As Animation Magazine is putting the final touches on our 2023 Education & Career Guide, we are pleased to offer you some inside-the-studio insight into what it takes to land your dream job, from DreamWorks Animation artist Maarten Lemmens.
10 Things You Need to Know about Getting a Job at an Animation Studio
1.) Making Connections. If you’re applying for an artistic role at an animation studio, you typically present yourself with a demo reel or portfolio. More often than not, there are hundreds of other candidates ticking off the same box as you with great portfolio work. At that point, a lot of studios start leaning into “how will this personality fit into our company?” This information then comes from a short interview or recommendations from current employees. In the last year, at my current animation job at DreamWorks, I’ve been asked multiple times if I knew someone from college or a previous job that they were considering, and if I believed they would be a good fit.
Make sure you consider your co-workers and classmates as people you can help grow with as an artist and learn from. Your ‘competition’ is out there in the world, the people around you are not even 0.1% of that — it’s much more useful building a positive bond with them.
2.) Demo Reel/Portfolio: The importance of ideas & emotion. These next two sections apply more so for artists such as animators and illustrators, the more visual arts. A lot of the time, animation studios see portfolios that contain similar abilities. The way to stand out the most is by applying ideas to your work that have not been seen or heard before. Often artists rush into their work to get that end result as quickly as possible. Think of ideas that relate to people, or in animation ones that switch emotion to keep the audience engaged. Good examples and starting points are a person put into an environment that they’re not usually in, or an emotional topic that is relatable but not talked about much. Make it stand out!
3.) Demo Reel/Portfolio: Curating for a specific studio. Every studio has their own style, and obviously they would love to recruit artists that share elements of that style for an easy fit. If you’re applying to feature film studios such as Disney, for animation you’d want to add more acting animations. If you’re applying to Sony Pictures Animation, it would be good to try out some pushed cartoony body mechanics. This goes for art too. Look what the studio you want to work for provides, and guide your portfolio towards it.
4.) Find Your Industry Fit. Do your research to determine which field appeals to you. There are so many different industries in animation, such as feature film, TV animation, advertising, video games, and more. Movie and TV animation is more based-to-camera, you can decide where the audience looks, whilst video game animation needs to appeal from all angles — there’s no cheating. The styles and ways of creating art are all very different from each other. One is assisted by mo-cap data, or reference videos can be used, and at another company you may need it all to come out of your imagination.
5.) Not Every Studio Is Sunshine and Rainbows… Different studios are run differently and therefore don’t always appeal to everyone. A topic to consider when applying or interviewing with a company is overtime. Some companies ask you to do massive amounts, and others give you plenty of work forcing you into recurring overtime requests. Some people love the chance to earn and work more, and others would love it to be more of an option whether they choose to do it. There are studios for everyone!
When you’re looking at wages, also consider the cost of living in that area, and moving fees. Making $30 per hour in Florida isn’t the same as receiving that in California! In addition, contact a current employee and ask how the workplace environment is — is it competitive, or do people genuinely care and want to build each other up?
6.) Interviews. When a company asks to interview you, they’re interested in your talent! Congratulations! Now is the time to do extra research about this company so you don’t tell Disney you loved Bee Movie. Try to make sure you have three questions on hand for each interview phase you go through. Be yourself, they’re looking for a candidate that they’d love to work with, grab lunch with and say hello to at a company event.
7.) Explore Online Courses. Here at DreamWorks, there are plenty of artists and animators who are teachers for online classes that anyone could take for a fraction of the price of America’s sky-high college tuition fees. It’s also an amazing opportunity to create connections, as many students from there have ended up working with their teachers here. I also highly recommend you focus on what you’re interested in and have an industry-level teacher assist you to hit that industry standard.
8.) Students: Don’t Rush the Basics! Just like not rushing for creative ideas in your art, it is important not to rush the learning process, either. Equally to how illustrators should take time on shape, value and color theory, animators should take time with fundamental animations, like a simple ball bounce. Often people rush this, but DreamWorks and Pixar make most of their new hires start with ball bounces. The basics return in every piece of art: perfect and apply!
9.) Improve Your Secondary Skills/Hobbies. Drawing isn’t for everyone, but it is a good skill to have in the animation industry. As is knowing other parts of the pipeline at a studio, in order to be familiar with the capabilities of what goes on around your job in the production process.
10.) Just Have fun and Be Yourself! Like it states, just have fun — we’re all here to live a dream and share our love for animation. Be yourself, and enjoy the ride! Everyone’s story goes on unique paths and at different speeds.
Maarten Lemmens is a full-time animator at DreamWorks Animation in their Feature Film department. He recently animated on the Oscar-nominated Puss in Boots: The Last Wish after previously working on Black Adam and in the game industry on Fortnite, Horizon Forbidden West, and Mortal Kombat. Born and raised in Belgium, he moved to the United States to study Computer Animation at Ringling College of Art and Design, where he created the award-winning short film Goalie (watch it on YouTube).