How To Enter the Animation Industry (Portfolio & Website Tips)

A few days ago, a recently graduated animation hopeful emailed me for advice on how to enter the animation industry in Austin. She was also interested in feedback on her reel and website. I get requests like this from animators early in their careers fairly often, so I thought I’d share some of my reply here. (See below!)

The truth is, animation is an industry with more job interest than demand. The market is flooded each year with aspiring animators fresh from school, but there aren’t enough jobs for everybody. That makes animation a highly competitive field. The actual art aspect of animation has become like a competitive sport. To get that coveted role as a character animator, character designer, background artist, etc., requires an obsessive devotion to improving your abilities as a drafts-person and designer, not to mention training and some degree of natural capacity. Distinguishing yourself as an artist is no easy task.

 
 This was how I felt when I first entered the job market.

This was how I felt when I first entered the job market.

 

The good news is, there’s a lot that can be done from your own home. You can learn oodles about your craft from any one of hundreds of artists & animators giving free tutorials on YouTube (I recommend Steven Silver), by following inspiring artists on Instagram and Tumblr, and by listening to artist-focused podcasts like Creative Pep Talk. Then you can practice what you’ve learned with little more than a sketchbook and a pen — although the Adobe Creative Suite is an essential digital toolkit if you can swing the very reasonable monthly payment.

Building your artistic skill takes time and practice; there’s no way around it. But if you’re willing to think outside the box and try something different from overcrowded styles like anime, Disney, and the so-called “CalArts style,” you might be able to stand out from the pack sooner.

 
 There’s no substitute for putting pencil to paper (well, besides putting stylus to screen)

There’s no substitute for putting pencil to paper (well, besides putting stylus to screen)

 

Anyway, after all that pontificating here’s what I wrote back to the animator who emailed me last week. I’ll call her “Sara.” (Not her real name.) I’ve edited it down to just the portions that I think may be common concerns.


My Response to Sara

Hi Sara,

I took a look at your demo reel and around your site, and came away thinking you've got a lot of work to show and it's promising work.  There's always more to learn and grow as an artist, and it's good you understand that.  I'll give you my direct notes on your website and portfolio, then I'll answer your questions the best I can.

REEL

  • Lots of work samples (good!)

  • Improve your digital line work -- in general, practice using thinner, cleaner, more precise lines

  • Animate more on 2's and less on 1's.  Animating on 1's too much can have an erratic or jumpy look to it.  Sometimes less is more.

  • Timing -- some things need to be slowed down.  When animating a scene, practice acting it out yourself to get a feel for the timing.  Your scene with the guy looking in the shop window is a good example...you've got great beats and poses, but slowing down some moments would help the acting shine.

  • Even on a reel, I recommend bringing the music down and playing the VO if a clip involves lip sync.  Otherwise, it's hard for me to assess the lip sync.

RESUME

  • I pulled up your resume and noticed several typos right away.  Make sure you carefully proofread your resume and any correspondence with potential employers.

While you are seeking employment, you can still brush up on your drawing skills on your own.  Seek out your favorite artists and animators on Instagram and Youtube and check out their tutorials.  (Many artists have great tutorials.)  The more you practice techniques from your role models, the better!  I suggest getting out of your comfort zone, too, and seeking the work of artists across the entire style spectrum.  I see a lot of young artists who do exclusively anime, and they'd be better served if they had examples of other styles, too.  The most important areas for an animator to work on are construction drawing and life drawing.  Make sure you are addressing the difficult parts of a drawing and not skimming over them or approximating them, that's a critical mistake in most young artists, myself included.

 
 Don’t run from the tough parts of a drawing.

Don’t run from the tough parts of a drawing.

 

Now to answer your questions:

  • Internships are great if you can find one.  You are looking for ANY role at an animation studio (and I do mean any role -- including front desk secretary) because your only goal is to get your foot in the door.  Employment is much better than contract labor, but harder to find.  If not an animation studio, you might try a studio that deals with games, illustration, or design.  Beyond that, you can apply to places like advertising studios which will likely have a creative division.  At a place like that, make sure you are applying to a creative department or you won't be doing much to advance your career or skill set as an artist.

  • To learn about rigging 2D characters, Adobe Animate is probably the easiest entry point, with After Effects being a bit trickier but more useful in the advertising space.  Those can be learned at home with online tutorials.  Austin Community College also has a great 2D animation program (where I sometimes teach a course in Adobe Animate) if you need guidance.

  • I think it can be good to show your handling of a known character if you are applying to a studio that uses similar types of characters.  That shows your ability (or inability) to keep a character on model.  But make it obvious that your poses are original, or they make think you copied existing drawings.  It's a good idea to have original characters in your portfolio, too.

 
 My drawings of the characters from Disney/Pixar’s Up in this unique style impressed the staff at Disney Imagineering and helped my team’s ImagiNations design contest entry stand out.

My drawings of the characters from Disney/Pixar’s Up in this unique style impressed the staff at Disney Imagineering and helped my team’s ImagiNations design contest entry stand out.

 

I then recommended Sara check out my talented associate Michelle’s portfolio website for ideas: https://www.macosta.tv/

I hope this blogpost is helpful to those of you struggling to get your foot in the door in the animation industry. What helpful advice have you come across in your animation journey? Share your advice & experiences in the comments below!