Congratulations to Cody Childress! He landed a job at Reel FX with his awesome demo reel and passion for animation. Read about what Cody’s experience was like at Animation Mentor, how he prepared, and what his interview was like. Get inspired and go animate!
– The Animation Mentor Crew
ANIMATION MENTOR: Tell us a little bit about your background before you started at Animation Mentor. Did you have any previous art or animation experience? If yes, do you think having an artistic background helped you succeed at Animation Mentor? If no, how do you think that affected your experience at Animation Mentor?
CODY: Yes to both. My mother is an artist/art lady who always had me surrounded by and doing things in the arts. I started teaching ceramics, drawing, and painting at her summer art school for 5-10 years olds when I was thirteen, which I still did this past summer (eleven years now!). Teaching art to children has definitely helped make me a much better student and probably a better person because I’ve come to realize how valuable being a good listener is, as well as how to respect others creative process (yeah you heard me).
I always had an interest in making film and was able to take art and film making classes at my high school. I never quite made the masterpiece I was working to create, but I started to get the idea of how valuable collaboration was and how hard the whole thing can be to get right. I studied art at the University of Texas at Austin and 3D game animation at a local community college for a sum total of three years. I took a lot of classes (art history, drawing, sculpting, theater, english, music, poetry) and made a bunch of friends at both places that helped to form my artistic sensibilities (oh yeah). I was also able to get some formal software training in Photoshop, After Effects, FInal Cut, Maya, and 3DS Max. I consequently spent all of my free time learning everything about the art of animation and the tools used to create it. After about half a year of learning 3D I was able to find some freelance work animating and rigging characters.
By the time I started AM I had about one and a half years experience with learning 3D, had read a pretty good collection of animation books, and had my ear to the ground. This made it so that I was able to skip the first class, which is funny because it was exactly where I needed to be and it took me one and a half years of learning to get there, while many of my peers had just spent 12 weeks taking the first class (granted I wasn’t just focused on character animation). I should also note that I had made a friend who was an AM student that was able to answer a lot questions and give me ideas (like starting a hangout before class so us students could prepare our questions for the mentor) that helped me hit the ground running once classes started. With all that said, I would say at AM I relied heaviest on my drawing skills, knowledge of film, general technical prowess in Maya, and coffee.
ANIMATION MENTOR: What was the single most important thing you learned at Animation Mentor?
AM offers an extremely unique experience. I had never been in a position where I would be establishing a rapport with an artist as talented and distinguished as a mentor at AM, and I had never been so consciously committed to listening to what someone has to say.
So here’s the story… My friend who was an AM student kept answering all the questions I had about AM and it just got me even more psyched out. I hadn’t even started classes and I was overflowing with an uncontrollable excitement. Then I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to control myself and might just spontaneously explode right in the middle of my first class. I was kind of fanboying. So I realized that I desperately needed a game plan, some bit of sense that I could hold on to for when the vertigo hits. I called on my teaching experience to think about how I could engineer the best possible student and it hit me that intense, active listening was going to be my anchor. It’s easy to think you know what somebody means, but often times as humans we jump to conclusions or take a superficial understanding of the issue. I didn’t want to do that. I was going to be deadly suspicious. These guys definitely knew something, and while they were going to be doing there best to communicate it to me in a sensible way, anything that made sense was going to need to be explained just as much as something that didn’t. And then some more. Everything was suspect and under pressure. It was a sort of like half paranoia, half feigned naivety.
The thing I learned? The rabbit hole always goes deeper than suspected. I had countless times where I felt like I completely understood what a teacher was talking about, but after asking for more explanation it would be explained in different terms and I would have a eureka moment. I came to realize how awesome of an outlook this is to take to all other sorts of settings. It’s like when I was a kid I used to always secretly enjoy pretending that I was Truman from The Truman Show, that everything around me is some sort of simulation, and if I was only observant enough I could prove it. Making listening and being observant a game is fun, but naturally it’s more fun when you are surrounded by people who are really fascinating. You become open to the idea that people have all sorts of secret genius things hidden away instead of taking them for granted, which sets you up to learn (AM mentors typically do have some secret genius hidden too). Applying this attitude to the interactions I had with all the brilliant people at AM forced me to function at a higher level, and I’m grateful for that. Also, to answer the question in more direct animation terms, I was really surprised by how important proper planning is. If you don’t plan your shot right you’re just inflicting pain on yourself.
ANIMATION MENTOR: You just landed an awesome gig at Reel FX – Congrats! What do you think it was about your demo reel or interview that got you the job?
CODY: It’s risky to say since I’m not the one who hired me, but my educated guess would be it was a mix of a few things. The application said they were preferring Texas residents, I was a Texas resident … The style of animation I had in my reel pretty well resembles the style that the studio has done in the past (one of my mentors worked at Reel FX and while in his class I worked to emulate the work he had done on the Looney Tunes theatrical shorts, so it was like I had been training to work at Reel FX all along) …
I completed the application process entirely and to the best of my ability (video introduction, essay, bio, demo reel)… I tried to be as respectful as possible in the interview… I was actually being interviewed by an AM mentor, so we were able to talk about the education I had got and my experience at AM in greater detail than if I was being interviewed by someone who isn’t affiliated with the school, which was sort of like having home field advantage and helped me feel a bit more comfortable. I asked recruiting how they make their choices, and they said it really comes down to the demo reel. Based solely on the demo reel, they whittle down the list of prospects to the smallest number possible and then do the phone interviews where they are apparently just seeing if you can carry a civilized conversation.
My understanding is that everything hinging on the demo reel is a common practice, and even more common when you are trying to get your first job because people don’t know anything about how good or not so good it is to work with you. I’m suspicious that I might be slightly wrong though!
Want to start your animation journey like Cody?