tealin: (actually)
[personal profile] tealin
Someone on Tumblr asked me about how to get your foot in the door in the animation industry, getting your portfolio looked at, and whether these days jobs have to come to you more than you going in search of them. I thought I'd copy my response here, as Tumblr is so frustratingly ephemeral ...

What follows is entirely my two cents and based solely on personal experience, which is limited and somewhat unusual. But I give it anyway, just in case it’s helpful.

I have had the pleasure, in at least two of my jobs, to end up friends with the person who takes the portfolios, and the cold calls from prospective job applicants. Based on that, I don’t believe studios have ever been enthusiastic to look at portfolios out of the blue, or take cold callers seriously, at least not in the 17 years I’ve known them. When portfolios came in, they’d go straight in the Portfolio File, which was only delved into when there was a job opening that couldn’t be filled by a past employee or a recommendation. Cold callers, having nothing to show for themselves over the phone, got even less consideration (email is better; you can attach images). Between years of school, I turned up at studios in town in person to ask about interning, and got politely turned away; at one of them the receptionist all but laughed in my face. So yes, it’s like that, but it’s not a new thing. It probably isn’t helped these days by the increased volume of art school grads, but it’s not new.

So, what advice do I have? Again, this is highly subjective and based on limited personal experience, but:

1. Don’t be annoying. A respectful attitude gets noticed: you are taking up a busy person’s time and attention, and if you can signal that you’re aware of this and grateful for the moment they can spend on you (and only make it a moment) they are less likely to brush you off. They may, still, but you’re lowering it from a guarantee to a probability.

2. Be persistent (without being annoying). Don’t call every day, but call maybe once a week until you get a definite ‘no,’ and then respect that (for the time being, anyway). Don’t give a follow-up call immediately after sending in a portfolio – maybe they haven’t got round to looking at it yet – but do give a follow-up call after a few days. Make it clear that you want this job enough not to be brushed off easily, but stay respectful of their time – you are not their #1 concern, probably not even in the top 10.

3. Get to know other people who are working in the industry, whether or not they work at that place. By ‘get to know’ I don’t mean ‘shove your portfolio under their nose’, I mean ‘take an interest in their work and understand them as people.’ (see 1.) This is not just a cynical way to play people into getting you a job; you will learn a lot about art and about humans, both good things for you as a person, and necessary in the workforce. Once you know them, show them some of your work and listen to their feedback. (Don’t forget you’re their competition; you’re asking them to put time and effort into helping you.) People are more likely to recommend someone they know for a job, and if you have demonstrated you take direction humbly and are willing to learn, that says a lot about your employability. The world is full of talented new grads who think they know everything, but a keen and humble rookie is a diamond in the rough.

4. Keep an eye open for calls for new talent. Many big studios run internship/apprenticeship/work placement schemes; apply for those, multiple times if necessary. If a studio has a presence at a festival or convention, go there and get looked at. Go to open houses and industry nights. Participate in events that will get your work noticed. Anything where it looks like the gatekeepers are opening the gates a crack.

5. Keep a level head and don’t get discouraged if you’re ignored the first time. If a studio doesn’t have a job they need to fill, they’re not going to look at even the best portfolio, but when they need to hire 20 animators to get something done on time and can only find 15, they will be SO HAPPY to hear from you.

I’ve had art online for 18 years and never once has someone offered me a (real) job purely through that: every job has come through personal contacts and past work. I know the story is different for other people, but that is how it’s been for me. I feel that nowadays there’s this expectation that if you just keep feeding your blog with the sort of art that gets likes, you’ll get ‘discovered’, but that’s not the way it is. Maybe some Hollywood starlets really did get ‘discovered’ waiting tables at Schwab’s, too, but that’s generally not how it goes. The first job is the hardest one to get, but it can be done, eventually, if you put in the shoe leather.
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