Prospective Animator With Questions About the Industry

My name is Travino and I am about to start a new career from a computer technician in the military to a career in animation. I’m reaching out to 3D artists, animators, and VFX artists and asking them about their journeys within the industry. My hope is to be connected with somebody willing to share their stories and to gain more insight into what I can expect as a professional in order to better prepare for a successful career. Right now, my main interest is 3D animation, but because I am so new in the program, general CG art and history of animation is in the curriculum.

I have made a short list of questions that I am hoping you will have time to discuss regarding your education, career path and entry level salaries. I will include the questions below but, if possible, I would also like to speak person to person to elaborate on some of the possible answers. If this is OK, please send me a message and let me know when is typically the best time to contact you via zoom or telephone.

Questionnaire:

  1.   What was the major ‘foot-in-the-door’ when you started in the professional field of animation?
    
  2.   What are your duties in a typical day? 
    
  3.   Are there education or training programs that are typically overlooked in this field that would more likely improve somebody’s chances of success?
    
  4.   What are 2 or 3 of the greatest challenges you face in your job and how do you overcome them?
    
  5.   What soft skills or abilities are most beneficial to improve to do this type of work?
    
  6.   What is the typical salary range for entry-level positions?
    
  7.   Do you see a higher demand for this occupation and/or do you see major future changes taking place in this field? Please explain…
    
  8.   Do you have any suggestions, recommendations or advice to be most successful in this field?
    

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Travino

I might not be the right person to answer all your questions, but I feel like I could at least give you some minor tips and welcome you to the Blender community.

1
nepotism (kinda)
I designed a concept car and showed it to some friends. One of them got a job as sys-admin in an Advertising company, who where in need of an 3D artists for some smaller jobs. There I got to know some more people who had lots of experience in the industry and one of them recommended me further and a couple of weeks later I was sitting in a plane to Stuttgart with a big freelance job for another advertising company, doing car renders for Daimler.
3
nothing I know of. There are many schools that teach 3D /Art /Design, but 20 years ago the overwhelming majority had a bad reputation and even today with more schools available, the general census is still that many of these ways of education are huge money and time sinks with questionable return of investments. Many are even considered as kind of scammy. They are very expensive but useless to get a foot in the door of the industry.
A huge percentage of artists in the industry are still autodidacts.
Still, I would definitely recommend you seek out some form of education in generic art fundamentals, but you can do this yourself, everything is available online (for free) - all you need is motivation to do so.
Forget all forms of certificates and testimonies, they rarely help, all that counts is the quality of your works in your portfolio.
4
people suffering from strong Dunning Kruger effect higher up in social hierarchies and demanding and entitled customers that try to trick you in various ways to work more / get paid less or try to rip you off otherwise.
Nothing that is actually connected to 3D and Art itself.
I overcome these obstacles with unwavering stubbornness and iron principles and I am not afraid to say no and make enemies if I have to.
5
ALL OF THEM! :laughing:
Seriously, the better your soft skills are, the better and easier your life will be. People with a perfect portfolio can still fail an job interview easily, simply for being a person that others don’t want to work with due to their personality (problems).
7
I honestly don’t know anymore, the world is changing so fast (while essentially staying the same due to the human condition) its hard to make predictions about the future so I refrain from doing so as I have a tendency to overthink stuff and make myself depressed and anxious with my ruminations.
The 3D industry as a whole wont go away but will only grow, that I do know.
8
Use your military experience to your advantage. Apply an OODA loop to problem solving, your military-grade discipline and structure to your planing and execution and a little-bit of ancient wisdom and you’ll be able to solve all problems.

“Know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” Sun Tzu

Numerous artists have to deal with “You-problems” and a lack of motivation and discipline as well as disorientation in regards to the grand scheme of things. Not to mention a unsophisticated personality that is stuck in childish ways with an naive worldview.
If you can diligently work on your weaknesses and keep your ego in check and do the work every day consistently you can surpass these easily and solve any problems in your way over time.
Don’t be afraid to be yourself and develop a personal way of doing things that might be somewhat at odds with the mainstream way of doing/being if necessary. It might be better to be unique and standing out, subsequently be disrespected by many but held in high regards by a few, than to be like everybody else and being drowned out in the noisy mass of mediocrity and be ignored.

I admit all of these tips are standard common sense, but 3D and Art is no rocket science - it can be fairly easy (in comparison to other professions) but being able to apply common sense with proper soft skills has become a commodity in personal these days, simply being better than the average can help tremendously.

Good luck to you and welcome to the Blender community.

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Thank you Romanji, this is great advice! It certainly give me some things to think about as far as my purpose for joining the art industry. I appreciate you taking the time and giving an honest response.

I call things like this “Fate”. I am a retired software engineer/developer - all because of fate. One night I said to my wife “THIS is what I’m supposed to be doing”. And the rest is history.

Hello @travino.cordova !
Do you want to be an animator ( who is doing character animation) or work on animation projects as a modeler, texture artist or something else ?

Where are you located ? Salary can be quite different depending on which country you live in.

My few advice are :

show your work to get feedback and see if you’re ready to look for a job.

It’s great to be a generalist and know every aspect of 3D (modeling, texture, rendering, animation …) but you may end up in a situation where you know a bit of everything but nothing is strong enough to be valuable for a job. So the best thing IMO is to know a bit of everything and have one or two very strong specialty that you know much better than everything else.

Try to learn by yourself as much as you can, do some tutorials and try to see how to apply that knowledge to other use cases.

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Hi Sozap,

Thank you for your response! I’m pretty sure I want to be a character animator. Once I master that, I think that I would work on something like VFX. As a kid and a young adult, I would often make cheap stop-motion shorts, but that was mostly before the days of YouTube and social media. Now I’m diving back into it with a career in mind.

I’m a US citizen but located in Germany. With that said, I think that working remotely would be a pretty good option --as long as I have a rig that can support the work needed. I’ve reached out to studios like Blur and CineSite to ask the same questions, but I’m yet to receive a response.

I believe being a generalist is a great because I think that they’re a jack of all trades and a one stop shop for telling one’s own story, but I really want to have a focused trade. I love experimenting on my own by using blender tutorials and animation fundamentals, and I’m generally a pretty quick study, but at this point I really need a formal education structure to move forward; as expensive as it is, my ADHD doesn’t really allow otherwise.

I’ve seen job positions for generalist on sites like indeed and Nickelodeon Animation Studio is hiring for a full-time position in Burbank, California, but there is no indication of a starting salary should be. Regardless of my location, I would think that the payment would be based on the location of the studio. They don’t charge lower rates based on the location of the client, it’s based on the work done, right?

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Hello,

Ok ! That helps a lot to provide better answers ! Be prepared for this long read that I hope will be
(at least) informative !

1/
If you plan to be an animator, you can focus only on that because there are very few animators that are also generalist. You’ll probably be employed to do only animation, because it’s a tough subject that requires specialist. On many production that I’ve worked on ( 3D series) animation takes half of the budget, and half the team is made of animators.
That doesn’t prevent you to know a little bit of general 3D, it’s great to be able to model a props in a rough shape, or know how to setup a simple but good lighting, it will help you at least to get a better demo reel.

2/
Some animators (a few) are also riggers, that can be a huge plus to look into that latter, good riggers are hard to find especially with blender. Being able to rig and animate can help you to get a job especially in small / mid sized productions, but better look on that latter as rigging is also a tough subject and requires a different mindset than animation.

3/
As an animator, you’ll probably have to know how to animate with different software, it’s not a big deal, most animators that I know can work with blender, maya, 3ds. I work only with blender as a generalist and many animators didn’t know blender at first in every productions that I worked on. They generally struggle for 2 weeks and after that they are as effective as seasoned blender animators. Animation tools are generally the same between software so it’s easy to learn that part of every software.
What that means is that you can learn to animate with blender, but at some point you should learn at least to animate with maya, because it’s the most used software for animation, it will be assumed that you know it. Even if blender start to be used more and more, it’s still a small part of all the animation productions. With blender’s productions it’s a special case where we tend to allow people to learn blender during the production, because most of the people know maya. But the opposite is obviously not true. But as said, most of animation is theoretical knowledge that can easily apply from software to software.

3b/
Will you be allowed to animate in Blender then export that animation to Maya ?
Probably not, maybe in the game industry it’s possible to some extent (I never worked on video games), but most of the time transferring data from software to software is a PITA. One animation software is chosen for a production and everyone should stick to it.

4/
It’s quite hard to become an animator without a proper formation. For being CG generalist you can learn with what’s available on the internet to a professional level, animation is a bit trickier to get by yourself.
What you can do is to look a bit by yourself so you have a basis, and then take something like this course : https://www.animationmentor.com/animation-program/animation-basics/
It will be a much better experience if you already know a bit of animation before applying, rather than to start from scratch with the course.
What you will learn in these course is animation theory and probably cartoon style animation. Realistic animation as it is in VFX is a bit different, but cartoon animation is probably a good starting point anyway.
At the end of your formation, be prepared to work by yourself for at least one year to perfect your skills. Most of the animators that I know had a good formation but it wasn’t enough at first to get them a first job.

5/
On most of the productions, especially big ones, you’ll probably won’t be allowed to work remotely.
Thanks to the Covid and the lock-downs, productions companies have find some ways for people to work remotely, but still it’s much harder to manage a team of 20 to 100 animators remotely.
When working on a project, you’ll have a lot of questions about organisation : ex file management, do and don’t, how scenes are setup, how the rig is supposed to work, many technical issues in scenes files. You’ll have to speak a lot to the animation supervisor on a regular basis etc… All that is much simpler if all the people involved are in the same room.

Working on a project is awesome, it’s also a lot of problems that need to be solved on the go. Sometimes you have to work on a shot but some rigs may be unfinished. You’ll probably have to redo a lot of work based on comments from the animation supervisor, the director, the producer all of which may not agree with each other. There are also a lot of technical issues you’ll be asked to fix even if it’s none of your concern. Communication plays a big role in every production, and as we know it get more complicated (at least we loose a lot of time) when working remotely.
Here is a good example of how things can be ( it’s about lighting, but it’s the same for animation ) : https://chrisbrejon.com/cg-cinematography/chapter-10-survival-kit/#shot-example

The whole page is full of great advice for aspiring 3D artists : https://chrisbrejon.com/cg-cinematography/chapter-10-survival-kit/

To sum-up, it may be better, once you have a proper formation, to look for a job where you live.
If you’re not against travelling you may find other opportunities abroad.
It’s still possible to find jobs remotely but it’s quite rare, I wouldn’t bet on that.

6/

Hum, it depends. As stated before, people prefer to work in the same room. What would be the reasons that would make accept people working remotely ? :

  • They can’t find enough people were the production is located.
  • As a small company they haven’t enough space to get new employee.
  • They want to work with a particular (very talented) artist.
  • They can hire cheaper by looking for people abroad, thus saving some budget for something else.

Depending on the case you’ll get either payed based on where the production is located or were you are located. Most of the time working remotely means saving production money with lower fees.

7/
About the salaries, where I live (France) it can be very different from project to projects.
It’s hard to get an interesting project, with cool people, well payed. Generally I get one or two out of tree.
Working on series (same with feature films) I get paid twice less and work more than working on advertising. But generally I prefer working on something that I like even if it means less money.

Anyway in France the vast majority of CG artists are freelancers so we tends to work with different people on different kind of projects with different salaries, I don’t know how it is in other countries.

8/
It’s a broad industry, we all know pixar, ILM, Blur ect … But there are also a lot of small companies that nobodies know about except if you work as a CG artist. I prefer to work in small shops rather than big ones, it’s quite a different way of working. There are also a lot of differences when you work on video games, animation series, feature film, advertising …
For now you should concentrate on learning animation first and then try a bit of all of these to find what suit you best !

That’s a lot of information, I hope it’s not too much :smiley:
Don’t hesitate to ask if you have other questions. Working in CG is a long road to take, it’s not as simple as it sounds but that can be very interesting and rewarding once you get there !

2 Likes

I think you have some great comments here. I would like to add just a couple of thoughts. I found in some project animations that you must be able to handle time pressure. I have had some experience like a client or boss hanging over your desk while you are trying to fix a rig while some part of the animation is stalled. Being able to be nice and not get flustered will help a lot. I have seen several good animators crumble when the pressure is put on. One of the questions to ask is “What are your typical timelines?” To many studios, deadlines are money.

Work on some volunteer projects where you can pad your show reel and get some credits. Get to know advertising agencies and the studios they use. Doesn’t hurt to have a couple of local commercials in your resume.

Pay in this industry is low for the amount of skill needed because everyone thinks they can animate and there is always a supply of people wanting to do it. Therefore, I would add a secondary major skill like rigging or coding (C variants or python) that fits into the production cycle, especially if you are aiming for games. Also add some supervisory skills. Lead animators in south Florida can command 72K to 130K. Starting salaries are around 25K (not so great). Experience counts heavily. Show that animation reel. Learn Maya. Learn Blender.

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Many many thanks Sozap! This is incredibly informative and helpful. I would have never thought how many different variations an animator produces until the final product. It sounds quite exciting for me. Thank you for the links too. I just took a quick glance at it, but the information Chris Brejon looks comprehensive enough that even I’ll be able to follow.

Stilltrying, thank you for your thoughts! I was wondering about how relevant coding would be in this profession, but looking at the Blender Cloud tutorials it seems that Python is an extremely helpful language to learn. With that said I’ve decided to do some Udemy course on Python and C++.

Thanks !

Yes, that example was a bit extreme, but it’s very true if you work on big budget feature film or advertising.
In animation series you won’t have time to make a lots of versions for every shots, but still creation involve iterations. That doesn’t mean working on animation series is simpler, it’s just another way of working where you aim for something quick and effective rather that polishing every detail.

Anyway, maybe at the beginning just try to learn as much as you can in CG using online material being related or not to animation. As @stilltrying said knowing at least python is a huge plus, but you need some general 3D knowledge to know how to apply Python scripting to 3D.
If you try a bit of everything by yourself you’ll see what will make you most passionate about, probably that were you’ll put most of the hours of training ending up were you’ll be best at.