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Navigating the Animation Landscape: Jenn Burchfield’s Journey From Student to Industry Pro

by | Mar 26, 2024

Jenn Burchfield

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Jenn Burchfield, an accomplished Animation Mentor alumni whose trajectory in the animation industry reads like an adventure novel. From early inspirations during a childhood trip to Disney World to work on AAA games, TV series, feature films, and commercials, Jenn’s story is a testament to where passion, determination, and education can lead. Jenn’s resume includes time at Blizzard, PlayStation, Epic Games, Disney and her current role as Animator at Blur Studio.

Beginnings of a Career in Animation

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your animation journey. How did you get to where you are today?

Jenn: My animation journey has been a little bit unconventional, but sometimes the journey is the destination, right? 😀

I was lucky to know and love animation from a very young age, but it wasn’t until a fateful family trip to Disney World where I learned that there were real people drawing the movies that I loved. We walked by what I like to refer to as an animator exhibit – they had animators behind glass like at a zoo! But behind that glass there were 2D animators doing what they do and that revelation propelled 8 year old me like a rocket to the career I have today.

Straight out of college I did a little bit of motion graphics and 3D generalist work. It was what I was comfortable with and where I could find some room to squeeze my toe in the door. I had been trying to focus on animating, but found that I always needed the other aspects of the pipeline to get started (hence my skills as a rigger and generalist). It wasn’t until I took the courses at Animation Mentor that I was able to build a solid reel of just character animation and start landing the jobs that I wanted. Even after AM I spent countless hours doing side projects, practicing, and soaking up all the information I could find on how to be a great animator. 

My career was a little unpredictable and very freelance focused as I got my start in Los Angeles. My hard and fast rule was to take any job no matter the industry, as long as I was animating. This took me from motion graphics to games, commercials, features, and then back to games again. When I was able to land a gig with Duncan Studio on The Nut Job 2, I began to feel my feet land a bit more on the ground.  From there I met my next anim lead at SIGGRAPH and landed a job with Blizzard on World of Warcraft, followed by a stint at PlayStation on The Last of Us Part II, and then back up to work with a friend at Disney Television Animation. I am currently animating at Blur Studio and am continuing to learn new things everyday from the amazingly talented folks I get to work with.

Jenn Burchfield at Disney

It might seem a little odd to go from features to games to commercials and back again, but for me it has always made perfect sense. At the end of the day no matter if the show is keyframe or mocap, pre-render or real-time, animation is always animation. I love making things move, and no matter the project there is always something to be learned and skills to refine which keeps things interesting.

Behind the Scenes

Animation Mentor: Can you give us a deep dive into what it was like working on one of your favorite projects? What did your role entail?

Jenn: Oh jeez, it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite. I really enjoyed working with my team at DTVA, and specifically that position gave me a lot of creative freedom. It was also a fantastic group of people and the best jobs are the ones with good people.

As animation supervisor for our little real-time team I had the privilege to represent and create guidelines for what was going to be best for our animators throughout the pipeline. I worked closely with the directors and art director on helping shape story, potential gags, character design, and best of all created a movement language for a few brand new Disney characters. For our Big City Greens special, I also helped define what the animation style was going to be – which was super cool.  We were translating a 2D property into a 3D/real-time show and it was an insanely fun and challenging task.

Jenn Burchfield Real-Time Animation Supervisor Reel

Another side of that position was representing our team and what we had accomplished to the animation community. I was lucky enough to present internally at DTVA, externally at the Grace Hopper Conference, and in an Unreal Spotlight for our project. It was a little nerve wracking for an introverted animator to pick up public speaking, but it did wonders for my confidence as a professional.

Animation Mentor: You mentioned your experience working on a wide range of types of projects – from feature films, to games, to commercials. Are there differences in work flows or other nuances that impact different types of projects?

Jenn: Each project will always have its own set of nuances and a particular workflow. As an animator you do have to learn how to best work within those restrictions, but at the end of the day you still utilize the same skills in relation to motion. The biggest differences in my experience are usually related to time and quality. If you’re on a film you might have more time to work on a shot to get things to a higher level of polish compared to series or commercials. You’ll also likely have more support on a bigger production, while on a smaller show you may have to be a little more resourceful.

I found my animation skills were challenged at a few main points over the years while jumping on different projects. The first was when I went to Blizzard and all my work had to hold up in three dimensions for WoW. There was no cheating when the player could view your animation from any angle, but that made my posing way stronger and I still to this day pose in 3D. The second time I had to level up my skills was for TLOU2 as my first real mocap show. Working with mocap is similar to keyframe in a lot of ways, but it can also be a little daunting to wrap your head around all those keys. I had an amazing lead that showed me the real magic behind anim layers and that unlocked a world of possibilities. The latest challenge has been taking all of those skills I’ve learned over the years and applying them to working in Unreal for real-time animation. This might be the biggest technical challenge of them all, but it’s been a lot of fun to learn and figure out.

Jenn Burchfield The Last of Us Part II Cinematic Reel

Animation Mentor: What is one of the most challenging projects you’ve ever worked on and what did you learn from it?

Jenn: This is a hard one… but I think that it might be Big City Greens again. We ran into some BIG technical restrictions while trying to get our animation into Unreal. It required a collective hive mind of artists, engineers, and unreal specialists working together to finally find a solution that was reliable enough for production. Sometimes while on calls trying to figure things out, I felt like literal smoke was coming out of my ears from all the gears turning in my head.  But at the end of the day we got it to work which was super rewarding and exciting! Never underestimate the power of teamwork, and don’t be afraid to try and solve a problem even if you feel unqualified.

Big City Greens Virtually Christmas

Experience as an Animation Mentor Student

Animation Mentor: How did Animation Mentor help prepare you for the industry?

Jenn: Animation Mentor was a chance for me to really take the time to develop the skills I needed to succeed in the industry. It was a great jumping off point for training my eye while also learning how to make Maya work for me instead of against me. Having the input of a professional while you’re just starting off is an incredible opportunity to learn and I feel very lucky to have had such wonderful mentors along the way. I think of them daily as I continue to use tips and tricks from them all the time. AM also pushed me to focus my reel on character animation and refresh my professional goals.

Advice for Animation Students

Animation Mentor: Are there any things every successful animator has in common?

Jenn: I’m not sure if I want to say every animator has these attributes, but a lot of them sure do. Persistence, determination, and just being a good person will get you where you want to be. This industry can be rocky at times, and it can be difficult to find a gig that feels creatively fulfilling. Having those attributes in your back pocket will keep you going when things get tough. Which they will. So stay persistent and determined! But don’t be a jerk about it and make lots of friends along the way.

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

Jenn: Animation is hard. There is always something new that will pop up in a shot that will throw you for a loop. I’ve been at this for over 10 years now and I still will open up a shot and ask myself “How the heck are you going to pull this one off Jenn?”. But that’s part of the fun! Animation can be a puzzle. A difficult, physics based puzzle that you have to solve in imaginary 3D space – but come on that’s pretty cool, right? And at the end of the day you’ve made something move in a way that is so believable that you yourself can hardly believe you made it! So I guess my advice is try not to get bogged down in the technical or creative challenges and try to look at the bigger picture. You’re creating art with some really amazing people, and that art will make someone’s day just a little bit brighter. The world needs that now more than ever.

Jenn Burchfield in the credits

The Last of Us Part IIBaymax Dreams
Big City Greens Virtually ChristmasStarCraft: Remastered
World of Warcraft: Battle for AzerothWorld of Warcraft: Legion
The Nut Job 2: Nutty by NatureSkylanders: SuperChargers
Tales from the BorderlandsUltimate Spider-Man
…and more!

See what other projects Jenn has worked on on IMDB or Moby Games – or connect with her on Instagram.

Want to be mentored by professional animators?

Follow your animation dreams just like Jenn Burchfield did by learning from animators at studios like Pixar, ILM, Riot Games, Disney, and Blizzard! Get more information about Animation Mentor’s Character Animation Program.

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