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Recent art school grad, aspiring animator asking for help/ advice.

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Recent art school grad, aspiring animator asking for help/ advice.

Hi guys,

I need some help and advice on what to do/ where to go next. (Hope this is the right place to ask this...)

TL; DR version:
Recent grad has tried to teach self character animation and software; needs more education and experience to become proficient in Flash, After Effects, Maya, Character Animation to be hired by a studio. What to do? Where to go next? Advice? Suggestions? THANKS!

I graduated from a four year art school a little more than 2 years ago. The college I attended, their animation program was new at the time so, did not properly teach Flash, Maya, or After Effects. Also, didn't cover character animation. In that time, I've worked on a couple freelance projects and mostly spent time trying to fill in the gaps my education left. I used what I could find on YouTube and on But a video only helps so much. For instance, it doesn't give feedback.

I feel I've improved, but I still have a ways to go. I can get around in Flash (my strongest program outside of PS or Premiere/ Final Cut) but the idea of puppets still baffles me, at this time I’m unable to use them properly. No one has shown or taught me how. When I use Flash it’s usually a combination of symbols (for the head, mouths, etc) and frame by frame (for everything else). Correct me if I'm wrong, but in my experience that’s not what small studios are looking for. :\

What I hope to do is work for a studio on 2D character animation shows or commercials animating in Flash, Toon Boom, or After Effects. But, I am open to using 3D as well, though not my first choice. (I still need to become more adept at modeling, rigging, and skinning.)

So, I'm wondering if you have some words of wisdom for an aspiring character animator. Are there any other websites, workshops, programs, brick and mortar schools, or anything that can help me? Cal Arts and RISD are the only other institutions I know of. Do I go to grad school? Or do I start from square one and go through a 4 year program again? In a perfect world, it would be nice if it wasn't too expensive since I already have student loans and am in debt. :(

I’m at the end of my rope and I don't know who else to ask or where else to go. Please any help you can give is greatly appreciated! (And if you lasted this long I thank you so much for your time!! Honestly, I can't thank you enough!)

So you want to be a character

So you want to be a character animator?

What's your drawing like?  Is it professional-looking?  My professional looking I mean does it look like the drawings on the best animated TV shows and such out there, or does it look like most student films look?
All of the other things, the other schools, any experience.....will be secondary to the consideration of drawing. For a character animator, excellent drawing ability is the yardstick you'll be measured by.

It certainly sounds like you were short-changed in your education, and it sounds like you signed onto a programme without doing an due diligence about it. A 4 year art school animation programme that doesn't cover character a pretty shitty programme, in my opinion.  But that's past.

Look, if you want to do character animation, you've got to sell that you can do character animation.  There's no ifs, ands or buts about that.
You can self-teach by grabbing some books ( Richard Williams Animators Survival Kit is reccommended ), some on-line tutorials on animation and animation timing.....and then just fill your eyes with top-notch SOLID character designs and draw them all until you master them.
By mastering them, I mean being able to take those character designs and do all-new poses, expressions and situations for them IN CHARACTER. The situation matter less than the expression of the character's personality.
If you can convey that, work will will come to you.

But, at this need to gauge where your drawing and animating abilities are right now. Don't patronize yourself, but take a good long hard look at what you can do, and compare that to what is being done professionally out there.  What a gauge to measure by?  Take a look at Disney, for example, because Disney strives for strong character personalities. A good film to study might be Treasure Planet, because it's got strong, broad characters within it.  There's other out there too, but do your research.  Watch how faces move and express. How bodies pose and gesture. Watch how timing is different for comedy and drama.
Understand that you are starting again at the bottom rung of yet another tall ladder.

"We all grow older, we do not have to grow up"--Archie Goodwin ( 1937-1998)

Hi Ken,

Hi Ken,

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

As for my drawing ability, I would say, sadly, it is just barely a step above that of student films.

In the case of my schooling, I was the first to go to college in my family and the first with the desire to work in a creative field. I had hardly any help deciding on a school I only had two options and sadly the one I chose was the better of the two. I whole heartedly agree with you. But as you said, the past is in the past. I wasn't aware of how detrimental it was until after the fact. Now, I'm trying to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Thank you for the tip/ excercise about drawing character designs. I definitely will pursue that further. Out of everything it sounds like an extremely fun way to progress. :-) That and also watching tons of animated material. ;-)

I by no means want to work for Disney nor do I ever feel I'll get to that level. At this point in time, I'd be happy to be able to create the simplistic, puppet Flash animation they use for commercials and webtoons succesfully. My drawing, animating, and program skills are all in the basement in terms of level and that's looking like a gigantic ladder to climb. Part of me worries if I've just wasted a lot of time and money on nothing. :-| Though art and drawing (particularly animation) is the only thing I've known or done through out my albeit short existence. Yet, everytime I think of doing something else, I can't. Even if I wasn't pursuing art I still would be drawing.

Anyway, thanks again for your advice and suggestions. And the reality check.  It means a lot.

The thing about Disney as an

The thing about Disney as an example is not that it's a goal to work for them, but rather that it's a good yardstick to measure talent by.
If you can produce work at, or very near that level, you will never hurt for work--and even if you just want to work at a smaller studio animating on commercials and web-toons.  The more talented you are, the more options you'll have and the more attractive you will be to employers.

See, talent in drawing ability isn't so much about making pretty drawings as it is in problem-solving.  The better the artist, the more diverse they are, the more varied jobs they can tackle---not just in terms of art-styles, but also in other tasks in the production pipe-line.  
That can be gold to an employer, especially a smaller studio where talent have to multi-task.
A truly talent artist can make all kinds of styles appealing because they are comfortable in taking those styles and making them work.
There are other style pools to tap into than Disney--Warner Bros. Hanna Barbera, Walter Lantz, the various UPA shorts......there's different schools of thinking that take the measure of talent from each of those.
Yes, the ladder is tall, and it is steep--there's no other way to scale it than to starting climbing. There's no short-cuts but sweating it.

This is both the hardest part and the "easiest" part.  Hardest because it's so daunting trying to figure out just where to swim in the ocean of possibilities. A LOT of people just see what's ahead and give up hope.  What really stops them is the speed-bump, and that is probably for the best. People that give up that easily will just not have the stomach to last in the biz if they have the talent anyway.

And the easiest part of this is that when the newcomer makes it "halfway" there will be helping hands there to guide them the rest of the way.  Now, understand that halfway doesn't mean 50% of the journey or effort. It's more like 80%, sometimes even 90% of the effort needed to get there will be on the newcomer's shoulders. But once you get it, all that foundation isn't going to be enough to keep you in. 
Growth, exploration and guts will help you last.

Yes, that is a lot, and it's intimidating. You need to really question your moxie, and just how crazy you are to stick with it, because it's going to seem like a lost cause about a half dozen times before it bears any fruit.

"We all grow older, we do not have to grow up"--Archie Goodwin ( 1937-1998)

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