The Quick  Guide To Becoming A
Star Student Animator

A step by step system to joining an animation school and exceeding all expectations – even with limited cash, time, or motivation

Your step by step star student animator road-map

Star Student Animators are the ones who stand out from the crowd.

They are the ones that get hired.

If you’ve taken a class online you’ve probably heard glorious stories in the private Facebook group….

Amazing student Bob says:

“Hey guys I just got into Pixar! I’m starting the internship next month to work on Incredibles 2!!”

“Damn you Bob! I mean…Congrats!”

You wish that was you got offers like that. You wish you could be a star student.

But you say ‘I’m just not as talented as these other amazing students – how could I ever reach their level?”

Well – You can. And it’s got nothing to do with talent.

Here’s how you’ll get there step by step…

Table of Contents:

  • Define your dream job to make it inevitable
  • Find the perfect school / class for your dream job
  • Focus on the big wins like entertainment
  • Adopt a rough, fast, and bold workflow and pass on perfectionism
  • Never need motivation & have MORE time even if you’re working
  • Get amazing support and feedback by giving freely all the time
  • Enter student showcases and competitions.
  • Apply to studios like a pro and stand out from the crowd.
  • Your backup and recovery plan – how and when to return to school (if needed)
  • Take the next step – join that perfect school or class.

Define your dream job to make it inevitable

98% of students just jump into a class without clear goals.

They blaze head first into their animations and hope to magically land at any animation studio.

But how can you expect to reach your dream job if you haven’t defined it?

The clearer you define the career you’re after – the clearer your target. All your animations in class can be tailored specifically for the studio you want to work for.

You can build relationships and learn from mentors at those studios.

So work backwards:

What is your Dream Studio?

Is it in Feature, VFX, or Games?

  • Feature: Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Blue Sky, Sony Imageworks, Ilion, Animal Logic
  • VFX: Weta, Digital Domain, MPC, Double Negative, Zoic, Blur
  • Games: Blizzard, Rockstar, Naughty Dog, Ubisoft, EA, Valve, Riot, Activision,

(There are a lot of studios but here are a few well-known names)

If you can, narrow it down to only 1 studio.

Why? Each studio’s style is completely different from another. If you know there style you can make animations that would appeal uniquely to them.

For instance, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is more cartoony in nature while Naughty Dog’s Uncharted is highly realistic.

If your dream studio is ILM – what if you anticipated what their next movie release was going to be by the time you graduate or finish a class.  Say that movie is Star Wars Episode 8. You could create lightsaber battles, alien creature attacks, or spaceship dogfights that match exactly what they’ll be doing in the movie.

I should also point out this doesn’t mean kill your own originality. Being unique (Pixar loves this) can get you hired too, just don’t forget to sell yourself to a studio by showing them what they want to see.

If you can’t decide what studio / industry –  ask yourself what kind of animation would you most like to do?

  • In-depth acting and/or cartoony style
    • Choose Feature
  • Ferocious creatures, robots, and realistic
    • Choose VFX
  • Cycles, Combat takedowns, Cinematics
    • Choose Games
  • If you’re still not sure that’s ok. Pick Feature.
    • The quality of animation is extremely high and will teach you the core fundamentals of all you need to know.
    • Then worry about niching down your skill set later – if you find you’d rather work more in games or vfx.

Find the perfect school / class for your dream job

Now that you know the career you’re after, let’s find the school or class to get you there.

What’s Your Current Skill Level?

Are you…

  • Taking your first ever animation class?
  • A graduate of a traditional university?
  • A graduate of an online school?
  • An animation veteran trying to switch industries or reach a big name studio?

If this isn’t your first animation class – what do you think has been your #1 struggle getting hired? (Pick one)

  • Lack of strong body mechanics
  • Lack of strong pantomimes shots
  • Lack of strong monolog/dialogue shots
  • Lack of creature / quadruped shots
  • Lack of game style animations
  • General planning, creativity, and entertainment

With your current skill level accounted for – you can get a rough idea of school / class options to narrow down from

Options for Feature:

  • Animation Mentor, iAnimate, Animschool, CGTarian, Animsquad, The Animation Collaborative
  • These excel at  what feature looks for:
    • Extremely high-quality Pantomimes, Monologues, and Dialogue shots. Emotional changes, subtle body language, super polished lipsync and originality.
  • Spungella or Memorable Animator can also supplement any kind of animation with critiques, feedback, and hold you accountable to spice up your reel.

Options for Game Animation:

  • Animation Mentor’s or iAnimate’s  game focused workshops.
    • These excel at what game studios look for:
      • Strong full body physicality, cycles, combat takedowns, movements that combine seamlessly in multiple directions, and movements that evoke a feeling of awe in a player.
  • Spungella or Memorable Animator can also supplement any kind of animation with critiques, feedback, and hold you accountable to spice up your reel.

Options for VFX:

  • Animation Mentor or iAnimate creature animation workshops for quadruped and flying creature shots. This should be done after you take any online character animation program if you’re not experienced.
    • These excel at what VFX studios look for:
      • Creature / quadruped animation, realistic and weighty physicality with high polish, spaceships / inanimate objects, and occasional facial animation.
  • Spungella or Memorable Animator can also supplement any kind of animation with critiques, feedback, and hold you accountable to spice up your reel.

For Disney:

  • Strongly consider Animsquad.
    • As in the Ultimate Animation School Guide – the instructors are all current Disney animators with rigs that appeal completely to Disney’s style.
    • As with most online schools you can find instructors that work at Disney as well – but not 100% Disney Animators.

For Pixar specifically:

  • Strongly consider The Animation Collaborative.
    • As in the Ultimate Animation School Guide – it may not be easy to relocate to San Francisco to take these classes in person but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn face to face with Pixar artists.

If you’re taking your first ever animation class I recommend going through a full animation program offered at one of these schools:

  • Animation Mentor
  • iAnimate
  • Animschool
  • CGTarian
  • Animsquad
  • The Animation Collaborative

If you’re coming from a traditional university I recommend the options above as well.

  • When I graduated from university I had a basic understanding but rebuilding my skills from the ground up pointed out all the key parts I still didn’t understand even about the fundamentals.
  • However, if you’re confident about the basics or believe you just need a few supplemental classes like Creature or Cartoony Animation feel free to try and skip into those.
  • Most schools will assess your skills first before skipping any classes anyway.

If you’re a graduate of an online school – it depends on your #1 struggle which you picked earlier.

  • A class or a school could do the trick depending on what you need to improve.
  • For instance, if you graduated a full character animation program but your trying to get into VFX. Maybe all you need is to tack on a creature class or two. If you need stronger acting or your body mechanic skills you might need a full program again or a couple specific classes that focus on those areas.

If you don’t know what to improve and you’re jobless – skip to “Your backup and recovery plan – how and when to return to school”

If you’re a veteran professional animator – it depends on your strengths

  • If you’re switching industries and your skills are pretty well rounded you probably only need a couple classes to power up what you haven’t done in a while.
    • For instance,  if you’re going from VFX to Feature, you have strong physicality skills but you haven’t done emotional dialogues for a while. It may only take a couple acting classes.
      • The highly specialized individual classes at CGTarian could bring you up to speed – as well as single workshops at Animation Mentor, iAnimate, Animschool, Animsquad, and if you could attend physically – The Animation Collaborative.
      • Spungella or Memorable Animator would also be a great route if you know have the skills you need, and your only lacking great feedback to push it to the next level.

If you’re switching industries but your skills are way under par for the new industry – a full program will do wonders for rounding out your abilities.

  • Like going from Games to Feature – you’ve got physicality down but you’re not used to pulling emotional heart strings with subtle body language, full face close-ups, and getting deep into the mind of your character.
    • Any of the school full programs above would do the trick, though you can skip the first few classes that are the basics and come in at the intermediate level.

Choose mentors / instructors in your dream studio

Without trying to be too obvious, pick teachers that work in the industry you want to be in. VFX, Feature, Or Games. You’ll get a sense of the day to day, the challenges you’ll be facing, and inside scoop on what’s going on.

Whenever possible also pick teachers that work exactly at the studio you want to be a part of. And if you have to choose between 2 – go with the more senior working animator in that studio. They can help you more.

Choose a school with rigs that appeal to your industry

A quick turn off for a lot of recruiters and artists watching your reel is a rig that’s is just plain ugly, out of place for the type of shot, or a character they’ve seen a million times.

  • Animation Mentor Rigs
    • Especially appeal for Feature. Recently they’ve also added some very cool VFX style rigs
  • iAnimate Rigs
    • Have the largest variety that distinctly appeals to all 3 industries. All exclusive to iAnimate.
  • Animschool Rigs
    • Especially appeal to Feature. There’s a great variety. And they sprinkle in some cool game rigs, plus a very customizable free rig.
  • Animsquad Rigs
    • Specially tailored for Disney. But work for all feature studios.
  • CGTarian
    • Has 1 appealing rig that’s styled great for Feature. It’s pretty new so it’s probably not be seen much, and it’s free!

At this stage, your school /class options are pretty clear. All that’s left is to check out the couple that appeal to you most. Weigh the costs, how the rigs look, where the instructors work, start dates, and length.

To help with all those details use this spreadsheet below:


Focus on the big wins in school / class to exceed all expectations

As a college grad, I rolled into my first few Animation Mentor classes thinking it would be a breeze.

Instead of choosing simple assignments, I thought I’d make everyone envious by taking on the toughest complicated shots every time.

I remember when we had one of our first full character assignments. Animating a solo dance. Instead of choosing a simple dance like other classmates – I referenced one so complicated I couldn’t even understand how the dancer was moving.  It confused the hell out of me, the shot turned out terrible, my confidence dropped with body mechanics, and all the other classmates with simpler dance reference had appealing animations to use later on their reel.

#1 ) Keep your first classes simple if you’re not a professional

I can’t stress enough the importance of  SIMPLE in your first few classes. Build a strong foundation then later when you know how all the pieces work you’ll have earned the right to be fancy.

If you’re animating a ball bounce don’t add 4 bouncing balls. Just do one. This lets you deeply understand the core lesson of that assignment so it’s second nature moving forward. That’s a big win.

And if you animate it so fast you’re bored…great! You can experiment. Animate it 10 different ways to learn more.

#2) Adopt a rough, fast, and bold workflow and pass on perfectionism

Amateurs get carried away with the details. Pro Artists and Star Students work rough and get rapid feedback.

Every great painting starts with 1 color and huge brush strokes. When you watch Bob Ross start a painting – does he start by adding little birds and happy little trees? No.

Do the same with your animation.

  • Block a shot without the perfect ideal poses. Get the idea then move on.
  • Or maybe animate a bouncing ball first to get the energy right – lazy, excited, or powerful – get the general feeling so you know the timing.
  • Or shoot reference for an hour trying all kinds of ideas and get feedback quickly from your instructor / classmates.
  • Save details like finger overlap or lip sync for the end.

Make mistakes fast then course correct

Don’t ever be afraid of sharing your progress. That’s how you know the improvements to make.

If you want everything to look perfect right away, you won’t let yourself be messy at the start. You won’t make happy accidents. Soon after, the overwhelm will set in and then you’ll just start procrastinating taking months to finish that 1 shot, when you could have completed 3.

#3) Entertainment is the main goal with animation and your demo reel

All too often as students dive into the art of animation, they get obsessed with movement looking fluid and smooth. They get caught up with the principles – “look at the smooth finger overlap i did!” And they end  up doing the exercises – for exercises sake.

They forget to add the most important layer. Heart. Soul. Empathy. Entertainment. A story. That’s why everyone watches after all – to laugh to cry to be taken on a journey.

Entertainment is the biggest of wins in your animations. For entertainment can save bad body mechanics but great body mechanics cannot save entertainment.

This should be your #1 focus in your art after the basic classes. Let the little details slide. Your animation will never be perfect anyway.

#4) Make the student showcase

All it really takes is 1 animation to make all the difference for you reaching your dream job. 5 shots can be horrible. But one good one can move mountains for you. Especially if you leverage it to help as much as possible.

When you start your schools – take note awards you can achieve or showcases you can submit to. When you make that 1 animation that soars above the rest you’ve made, don’t miss your chance to submit it.

Student Showcases are big wins. They prove you’re a star student, and most importantly they market your skills for the world to see. Don’t be surprised if job offers follow.

#5) Attend Animation Conferences

CTN, Siggraph, The Annecy Animation Festival are life changing big wins for reel feedback, networking, and opening up job opportunities – even if you’ve just started your animation education.

I went to the first CTN when I was in my 1st class at Animation Mentor. I had all these reservations whether it was worth the cost, and how much I’d learn since I was a new student.

But I just went for it. In a few days, I meet the founders of AM, developed friendly relationships with the staff of the school, had a breakfast with Andreas Deja (animator of Jafar, Scar), chatted with Victor Navone, The Bancroft Brothers gave me career advice, and alumni spilled the beans on what’s worked for them.

Most importantly, my classmate internet ‘friendships’ became 100% real and we all felt like we had known each other since preschool. When we all later became professionals, this was key on the career side of our lives and it’s responsible for half of my jobs.

Never need motivation and animate consistently

Have you ever said to yourself….“I just need to get motivated” or “I just need to get inspired.”

Aspiring animators who never seem to finish their animations are always telling me this.

I get it. I’ve been there, and it still happens to me, but I know how to conquer it when it springs up.

Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Victor Navone, Doug Sweetland, and James Baxter are all human just like you  – Is what makes them different from you – that they just get serious and work harder?

Needing more time and motivation are the top excuses holding artist’s back from great results.

Stephen King has this great quote I’ve used referenced over and over:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

This kills a lot of myths we all have about amazing artists. It’s not easy for them, it’s tough but they systematically face it day after day.

So if you want to succeed don’t count on Willpower / Inspiration / Motivation

Every day, your willpower is like a laptop battery. You can only handle a few tasks before your spent and need a recharge.

We’re fully charged when we wake up, but the more we have to make decisions the more our battery gets drained.

Let’s say you’re on a  no-junk-food diet. You have Doritos and donuts on the kitchen counter. You might fight it off Monday through Thursday, but when every Friday comes – Ohhhh man.  You’re tired from the work week, you’re eager to have fun, and the sugar cravings are unbearable – “it won’t hurt to have one right?!” – So you give in week after week and beat yourself up for not toughing it out.

Is more discipline really the answer?

Create a system instead that makes the good habits easy and bad habits hard

If you were on that no-junk food diet – Doritos and donuts could easily be avoided. All you’d need to do is remove all the junk food from your kitchen.

Without it constantly staring you in the face, you won’t need energy to fight it off every time to go into the kitchen

Apply this to your animation habits. Your Animating time and lectures.

Step #1 – Take note of the biggest battery drainers in your day to day.

What keeps you from Animating?

  • Maybe your computer chair is really uncomfortable
  • Maybe you have no energy after work
  • Maybe facebook distracts you every 5 mins
  • Maybe your family, partner, or friends keep pulling you away

Step #2 – Find your 1 Hack that makes animating virtually effortless

  • Get a new chair, use a Wacom tablet instead of a mouse. This way you won’t cringe to animate.
  • Animate before work for an hour or two. Or work only on the weekends for half the day.
  • Get the StayFocusd chrome extension to block facebook when you animate. Unplug the internet. Hide your phone far away.
  • Wake up early, or stay up late when nobody’s around to bug you. Or get noise canceling headphones so you can just tune them out. Close all external communication. Go to a coffee shop.

Step #3 – Reward Yourself

This might sound funny, but make sure you reward yourself once a week or once a day – after you follow through on the new good habits.

It will reinforce your attitude so you keep the momentum going and it will get you excited.

  • Maybe it’s playing a game once you’ve done your animating.
  • Maybe it’s going out to party with friends
  • Maybe it’s shopping for computer gear or movie memorabilia
  • Maybe it’s binge watching a new Netflix series on the weekend.

Whatever it is add it to your routine.

Repeat these 3 steps until each draining obstacle is gone and you’re eager to animate. This will take care of your motivation. The other half of the puzzle for you may be time constraints.

Have MORE time to animate – even if you’re working full time

Time is something nobody ever seems to have enough of. This is especially true if you’ve got a day job and you’re taking an animation class.

Animation is just so time-consuming that there’s really only one option.

Do less instead of more. Create a not to do list

It’s easy to say YES to everything. Drawing practice, animating, lectures, old demos, books on animation, party with friends, learning photoshop and 5 tv shows a week.

In the moment you’re like “I’m gonna be superman and do it all all! Everyday! All week!”

Then later you’re like “what the hell was I thinking…I got nothing done”

Something’s gotta give.

So know what’s important and the cut the rest

Here’s the order of importance:

Work (to pay bills), animating, and a bit of fun to recover.

Everything else can go on the not to do list.

    • Skip those 2-hour animation demos so you can unwind
    • Avoid replying to emails and long phone texts
    • Scratch meeting up with friends at that restaurant
    • Hold off on video games until the end of the day
    • Trim down your tv shows from 5 to 2.

With this not to do list you’ll be ready to make a game plan.

Build a realistic schedule that makes it as easy for you to animate

Be honest with yourself, and take account of your weekly time. Where do you really spend your hours?

Maybe it looks like…

  • Monday – Friday (8 hours a work, 3 hours to relax, 2 hours to commute/chores, 1 hour at dinner)
  • Saturday-Sunday (3 hours with family and friends, 3 hours eating, 4 hours chores, 4 hours free fun time)

Now use Google Calendar to plan out a week.

Work time. Animating Time. Fun Time. And Food.

  • Don’t pretend you’re superhuman and can skip sleep.
  • If you’re taking an animation class or course I recommend at least 2 hours a day or 14 hours a week – towards animating.
  • You can tune up from there, put a ton of hours on a weekend day or whatever.
  • Just make sure you account for realistic hours and don’t skip having some fun / sleeping 8 hours a day. You will hate yourself if you do. You have to recharge to make great art.
  • Then use Google Cal to test the schedule you’ve set up, make changes, and remind you via email/phone what’s your next most important task every day.

Here’s what an ideal schedule might look like (working with a class):


Get amazing free critiques, support, mentors, and offers – by giving first

Aside from your artistic approach and productive schedule, being the most helpful student animator around will make people rave about you.

Why would people raving about you matter?

  • When you need critiques or guidance – you’ll have it.
  • When you need a little extra help from a mentor – they’ll be there
  • When you could really use a good word to get hired they will bend of over backwards to get you in the door

This relates exactly with how I talk about networking in any animation article,  except in this guide, you’ll take it a step further and make it an essential part of your Star Student Animator plan.

Others will care about you if you give a damn first.

  • Free critiques to fellow classmates, mentors,
  • Praise to mentors or helpful feedback to improve their class
  • Promoting other animators progress or demo reels
  • Helping people with job postings or lifting others up when they are feeling down

Obviously, the more of this you can do the better but give a time limit and do this in bulk to keep your focus on animating. Otherwise, it will eat up the clock and if you’re working full time you know that’s not helpful.

So how much time do you allow and what do you choose to do?

  • Give critiques to 5 fellow classmates once a week.
    • Start off with 1 classmate a week – then 2, 3, 4, & 5
    • Schedule no more than an Hour for this
    • Help the classmates who are most eager to succeed
    • Always be respectful and start with what you like about what they’ve done so far.
  • Help your instructors during lectures and critiques
    • You’ll have scheduled class times anyway so this shouldn’t require any extra hours.
    • Don’t sit idle – ask questions every class or give your thoughts if your instructor asks
    • Don’t be afraid to be wrong it’s the constant effort that matters and you’ll learn far more.
    • Give praise and compliments sincerely
      • Dana Boadway Masson, one of my most influential mentors during AM,  encouraged me to go BIG in my animations. She pushed me past my comfort zone to exaggerate my characters and not be afraid of having to dial it back. This one lesson was a major turning point in my artistic skills and I’ve praised her for that over and over.
      • Let your instructors and mentors know how much they are helping you, how much it means to you, and how impressed you are. It will make them glow, and keep them pushing to help you all they can. And if you want to take this a step further always incorporate their advice and let them know what it did. “Hi, just wanted to let you know I loved your advice on x,y,z. I tried a,b,c and it was amazing. I blocked my animation 10 times faster!”

This praising can extend beyond the classroom – for your instructors and even other professional animators you’ve don’t really know.

I attend Siggraph in 2007 as a student volunteer and met 2 Rhythm and Hues Animators by chance. I helped give them a tour of an animation competition that was going on and later followed up with 1 of the animators:

Hey —–,
I managed to find your website and —– recently, and wanted to thank you again for showing up at Siggraph. You may remember me, I was the student volunteer from ——-that guided you to the ‘many’ animation teams at the FJORG competition. In any event, it was a real pleasure to listen to what —– and you had to say as you critiqued each team, and talked about your own experiences. It was especially refreshing to find out that R&H is laid back, and to see animator’s like yourselves joking around in the same manner that I do.

I’m sure everyone there appreciated the opportunity to meet you guys,it definitely made an impression on me for the first working night at Siggraph. Hopefully you both had a chance to enjoy more of the conference, given the extra hours you decided to put in after work just to make a critique. Anyway, best of luck with all your animations, I’ll be keeping an eye out on your website to see what new clips are shown. The films you guys put out over there definitely do not disappoint.

Hopefully I’ll run into you some short time down the road in the industry! For now it’s time to sleep under another computer desk.

Take Care,

This is a clunky email from when I was a dumb average college student. I had no ties to the industry and barely knew the art. But this developed into a back and forth email exchange full of extremely helpful advice.

I didn’t even contact him consistently. Sometimes there were several months in between, but when I did I let him know I tried his advice and got X result.

  • How many people do you think emailed him like this? Nobody.
  • How many pros are out there eager to help if someone reaches out in the right way? A LOT.
  • Anything else that you might help make smoother for your instructor. What could this mean?

I took a creature animation class for fun not long ago and there was a tech issue with uploading the lecture and a piece of the class was cut off. My instructor wasn’t super tech savvy so I immediately jumped in the chat to help. ‘Use Camtasia to record what got cut off separately and add it to the recording – then upload to google drive and invite us through email’

It was minor, but he was struggling to figure out an easy solution in the moment, and it helped out. Doing little things like this over and over – and how do you think the instructor would think of you?

“Hey this dudes a pretty good guy – he’s always got my back and he’s really trying in every class to do a good job..”

You’re going to be top their mind in the best of ways.

Most importantly, help without asking for anything

      • You’re doing this right when you feel great just about helping the other person.
      • You’re not saying – ‘Hey I did this for you so now deliver back to me’
      • You’re playing the long game, building real friendships not fake “networky – ‘hey I’m your friend gimme gimme’ friendships”
      • Eventually, or even instantly, others will begin helping you without asking.

Apply to studios like a pro and stand out from the crowd

Old memories of applying for work make me cringe.

Before I became a professional at several studios, I used to treat it like a numbers game and I sent physical copies the very first time I applied.  I prepared a ton custom cover letters on fancy printed paper, paired with appealing cd cases, my own logo, and professional style sealed envelopes.

Ugghhh….it was a ton of work sending these off to 20-30 studios. And guess what? Nobody contacted me for an interview! What a surprise! *cough* Idiot *cough* I did so many things wrong and I didn’t even consider if I was applying the right way.

This is one of many lessons I’ve learned from.

I’m going to point out all I wish I knew  as a student about applying, so you can stand out from the crowd and get your demo reel watched.

By this stage of the game, your school or class will be close to over. And most of the key work that will get you the interview you should already have done.

  • You’ve tailored your animations to one specific studio or industry
  • You’ve gone beyond body mechanics and created entertainment
  • You’ve developed genuine rapport and trust with artists going into this industry or already at this specific studio – that can put a good word in.

If you haven’t done any of that – well, you’ve already lost.

What? You’ve got that covered? Of course! Right now, you’re preparing your demo reel, and you’re wondering where, when, and how to apply to your dream studio.

Let’s break it down in a few steps.

#1 – Timing is everything – Know the hiring schedule of your studio

  • VFX hires in Fall/Winter. Summer is virtually dead.
  • Feature has internships in Summer. Common ramp ups in Spring / Fall
  • Games typically has their big convention reveals in Summer. So hiring should be more common during Fall, Winter, and Spring.
  • Outside of these typical timings – you know your dream studio jobs. Look up their upcoming projects through news announcements, their own websites, or even word of mouth from mentors / friends. Do your research so you know the best times to go after the studio you want.
  • Simple google spreadsheets are great for this to keep track of all the dates and rumblings.

#2 – If you’re only applying Online through their website – it’s already over

The quickest way to be just another face in the crowd is to apply how everyone else does – with only an online application form.

Pro’s don’t do this, they are proactive.

  • They contact the HR recruiters directly or reach out to their friends or connections.
  • They reach out way in advance and build genuine rapport
  • They show their excitement, interest, and how they can best help the studio with 1 on 1 conversations.

One of the easiest ways to start is to ask for advice using email, LinkedIn, or the phone

  • Remember the Siggraph story? The same applies here.
  • First, give them and studio genuine praise based off something specific they’ve done.
  • Then ask if they are open to giving you some quick 2-minute advice.
  • Follow Up with one great question or two. Keep it easy for them to answer and be respectful of their time.
    • With former hires, what did the most impressive animator’s do that made them stand out?
    • What skills would an ideal animator have to exceed all expectations at the studio? Would they have other art disciplines down like rigging or maybe non-artistic skills like being a great communicator?
    • Is there anything you can do when applying to make it hassle free for HR and very clear you’re the right fit for the studio? (Keep in mind a lot of HR staff don’t know what makes an animator different from other artists, or technical terms of the craft)
  • Thank them for all their fantastic help. Then – this is the most important part – circle back and let them know the results.

For example:

“Hi Bob,  

Just wanted to let you know, I took your advice about doing A,B,C, to appeal to your studio. It was amazing!

My demo reel feels 10x better than it did before and it even got me into the Student Showcase for my school!

Here’s it is:   LINK

What do you think – does this look like a great fit for Xyz Studio?
There’s no response required, I’m planning on applying in December like we talked about, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you again for the all the support!”

#3 – Reach out way in advance and build genuine rapport

Pros not only reach out directly but they do so way ahead of time. They find out what’s coming up and when they might start.
If you’re rushing to reach out, asking a bunch of questions in one email, it will be obvious you’re just using them.

You’ll come off as needy, desperate, and ungenuine. The HR recruiter or artist will simply skip your email or give an excuse.

This all ties back to the ‘Get amazing free critiques’ section:

  • Give all you can – ask very little.  Be focused on them – not you. Be mindful of their time, and workload – make it things simple for them and hassle free.
  • How can you help them? What is an HR recruiter spending a lot of time on at work? What about an Anim Supervisor or lead? How can you be considerate of that?

#4 – Focus on Big Wins – Resumes and Cover Letters are Minor

  • Your demo reel and rapport is responsible for almost all the leg work.
  • Resumes and Cover letters are a tiny piece of the puzzle, don’t get caught up obsessing over typos and design. What they should do is give them a sense of who you are, not just a dated list of facts that explain nothing.
  • And this should go without saying – don’t send physical materials. Upload your reel to Vimeo or youtube, make a clean LinkedIn profile that acts a resume and throw all these links into a simple concise email when appropriate. Make the recruiters life easy – remember?

Your backup and recovery plan – how and when to return to school (if needed)

Veteran professional animators and star student animators always plan for mistakes and failure.

Why? They don’t blindly expect all will be sunshine and rainbows. This, above all else, allows them to soar where others fall flat.

Just as there’s a possibility you won’t be hired after your first school – there’s a possibility you won’t be a star student animator on your first try.

And maybe you’ve already gone to a school or several schools with no luck. This section is also for you – so you can recover fast.  And it picks up where the Ultimate School Guide left off.

If you find yourself jobless you probably have 2 questions at the top of your mind

  • Why am I not getting hired?
  • And how long do I wait before taking another class?

Let’s get the answers so you can keep heading for your dream job

Discover the truth about your demo reel

First, you’ll need to get honest feedback on your reel.

Family and friends may have been sugar coating your ‘greatness’ and it’s time to face the facts.

You may have also been hiding from the truth worried about what it will do to your artistic ego. But hiding from the pain is what’s keeping you from growing.

Seek out brutally honest critiques in private school FB groups, the 11 Second Club Forum, zoom/skype with trusted friends, former instructors, and professional animators you don’t know.

You’re probably thinking how do I get feedback from professional animators I don’t know?

Refer back to the Siggraph story I mentioned above in ‘Get amazing free critiques..” section.

Just remember you should build rapport with the person before you start asking for feedback from someone you don’t know. Give first remember?

But how do you word your request for feedback from everyone else?

Be honest and make it easy for everyone to chime in quickly:

“hi guys, I would really appreciate some brutally honest feedback on my demo reel.

I’ve been searching for an animation job for 6 months and trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong.

You won’t hurt my feelings..I just need to find what the big mistakes are so I can start fixing it.

Do you think it’s:

A) My mechanics are distracting and weak?
B) My animations just aren’t entertaining? You don’t laugh or cry.
C) The content on the reel doesn’t appeal for the industry (vfx,feature, games)?
D) Maybe I’m just applying wrong and the reels ok?

Thank you all for the help!”

Highlight your #1 mistake

This circles back to ‘Finding the Perfect School For You’

  • Combined with the feedback you got on your reel – is it:
    • Lack of strong body mechanics
    • Lack of strong pantomimes shots
    • Lack of strong monolog/dialogue shots
    • Lack of creature / quadruped shots
    • Lack of game style animations
    • General planning, creativity, and entertainment
    • Applying the wrong way or not networking

Highlight the #1 solution

What 1 thing would completely change your learning experience for the better if you take another class?

  • Defining a better class for you
  • Focusing on the big wins in school like entertainment
  • Being more productive with your time and motivation?
  • Giving more help to others and building natural rapport
  • Focusing on body mechanics, pantomimes, acting, creature

It’s critical to pick 1 thing because as humans we can’t fix everything all to once. Its overwhelming, and ego breaking.

Pick the class you need, prepare, and stop waiting

  • If you’ve waited 6 months without a studio gig, it’s time to take another class to improve your reel. You’ve got to keep growing.
  • Artistic skills are like muscles, if you don’t keep flexing them  they will atrophy and get weak. Stay proactive for great results.
  • Circle back to ‘Find the perfect school / Class for you’ and pick the class that would let you overcome your #1 mistake by using your #1 solution.
  • Calculate the cost per month and time involved. If you need time to save up, that’s ok break it down by month. Figure out the minimal you need to get going – and while you’re saving do an 11 second club competition or team up with some friends to practice.

If you sit idle, all you’ll get as a reward is depression about the animation dream job you could of had.

Take the next Step – Join that perfect School or Class

First off, well done. I’m proud of you.  

If you’ve made it here you’ve learned a lot and you’ve set the mental foundation to build your dream job.

  • You know what your dream studio is
  • what school or class will best help you get there
  • what big wins to focus on in school
  • the workflow to knock shots out of the park
  • the productive systems to gain time and never need motivation
  • how to get all the support you need
  • how to apply to studios like a pro.

You’ve discovered so much. Don’t expect to absorb and put all of this into practice immediately.

Today, just take one action.

Sign up to the perfect school or class for you:

  • Maybe just check the next earliest start date for your school or class.
  • Or make a deposit to reserve your seat.
  • Or fill out an application to apply
  • Or take note of the how much you can save and need to save each month to take the class on the start date.

Whatever you do, don’t stop building momentum now. Take that 1 action, no matter how small. Then tomorrow take another small one. Soon, all those actions will snowball and you’ll be that Star Student Animator always wished you could be.

To stay clear on how to succeed,  refer to this guide at any point along the way.

Remember – you don’t need to implement everything at once. And you don’t need to be perfect. Just take 1 small step every day.

If you found this guide helpful – do your animation friends a favor and share it with them:


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