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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life After Graduation

Another round of seniors have graduated across the United States and I have found myself responding to the same email from different students over and over again.
Although the grammar and spelling is different each time, the basic questions is "What do I do now????!!!".
Instead of replying every time, I figured I'd lay out some things here.
I'm writing specifically for 2D graduates here, but the information is mostly the same.
They are in random order.

1) Do not expect to walk out of college and into a job. Although this does certainly happen, it is uncommon. Be prepared to wait some tables, walk some dogs, whatever.

2) Do not make the mistake of thinking your classmates are your competition for jobs. Or the students at the school nearest to you. Not only are there schools producing very high quality students, but there are animators (like myself) who are applying for the same jobs. Many of us have been doing this for a long time and we are much better than you.

3) There may be a superstar in your class. He/she draws better than all of you. Paints. Sings. Does everything. And it comes naturally to them. It's possible this person, if they have the confidence, will indeed walk out of university and into a gig. This can be very hard to take. Get over it as soon as possible. It'll kill you eventually.

4) To work in animation you need to be really, really, really fucking good. Or, at the very least be pretty fucking good and have a bunch of other desirable stuff under your belt (like me).

5) Being really, really, really fucking good is not enough. The confidence, networking and the ability to sell yourself without acting like a prick are equally as important. If you are shy and retiring and introverted, work something out.

6) If you live in Ohio and would like to work on Adventure Time (which is produced in California) then it would be useful to be in California when you apply.

7) Students often ask me "Should I move to California to get into animation?". The basic answer is "Yes", My other answer is "You should move to California to wait tables, meet people, sleep with hot chicks/guys, network and get a whole bunch of other life experience under your belt".

8) If you are not working in animation then you should still be animating. Start with 2 second films. Then 5, then work upwards. Then post them online. Always post anything good you've done online.

9) It's a myth that festivals don't want your film if you've posted it on Youtube. A bunch of shit really. I've had more festival invites from programmers having seen my film online than anywhere else. You are doing yourself a massive disservice by hiding it away. It's also totally pretentious and self important. Put the thing online. There's the potential for more people to see it than if it played at every festival in the world for a year and a half.

10) If you have studied in New York or would like to work in New York then there is work here to be found but you MUST be constantly on the hustle.

11) There is very little full time work in animation. Regardless of where you're working, remain vigilant and keep hustling. Your show, movie, studio, whatever can close or wrap up in the blink of an eye and this is not the country you want to be stranded in without health insurance.

12) Learn Flash, After Effects, Photoshop or you will not work. Nobody will thank you for working traditionally on paper in exactly the same way that you'll not be thanked for riding a horse to work instead of driving. Learn some 3D too, please. You'll be infinitely more employable.

13) If you've just graduated, keep your reel short and only put good stuff on it. If you follow my advice and continue to make short, short films, you'll eventually start improving and you can swap some of the reel stuff out for the newer better stuff.

14) Don't be a fucking idiot. Nobody wants to hire a fucking idiot. In our industry, the successful people are generally those who people want to work with (because they're not fucking idiots). Be interested. Be eager. Be humble.

15) It is really, really, really hard to get into the big studios. If you really want in, then keep applying and keep doing better work and keep working on your reel.

16) If you don't care for the films of say, Pixar, then don't apply for a job there. If you get in you will be a cog in a vast machine and they'll expect you to fulfill your role with a minimal of squeaking. Toy Story 4 is not the playground of subversives and dissidents.

17) If you want feedback and advice, find a few folks whose opinions you admire and ask them. Posting something on Facebook and asking for commentary is a waste of time. The feeback will mostly be from your classmates who know only as much, or less, than yourself.

18) Learn to use social media. Personally, I've found Facebook to be a very, very useful place to make contacts and meeting interesting and creative people. If you are going to use something like Facebook then I cannot stress enough that #14 is something you should pay very close attention to.

19) Although students loans do not necessarily afford you this, try and chill out for a bit. Take a break between graduation and applying for gigs. Apart from the fact that EVERYONE is applying at the same studios that you are and everyone is flooded, it's good to take a breath before leaping in.

20) Apply to as many jobs as you like but you'll have more success meeting people and networking. Referrals are a major part of this industry. Being a good classmate puts you in good stead for being recommended by one of your other classmates!

21) If you want advice about animation and working in animation, seek those actually producing work - creators. They don't have to be working for Dreamworks or Pixar or any studio, really. Just find someone who is making things.

22) Read this correspondence between legend Dr Seuss and a young fan.

I'm sure there're plenty of other things I can tell you.

In short: Be really, really fucking good. Learn to network. Be good to work with. If you're not working, don't stop animating.

If students have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section and I'll answer them as best I can.

Good luck!


Charles K. said...

These should be tattooed on every graduate!

Belf said...

Sage advice. You're a sage, you.

Elliot Cowan said...

Thanks fellows!

Betty said...

I found your post through my friend's facebook page. This is really an eyeopener! I'm really lucky to find a job after graduation but it wouldn't have happened if I did not networked or posted my work online. I need to boost up my confidence/shyness as well as continue to work hard to learn and improve my skills... and never stop!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and advice, Elliot! :)

Elliot Cowan said...

Well done then, Betty.
I do know how hard it is to step up and sell yourself.
It's unnatural and weird when what you really want to do is draw for a living, but there are ways to fake it : )
Thanks for leaving a comment : )

Phil Willis said...

Right on!

I recently spoke at a college where I said almost the same thing.

Except you said it quicker.


And with more sweary words.


A. Musing Mouse said...

Hello Mr. Cowan,
Good advice for any industry (even waiting tables).

However, you forgot work ethic - have one. Professionalism, time management etc.

Oh and don't forget there is always a work place arse hole. Don't take it personally, it's their issue not yours. Chances are insecure and see you as a threat.


Elliot Cowan said...

Phil - I live in America now. My students respond well to Australian sweariness.

A. Musing - You are quite right of course. This was mostly about how to find work rather than retaining it : )

Kaishu Mennella said...

Thanks for the advice Elliot! I think I'll give those 2 to 5 second animations a try. Been wanting to use some stuff out of my sketchbook.

Frank said...

Hey Elliot Hi.

I'm an animation teacher in Queensland. They, the new conservative government, have banned sweariness despite its usefulness.

Great blog post. Australian animation teachers really take a reality wrecking ball to childhood dreams and the imaginings of animation grads.

My animation teacher did and it got me employed.

Drop by "The Animation Garden", next time you're on Facebook.

Frank said...

Hey Elliot Hi.

I'm an animation teacher in Queensland. They, the new conservative government, have banned sweariness despite its usefulness.

Great blog post. Australian animation teachers really take a reality wrecking ball to childhood dreams and the imaginings of animation grads.

My animation teacher did and it got me employed.

Drop by "The Animation Garden", next time you're on Facebook.

Elliot Cowan said...

Hey Frank.
Glad you enjoyed the post.
I'll drop by The Animation Garden right now : )

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