Search form

Transition: From a Job to a Passion

There are countless people who have transitioned from a humdrum life into becoming part of the exciting industry of animation and visual effects.

In 2001-2002 about 30% or 850 members of the Animation Guild Local 839 in the U.S. took advantage of the Contract Services Administration Fund (CSATF) Grant for retraining, according to Steve Hulett, business representative for the union.

Members who do hand drawing are retrained in storyboarding and CGI skills. The union has not been able to track these brave souls seeking new careers if theyve made it or not. Hulett guesses that maybe 20% have made some sort of transition into another animation job.

There are also countless people who have transitioned from what they considered a humdrum life into becoming part of the exciting industry of animation and visual effects.

AWN wanted to find some of those transitional people to see how they did it and why.

Steve Hulett of Animation Guild Local 839 reports that about 30% of the membership retrained in new animation skills in 2001-2002.

Moving from the Humdrum to Animation and Beyond

Kate Crandall was driving a Tucson rural delivery route for the post office in her right-hand drive 1997 Jeep, which she still owns. But art was always on her mind.

She started at the Art Institute of Seattle 1986 to become a graphic designer, but as life has it she needed to find a job and she joined the post office. She traded postal routes from rainy Seattle and moved to Tucson, where she drove her postal route and she also bought and sold houses to build a nest egg.

Eleven years with the USPS in 110 degree temperatures drove her to make some decisions. She needed to express herself creatively. She got her pilots license so she could do aerial photography, but the job was not there when she was ready. So she was off to Art Center of Tucson (no relation to the Pasadena institution) to get her degree in graphic design, while she still drove the dusty rural route. She was bored with graphic design and couldnt see the potential in it.

Just as she was ready to quit school, the chair of an emerging new animation department grabbed her and asked if she would like to make pictures move. Of course, this sounded a lot better than graphic design, but the catch was all the classes were in the daytime. Within a day to decide, Kate up and quit her job and spent the next 18 months learning animation.

Kate Crandall went from delivering for the post office to delivering animation projects on time. Her next job is production managing an all-CGI feature film.

As she was nearing her graduation, she applied for the first-ever Women In Animation Phyllis Craig Scholarship, which she won. It brought her $500 and a trip to Los Angeles to attend the World Animation Celebration. She got so much encouragement that she packed up her oldest living pet rat, along with her other belongings, and moved to L.A.

It took five months for her to land a job, but she volunteered at ASIFA-Hollywood, and was hired to help coordinate the Annie Awards. This led to a job in digital ink-and-paint at Klasky Csupo, which she held for six months.

The day after she was laid off from Klasky she had Disney, DreamWorks and several other places calling to hire her, without ever sending out a résumé. Disney was her choice, because of a recommendation from Bill Turner, a member of the ASIFA-Hollywood board. She also made the decision, with much encouragement from so many, to steer her career from art to production management. Two transitions and the promotions came fast. From production assistant working on three Disney direct-to-videos to coordinator in six months. Then six months later bumped to supervisor. She has found her niche in the industry.

She left Disney in June 2005 to freelance as a production manager for Curious Pictures and to take the summer off to visit Machu Pichu as a big birthday gift. Ron Diamond of Acme Filmworks wanted her as an associate producer. Six months later she left Acme and is now a production manager for an all-CGI feature film.

She is continuing to work on one of her independent animation shorts this summer to keep her hand in the art, but she knows she is great at being an animation production manager. Three transitions and see what you get.

Martin Leeper learned production the old-fashioned way: by gaffing on live-action sets. After being bitten by the filmmaking bug, he enrolled in Santa Monica College and learned the craft of animation.

Gaffer to Movie Maker

Martin Leepers work just leaps off the screen. His Beat Girl short shown at the spring student show at Santa Monica Colleges Academy of Entertainment and Technology took the audience by surprise. This CG animation of a superhero girl, à la The Incredibles, avenging the bad guys, is sensational and to think he did it in one year and all by himself.

Martin has the desire to make his own movies. He is not new to movie making at all. He was a head gaffer on motion pictures, commercials and television series for more than nine years. As the lead technician, he lit the live-action scenes and along the way he got the urge to make movies of his own way.

He thought animation would be a great way of storytelling, but didnt have the confidence in his hand drawing skills. He felt the Mac could aid in doing this. He really thought the computer did all of the work of drawing and animating. He soon found out.

He checked out all of his options for an education and chose Santa Monica College because it was cheap. He spent the next three and a half years learning a new craft. In his last year he was devoted to a couple of classes and animating Beat Girl.

Martin learned by doing. Beat Girl started as a motion study and grew from there. Trial and error taught him everything. He learned from his mistakes, which created the challenge in him.

While at SMC, Leeper made Beat Girl. After graduation, he landed at a dream job at Technicolor Interactive doing character animation, animatics and camera for CG game cinematics. © Martin Leeper.

He graduated from SMC in December 2005 and on January 2006 landed at Technicolor Interactive doing character animation, animatics and camera for CG game cinematics, a dream job. He is already plotting the festival circuit for Beat Girl. Who knows whats next?

Still to Motion to Pixels

Annette Buehre-Nickerson of Opticam has been behind and under a camera for her entire career, until now. She is now behind a computer monitor.

Training manuals brought her to Los Angeles after graduating from the University of Miami with her degree in photography. But she had a hankering for the glamour of motion pictures and took a job at Crest Film Labs. There she met her future husband, Jan Buehre. Jans father had the first-ever camera service.

In 1976, Jan and Annete opened Opticam, a combination animation camera and optical printer service. Jan taught her how to shoot on an animation camera and she was hooked. Animation held all of the magic of live action. Opticams first commercial was produced by Charles Eames Co. and directed by Alex Funke, a famous effects director, for Polaroid. And then there were hundreds of sequences for Carl Sagans Cosmos series. What a start for a new company.

After opening and running a successful animation camera and optical printer service, Annette Buehre-Nickerson finds much pleasure learning new digital skills.

Jan died in 1981, but Annette continued to update the camera system from traditional to a motion control systems so she could shoot the backlit method just like in Star Wars. In the 1980s much of the 2D animation of television stations ID work was going in-house onto SGI computers, but there were still commercials to shoot.

Annette shot lots of commercials in the 1980s and 1990s for Acme Filmworks, Duck Soup, Tools of North America and many more production houses. Designer/director Betty Green brought television main title sequences from shows like Law & Order and Mission: Impossible for Annette to shoot. She also had a constant flow of independent producers and animators bring their creative projects and energy through her doors.

By the end of the 1990s, she knew that the computer was taking over. She started taking classes at Santa Monica College. First, computer programming courses, such as Java and C, with the mind to move Opticam into the digital age. But these did not excite her like the classes in Photoshop and Illustrator, especially After Effects. She was amazed that what would take her an entire night under her camera to do a killer shot, could be done in a fraction of the time by pushing a few pixels and moving a mouse.

Alas, two years ago the business came to a screeching halt and at the same time she learned how difficult it is to convert Opticam to a digital service. This has sent her to working with a real estate agent. But this has not daunted her. She continues to take classes and now has Maya, Flash, Houdini, Final Cut Pro and Shake all under her belt. She gets so much great energy at SMC because they are always upgrading their labs and improving the Academy of Entertainment and Technology. Why does she do continue to pursue this? It is just so darn much fun! she said.

These are just three of the thousands of stories showing how hard work and passion for animation has taken them from one career to another.

Jan Nagel, the entertainment marketing diva, is a consultant involved in the business of animation and visual effects since 1991. She represents creative producers and productions companies worldwide, Blanca Ruiz, Jim Keeshen Productions, AGOGO Corp. Hong Kong, as well as being a frequent guest lecturer on the subject of the business of animation. She is also a founding member and current president of Women in Animation International.

Jan Nagel's picture
Jan Nagel, Entertainment Marketing Diva