Search form

Producing Animation: Getting In The Door

This month's Producing Animation excerpt by Catherine Winder and Zahra Dowlatabadi discusses animation's three main job categories and a little about how to get started in each.

All images courtesy of ArtToday.

What kind of skills are required to get into the field of animation?

People often ask how to receive training in three main job categories: 1) an artist, 2) a member of the production staff, or 3) a voice over actor.


The most important tool artists can have is a portfolio (or a sampling of their best work). It is an artist's calling card. If you do not have a portfolio, you must prepare some initial artwork to start building one. A good way to begin accumulating samples of your work is by taking classes like those offered at animation colleges or the animation union. Some studios have training programs that generally last three months, but they are rare and difficult to get in to.

For those artists who already have a portfolio, it is important for them to update it continuously. Keep copies of artwork from previous projects you have worked on. Recent sketchbooks should also be included. If you have many years of accumulated artwork, it is always wise to get help from fellow artists to select your strongest work. You should also research the show you are applying for and make sure that your portfolio includes artwork that is suitable for the project.

In hiring, every studio has its own specific requirements based on the status of their projects in production and pre-production. Initially, the best thing to do is to contact the studio's recruiting or Human Resources office and request information on their portfolio requirements. Follow the guidelines closely. Depending on your skill set (for example, whether you are an animator or a painter), the requirements for your portfolio pieces will vary. The following is an example of the portfolio requirements for an entry-level cleanup artist or a cleanup inbetweener you may expect to see from a studio.

  • Clean up drawings and original roughs
  • Flippable inbetweened scenes
  • Life drawing sketches
  • Artwork from personal or school projects
  • Videotape of animation exercises

When you have all your artwork prepared, set up a time to drop off your portfolio. Most studios have weekly or monthly reviews and will then return your portfolio to you. Some artists prefer to make copies of their work and leave the copies at the studio so that their work is available for multiple recruiting departments. You may be asked to take a test. This procedure is very common in most studios. A standardized test is often a fair gauge of judging an artist's aptitude for the project.

Production Staff

There are several ways to get into production. While a portfolio is an artist's calling card, a resume or curriculum vitae (CV) should be used when applying for a production staff position. Make sure you have a strong resume that emphasizes your abilities to organize, work with people, communicate and juggle many things at once. It is important that your resume is easy to read and can be understood at a glance. It should not be more than two pages long. If you have listed individuals on your resume as references, it is wise to speak with them in advance to prepare them for a possible call. By doing so, you give your contacts a chance to review your work experience, and then, hopefully, they will be able to give you a glowing referral when the time comes.

If you have little or no production administration in your background, you should look to get on a project as an intern, production assistant or producer's assistant. If you attend a community college, you may be able to design a class in which you can get school credit in exchange for doing a studio internship. Computer skills are also an important asset. Having a working knowledge of software programs such as FileMaker Pro, Excel and Photoshop can give you the winning edge by setting you apart from other candidates applying for the same position.

Voice Over Actor

Most voice over actors have agents who send them to auditions. If you don't have an agent, it is important that you assemble a tape that demonstrates your voice range and talent. You should then research voice agencies and send them a tape. Be sure that the tape quality is professional.

When a voice over actor is hired, the agent negotiates the deal and helps the actor with all of the contractual paperwork. The agent is then paid a percentage of the actor's negotiated fee. The average voice over session takes approximately 4 hours, depending on the role. Pay rates vary based on the type of voice over work being done, and whether the project is union or non-union (that is, Screen Actors Guild [SAG] or not). For union work, it is best to contact SAG directly to get the updated minimum rates. For non-union work, the amount paid is whatever you or your agent can negotiate.

Whether you have an agent or not, it is a good idea to take a voice over acting class, as it will help you hone your skills and make potential contacts. Many voice over coaches are professional voice over directors who are looking for fresh talent.

For more information on auditions and casting, or for detailed information on previous experience needed for different job categories, see Chapters 8, "Pre-Production," and Chapter 9 "Production" respectively in Producing Animation.

Catherine Winder has worked as both an executive producer in television and feature animation. Her background in development, as well as production with studios from around the world has given her a rare global expertise in the field of animation. In her present position as vice president production for Fox Feature Animation, she is overseeing production of the studio's 2D traditional and 3D CGI animated movies. She has co-written Producing Animation with Zahra Dowlatabadi.

Zahra Dowlatabadi, an award-winning producer, started her animation career in 1986. Since then, Dowlatabadi has worked in almost every major studio in Los Angeles along with many internationally acclaimed animation studios and talent. Dowlatabadi is the founder of an organization entitled Animation Team, which assists studios with production staffing needs ranging from qualified line producers to experienced production assistants. She also has co-written a book entitled Producing Animation with Catherine Winder for Focal Press.