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Some Words of Advice for Contract and Rookie Animators

by | Feb 21, 2018


Taking your first steps into the professional world of animation? Blue Sky Studios’ Supervising Animator Nick Bruno has some essential advice for contract and rookie animators looking to stick around the studio! Listen up and take notes.

In the fast-paced industry of animation, there are lots of issues that come up in regard to schedule, style, story, and salary. I, personally, am sick of talking about those issues so I thought this would be a good opportunity to give some advice. That advice is directed toward the contract and rookie animator.


This is your shot. Don’t blow it.

Over the past few productions, we’ve called upon a lot of additional contract animators to help us in our fight. We’ve also hired some newbies! A good number of those people were lucky enough to be asked right out of schools like Animation Mentor. With all the people that come and go we’ve seen a lot of personalities. Some work well with a team, and some don’t!

So below I’ve listed a list of things that I think any animator new or old could keep in mind, so that they can be the best team player they can be.

Before I begin listing, I just wanted to throw a few things out there. The first thing is that at Blue Sky I am extremely lucky to be working with THE best team ever. Sorry to those who work elsewhere, but it’s true. Everyone there is really close. It’s like a big family. We are fortunate not to have a lot of swelled heads walking around and everyone works well together. I think it has a lot to do with everyone feeling like each member has something to offer and something that they can learn from. So when I’m writing this post, I’m trying to keep in mind all the things that my team looks for in a team player, and all the things that make it easy to pass on someone that works really hard to make the cut.

Secondly, I just wanted to say that I know I’m not perfect either. I’m sure I can learn from this as well. After all, nobody is perfect.

To all the temp animators out there. Here is a list of things that will help you land one of the few coveted spots on an Animation Team’s roster.

1. Respect the deadlines, of course, but most importantly DO GREAT WORK. With this particular advice, I may receive a little flak from my employer, but I think this is the most important thing. Too many people fear the deadlines above all else, but keep in mind that if your work is just okay, you won’t get the job—regardless of how well you hit that schedule. On a related note, if your work is just okay, it won’t be great demo reel material either. So my common sense tells me that doing good work above all else is a win-win situation. Simply hitting your deadlines will do nothing but make number crunchers happy—and leave you feeling exhausted with nothing to show for it.

2. Be eager to learn. While you are at that big time studio, soak up as much as you can from as many people as you can. Even the other temps! I don’t care how precious your time is, a good animator is a learning animator.

3. Take your critique like a champ. Many animators think they take criticism well, but I see way too many people trying to explain themselves or getting defensive. Just take it with a smile. Feel free to brainstorm with them or to ask questions to clarify something, just don’t get defensive.

4. Congratulate your fellow temp. In some productions, I’ve seen some temps get hired before their contract is up. So, when a fellow temp gets a job BE HAPPY FOR THEM. They deserve it. I’ve seen some people feel dejected because it wasn’t them. It doesn’t mean that the opportunity is lost. In fact this can only help your situation because now you can see exactly what the studio is looking for. Remember, your goal is to be working with them now, right?

5. Listen to the Lead. If a character lead suggests ways to keep your character on model visually or acting-wise, LISTEN TO THEM. If you throw away that advice because you think what you have is better, or you don’t think you have the time, you may be in trouble.

6. Remember, you were likely hired to do the work no one else wants to do. I can’t tell you how many temps think they’re being punished because they have a 24-frame reaction shot. Sometimes you just have to consider yourself lucky that you aren’t animating rocks. Really, the only time you should think there is something out of the ordinary is if you get a cool shot.

7. Try not to complain. I say “try” because some things are too fun to not complain about, like overtime dinners. But I’ve heard fellow animators say “(so and so) hasn’t been here long enough to complain.” Don’t be that person!

8. If you are working with a character, especially one new to the film, consult the lead. They worked really hard on establishing that character, so seek them out for some advice, regardless of how cool your idea may be. If it’s that cool they’ll love it too!

9. Overtime. Do it, but don’t do too much. If you do too much you will cost the company too much. Then you really need to have a kickass shot. Besides, when you put in too many hours you tend to get diminishing returns. More time doesn’t necessarily equal a better shot.

10. CLAIM YOUR HOURS. I see a lot of people new and old not claiming their hours. You are cheating, and you are hurting the rest of the team. A movie’s schedule is based on numbers, and so is yours. If they think you can do a shot in three days, next time they may make it two. Oh no! It actually took you five days you just didn’t claim it. Good luck!

11. STUDY STUDY STUDY. When you’re not at work, study your animation. Always try to improve.

12. Don’t stress. First of all, you’re not the only one who is stressing, but the team wants people who can handle pressure with a smile. No matter how bad you might think you are doing, just remember, the team likes your work, and you have the talent. After all, that’s what got you there.

To the Rookie! Don’t get cocky! Here is some stuff to remember to remain part of the team even if you stay employed.

1. Stay humbled by the work around you.

2. Think that you can learn more from others than others can learn from you.

3. Respect your elders. Don’t make any suggestions to their work unless they ask for it.

4. Remember seniority. You’re still going to have to eat it from time to time. We all did.

5. Let the veterans do the complaining. Even if they agree with you, they might just think you’re some ungrateful rookie. You can definitely share your frustrations though.

6. Stay wide-eyed. Don’t lose that kid in the candy store feeling.

7. CLAIM YOUR HOURS. I don’t care if you spent an hour away from your computer playing air hockey, that’s your choice during your work hours. Live with it.

8. Keep asking questions. Keep learning from those around you.

9. Don’t complain about having too many good shots. You’d be surprised how many people will say “I just need a break” to someone who’s been animating 24-frame reaction shots for the past couple of weeks.

10. Don’t seclude yourself and don’t start cliques.

11. Don’t act like your ideas are the best ones and everyone else’s are insignificant.

12. Don’t try to push your techniques or what you think animation “is” on everyone else.

13. Stay positive at all time. No one likes a negative attitude.

Want to know more? Here are some other posts you might dig!
Animation Studio Etiquette: Keep Your Ego in Check
Inside Dailies at Pixar: Expressions Your Opinions About Animation
What’s the best workflow for animating a shot?
5 Myths of the Animation Industry

Nick Bruno Animation Mentor

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