In every career, you’ll have interactions with other people in your industry. People who either provide the foundation for your work or take what you’ve done and help it progress towards a finished product or service. You’ll interact with people who specialize in skills and trades that you don’t know, giving you an opportunity to exchange a mutual admiration and respect for what the other person does. You’ll also meet people who share skills in what you do, in which case the thrill of speaking the same language and sharing insight often creates a new bond. But nowhere else will this aspect of a career be, in my opinion, quite as diverse, fascinating, and important as it is in the animation industry. It is easily one of the most fascinating collaborative career paths. There are just so many facets that go into creating an animated movie that there’s an almost endless array of interesting and specialized jobs.
This habit of meeting and interacting with people who work in your industry is called networking. To some people this word makes people think of disingenuous small talk and business cards. To others, it sounds intimidating. But it couldn’t be farther from the truth in the animation industry (and other creative fields). In my experience, it is a pool of the coolest and sweetest people in the world. Everyone is encouraging and generous with their knowledge, not to mention extremely talented. I’ve met people who started game studios, interview famous people, and even direct animated feature films. These people have introduced me to other talented people or even offered me jobs. The animation industry is an ever expanding living brain that continues to build new synapses between talented people, and the more connections you make the more likely something special sparks.
Ok, so there are all these amazing people out there…but where do you even start? Well, there’s a lot of places to look. A good place to begin is by finding online discussion forums that are really active. There are some really good ones at Autodesk.com, CGTalk.com, and PolyCount. Similarly, when you find people making really good online tutorials, you can initiate a conversation by asking questions in the comment section. I’ve been directed towards some more exclusive and specific discussion forums by posting questions online. These are some easy and free ways to start meeting people with similar interests, and really the most effective. However, if you eventually start feeling the limitation of communicating with people through a computer monitor, you can invest in yourself by paying for real classes (such as our Summer Courses), going to a convention, or even seeing if you can visit a studio near you!
Now is where I think I might lose some people. “But it’s easy to meet lots of people from the comfort of my home! And it’s expensive to go to those events, not to mention intimidating.” That is all correct. However, as much as technology has improved communication, nothing beats good ol’ fashioned face-to-face time. Having a real live teacher in front of you immediately answering questions will expedite your knowledge and skill. And unlike posting a single specific question in a forum, having discussions with teachers will lead to questions you wouldn’t have thought to ask. Going to an event such as SIGGRAPH, CTN, or PAX will put you smack dab in the heart of the beast. Even though you’ll feel intimidated being surrounded by such talent, you’re crazy if you think they won’t talk your ear off with all the advice in the world if you give them a good old compliment/question combo. And when you’re ready, calling studios near you to set up a visit is a great idea. You can pick their brains, get an idea of how things operate, and possibly ask if they do internships and what you’d need to qualify. Not only are the visits fun and exciting, it will inspire you.
I strongly encourage you to go outside your comfort zone in whatever you do, and if that is animation, I hope this gives you some guidance. Making the effort to get face-to-face time is invaluable and will improve your overall enjoyment once you get past that initial fear. If you’re looking for a good place to make that first step, don’t miss the chance to come meet me in one of our Maya courses at Stanford this summer. You can also check out any of my online lessons with DMA Online and on YouTube, or just reach out and say hi. You might just make a new friend 🙂
Austin Broder is a curriculum developer and instructor at Digital Media Academy. When he isn't busy teaching 3D modeling, you can find him creating exciting new projects at Animation Redefined.