The 2 Secrets To Success In Animation

As you might guess, I find myself giving portfolio and career advice to animation industry hopefuls all the time.

There’s always a list of questions about the objective aspects of the portfolio like page count, layout, type of book, captions and the location of a homemade mediocre logo but none of that really matters… …not if the art is good enough to get the artist hired.

A slick presentation can’t hurt but to me it seems that the amount of creative, financial and emotional energy being spent on the portfolio is grossly disproportionate to what is spent on the craft.

What almost everyone outside of the animation industry doesn’t seem to realize is that ultimately, it’s great work that wins a break and it’s being great to work with that wins a career.

There is no magic recipe for a winning portfolio but hopefuls world-wide can clear their minds, take heart and rest easy if they just commit to the long-term cultivation of what’s inside the body and what’s inside the book.

So, Dear Industry Hopeful, start living like you already have the career (excepting the financial aspects, perhaps) because nobody that truly loves the craft or their career is thinking about page count.

Subscribe & Get My FREE Digital Painting Kit!

[ I will never spam you or share your information ]

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike

Great Points Chris! In the design industry (where I work), often times when hiring, its more about finding a person who’s “the right fit” – ie someone easy to work with – that will get hired over someone who’s really good, but doesn’t connect well.

It’s amazing to think that about 50% of getting a job in the art field has absolutely nothing to do with what you learn in school.

Reply

ChrisOatley

You’re exactly right, Mike.

At Disney, we talk about “right fit” and “cultural match” all the time.

Both mean similar things and it’s all about the effect you have on people. Lotta artists ignore this area of potential growth at great cost to their careers.

Reply

Owen

Sound advice Chris.
Being a nice person, having talent and also possessing a healthy amount of persistence seem to be key. These were all factors that helped me get into Aardman and beat the other hoards of other applicants. (Getting a lucky break also helps…)

Reply

ChrisOatley

That’s amazing, Owen.

Clearly, Aardman has incredibly high standards. Good for you!

Reply

Jay Fontano

Great stuff Chris. I will have to remember this as I venture out into the industry soon. I suppose I need to be confident in my work and not worry about fluffing it up to try to make it appealing- if it isn’t working on it’s own none of the fluff will help it right?

Reply

ChrisOatley

Hi, Jay,

I’m not sure what you mean by “fluffing it up.” Do you mean hyping it up with the way you talk about it?

If so, I don’t recommend hype. Being genuinely excited about your accomplishments, sure. But not at the expense of alienating others… …especially those who could hire you.

I try to let the quality of my own work speak for itself but I do enjoy talking about process and technique and struggle etc. with my fellow artists.

I hope that answers your question. If not, just reply and clarify and I’ll give it another shot. :)

Reply

Jay Fontano

Chris- Good point for sure, but I was just agreeing with you about the work is what they want to see, not so much all the “fluff” that is delivering the work. The page count, logo, etc. would be the fluff. Basically it doesn’t matter how attractive the wrapper is if the cheeseburger tastes like garbage.

Reply

Chris Oatley

Ah! Got it. And that is a hilarious way of describing it. I’ll probably end up quoting you on that. ;)

Reply

Scott Wiser

Dominic Domingo and I had a discussion about this in the Viz Dev portfolio review and we concluded that we should always take cues from the reviewer on what to talk about in our work (responding briefly to their reactions and questions). I definitely want my work to speak for itself, which will come as the result of a lot of cutting and a lot of new work! Great seeing you all at CTNX!

Reply

Jose

Well as far attitude I think I’m pretty cool… and for the other it’s a work in progress.

It’s good to know these kinds of things though…

Thanks Chris!

Reply

Chris Oatley

Jose, yes, you are pretty cool. VERY cool, actually.

Just don’t think that “being great to work with” is ONLY about attitude.

It’s about making regular, generous, contributions in the small things that are so small nobody else wants to do them and in the huge things that are so huge that nobody else wants to do them.

It’s about anticipating the needs and problems of your colleagues and supervisors and doing everything in your power to provide for those needs and solve their problems.

It’s about going the extra mile and then the extra ten miles and then the extra hundred. It’s about becoming completely indispensable to the studio.

Having a good attitude is step one.

Does that make sense?

Reply

Kira

everything here is so helpful to me. i even take notes sometimes. i’m still and school and trying to just ABSORB every nugget of information i can.

thanks for posting/sharing so much :]

Reply

phani

me too….i’m a beginner with lots of doubts and seeking much information which helps me to be a successfull professional..

Reply

Mark Armstrong

It’s funny: I read this post and thought: The Page Count Diet. The idea that there’s got to be a gimmick, there’s got to be an easier way.

Eat right, exercise? Who wants to do that? So we sign up for the latest fad diet, thinking: THIS one will work. Right.

Put in the long hours needed to get good, and be ready to go the extra mile to help others… no wonder no one wants to sign on for THAT two-step program– it’s too straightforward and unglamorous!!

Great post, I should probably come back and read it every day… : )

Reply

Kevin Cameron

In school, I was this guy.

It wasn’t until my first Comic Con and speaking with Scott Kurtz did I start to realize something. I was asking all the wrong questions.

I was the kid who Kurtz would’ve hated (with good reason). Asking about how should a website look, how many shirts should I make, where’s a good place to get plushes done…all when I didn’t even have a single webcomic done.

Rather than see the intrinsic worth in my work and foster that, I was worried about all the gloss and ornamentation.

These days that’s completely reversed, and I hope the transition was not so late as to prevent breaking in (and staying in) this business.

Reply

Chris Oatley

It’s never too late, Kevin. PLUS, you do great work and judging from your attitude, you’re great to work with.

Reply

JT

Excellent post, really helped me through a wall of negative and worry- Thanks so much! – I think the relation between diet and success of art is perfect, people worry so much about making things perfect that they never actually end up doing anything at all, and i can’t express enough how much this has been me lately.
Again, Amazing Article :)

Reply

Chris Oatley

Thanks, JT. Negativity and worry are always trying to get us – gotta stay strong and help each other!

Reply

Sherri

This is really helpful information. I’ve been so into video games and always loved drawing so I have recently graduated high school and have no art degree. I’m definitely seeking a job in animation or concept art but really have no idea where to start after I get a portfolio together.

Reply

Vallo

Thanks a lot for all the good advices Chris!
Reading what you wrote here made me realize a lot of things I would’ve never noticed by my self.
One of my main problem at the moment its exactly this:
you see, at the moment I’m working in a packaging design studio. I find it hard to shake off from my actual job to jump into a character designer career.
Especially because even if I can relate to other artist online, they look and sound somehow extremely far from me (not geography speaking :) ) and I end up feeling kind of lonely, don’t knowing personally anyone that like me is pursuiting a similar goal…
Your words gave me new entusiasm and willing to carry on on this difficoult, but marvelous path that is a creative career. :)
Thanks!

PS: if you feel in the mood, would you have a glance at my blog? :)

Reply

tella

In other words… do one for us (so you’re marked) and don’t complain.

Reply

Kristen Young

I have big dreams and aspirations of becoming an animator. Its honestly the only thing I have my heart set on that I believe I’d be happy doing. I guess my only barrier that I have with really trying to pursue it is doubts because everyone tells me how unlikely it is, that its not a practical career choice. So what I was wanting to ask is if you have any advice that I could do to better my chances? Or college suggestion? Really any advice would be great. Thanks

Reply

phani

i am also facing the same problem….everyone is saying that its not a practical choice to go…but i’m confident enough to succeed…the only thing i need is someone or something to guide me in a proper path…

Reply

Robbee

Hey Chris!

So I’ve been going to school for a “practical” career path in education. I am quickly finding that I despise it haha and also that I love my art and the characters I create. I’m considering taking classes or enrolling in a program – is that completely necessary to get a look? Looking at schools in southern california. Thanks in advance for your reply!

Reply

Nick Alcala

iv been reading your posts and its really helped motivate me, im a teen fresh out of high school, iv been doing art my whole life and i was blessed to have been going to a public art highschool. im self taught in most of my digital art, iv been doing digital for 8 months now, spending hours without end catching up to the big runners its paying off but im on the verge of looking for a good college that i could somwhat afford, and also trying to make a resume so i can intern with a disney artist here in florida, iv got a long way to go and its very very taunting , youv helped ease that alot

Reply

Donski

Hi, I’ve read your posts and it really inspires me. Please let me have this space to share of what I am today. Thank you. I am a 28 year old guy, working in a multinational company (NYK). But as far as the work concerns, it doesn’t really goes too well for my passion. Since I was a child, I am already dreaming to be a game designer someday, to make many models and show it to the world by animating them and combining them all one by one. But sadly, I draw like an abstract, not as beautiful as Stan Lee’s drawings. Anyways, I found out that there’s an easy way to make models (digital world), that’s when I became more interested in pursuing my dreams. Also, I like the thing on making scripts for animation. Actually, I got perfect on our exam in my programming class in C++, the sad thing about that is that I shifted to another course (Nursing) which is so far far from computer animation, my previous course was IT, shifted to ComSci, lastly Nursing. But, I haven’t practiced my profession in nursing at all (not when I finished my OJT). Now I am working a shipping company but my passion to become an animator still craving to pursue it. I really want to, but I am afraid if I quit my job, I won’t have any source of income and not so sure if I would engage in animation, I would be hired immediately. I haven’t studied animation in school. I just learned them through youtube and downloading custom tutorials submitted by other animators. Since, this will be my first step in learning, (it’s 3 months now 4 hours everyday (M-F), 8 hours every weekend(Sat-Sun)). I am using Maya 2013. Is there any chance for me to become as pro as you are? I really would like to engage in video and game animation. I am 28 years old. Is there any chance? or should I quit my work to focus on animation?

Reply

Mark Lent

I’d add one item to this- be coachable. Coachability is essential in any profession, but in creative industries, it becomes mandatory to listen to other, more experienced individuals in your field and learn from them. This, of course, can be both good AND bad. The bottom line though is make each and every experience a learning one and be open to what others within that industry have to say. You don’t always have to agree, but at least listen.

Reply

Karen S

What should I be encouraging my 17 year old to pursue post-high school regarding further education/experience in this field?

Reply

Jensen Chung

I know my artwork doesn’t really portray very much concept art or character design. Therefore I’m really committed to studying all the fundamentals so I can apply them into the work that will hopefully get me into the industry.

I’m currently at a bit of a low point but this post really simplifies it for me. I’m getting bogged down by all the ‘complications’, all the ‘what if’s and not remembering that I need to focus on the craft and once that is at a high enough level, that hopefully I can get a job doing what I love.

Thank you Chris for reminding me.

Reply

richard ornelas

Chris i started life wanting to be a character designer and get into animation. I graduated from cal state la w degree in design but somehow i didnt follow my dream. The past 25 years ive worked as a van driver at a hospital. I hate it. I do it for the health insurance. But now i want to follow my dream and get into animation. Im rusty but willing to put in the hard work and time. What do i do first? How do i get started? Or is it too late for me?
.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: