Something mentors in later classes of Animation Mentor often said is “keep doing your own personal shots”. It’s a no brainer for graduates still looking to get their start, but also good advice for animators in the industry who may not always be getting shots that will progress their skills or fulfil their creative itches.
Something I soon realised after Animation Mentor is very few people follow through on that advice. In my personal experience I have never finished an acting shot on my own, there’s been multiple attempts but all end up gathering dust after some time.
One thing I’ve found is I personally can’t work without an outside expectation on me to deliver a large amount of work. In a class you have expectations of your mentor/teacher to meet, you have weekly deadlines, grades to uphold, a financial outlay you’re trying to get the most out of and classmates to compare your progress against. Once you take all those elements away, you’re down to just self discipline to to go through a shot from start to finish. When a shot takes weeks to complete, it’s not hard to fall off the bandwagon and stay off it.
For those who find themselves in a situation like this and would like to keep adding to their reel, here some suggestions to combat the problem:
- Offer to help out on a short film.
This brings back deadlines, meeting a director’s expectations and comparing your own progress against your peers. If you’re able to jump on a project with a director from an animation background you’re also able to gain useful feedback that pushes your skills and understanding of animation. I’ve helped out on shorts for former Pixar animators Carlos Baena, Bobby Beck and Everett Downing and have enjoyed all experiences. From the various projects I have about 2 minutes of completed animation, way more than I would be able to complete on my own. If you’re looking for projects to join, check out Artella or Nimble Collective. Tip: before jumping on a project ask about adding your completed shots to a private reel. Side projects take years to complete, when you’ll be able to show your shots publicly is anyone’s guess.
- Loop De Loop
Loop De Loop is an online animation challenge which offers a theme, a 2 month deadline and screenings in multiple cities. The 2 month deadline is adequate time, there’s no minimum time frame for your shot, there’s a guaranteed audience and is also a great step to challenge yourself in a bit of directing a shot/concept development. Here is a post breaking down how I collaborated on a Loop De Loop with an old university friend.
- 11 Second Club
Well known within the industry, a line of dialogue about 11 seconds in length is supplied and a 1 month deadline is given to complete the shot. Shots are voted on and winners are announced. Completing an 11 second dialogue shot in 4 weeks is tough, but definitely doable, the short time frame means the ball has to be continually rolling and helps stop the “I can do it later” excuse.
- Find a mentor
This can be as simple as approaching someone you look up to and saying “do you have time to look at my shot?”. Be sure to apply their feedback before showing them again, if they see you’re not applying their notes then it won’t be long before they stop replying. I’ve approached various people I’ve met for their advice, and always have received replies/notes to work on. Tip: think of people you know or may have met personally rather than reaching out to complete strangers. Have something ready to show and don’t approach them saying “can you be my mentor?”
Some animators such as Jean-Denis Haas also mentor for a fee much lower than schools. If you’re paying money always check reels, not just credentials of the mentor. I have seen junior level animators offering mentoring for a fee, something I’m quite skeptical of.
- Take More Classes
This is very common, even for animators who already have their foot in the door. The structure of a reputable school in my mind beats all the above options, but obviously comes with a high price tag. Animation Mentor offers discounts for alumni retaking classes, Animsquad, iAnimate, AnimSchool, CGtarians and Animation Collaborative are all great as well. I know numerous animators who have tried a mix of the schools to find the best solution for what they wish to work on. Some offer specific classes in cartoony animation, creatures, facial performance, etc.
I should mention, for current students it might be best to hold off trying any of these until after graduation. I often had students asking to help on DUEL and often see students taking multiple classes, try an extra shot on the side, etc. In my mind it’s spreading yourself too thinly and not getting the most out of your education.