Learn about storytelling.
When Sarah Kennedy left college she was determined to do her own work. ‘It is really difficult to get money when you are a student just out of college,” affirmed Sarah. “I knew I would hate working on commercials so I was lucky to get a job as a researcher working on Sex Talk. This was brilliant for me because I want to write as well as making my animation films. It was a really interesting job, a way of collecting biographies of peoples lifestyles. I learnt a lot about storytelling. writing scripts and about doctoring things. If you are going to do something as well as make your films you might as well do something that will be a learning process. If you are a visual person then you would learn a lot from working on commercials but I am more of a writer.”
David Sproxton and Peter Lord went to university but they did not go to film school to study animation. They started making films when they were at school together. They had a contact who worked in children’s TV and after several years of making sequences for Vision On they eventually made a series called The Amazing Adventures of Morph for a new programme called Take Hart.
Create a showreel.
‘As an employer of people who come out of colleges I would advise students to use the colleges to create their showreel.” said David. When a person asks for a job you want to see what they can do. You want to see a maturity and an ability to encompass the whole scope of what film-making is.”
Simon Pummell told how his college graduation film was 26-minutes long but he found people unwilling to view it. “After I had been out of college three months I made a five-minute cut-down of it, then after another three months I made a one-minute cut-down of it and found people would be prepared to watch the one-minute version.” An agency is usually interested in the visual style or the sound rather than the complete film.
“It depends what skills they are looking for,” responded David. “A guy we have with us at the moment came to us with his college reel and the thing that impressed me was the three films on it were actually finished. They were only three minute films whereas some students have the desire to make an epic such as Star Wars on 8mm. It is much better to have a short finished film than a long film that does not get beyond the storyboard stage.”
When you work at an animation studio you may be taken on for one specific job, you are hired as a pair of hands. Paul Vester sometimes sees great films on people’s show reels but they aren’t right for what he is doing on a particular project. “We keep a file of things we think people might be good at. You might get somebody who is a good illustrator but can’t really animate. Their films show a complete lack of timing but their drawing is great. We might ring them up and ask them if they want to do some rendering for us, which is a fairly low grade job. They might need the money and take the job. We had someone who came to us like that who, later on in her career, became a famous illustrator and gave up animation. Drawing the characters was a learning process for her even though she didn’t end up doing animation. Everyone has something they are good at. or are interested in, at a particular stage of their career, that can be used by a potential employer if you are looking for work on a weekly basis.”
The area of getting your own film together needs completely different skills. You have to be able to go out and convince people you can do it, you have to be a producer, you have to be able to pitch your idea, you have to be able to write.
Even when you are lucky enough to get a film commissioned you may not have all the skills required. “Surround yourself with people who do things better than you in their field,” advised David Sproxton.
Animation is a group effort.
‘One thing you may not realise if you are used to working on your own a lot is animation is a group effort,’ added Paul Vester. “In the commercial world you have to produce the job on time, you are all in it together and you help each other out.
“I do not think there is any way you can make a reasonable living in animation without doing commercials. Once you are on the merry-go-round of doing commercials it is very hard to get off because it is a full time job. If you drop out of a project other people come and take your place and it is hard to get back on again.”
A time before courses.
Dick Taylor reminded people there was a time when there weren’t college courses on animation. When he started in the industry you entered a studio as a trainee. Bob Godfrey was the same, he was a background artist and he began to make little cut-out films on the side. “Both Bob and I were carried up by the explosion of commercial television,” said Dick. “Anyone who halfway knew how to make an animated film had their chance.”
Animation is now much less separate from other visual media, video post-production, live action and so on, than it has ever been. ‘You don’t have to limit yourself to studios, you can learn a great deal in video post-production,’’ suggested Simon Pummell. “Try to get a job where as many things as possible are coming together, that is where you will learn the most.”
People in post-production houses move on very fast. Jobs such as Harry operators have to be filled from somewhere and the familiar face tends to become the trainee Harry operator.
“There is now beginning to be a tremendous gulf between the means of production and the means available to us in colleges.” revealed Dick Taylor. “I try to make sure people know how to express their ideas and worry about their learning the technical side later on.”
The audience left the discussion with much to think about. Determination seems to be the main quality for getting on in the animation industry, luck plays its part and a skill of some sort is essential.
Printed in Animator Issue 30 (Spring 1993)