Five Key Ingredients of a Great Education

***This article originally appeared in the April ’22 / International Education & Career Guide issue of Animation Magazine (No. 319)***

Eddy Okba is an animator who is currently working at Pixar on the studio’s 2023 release. He has also worked on Illumination films such as The Lorax, Despicable Me 2 and 3, Minions, Sing and The Secret Life of Pets, as well as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Willoughbys. In this column, he offers some advice to students and aspiring artists who would like to pursue a career in animation.

1. Your Work vs. Yourself
We’re putting a lot of ourselves in our craft and part of what we make is what we are, but being a professional means you have to put aside your ego and be open to feedback. Your work is not you, don’t be offended by any critic. I  remember I spent hours drawing an illustration of a car, and my teacher used a permanent marker to circle and cross-mark over it. It was hard to see all the work I produced being spoiled in a few seconds. But it taught me that my work, despite all the time and effort I put it on, is not me. Accepting criticism and moving forward from it, it’s actually what every artist is experiencing every day (and I drew a better car after that).

2. The Others
Opening yourself up and communicating with others is a key as a professional. Working on an island and being too precious about your work won’t help you get better. Let people know you and start building a great network. You will benefit from it — not only for job recommendations, but sharing workflows, tips and opinions will help you grow just as well as hard work and passion.

3. Drawing, Why Not?
Despite technology and the new tools to help the artists, drawing skill is still a very valuable asset no matter what department we’re targeting. Getting better at drawing takes time so today is the best day to start. You don’t need to be crazy good like Glen Keane, but good enough to express ideas quickly, draw over screen and share your thoughts. Practicing gesture drawing or caricature would also help you to have an “eye,” a good observation of our world for a better understanding and approach of the visual arts. Most of the schools have drawing classes but most of the students drop it when they start their career.

Eddy Okba car
A Bug’s Life: The car illustration Eddy Okba completed when he was a student taught him a lot about how to use constructive criticism to improve his work.

4. Focus on One Discipline
At school, you touch on different disciplines and learn the many roles in the animation industry. It’s great to have an overview and be able to understand each part of a production. It also allows you to discover fields that you didn’t expect — and why not, make a career of it, like I discovered animation by studying art. But at some point, my advice would be to focus your time and effort on what you want to do. The animation world is very specialized with specific people for each department or competence. As you’re getting closer to graduation or thinking about applying for work, try to focus your effort on only a few (if not one) disciplines. A compilation of all your work at school, from modeling to compositing, including rigging, animation and lighting is not ideal. A dedicated reel and a portfolio would be a great combo. You’ll get plenty of time to explore and perfect other subjects (even within a studio).

5. The Journey Begins
Graduation or course completion is actually a starting point; you will learn so much more working in the industry with professionals. It’s okay to not be the best after school. Entering the industry is in fact the most challenging part. Don’t close any doors by targeting only the major studios — there are amazing artists everywhere, and you will learn from them throughout your whole career (see point No. 2). It is very hard to start your career (“You can’t enter the club, because only members are allowed. How can I become a member?”) but don’t forget that people are hiring graduates and juniors on potential, not level. So it’s important to show your personal work and let them know that you are motivated. The entrance is narrow, it will be wider after the first step.

See more of Eddy Okba’s work at eddyokba.com

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