This month Jamie Denham from London based studio, Sliced Bread Animation offers his insight into a successful animation job application.
1. Always put your best work first and keep shots to a minimum length
We get an average of 5 speculative applications per day, other larger studios will get at least 50. In the first 10-seconds of a reel you will have a pretty good idea if the applicant has ‘got it’ or not, or indeed if there is something of interest that makes you want to carry on watching. If your best work is anything beyond 10-seconds it could be missed. It is recommended that you put your primary discipline first (animation, texturing or modelling etc.). Top and tail your reel with name and contact details (email and mobile). And keep those walk cycles to 3 seconds max!
I would also recommend getting a fellow student or tutor to feedback on your reel, as an artist you can become very attached to your work. Therefore getting third party feedback before you make an application, can be very helpful. Face-to-face networking is also good in this respect, in London there are a number of meet ups for animators, some even have Show and Tell events providing you with the opportunity to showcase your work.
2. Be very clear on what aspects of the reel you actually did
Showing that scene you worked on a Harry Potter film is all well and good, but which ‘bit’ did you actually do? It’s really important that you present work you can do comfortably, it will become very obvious, very quickly if you can’t and that’s not going to help build your reputation or career in animation.
3. Give the viewer some idea of how long the shot took
All studios are a business, and whilst we all want to create outstanding work, the time it takes to create that work is important. We have to cut our cloth to suit the budget. Often budgets are tight which means you need to be creative in your thinking and get the work done efficiently. Examples of work you did on a quick turnaround, and others where you had a bit more time, are really useful to see.
4. Sending email applications
Make sure you address the person directly (if you can), put a link of your reel in the body of your email, give a very, very brief description of the role you are applying for, and your strengths (including software competency). At Sliced Bread we like to see examples of traditional art, mainly life drawing. Support it with a CV, but to be honest we only really look at them after we have looked at the reels. Sign it off with you name, and contact details (again).
5. Ask for feedback
You may of course not always get it but there will be the odd case and it will help you when applying at other studios, but always follow up, expressing an interest to work with that studio. Timing is everything, I got my first break by my CV being the top one, in a drawer of many others. If other CV’s had come in that day, I wouldn’t have got given an opportunity.
Draw, draw, draw and draw! I can’t emphasis enough how important traditional art skills are, learning the software only is only a means to the creative process, it is not the creative process.
“You get a lot of reels that are the same type of reel all featuring the same exercises. But the ones that are rare are where the applicant has done something different in their approach.” – Pixar’s Andrew Gordon
Many aspiring animators have found me online or have been sent my way by someone who knows me in hopes to offer some guidance for breaking into the animation industry. This includes snagging an internship. Recently, a student who was in this very position was sent my way by a professor of hers, who I’ve worked with here at Disney. The student sent me her portfolio, cover letter and resume, and asked for any help at all. (I love people like this because their ambition and openness will take them far!) Anyway, here are a few pointers I typically like to give for cover letters, as they are often over looked, or not considered at all:
The first thing is, make sure to do your research. Don’t start out this very important letter with something like “dear recruiter”. That’s not his/her name. Find out who the recruiter is, and address the letter properly. This will get you much further in your pursuit and put you ahead of other people who didn’t care to take the time for something so simple, but very powerful. Think about it: if you had to choose a few people to hire for your business out of HUNDREDS of applications, which ones seem to show that they have attention for detail and motivation to go the extra step or two?
Secondly, do your research and find out what the internship is all about. For example, a union studio internship is much different than a non-union studio internship. Interning at Titmouse will be a much different experience than interning at Nickelodeon. Do you know anything about either internship? Have you looked them up online, or asked past interns about their experience? Don’t applying for something that doesn’t exist — meaning if the internship you’re applying for is for production positions ONLY, do not apply asking for an artistic position! Your application may end up in the trash faster than it took you to write your cover letter. (**Side note: this is an excellent way of being transparent in your laziness. It will be painfully obvious you wrote one letter for multiple studios and just changed the studio name on each letter.)
Next, a good way to start usually is with something kind of personal and surprising. Maybe talk about why the internship is so important to you. Maybe talk about what it could do for you in your life. For example, maybe talk about how it’s important to you as a single mom to show your daughter how important it is to go after your dream no matter the circumstances. (The only thing there is to be careful not to word it in a way that feels like you’re shooting a guilt trip.) Here’s another completely different example of a cover letter I helped someone write, who did get her internship! Try to see how’s she’s making good points and making it personal:
“My name is Courtney M_____ and I am very interested in your internship program. The entertainment industry has been a huge part of my life since I was a kid, and I am actively looking to become more involved. Though I’m mostly prominent in performing, casting has become a huge interest of mine. I find it fascinating the way a casting director has the ability to put the right group of people together to create the right dynamic for a show, and I find this is especially true in the world of animation.”
My last suggestion is to add a little nugget or two to your letter so it feels more specific to the studio in which you are applying. You want to make them feel like you want that internship more than anything. Don’t simply just say that though. No one likes insincerity, and people can smell it a mile away. The way to do it, rather, is to make your letter feel like you’re writing it to your specific studio, rather than feeling like the word “Dreamworks” could be taken out and substituted with any other studio name. Maybe it’s not a huge deal, but when recruiters look through hundreds of applications, they’d rather choose you, who Disney (or whatever studio), specifically means something rather than being “just another internship”.
Hope this helps!
Disney Storyboard Artist
Creator/Host of The Animation Network podcast
The goal of The Animation Network podcast is to excite and inspire people interested in animation, answer burning questions specifically about TV animation, and share a colorful spectrum of experiences that lead industry pros to where they are today!