principles of perspective, technical drafting and composition. In animation he learned character, special effects, BG and character layouts, digital BG painting, a little of 3D animation and line producing for Fil-Cartoons and Toon City. He has found every bit of the process enriching in my view of approaches, aesthetics and performance.

Laurent Leprince began as many do drawing for pleasure and dreaming each year at Brussels Animation Film Festival of breaking into the industry. Leprince began with three years of evening courses at Institut Saint Luc (Art school in Brussels, Belgium), studying drawing, graphics, illustration, serigraphy and art history. After that Leprince took an online workshop at, learning comics & illustration and storyboarding.

Animator Raimund Krumme is only one of dozens of artists who readers have credited as guiding factors in their careers. Photo courtesy of Acme Filmworks.

She found a mentor in Belgian 3D animator and short films director Marc Urlus. He told her which books to read and gave her technical advice on formats, software and what contests to participate in. Later she earned a scholarship for an intensive training in animation at FAM (Halle, Germany) with Raimund Krumme as a main teacher. There she made her first short film, In the Beginning, which was selected for more than 30 festivals.

Her internship at Alphanim (Paris), following her studies at FAM, led to her first contract as a second assistant director on the animated TV series, Delta State, for France 2 and Canal +. Leprince has returned to Brussels where she now works in the afternoon and evening at Saint-Luc and on her personal projects in the morning. Its lots of work, but really worth it, she says. Urlus now serves as the exec producer on a longer version of her short that will be seen in Belgian movie theatres and issued on DVD.

Rafael Terpins of Brazil had some video training in high school and some work with cel and stop-motion animation in a studio, but the rest was self-taught with books. He started his career as one of the Internet-boomers, where he worked a lot with Flash. He finally got into After Effects and fell in love with it. When Terpins got out of the Internet, he started his own production company, which is working on a stop-motion short and other advertising jobs.

Yordan Radanov is an independent animator and designer in Bulgaria. He received a diploma of qualification in traditional full cel animation issued by the National Academy of Theatre and Films Arts Krastyo Sarafov in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1989, preceded by his secondary education diploma in fine arts at the College of Fine Arts ÅgIlia Petrov. He credits animation director Proiko Proikov as teaching him everything he knows about animation.

In 1989, Radanov broke into the industry as an assistant-director on the production Ågorville and Cuddles, a TV series produced for the BBC by Robert Maxwell. This experience initiated him to the creative process of producing animation with a team of artists. For the next 15 years, he worked as an animator, layout artist and character designer. Today he creates animation for different kinds of media, including mobile devices.

Anne Davis now runs Canadian-based ZanneMedia, a multimedia production and web design company. She started her animation education with a 16-month Digital Arts Masters Program at CDIS (now the Art Institute of Burnaby). Within 30 days of finishing, she started working as a junior animator at Mainframe Ent. She landed her first job based on her demo reel and final project. From there she moved into a visual effects and lighting specialist for TV and direct-to-video productions. She said, I learned that your career advances with continued exploration, self-promotion and keeping up with new trends and software.

Chris Bartleman of Canada got a three-year diploma from Sheridan College in Classical Animation. His big break was landing an assistant animators post right after graduating. He moved up the ranks from freelance animator to layout/ storyboard to BG painter. After partnering with a friend, he got tons of freelance work. Now the two run Studio in Vancouver.

Dimos Vrysellas graduated from Sheridan as well. He thanks Dave Brewster and James Baxter as his mentors. In 1991, he was accepted into the co-operative education program at Animation Group Ltd. in Toronto, which led to him landing a job at DreamWorks in 1995. In early 2004, he became a character animator at C.O.R.E. feature animation, later moving to Nelvana in the same role.

Another Sheridan graduate was Mike S. Fowler, who went on to gain additional training as part of Nelvanas layout training program, attended countless workshops with master animators from around the globe and daily on the job artwork. Nelvana offered him a paid summer layout position after his first year of Sheridans three-year program. Fowler was hired the next summer and then hired full time after graduation. Now Fowler teaches animation. As for mentors, Fowler credits Kaj Pindal for teaching him storyboarding; Mark Simon for directness and perseverance and Wayne Gilbert for drawing dynamics while reminding him that, Its just a drawing.

Morghan Fortier started out as a receptionist about nine years ago at an animation studio. She moved from an assistant to the exec producer to a production manager and now a producer at Cuppa Coffee Animation. Her big break was really a stroke of luck. An interviewer confused her with someone else. When she came in for her initial interview, they thought she was an animator, but at the time she was really a junior production manager for an animation studio. The confusion got her a second interview with the head of the company, and, just by chance, they were also looking for a producer.

Women artists seem to have it a bit easier than other females had it in the Golden Age.

She says, It was a steady, if not rapid journey. But its more what happened along the way that has shaped me the most TV production in Canada has had its ups and downs over the past 10 years, and I didnt want to be that person who couldnt do anything else. So over the past two years, Ive made a point of educating myself in completely unrelated fields of interest from my day job. Ironically, it has only influenced and evolved what I do from day to day, increasing my confidence, allowing me greater focus. My job itself has been a blast! It has allowed me to meet loads of people, afforded me the opportunity to travel (I have clients outside of Canada who need visiting!). Every day is a new challenge, which is always exciting. Most of all, I can say that I am truly blessed with being able to work with people who I can honestly call dear, true friends. I wouldnt change it for the world!

Atomic Cartoons owner Rob Davies went to the first animation course offered at Capilano College in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Prior to that he studied Fine Arts at Kwantlen College in beautiful Surrey, B.C. Before taking formal courses, Davies was self-taught, with mentoring from his neighbor in San Felipe, Baja Mexico, an animator by the name of Ed Love. His big break was getting a call halfway through his animation training course at Capilano College. Gord Stanfields office called him to work on Beetlejuice The Animated Series. He was the first to be hired out of that course and extremely proud and thankful for it today.

Wilf Van Dyk is also a graduate of Sheridan. He learned a lot from his teacher Brian Lemay, who taught he animation techniques, but mainly the thinking process involved. For Lemay, Van Dyk says it was about having no ego and always being willing to help anyone when needed. Van Dyks career path has taken him from editorial cartoonist to graphic designer to illustrator to animator. Now he does a mixture of all the above in one form or another from designing huge 3D playground characters to animation for the Web.

Finland-based Jan-Eric Nystrom has had no formal training in animation. He studied chemistry at Helsinki U. of Tech. for a few years. An eight-minute hobby animation project, shown to producers of Finnish TV commercials, launched his professional career in 1974. Over the years, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston were his inspiration and occasional mentors through several meetings (the first with Thomas at the Zagreb Animation Festival in 1974) and folders full of correspondence. Thanks to Thomas, Nystrom says he learned very early on his own limitations. He adds, [Thomas] was always encouraging, though, so I could improve the meager talents I had sufficient for TV commercials in our little country, but no match for the giants of the Golden Age, who left such a legacy.

Nystrom diversified into special effects and title design. He designed a xerographic cel transfer system, which is now practically unused. He started to use Macintosh computers in 1986 and developed the animatic pencil test program in 1989, which was used even by Disney Feature Animation in the early 1990s. He continues to make hand-drawn animation, mostly for TV commercials.

Mario Hounkanrin (aka Mariosupa) studied computer science and mathematics at the university in France, but got bored with that. Because he was always drawing, he decided to enter a school to learn technical Web design in one year. For the animation, he learned everything in books Trish and Chris Meyers After Effects books and shake 3 apple pro training series. Hounkanrin first begin as a Web designer on the French website of ELLE magazine where he worked for three and a half years. Now he works as a freelance Web designer, focusing on motion graphics, music videos and, most recently, special effects on live-action short films. Some of his music video and shorts work has screened at festivals around the globe.

Wolf-Ruediger Rudi Bloss works at Capri Productions in Germany. His first animation job was found through the yellow pages. He stumbled onto a listing for Gerhard Hahn Studio in Berlin. He submitted his portfolio of artwork and landed an assistant animators post on a feature the production house was working on. Animator Tashin Ozgyl, who worked at Don Bluth, was the animation director on the film and taught Bloss the basics of Disney-style animation. Ozgyl gave him animation classes, exercises and advice on his work. For the first eight years of his career, Bloss worked in traditional animation for feature and television animating, stroyboarding and directing. Since 1998, hes been working mostly in 3D animating at ILM, DreamWorks and Sony and directing his own TV-series Fred The Caveman as well as short films.

It seems that everyone has an early nightmare job story to tell.

Kostas Diamantis of Greece got a BA in graphics design at Luton, which he said “sucked.” In his spare time, he played with 3ds Max and went on to get an MA at Bournemouth, which he says “was a great course and I was really pleased.” Diamantis broke into the gaming industry as a freelance Softimage 3D operator at Glassworks. Then his show reel landed him a job at Rebellion, which gave him the opportunity to do stuff he really likes such as characters. Now he’s been working for a year at Aventurine, a games company in Greece, where he’s close to his family and friends.

Larry Feign now works for Stvdio Media in Hong Kong. He sums up his education as general liberal arts education and self-training in cartooning (and some animation) since early childhood. Feign states, “My career is summed up by a line from a Joni Mitchell song — Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Every, I mean EVERY, job or project I have ever planned for, hoped for, dreamed of or applied for has not happened, or has failed. And yet by chance, luck and karma, one great opportunity after another has come my way, and I have done countless things that I had never even dared to dream of. Herein lies the conundrum. When I sit back and wait for luck, it doesn’t happen. So I keep trying, and keep failing at the things I try. Yet meanwhile I do the most amazing and exciting things and have somehow made a living at it for more than 20 years. That is both the trouble and the joy of a career in a creative field.”

Chetan Dane of Parikh Infosys Pvt. Ltd. in India earned a degree in Computer Technology. He’s skills range from Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Imageready, HTML, DHTML and Flash with Action scripting. Now he’s working with s/w and Maya. At present, he’s working as a 2D animator and wishes to work as a 3D animator in Pixar or in Hollywood in future.

Gokul of India studied with online tutorials and articles. He then left his government job to pursue a career in this industry. He began teaching animation for a while then got a break from a leading studio in India as senior animator.

Kshiraj Telang was brought up in a very small town, which didn’t have any training institute or professionals to guide him. But his “craziness and passion” helped him collect tutorials and articles by which he started learning animation on his own. Preston Blair’s How To Draw Cartoon Animation, The Illusion of Life and The Survivor Kit proved to be helpful resources. He also bought a lot of animation movies and learned a lot from watching them.

He broke into the industry at Creative Skulls, which was doing a home production on a 2D animation digital series. He says, “It was a wonderful break since I learned a lot while working as our team’s main objective was to invent new methods to deliver more output in lesser time, and find new ways to improve our production quality.” He moved from junior to a lead animator and impressed people with my skills. Now he works as a 2D animation faculty member at one of India’s top animation training institutes.

Mukund Dhananjay of India also trained himself using various books, online references and taking tips from my seniors. His big break was being selected for a post at a movie making company in Hyderabad. Now he works as a level designer in games. His dream is to become a director of films.

India-based Crest Animation Studios’ Santosh Valaboj started his career in photography at his brother’s Glamour Studio, where he took fashion photography and began learning graphic design. But his dream was to work on Hollywood movies as a character animator/visual effects artist. His big break was landing a post at Crest Studios and is now working as a senior animator on Mike Young Prods.’ Pet Alien.

Amir Mohammad Dehestani helped form Iran’s Hoor Animation, but he received his bachelors in cinematography. But he decided to take a different path and got a masters degree in animation from an art university in Tehran. After that he landed a post as a member of a six-person special R&D team in Xerox’s Iranian branch, which was using animation and CGI. Then Xerox enlisted the team to create little animated clips for a Xerox exhibition. Mohammad took the director’s position on that project. When the R7D team was shut down, the members went and formed a small animation company, which would become the foundation of Hoor Animation, one of the leading Iranian animation firms.

Books like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnstons The Illusion of Life, among others, are crucial to many aspiring animators who dont have the means to acquire an education any other way.

Nikola Chikos of Macedonia has taken a very hands-on approach to learning animation. He was completely self-taught through books when still in high school he creates his own animation based on historical subjects. This landed him a job at a commercial studio while he continued to work on independent projects, which have screened at some festivals and won awards. Chikos is now obtaining a more formal education, studying animation in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Mariana Acuña of Mexico didnt know what to study in college, so she figured a BFA would the right thing, since it was the only courses in high school that she received straight As in. She started as a major in new media, but when she started taking courses in animation, video editing, VFX and video art, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. After that she tried to do a short film in every possible animation medium. She also went to New York to the School of Visual Arts to do a couple of specialization courses and finally ended up in Spain doing a masters degree in 3D animation and digital post-production.

As for her big break, she says, I was lucky enough as to be in the right place at the right time. I was offered a teaching position in the Art & New Technologies Masters degree in Spain, where Ive been able to teach, learn and experiment with art, animation and VFX.

She says, that with animation Ive learned a lot about myself. I am becoming the person that I really want to be. [Through animation,] Ive met some the best people ever and I give thanks everyday to do something like this for a living, and not a boring job, which makes you act serious and wear tie or high heels to work. Sorry tie and high heel users out there!

Marcel Moek is an independent animator from the Netherlands. His animation education consisted of composition at a conservatory, graphic arts at an art school, a multimedia degree and a postgraduate degree in character animation. His big break was receiving a commission for a series of animations for the national school. After completing his education he worked for a number of companies as an animator. In doing so, he gained work-experience and formed a network that allowed him to work independently thereafter.

Hamish Beachman of New Zealand had been doing 3D as a hobby for a number of years. Then in 2002, he went to the Media Design School in New Zealand for a diploma in 3D animation. He had a very good tutor while at the school, David Mendalow. He learned from him that 3D was not easy as many students think it is. And that traditional art skills and other knowledge, such as film editing and composition are critical to understand. Through very hard work, he graduated top of his class.

His first industry related job was as an intern for the Art Department at National Geographic Magazine in Washington, D.C. in 2003. After the internship was finished, he was commissioned for artwork by the magazine. Then on his return to New Zealand, he worked for a game development company as the 3D lead for a year. Now Beachman works at animation studio Yukfoo as a senior 3D artist.

Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he worked in various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the book Animation Art as well as the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website Unloosen.

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