James Kerr is Creative Director of Kerrupt Stop-Motion Animation. Here he offers graduates some inside advice on how to get your foot in the door as you attempt to make the transition from University to paid professional.
As a small stop-motion animation studio based in the UK we receive a LOT of job applications. For applicants it’s always tough. As far as I can tell there are plenty of University courses across the UK in all types of animation – which causes something of a bottle neck as it seems there are far more graduates than positions available (at the least that’s how it seems at out end). I’m also amazed at where applications come from – we receive CVs and showreels from all over the world …I’m stunned at how far people are willing to travel for their craft. It’s very admirable.As a graduate it’s pretty brutal getting your foot in the door after years of study and I certainly don’t envy those going the through the process. So before setting out on such a tough journey it might be worth spending some time doing a little research. One key thing to do is to try and put yourself in the shoes of an animation studio – if you can see the world through their eyes you might get a much better idea of how to impress them. This will give you a big advantage over all that competition.
Now many may disagree with the following points I make so I’d like to state this is only my personal opinion. However, I’m calling it how I see it and while you may disagree this is my own take on how best to make the transition from University course to animation professional…
- More days than most we find random job applications in the post or in our Inbox. We don’t always get around to reading all of the applications – mainly because we’re increadibly busy or we’re just not in the process of hiring. This act in itself should tell a graduate something. We get a lot of CVs …a LOT of CVs …some of which we don’t even read. So even with the best CV and showreel in the world, if you are spending your time posting out CV’s and emailing showreels are you really doing enough to get noticed? You might well just be another CV in the pile …which might not even get read. Finding ways to get noticed is often just as important as any animation skills or qualificiations you may have. You’re trying to get into the creative industry – so start thinking creatively about how to stand out.
- Go to conferences and talk to people. Shake a lot of hands. Offer to buy MD’s a beer. Yes, I know I’m an MD and this could be seen as a ‘bribe’ – but if you shake my hand at a conference and chat to me over a drink for 10 minutes you are already registered in my head. I’m now far more likely to pay attention to who you are, what your skilss are and what qualifications you have. Like in most job interviews, in a 10 minute casual chat I’ll get an idea of whether you will fit in at my studio.
- A great degree from a great university helps, but if you think that’s all you need you’re being naïve. Very naïve.You’ll probably get beaten to a lot of good starting positions by people less qualified than you – purely because they were brave enough to shake hands at a conference, randomly ‘drop-in’ on a studio or start interesting twitter chats with potential employers. (…employers who weren’t even aware you wanted a job until after you became a good twitter buddie.
Remember, you’re starting at the very bottom. The fact is that for the first few months (or even years) of your career you’re more than likely going to be an official tea maker. It sucks …but it’s how it is.
A long CV mentioning everything you’ve ever done including that part time job you had at Starbucks during the school holidays 8 years ago is of no interest to us. To be frank I don’t really care about what GCSE’s you got. In fact, to be 100% honest, I’m not really interested in the degree you received. Carrying a degree that is a 1st is definetley a help. What I’m really interested in though is the following:
…your degree is a letter or a number – it’s the showreel that really shows me what you can do.
Like most people, if you turn up late to the interview smelling of last night’s booze and have a miserable expression I certainly won’t care what degree you have – or what your showreel looks like.
CAN YOU TAKE DIRECTION? DO YOU LISTEN?
The truth is University isn’t going to teach you everything I need you to know. I’m going to have to teach you additional skills (…or you’re going to have to teach yourself). How fast can you learn from me? …can I leave you to make decisions by yourself? Clients ask for all sorts of work. In turn your company will require you to have all sorts of skills – even if they aren’t anything to do with the job you applied for. Richard Branson once said ‘If you asked whether you can do something, just say yes and figure out how to do it later’. Wise words indeed.
Hopefully the above is of some help as you attempt to kick in the front door of a highly competitive industry. It’s brutal, but if you truly have the ability to see things from the prospective of others you’ll be well ahead of the competition. Good luck!
James Kerr is Creative Director of Kerrupt Stop-Motion Animation.
Many aspiring animators have found me online or have been sent my way by someone who knows me in hopes to offer some guidance for breaking into the animation industry. This includes snagging an internship. Recently, a student who was in this very position was sent my way by a professor of hers, who I’ve worked with here at Disney. The student sent me her portfolio, cover letter and resume, and asked for any help at all. (I love people like this because their ambition and openness will take them far!) Anyway, here are a few pointers I typically like to give for cover letters, as they are often over looked, or not considered at all:
The first thing is, make sure to do your research. Don’t start out this very important letter with something like “dear recruiter”. That’s not his/her name. Find out who the recruiter is, and address the letter properly. This will get you much further in your pursuit and put you ahead of other people who didn’t care to take the time for something so simple, but very powerful. Think about it: if you had to choose a few people to hire for your business out of HUNDREDS of applications, which ones seem to show that they have attention for detail and motivation to go the extra step or two?
Secondly, do your research and find out what the internship is all about. For example, a union studio internship is much different than a non-union studio internship. Interning at Titmouse will be a much different experience than interning at Nickelodeon. Do you know anything about either internship? Have you looked them up online, or asked past interns about their experience? Don’t applying for something that doesn’t exist — meaning if the internship you’re applying for is for production positions ONLY, do not apply asking for an artistic position! Your application may end up in the trash faster than it took you to write your cover letter. (**Side note: this is an excellent way of being transparent in your laziness. It will be painfully obvious you wrote one letter for multiple studios and just changed the studio name on each letter.)
Next, a good way to start usually is with something kind of personal and surprising. Maybe talk about why the internship is so important to you. Maybe talk about what it could do for you in your life. For example, maybe talk about how it’s important to you as a single mom to show your daughter how important it is to go after your dream no matter the circumstances. (The only thing there is to be careful not to word it in a way that feels like you’re shooting a guilt trip.) Here’s another completely different example of a cover letter I helped someone write, who did get her internship! Try to see how’s she’s making good points and making it personal:
“My name is Courtney M_____ and I am very interested in your internship program. The entertainment industry has been a huge part of my life since I was a kid, and I am actively looking to become more involved. Though I’m mostly prominent in performing, casting has become a huge interest of mine. I find it fascinating the way a casting director has the ability to put the right group of people together to create the right dynamic for a show, and I find this is especially true in the world of animation.”
My last suggestion is to add a little nugget or two to your letter so it feels more specific to the studio in which you are applying. You want to make them feel like you want that internship more than anything. Don’t simply just say that though. No one likes insincerity, and people can smell it a mile away. The way to do it, rather, is to make your letter feel like you’re writing it to your specific studio, rather than feeling like the word “Dreamworks” could be taken out and substituted with any other studio name. Maybe it’s not a huge deal, but when recruiters look through hundreds of applications, they’d rather choose you, who Disney (or whatever studio), specifically means something rather than being “just another internship”.
Hope this helps!
Disney Storyboard Artist
Creator/Host of The Animation Network podcast
The goal of The Animation Network podcast is to excite and inspire people interested in animation, answer burning questions specifically about TV animation, and share a colorful spectrum of experiences that lead industry pros to where they are today!