Now that I’m a bit removed from my college experience, I’ve had time to look back and reflect on advice I wish I could have given myself. So here is a list of things that I think are important to know for any budding animator or artist.
1: Utilize your professors
Your professors often have plenty of experience working in the field. That’s why they are qualified to teach you in the first place. A lot of them probably STILL work in the field. The more your professors like and respect you, the more willing they will be to share those connections with you. Make it easy for your professors to reach out to you with extra opportunities.
2: Do something different with your assignments
All of your classmates are working on the same assignments as you. When you are in the creative field it’s important to differentiate yourself from your competition. Use your in-class assignments to take risks and stand out. If your portfolio is full of projects that are the similar to your peers, you won’t get very far. Work on assignments that make your fellow classmates say: “I wish I had thought of that!”
3: Side projects are more important than your assignments
On that note, a better way to stick out is to have some side projects that are different from anything that your peers are working on. An internet comic, quick flash cartoons, E-cards for your friends/family, animated music videos for your favorite/local bands, etc. Not only do these side projects set you apart and showcase your personality/interests, they also open connections that your peers don’t have access. (Who knows, maybe you’ll corner the E-card market.)
4: Animation is a team sport
Feature Animations, video games, and VFX take work. Work that needs to be done by hundreds of people over the course of several years. If you plan on making a living off of this industry (even on a smaller scale), you had better start working with others. Share your skills and knowledge, and everyone gets better. Start by working on assignments with other people. Even if that just means working in the same room as your classmates. This industry is not made for lone wolves. You will starve.
5: Critiques are more important than the finished product
Being able to take constructive criticism is fundamental to your success. No piece of work gets approved on the first try. And that is OK. Taking criticism is how we learn and in order to survive in this industry, you need to be able to take it in stride.
On the flip side, you as an artist need to be able to explain why you like something, or why you DON’T like something. Being able to explain your work or your design process to someone (especially someone outside of the creative field) is hugely valuable. Good communication will save you money in the long run.
6: Use the university/program to the fullest
Colleges and universities have lots of money. They use large portions of that money to try and help their students succeed. They have things like job fairs, competitions, advisors, and facilities that are in place just to help you further your career. On top of that, they also might give you free access to software subscriptions, international competitions, and conferences that would otherwise cost money or be unavailable to you. Seek out this stuff, and good things will happen. Help them help you.
7: Professionalism matters
Most of us didn’t go into this creative field to make money and be formal adults, but surprisingly enough, it matters. How you conduct yourself inside the classroom and with your peers and professors makes an impact. Professors are more likely to recommend you for a job if they think you are professional enough to handle it (they’re also more likely to give you better grades). If you want to get a job working in an animation studio, or on a creative team, you had better be able to talk about your work and you had better be able to write a formal email. Remember, this is your job and livelihood, not just some hobby you do on the side. Treat it like it matters to you.