Saturday, September 03, 2005

Career advice

The other day I received an e-mail from someone who had a few career advice questions regarding animation. I'll admit I didn't feel terribly qualified to offer such advice, but I did my best to answer his questions. In the course of composing my answers, some interesting thoughts came to mind that I felt might be helpful for others. I don't claim that these are the right answers for everyone, but they ring true for me based on my experiences so far. I've made a few adjustments and clarified some points further, but the core is still intact. Here's how things went (with thanks to "JP" for allowing me to share his side of the conversation)...
Do you think it would increase my chances of finding work if i devoted myself to creature animations and realistic motions as opposed to cartoony? Since from what I understand, most companies are looking for realistic motions?
It's a tough call. I've never tried to read the industry and aim for what's hot at a given moment, so I don't really feel I can give you adequate advice in that arena. It sounds a lot like trying to predict hot stocks on Wall Street. It's all a guessing game. There's no exact science to it. People drive themselves nuts trying to predict where certain trends will go, and from some of your other comments, it sounds like you're already starting to get stressed by that effort.

As for me, I tend to just do my best at whatever's in front of me, and let the future take care of itself. If I need to find work, obviously I work hard at that effort, but I'm not trying to predict anything. I just look for a company that does the kind of work that I would like to be a part of, and I aim for that. And while I haven't had personal experience with stocks, I've heard that similar patterns work well in the stock market, too. Find a company that you like, buy some stock in it, and stick with it for the long haul. If you need to change at some point, then change. Don't kill yourself trying to stay ahead of the game by guessing (which is all it really is) what the Next Big Thing will be.

This next question could be answered in a similar way...

On a different note, do you think I would increase my chances of finding work if I devoted my skills to video games as oppossed to film?
...and that way, sadly, is "I really don't know."

However, I do have a strong belief that you will increase your chances of getting work if you search for a job doing work that you like. Rather than ask yourself, "What skills are in demand?", consider asking yourself, "What do I most enjoy?" Or perhaps, "What type of animation am I strongest at?" Everyone has aspects of animation that they like a lot, and generally they do their best work in those areas. If you search for a job doing that, I believe (again, just a feeling, no solid data, but a gut feeling) that you're likely to have a greater chance for success.

I'm kinda in a pickle here. I'm asking myself, "Where are the most possibilities right now? What are people mostly hiring? What is hot on demand right now? Are there more jobs in film or games and if so, what style? Cartoony or realism?"'re playing the animation stock-market. :) Again, rather than stress yourself trying to find the "hot" path and follow it, find your passion and follow that. You're bound to do better work, enjoy it more, and go farther in the industry if you're passionate about what you're doing, and not just doing it 'cause it's the hot thing or the easiest job to get at a given time.

I noticed that you said "One has to kinda do animations geared towards a company he would like to work for." While I agree and don't have a specific comment about that, it got me thinking about a company that I wanted to work for, and how that particular company's place in my career goals changed recently. I think this has some bearing on our current discussion, and I hope this info will be useful for you...

When I started studying character animation, Pixar was one of my primary goals. I used to tell myself that some day I would work at Pixar, and I kinda tried structuring a path that would get me there. It wasn't really a concerted effort all the time, but still, I had this goal of Pixar in my mind.

That goal stayed with me for my first few years as an animator, but somewhere in the past year, things changed. I no longer have Pixar as a key goal in my career. I still think they're doing some of the very best work when it comes to 3D character animation, and it certainly would be interesting to be there if I had the opportunity. However, the core nature of my goal has shifted. My goal is no longer about being at a certain place, but about achieving certain things. It's not about where I am, but what I do. Even if I never get hired at Pixar, I believe I can grow and learn and reach a point where I'm doing what folks refer to as "Pixar-quality animation".

The only reason people talk about "Pixar-quality animation" is because it's a convenient reference point. When it comes to 3D feature-level animation, the folks at Pixar happen to be the ones who have pushed themselves the hardest and set the standard for everyone else. However, that doesn't mean that they alone can achieve that level of quality. It's equally important to remember that it's not the name "Pixar" or the corporate entity that achieves that level of quality. It's the people. The people at Pixar study and work and push each other toward success. It's what they do, not where they are, that makes their work great. When it comes down to it, the end product is not "Pixar-quality animation," or even "insert_animator's_name_here-quality animation". It's just quality animation.

With that understanding in place, my new goal is simply to be the best animator I can be no matter where I am. The cool thing is that this shift in thinking has actually lifted some weight from my shoulders. I'm becoming a lot less worried about comparing myself to work done at another company, or by other people. I just need to make sure I'm always growing, always learning, always pushing myself to do better than my last assignment.

It's not about where I am, but what I do.


Paul said...

Both astute and very sincere, Justin. Good advice indeed.

itsme said...

Wow i liked your post. Is there a way to contact you? I aspire to become an animator some day but I'm at the bottom rung of the ladder. :(