With the combination of a heavy workload, applying for jobs and preparing for life beyond school, three senior HU animation students describe how they have prepared going into their final semester before graduation.
By Brady Doorn, Contributor
Late into the night, all is quiet on the second floor of Huntington University’s Becker Hall. In the computer labs, three animators work diligently to finish their senior project: a short animated film that will require many more late nights to complete. This is where Amado Gonzalez, Bronson Dye and Alex Henry can often be found.
“Well, it’s both a yes and no,” Gonzalez says in response to whether he is prepared to work professionally.
For the senior animation class, preparing for an uncertain future is an everyday reality. Every student has planned differently, guided by their professors to give them their best shot at success.
They’ve practiced social marketing by making connections to artists in the industry, explored internship opportunities and built expectations for working alongside professionals in the work environment. A number of alumni have moved west to California, where employment is highest for animators. (See map)
Each student has a different goal in mind for their artistic career.
Gonzales, who is pursuing a career in 3D animation, likes to keep things open for surprises.
“I have a few loose plans,” he says. “I find that while applying for jobs, I’m not trying to keep any place off-limits. So my plan is to almost be a little bit planless.”
The biggest question for him is location.
“I want to be open to moving to the West coast — moving to Austin, wherever — so I guess my plan is to know where I’m moving or if I’ll be moving at all.”
In the field of 3D animation, there are generally four tracks to choose from: film, video games, medical, and commercials.
“It’s hard to say where I’ll end up,” he says, thinking of his long-term goals. “Ideally, I think of environments for film.”
Other students, like Bronson Dye, have their sights set on more local opportunities.
“The benefit for me is that I can live at my parents’ place and not have to pay rent while I pay off college debt,” he says. “The downside would be there would be a lot less variety of jobs.”
Dye is looking for work in 3D development for video games, preferably a smaller studio so he can experience a larger variety of work along the 3D pipeline than what is typically offered at the larger companies.
But Alex Henry is looking for opportunities wherever they can be found.
“I initially planned just applying to a whole bunch of studios and seeing what I can get,” he says. “Though it’s uncertain as to who is going to be taking anybody with everything going on right now.”
Henry has already applied to places in Canada and Chicago, and if he could have the choice, he would prefer a smaller studio.
But plans are only half the battle. In order to succeed, the seniors have already taken an immense amount of steps in preparation.
In the field of animation, making connections is what it’s all about.
Some students make these connections in a rather unconventional manner. Gonzalez recalls how he acquired an internship while going to the gym. He was working out in the weight room at the Plex when Bryan Ballinger, an animation professor, happened to be there.
“My now-supervisor was there and met Ballinger by chance, and they were talking about how they were looking for a 3D intern that could do materials, lighting and rendering.”
Gonzalez laughs while recalling the story. He was in the middle of his rep when Ballinger gestured for him.
“I had to try and be as professional as I could be in a gym setting after I was just doing [arm] flyes.”
While searching for jobs, Gonzalez has a peculiar method to find available work. He uses Google Maps and scours cities to look for animation studios that may not be advertising for work on the usual sites.
“A lot of studios don’t post their job openings on Indeed,” he says about the job search website, “so I usually go to a city in Google Maps and look up ‘3D studio’ and go to each website I find and find their career page. This also helps because a lot of times the ones on Indeedget a ton of people.”
Other students have found success through more conventional means.
Henry has also worked in the professional environment, working freelance for a graphic design studio. While he believes this will benefit him greatly while applying for jobs, he also credits the portfolio class the seniors are required to take.
“That’s how I’ve made the majority of my connections,” he says, “through the guest speakers in portfolio classes.”
While work experience is certainly beneficial, the ability to use social media for self-promotion is becoming increasingly more important. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, around 77 percent of employers search for potential employees through social networking.
HU alumnus Jacob Salsbury, who now works as a visiting lecturer at George Fox University, says in an email interview that keeping connections to people he knows and building a network of professionals — including professors, classmates and any artists — were valuable in his professional success.
“Have an online presence. I know this can be daunting for some people, but if you don’t have at least an online portfolio, then no one will know you exist or what you can do.”
James Newton, another HU animation graduate currently working at a small marketing firm, emphasizes the importance of using social media.
“I use Instagram,” he says. “Hasn’t landed me a job, but I have made a decent amount of money off of commission work via Instagram. And the accountability of an online audience encourages me to be consistent and to up my art game in every new post. However, like all social media, it’s designed to sell you things, so practice moderation, or else you may find the approval of others more important than your own artistic growth.”
Andrew Martin, an HU alumnus currently working in production management at Industrial Light & Magic, gives his thoughts on social networking.
“More important to promotion than social media is personal connections through in-person networking. Lunch with a former co-worker, dropping by a coffee shop for a concert by a classmate, those types of connections have much more value than any social media networking.”
He specifies what can make an artist stand out from among the crowd.
“Formulate a unique combination of skills to make yourself stand out. There are many in the industry who are in animation, and many more who are in technology, but fewer who combine the two in an organizational sense (in my own case).”
Despite how much experience they have, not everyone feels completely prepared for the drastic change of working in the professional setting. Gonzalez acknowledges that it’s normal to feel underprepared.
“That’s just who I am,” he says.
Once finishing training for a summer job at Ikea, his supervisors said: “‘Um. Sweet. Are you ready? Because you can go ahead and do that.’ And I was like, ‘I still don’t know!’ But I feel like that’s how most people are. You never really feel ready until you’re thrown into it.”
Dye shares a similar sentiment. He feels qualified for aspects of the industry.
“I have a good work ethic,” he says, “and I tend to be pretty adaptable, which are good things to have in the animation field. But since I’m more of a 3D generalist in modeling and animation, I’m afraid I’ll be expected to be as good as someone who specializes in just one.”
Henry is also on the same optimistic wavelength.
“Yes, and no?” he says when asked about his preparedness.
Last year at this time, he felt far from being able to work in a professional environment.
“But from what we’ve heard from a lot of the guest speakers,” Henry says, “it’s a less scary environment than you’d expect. Like, if you’re pretty good at communicating and you’re friendly and you don’t know how to do something, people will be pretty willing to help you.”
Curtis Wood, an HU professor and graduate from the animation program, writes in an email interview that “I was taught the required skills needed but I don’t think I was fully prepared for the realities that came after. That’s not the fault of HU as I think it’s something that comes to everyone. I grew from that, though, and it’s made me a stronger artist and person.”
He emphasizes the importance of a strong will for success and determination. He says that Huntington University is a smaller school so students aren’t guaranteed opportunities at the larger studios, but if they push themselves for motivation and growth, they can succeed.
Martin gives one last bit of advice to graduating seniors.
“Present yourselves as genuinely eager to learn. An attractive candidate is both aware of basic concepts and willing to learn and grow.”