Kit Laybourne muses about the evolution of independent animation and looks "below the radar" for the growth of new emerging domains of digital animation.
Yvette Kaplan, Feature Director, MTV
Generally, I have been very impressed with the level of student work these days. Drawing skills are strong, and most present a solid portfolio with a good representation of figure drawing, animal studies, and individual design samples. Animation sample reels are quite technically proficient, due in part to the huge amount of computer focus and availability in schools. Students are well versed in the use of current softwares. The student films I have been seeing are unusually professional-looking. Technically, they appear as if ready to air on TV. Media-savvy and visually sophisticated students know how to achieve "the look."
However, and I am generalizing of course, the content and story, the animation itself and the timing, the reason for being of many of these films, does not always match the technical level of the presentation. Many times I find myself wishing that these young animators would simply show me a stack of drawings to flip through. A full color, full sound finished film with credits is not always necessary. Show me a well-animated pencil test. Show me some character designs and pose sheets, expression charts, personality stuff. Show me your enthusiasm and your obsession, your love of the process. Show me you know how to do a layout, complete with field guide. Show me a well thought-out storyboard so I can get a sense of your storytelling.
A point I can't help making, and I don't mean to sound discouraging, quite the contrary in fact, is that not everyone is a `filmmaker.' Not everyone is an idea person. We can't all be Mike Judge or Trey Parker or Matt Stone. Yet everyone wants to be. Everyone's pitching something. Even instructors are pushing their students to finish a film, seeming disappointed if a student wants to perfect his animation skills instead. Remember: no animated film or TV series has ever been completed without the dedication and skills of many talented people. The skilled background artist who understands perspective, the gifted animator who understands weight and timing, the organized, detail oriented layout artist, all are necessary parts of the whole. Animation is a team effort, and creativity a many faceted trait. You don't have to be a 'star.' We only need one of those per show. What we do need are many patient artists ready and willing to listen and learn and work to make the product great.
My advice for breaking into the business - draw, draw, draw. You can focus on character or background, or both, but good draftsmanship and a good eye are invaluable skills. Understand the basics about animation. Learn how to do a layout. Learn about camera pans and fields. Learn how to read and prepare an exposure sheet. If you are on an interview, be considerate of your interviewers time constraints and edit your portfolio. Show your best work, not everything you've ever done. If you have obvious strength in one area over another, and if it happens to be the area you are most interested in, by all means make that clear by your portfolio choices. It'll help the interviewer see how you might enhance a certain department and a job offer just might follow.
What to expect? Well, if you get that job, I can tell you what will eternally endear you to me. Listen and learn. Follow instructions and ask questions. Then ask more questions. Be concerned with deadlines. Do what is asked, then go further. If the job you are hired to do is not the one closest to your heart, don't be impatient. Good work is rewarded. The animation industry today holds many opportunities. You are in the right place. Welcome, and the best of luck to you!
Jay Francis, Director of Talent Recruiting, Film Roman
Having just recently visited a number of prestigious schools throughout the United States and Canada, I am most impressed by the computer animation talent that is becoming available to the cartoon industry. While most studios are looking for artists, not just computer technicians (Film Roman included), I have found a wealth of talent that is proficient at both traditional and computer design.
There is, however, a tendency at some schools to over-emphasize the computer while not paying close enough attention to the fundamentals of drawing and design. Yes, the computer is here and yes, it is not going away, but the computer still needs a true artist to exploit fully the technology.
Any student looking to break into the industry should expect a long, hard battle. The competition is as fierce as it has ever been. The first thing that I tell a student is to go where the jobs are. A student spends a lot in time and money to hone their skills. It makes no sense not to go to the industry centers (Los Angeles specifically, New York to a lesser extent), where as an entry level designer the real training/learning begins. Make sure your portfolio is versatile, understand what jobs are being offered and most importantly be persistent!
Jana Day, DreamWorks Animation Recruiting
Generally speaking, the skills we see from the animation schools around the world are very good. Each year our college recruiting trips identify several students that we begin to develop relationships with over the next few years.
The top animation schools study all areas of animation, so there really isn't one area that is lacking. I think the most difficult area for students is experience in the `real world.' I would recommend that all students try to get internships or complete as many student films as possible. Plus, great life drawing and draftsmanship skills are always essential.
Most graduates start out as in-betweeners or in clean-up animation. It may not sound very glamorous, but it is great training experience. We find that if animators can gain the technical experience first, then their creative style will naturally follow the animation process. Basically, you must learn to manipulate the technical aspects before you can get creative.