SO YOU WANT A JOB IN ANIMATION: BUT WHERE DO YOU BEGIN?
You’ve wanted to work in animation your whole life. You studied it in school. Your portfolio is ready. You’ve made the move to Los Angeles and found a semi-decent apartment. Your dream of working in the industry is closer than it has EVER been before! So…. What the hell do you do NOW?
Most of the advice in articles, seminars or online. is pretty broad. There’s lots of talk about getting your portfolio out there, building your resume, and of course, everyone’s least favorite thing, ‘networking’. But there’s actually very little as far as specifics on exactly what you are supposed to do between moving into an apartment and getting that first job. It’s a confusing time and can feel a bit overwhelming.
So for a minute let’s set aside the “if you can dream it you can do it” slogans and have some real talk. What everyone says about Los Angeles is true: It really is ALL about who you know. If you’re reading this and you already know people at the studios who are working, stop reading, go email them, set some lunches and coffees on the calendar and get THEIR advice! You’re good to go. BUT if you are like I was when I made the move from Florida to Los Angeles and don’t have any friends in the animation industry (and if the phrase “It’s all about who you know” fills you with a chilling sense of dread) go ahead and keep reading, you’ll feel much better in a few minutes. Promise.
There are only TWO things you need to focus on when you get started in Los Angeles: 1) Make friends 2) Get a job and pay ‘dem bills.
First let’s talk jobs. Getting that first job in Los Angeles is stressful! You want something that pays well and doesn’t involve asking people if they “want fries with that.” But to get anything remotely good, you feel you need to know someone. And you DON’T know anyone. So who is going to recommend you for anything? Don’t stress! Fortunately, there’s a way to get relatively steady work AND get paid without technically having to land that first job! TEMPING! Temping legit saved my life those first few months in LA. I joined an agency and spent my first year working at NBC, CBS, ABC, DISNEY, UNIVERSAL and WARNER BROS! Temp agencies change over time, but I checked things out and APPLE ONE TEMP AGENCY in Glendale (appleone.com/ (818)247-2991) still places people at both DISNEY and NBC/UNIVERSAL so it’s a great way to get started. You’ll pay the bills, get to know the layout of the studios and most importantly get to know a TON of people working in the industry!
Answering phones, typing memos and getting coffee probably doesn’t sound all that thrilling. And I’m not gonna lie, it really can get pretty damn tedious. In my case I was definitely seeking SOME kind of creative outlet. Thank goodness for the Animation Guild and the American Animation Institute!! This is seriously one of the BEST things no one tells you about when you move to LA. The AAI offers classes to ANYONE in all aspects of art/animation. The classes are taught by industry professionals. The classes are filled with people wanting to get into animation or actually working in animation. And BEST of all, the classes are VERY, VERY AFFORDABLE! So yes, by day you may be making Starbucks runs and taking calls, but by night you get to continue to hone those skills, be creative and most importantly, get to know a TON of people who want to get into animation too!
Temping by day, animation classes by night. This was how I made the phrase “It’s all about who you know” work for me. I was meeting new people left and right! While temping you get to know people who want to work in all different aspects of the industry. At the Animation Institute you meet people who are trying to get into animation as writers, character designers, storyboard artists etc. All of the sudden, you’re getting paid AND you’ve made a lot of friends! As all these newfound friends move up their own ladders into bigger and better jobs in different areas of the entertainment industry, they’re going to be in positions to help you out (and if you play your cards right, one day soon, you will hopefully be able to return the favor!)
In my case, a friend with NO interest in animation landed a job as an assistant in current programming at Sony Television and heard there was an opening in animation development! He recommended me, I got the job and experienced the joys of being an assistant full time (which involved MORE calls, MORE memos and MORE coffee runs, #WompWomp). It wasn’t perfect BUT it WAS a job IN animation!
Eventually one of the assistants at the office made the leap to something cooler and because we had all been friends in the trenches together, one by one it opened up opportunities for all of us to move onto bigger, more exciting things. From that point forward life in the entertainment industry is pretty much wash, rinse, repeat, over and over (which I suspect will continue all the way ‘til retirement). You get the new job. You work with and meet cool and interesting people. Those people help you move forward and you help them move forward to even cooler jobs. It all more or less works itself out over time.
Of course, this is certainly not the ONLY way to make it in LA. This city is filled with stories of people who made it in every conceivable way. But those first few steps are always the tricky ones. Hopefully after reading this, they don’t feel QUITE as tricky as you thought they were. And even if you’re coming out here not knowing anyone at all, the phrase “it’s all about who you know” isn’t a negative, but more a promise of the amazing adventure you’re about to take and the awesome people you’re going to meet along the way. I’ll see you out there, I’m sure we’ll meet sooner or later, that’s how things work in LA!
Michael Vogel is a writer/producer and super geek who has been fortunate enough to work on some of the biggest brands in the entertainment industry across features, television (prime time and cable) and digital. His specific focus is brand building and creating stories, characters and experiences that can live on multiple platforms. He has worked with some of the leaders in Branded Entertainment (including MARVEL, CARTOON NETWORK, DISNEY, HASBRO and SONY) on brands such as “My Little Pony”, “Transformers” and “Spider-Man.” He recently co-wrote and co-produced The My Little Pony animated feature with Hasbro Studios and Lionsgate and is currently developing several original projects in the animation and family entertainment arena.