For me, the keys to success are: 1. Stay positive 2. Stay inspired 3. Stay focused 4. Keep doing that in which you love 5. Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Getting ready for our second baby boy who's arriving later this year, a two year old, a pregnant wife, a house, and three jobs. Trying to balance life and animation now is harder then it's ever been for me, on top of that, trying to get a new version of my demo reel finished isn't making my load any lighter! I'm hoping to have my new demo reel done by the end of summer.
Anyway, enough about me. This is a great post and something to help keep things in perspective for all you animators fresh out of school, freaking out about not finding work in the industry that you've come to love. Thanks Mr. Roy and Animation Mentor.
For those about to graduate, the strain of balancing work, home, and school is about to end. If you are a recent graduate, you know what I mean when I say there is a huge come-down from the pace and energy you've been putting out. Before either your idle hands drive you nuts or you work yourself into a frenzy, take these few tips for staying on track during this transition.
The first thing on every graduate's mind is the demo reel and getting a job. Most of you immediately begin working on your demo reels, polishing old and new work in order to get it up to production standards. There is a little bit of a tricky question here though: which animations should you polish and which ones should you leave out? If you worked hard in school, you will have created a workflow that produces final, polished animation. However, this workflow is completely different from the approach you had when you first started your courses. Meaning that if you are going to try to bring your very early work up to the polish of your latest piece, it is almost as if you are working on animation created by a totally different animator! They say that children born more than six years apart essentially grow up in different families. It is almost the same for your animation workflow. So before you consider taking out your first body mechanics shots (which might be quite dodgy), consider if your new workflow would allow you to create a better one from scratch in less time. Remember a few newsletters ago when I asked all students to work “smarter, not harder”? This goes along very strongly in that same train of thought. If you can whip out an amazing 100 frame body mechanics test in a few weeks, or spend all that time polishing a dodgy 250 frame test in the same time, then I would whole-heartedly suggest the former. Some animation just doesn't want to “accept” the polish you now apply with your well-rounded workflow, and trying to force it can revive old bad habits. Triage your animation before you start anything, and you may actually end up with a better reel and less work.
What if you've sent your reels out already and you're waiting for word? It's simple, stay animating but don't do TOO much! Just like students shouldn't always use every single frame of the limits stated in the assignment guidelines, graduates should choose animation tests that reflect the amount of time you will be able to put into them. It is better to accomplish a perfect 3-second dialogue shot in two weeks working nights than a 15-second dialogue shot in 10 weeks. Why? Because variety is the spice of life, and it motivates us, keeps us fresh, and keeps us interested. In 10 weeks if you have five new (albeit short) animations to show for your time, you'll have learned so much more about your workflow than if you struggled slowly on a monster of a piece. When selecting pieces to work on, I always recommend doing dialogue shots that allow for a lot of physicality. Give yourself ample opportunities to practice your full body mechanics as well as your performance in one go. Subtlety is important too, but don't do more than 1 out of 5 shots of characters sitting at a bar or behind a table. Stretch your imagination for ideas for interesting physical scenarios that will be interesting to watch and give you the best practice. Put your characters on skis, on a skateboard, hanging from a cliff, doing push-ups, jumping rope, washing their hands, tying their shoes, and other secondary actions that will shine from the detail you will put into them.
Lastly, reconnect! You've probably lost contact with some friends, and have neglected some family duties. It's OK – they probably understand because animation is so awesome, or they just love you that much. Also important is spending time to regain the hobbies that you've probably lost. It was these hobbies that had a meaningful role in your decision to pursue animation in the first place! Be it drawing, painting, theatre, photography, writing, collecting, crafts, playing or listening to music, improvisation, hiking, sports, or anything else that quickly disappeared when you first opened Maya, take it back up again. Having a hobby during this time will keep your mind off the unimportant things, like how many days it's been since you mailed your reel. And if you can keep up these hobbies, chances are you will continue to return to animation with fresh interest and perspective. No studio wants to hire people to whom animation is the only thing in life; those people burn out quickly. So if you had few hobbies before starting animation, find a few. The ones I listed above are a good start, but I would not count video games.
This can be an exciting time! Doing lots of personal work, sending out reels, reconnecting with friends, taking up old or new hobbies! Avoid letting the pressure get to you or thinking there should be no other focus than getting a job, if you can. Rather than looking at graduating as the beginning or the end of a journey, think of it as just another step in your career. And don't worry; if you preferred the fervent pace of school, long hours and some sleepless nights, you'll have plenty of that later, believe me!