How To Stand Out As An Animator
Animation is a pretty sweet gig: people care about it, it lets you be creative and it’s a fun industry to be a part of! Unfortunately, this means it’s also very competitive. To get your foot in the door you often have to contend with hundreds of demo reels for only a handful of positions.
Are you fresh out of education and wanting to take those first tentative steps? Hitting the freelance world but looking for more clients? Perhaps you’re in your first studio as an animator but wanting to get noticed and get ahead in the industry. This week, we’ve put our heads together and come up with our advice for how to get yourself noticed as an animator from the perspective of animators ourselves AND as a studio that hires them.
Work on your animation fundamentals
As with most things worth doing in life, there are no shortcuts, I’m afraid! Hone your animation fundamentals with long sessions at your tablet and days of working hard at the basics and you’ll prove that you deserve the attention of potential clients.
A brilliant way to start is with some free tutorials online. There’s a thriving community of animators who are itching to share their techniques and offer their tips on how to improve your own. Most of the common animation tools out there already boast beefy tutorials which will take you from newbie to master, but for the purpose of staying sharp, you want more accessible stuff.
One of our favourite things to do is to type in ‘animation excercises’ or ‘animation practice’ into Tumblr and Pinterest to check out what other creative people are up to and get inspired about short projects to do for the sake of our own skills.
Still having a problem with something specific? You can bet on the fact that someone has had the exact same issue and already made a tutorial covering it. YouTube is an incredible resource for animators, starting from tips and tricks videos, and going right through to professional grade, multi-part masterclass series.
Don’t neglect the physical resources out there either! Here are a couple of our favourite books on animation that helped our animators get to where they are today:
The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams
- An animation bible and amazing foundation for your animation education, This teaches you the essence and basics of spacing, timing, walks, runs, weight, anticipation, overlapping action, takes, stagger, dialogue, animal animation and much more. Invaluable.
Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair
- We find Blair’s section on facial animation especially useful because this is often such a challenge. It’s split into five key areas, character movement, character development, animation, dialogue, and camera sound – giving you a well-rounded knowledge of practical animation from one of the best in the industry.
Here are a few of the vital things to master before anyone will give your work a second glance:
- Character movement & body mechanics. Practice short actions, one at a time. A character picking up an apple, a walking cycle. Working on a single short shot encourages you to stick something out until completion and improve your ability to polish your animation.
- Acting. Watch some good live action dialogue scenes and note everything the actor does to make the performance seem genuine. Put those nuanced little things into your animation – it will make it much more convincing and show the viewer that you have an eye for detail. These touches are what potential employers will be looking for.
- Rigging. This is especially important for getting into video games. Practicing rigging your characters will give you a deeper understanding of character movement and allow you to better communicate with technical teams in the studio. Communication like this is vital for getting ahead.
- Emotions. Sell the enmotion on your characters beyond just lip synch. As with all animation work in our experience: references are your friend. Get a little mirror for your desk and start pulling faces at it – you’ll begin to better understand how emotion is represented on the face this way.
Develop your individual art style
As you might imagine, this is the hardest thing to develop, yet it’s likely going to be one of the most important aspects of getting noticed as an animator.
You can have the most technically accomplished showreel out there but so what? There will be a handful in the pile that are just as good as yours but with a flair and style that yours lacks. Your passion for animation needs to come through for any studio worth its salt to want to hire you.
One of the most reliable ways of finding your own style is just to start trying as many different ways of working as possible. It’s important to have influences and inspiration but resist the urge to copy your heroes.
With a firm understanding of animation fundamentals under your belt, try to understand the other aspects of the animation process. Practice some storyboarding, lighting, sound design, rigging, modelling, stop motion, 3D, 2D, hand drawn and computer animation. All of this knowledge will allow you to better understand how your animation works in a studio setting.
Create rosters of characters and make each one in a different style. Try anime, cartoon, realistic – artists that resonate with you on some level, and try to replicate them. Once you’re happy with your take on these, blend them together and try to find a middle ground somewhere which appeals to you aesthetically. Don’t like certain aspects of your creation? Change it and change it again until you do.
You want to end up with a style you enjoy creating with and that appeals to your taste. This practice will get you closer to your own style whilst ensuring you have the versatility required for professional animation by working on a variety of methods and mediums.
Keep doing this until you develop something that you think looks great, means something to you and that you could throw into a sea of other work and still pick out as your own.
Nurture your demo reel/ portfolio
This is it, your chance to get ahead in animation. Here’s a few tips for creating a tight demo reel that will stand out:
- Your showreel is you and it’s only as good as its weakest clip. Make sure your reel can hang with the best so if you’re in doubt: leave it out!
- You want it to consist of multiple short clips so that you can keep the viewer’s attention with frequent momentum and get the opportunity to show off a variety of styles and animation mediums.
- Make it a mix of your own projects and paid work if you have it. You want to show them that your passion for animation is strong enough that you still do it in your free time and you also have experience with working in a professional environment.
- An acting clip shot medium or close enough to show one of your characters displaying emotion can be a great way to open your reel. Humans generally respond best to displays of emotion and they’re often the easiest parts of an animation to recall. Take advantage of this!
- Character work that demonstrates body mechanics, weight, anticipation etc. can be an awesome way to follow up.
- Judging by the vast number of demos that the average studio has to run through, they’re quite likely to decide on everything they need to know about you by the first 20 seconds. Don’t save your best til last: give them a reason to keep watching!
- Research what the studio you’re applying for has been working on before. You will definitely want to tailor your portfolio depending on what their existing strengths and preferred styles are.
- Keep it short and simple, around 30-45 seconds. Stick the bits you’re most proud of at the beginning of this.
Network and get yourself out there
Some love it, others can’t stand it, but this is one of the most reliable ways to get noticed, especially as a freelance animator.
- Attend networking events, talks and conferences. These are likely locations for important new business opportunities to flourish.
- Take the time to stay connected to old classmates and colleagues too, if these guys have to turn down a job or are asked if they can make a recommendation, you’ll be fresh in their mind so it’s likely that your name will be passed on!
- Speaking of LinkedIn, make sure you stay active on social media. There are countless social media groups and forums that you can spread your reputation in, search for jobs or even learn something new. Let your personality show here too!
- Talk to influencers in your community – we’re all just people after all. Nothing to be nervous about, even when you’re plucking up the courage to tweet at one of your animation heroes.
- Animation freelancers are perfectly suited for social media because they can share their showreels or recent projects with ease. Get out there and get hashtagging too, even if your posts are ‘liked’ by a load of bots, this will make you more popular on other streams owned by real life humans.
- Make sure your projects are on YouTube, this is the second most popular search engine on the whole internet, with many looking for answers here even before they head to Google itself.
- Getting another set of eyes on your animation can help massively, use social networks or animation community sites to spread your reputation and get some decent feedback.
So if you keep your fundamentals tight, have a memorable style that you like, a great demo reel and get yourself out there in the community, (plus a little bit of luck!) you’ll be getting the animation job of your dreams in no time.
Got any good tips of your own that we’ve missed out? Give us a shout on our Twitter @fudgeanimation or facebook.com/fudgeanimation