How I Got My Dream Job: A Q&A with Alumnus and Framestore Animator Usman Olomu


Usman Olomu Framestore Animator

We caught up with Usman Olomu, Summer 2016 Animation Mentor graduate and now Framestore London animator! Usman shared some incredible advice for current animation students to help you follow in his footsteps and land you dream jobs too. You’ll want to take some notes!

-The Animation Mentor Crew

Animation Mentor: What made you want to become an animator?

Usman Olomu: For me, I think the decision to become an animator was made a long time ago, though I did not know it. As a 90’s kid, my childhood was saturated with amazing cartoons. Pokemon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z and in later years shows like Beyblade and Avatar: The Last Airbender. These shows and many others besides brought me joy. It’s fitting that I should find myself in a career that not only reminds me of my childhood but inspires me day-to-day as an adult.

“Honey, where’s my super suit?!”

For those of you who don’t know, that is, of course, a hilarious quote from The Incredibles. I’d always loved animation growing up. The Incredibles, however, was the catalyst in deciding that I officially wanted to become an animator. I remember it vividly. The scene where the Omnidroid is attacking the city and the whole family is arguing over Syndrome’s remote. Then and there was when I knew I had to be a part of whatever magical process created those beautiful images on the big screen.

AM: Congrats on the shiny new gig at Framestore London! What kinds of projects are you working on and what’s your favorite part so far?

UO: To this day it’s still quite surreal to think that I actually did it. I followed my passion and landed myself a job at Framestore, one of the most highly respected VFX studios in the world. They’ve worked on some of my most favourite movies, and I’m happy to be a part of the team. It’s a Marvel thing! In a way, I’ll be a part of the infamous MCU!

Thor Ragnorak Promo

We can’t wait for Thor: Ragnorak

I’m currently working on Thor: Ragnarok, and I’m having a blast working with other animators on the movie. Attention to detail is taken seriously and everyone works together to achieve the best and most epic cinematic results.

Aside from the animation it really is the people that I’m enjoying the most. I’ve never been surrounded by so many talented animators, unless you count attending the CTN Animation Expo. Not only that, their generosity and willingness to help and share knowledge as well as workflow tips is fantastic.

On average it takes around 3–4 years of collaborative effort to make the animated films that inspire you so much. Where would those films be if not for the sharing of ideas?

A shoutout to my buddy Alexander Antoniades who works beside me and is my go-to guy for all things animation. Animators like James (Momo) Wilson and Nathan Powell are hilarious to be around—the latter applies butter to his bread before adding Nutella…eww. Senior Animators like Sebastian Badea show me cool ways of animating spaceships. Gian Luigi Granieri continues our unofficial tradition of Whiskey Fridays with some rather expensive whiskey. Every day is filled with laughter and fun.

Incidentally quite a few of the animators at Framestore happen to be Animation Mentor alumni. Animation Mentor has certainly helped to make a lot of dreams come true.

AM: Tell us a bit about your journey to Animation Mentor and throughout your time with us. What was it like and how did it prepare you for life after graduation?

UO: I began my journey like most other aspiring animators. First, there was the idea that animation was this unattainable dream that only a select few could do. Once I knew it was possible to pursue animation as a career I set about making it happen via the traditional route. I applied to university for 3D animation, and once there I was excited to start. After some time at university, I came to realise that the course wasn’t for me. They taught quite a lot of cool things like modeling, rigging, texturing, etc. The teaching of animation and its principles kind of took a back seat. It was discussed but hardly ever practiced. I just wanted to be an animator.

A lot of the people that I looked up to in the industry had always said that if one wanted to make it to feature/VFX level, that person had to be laser focused in their field of choice. For me, and the studios I wanted to work for, that was character animation—studios like DreamWorks, Disney, and Pixar almost always go for people that specialize in character animation. This and later finding out that the university would not be teaching character animation till the final year was enough for me to make a tough decision. Not wanting to acquire heavy student debts for an unsatisfactory education, I simply had to leave.

Cue Animation Mentor.

Without sounding too melodramatic, Animation Mentor became a lifesaver. It’s worth mentioning that I had known a little about Animation Mentor before the whole university thing. My attitude back then was “It’s an online thing. Surely a traditional school setting would be much more appropriate. Their work is so freaking amazing though.” After leaving university, I moved back home and took a few odd jobs here and there. With very little financial commitments I suddenly found that I had a lot of savings to play with. Still wanting to pursue animation I had turned my attentions back to Animation Mentor. Brimming with excitement and ready to go, I applied, ready for a new journey.

Incidentally quite a few of the animators at Framestore happen to be Animation Mentor alumni. Animation Mentor has certainly helped to make a lot of dreams come true.

What a journey it was too. Animation Mentor was everything that I wanted and needed in a school. A school by animators for animators. A school created by such passionate people and one that was dedicated to making its students ready for the industry. I met so many like-minded and passionate people that I’d happily call lifelong friends.

The school and its mentors really care about paying it forward and diligently grooming the next generation of animators. Live weekly classes with the likes of Framestore, DreamWorks, and Pixar animators, insightful lectures and detailed critiques on your animation assignments each week. I’m underselling the school here. There’s so much more that AM does for its future animators.

Life after graduation, AM is with you every step of the way—namely Cathleen Hylton, a mentor manager at AM. Kind and delightful to talk to, she’s been a hero to me and many others at the school. Student services and a frequently updated animation jobs spreadsheet are invaluable. Incidentally, applying via the job spreadsheet is how I got the job at Framestore. Then there’s the open communication with any AM staff and alumni such as myself. AM students feel free to PM me with questions!

AM: Do you have any demo reel or interview advice you can share with animators on the job hunt?

UO: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Silly)

When your mentors and other animation veterans tell you to keep things simple, just keep it simple. Often, as animators starting out, we have a tendency to want our reels to look like a Hollywood movie trailer. You know the one, slow and steady at the start with music ramping up and finally ending with explosions and explosions…and even more explosions!

Animation leads and sups only have so much time to check out innumerable reels. You’ve got to have them intrigued within the first few seconds. In the case of your reel, your absolute best shot should be at the start followed by your next best shot at the end, but that doesn’t mean you should just add fillers in the middle. A decent reel includes really good body mechanics, great acting, and a shot that is a good combination of the two.

Usman’s Body Mechanics Test with AM’s Stella Character Rig

As a student, you have the opportunity to showcase not only your animation skills but your ideas too. A really good reel showcases one’s sensibilities as an artist. Having creature work in there is a really huge plus as it increases the likelihood of landing that dream job.

My original reel was nearly 2 minutes long. While it is impressive to have near 2 minutes of animation under your belt, not all of that needs to be in your reel, especially if you’re just starting out in animation. If you’re reading this, by now I’m sure you’ve heard of lots of people landing jobs with a good quality reel of a minute or less.

So how did I go about it?

Trimming the fat! I went ahead and sent out a Vimeo link to other animators and asked them to give me feedback on my reel. The common theme in the feedback I got was to take out shots that weren’t as strong as others. Thankfully, I also had a lot of animators agree on three shots they all really liked. I kept those shots, polished them off a little and voila! I had a reel that not only I was pleased with, but also one that professional animators, my mentors, liked as well.

Usman’s Demo Reel

Interviews. If you get one that means they like your work. It’s as simple as that. Your reel does about 90 percent of the work for you. In my experience interviews really are just a formality. They’d like to know if you’d be a cool person to work with. Show up with your enthusiasm and excitement be it an in-person or skype interview.

AM: What other advice do you have for current or future Animation Mentor students?

UO: For any AM student, one of the best things to look forward to is the making of new friends, and that comes with sharing. As such, it certainly doesn’t hurt to put yourself out there, be vulnerable enough to share your work with others even if you don’t feel it’s the best thing around.

A really good reel showcases one’s sensibilities as an artist. Having creature work in there is a really huge plus as it increases the likelihood of landing that dream job.

Your willingness to share will inspire others to do the same. The more you share and ask for feedback, the more you get back. This way it becomes easier to drop a few notes on the work of others and train your own eye for observation and critique. It doesn’t have to be the best piece of animation imaginable. Junior Animators, for instance, tend to get hired on the basis that they have a lot of potential. The studios take it upon themselves to train you up. So don’t be shy about showing your work. Get into the habit of sharing.

Post up!

This one is for those who are current AM students. “Posting up” is kind of a follow-up to the above. More specifically it’s the idea of not being afraid to give feedback to students that are a couple classes ahead of you. I know it’s scary—I’ve been there.

Punch Test with the Overlord and the Enforcer Character Rigs

You may be in class 1 or 2 and feel intimidated by the very notion of leaving feedback on the workspace of someone in class 5 or 6. Don’t be! Here’s why: Animation is a time consuming process, and there’s a lot to think about. We often get caught up with our own shots and fall victim to losing the big picture. It always helps to have a fresh pair of eyes on our work. This is where you come in. Never be afraid to come up with suggestions and ideas to help that animator improve his or her shot. The result of not doing so is that you do both yourself and that other animator a disservice.

On average it takes around 3 to 4 years of collaborative effort to make the animated films that inspire you so much. Where would those films be if not for the sharing of ideas, giving feedback, and being brave enough to have a shot picked apart to make it the best it can be?

What a journey it was too. Animation Mentor was everything that I wanted and needed in a school. A school by animators for animators.

Never just an animator.

I’ve come to realise with every shot that I work on I must accept that I’m never just an animator. In a way, working out storytelling poses makes you a storyboard artist. Keying your breakdowns and extremes enables you to figure out your timing/spacing, emotional beats, and character intentions. At this stage you’re a director, directing your audience to some conclusion about your character’s personality and how they feel in any given situation.

Animation, in all its splendour, is the art of beautifully interweaving these things. It’s no wonder these jobs are so interchangeable in the industry. How many directors out there started out as animators or storyboard artists and vice versa?

That was all rather deep and philosophical. I’m hoping to go deeper as my career progresses. I hope that I, like many others before me, have inspired you to take that step into the world of animation. Animation Mentor can certainly take you there, and you’ll have a blast along the way.

Flashback to when Usman was in Class 2 and did a webinar with Bobby Beck!

Want to be mentored by professional animators?

Start your animation journey today by learning from animators at studios like Pixar, Blue Sky, and ILM! Get more information about Animation Mentor’s Character Animation Program.


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