Do you have the communication and animation skills needed to make it in one of the many coveted creative animation jobs, like character rigging for DreamWorks or animating for Pixar? Animation jobs like these are a challenge to land, given the increasingly competitive job market. Simply put: you need certain skills beyond an ability to animate, or someone else will snatch up the open position. Luckily, the kind of animation skills you need to set yourself apart are easy to develop.
So what are these animation skills and how can you learn them? Let’s start with creative career advice from someone who understands “making it.” I caught up with Joshua Cogswell, a Cogswell alumnus who started off on a fast track in his creative career — he was hired three days after graduation by animation studio Rhythm and Hues. Now with Blur Studio, Joshua shared the following secrets to his success, important animation skills he feels helped get his foot in the door.
Animation Jobs Require You to Master Multiple Skills
Josh was quick to point out that even though his current animation job at Blur Studio may have the title of Rigging Artist, his animation skills and expertise span beyond just that. He specializes in character rigging and technical animation techniques, but he also has experience in game programming, modeling and special effects.
“Adaptability is crucial,” he said, “The ability to do more than just one thing was perhaps one of my key takeaways from Cogswell. One thing that helped me get my current job at Blur was learning rigging while I was studying modeling at Cogswell.”
Josh considers the study of modeling a rough definition of what he did at Cogswell, due to his active involvement in learning beyond this line of animation techniques. He pushed for more rigging classes while at Cogswell after deciding it was another aspect of animation he wanted to master, and he was also heavily involved in game development classes and the game development club. This wide range of study gave Josh ability to perform in multiple creative animation jobs — and a wide range of study will be beneficial to you, as well. Your wide range of animation skills will help you stand out more as a candidate who can deliver on multiple fronts.
Animation Jobs Require You to Work with Different Skill Sets
Part of what Josh said makes him adaptable in his animator career is his ability to work with people who have different skillsets, beyond just animation — a skill he chalks up to activities done and connections made outside the classroom.
“The clubs at Cogswell really made it easy for students with similar goals to unite for a common purpose, and work towards it with a specific budget,” he explained. “I was in the game development club, and it really pushed collaboration between students.”
Josh led the Game of the Month challenge during his time at the game development club — guiding several teams to craft one game per month. Josh says this taught him how to be a creative director for several different kinds of people with their own unique skill sets — not just animation, but also writing, programming and game design.
“Since I was in charge of teams for the Game of the Month challenge, I learned to delegate tasks and encourage people in certain directions, based on the project needs,” he said, “At Blur, I’m the lead and have to head up several projects. Doing that at Cogswell was helpful — I’m not uncomfortable in that kind of role at Blur.”
Animation Jobs Require You to Take Criticism Gracefully
Josh points out that knowing how to manage others on a team isn’t enough for creative industries — you have to know how to manage your own role on a team as well, which means learning how to accept suggestions for improving your animation skills and techniques.
For Josh, he got that experience in the Project X program, because it taught him how to find his space on a production pipeline — and how to take criticism graciously. “As an artist, you really have to learn how to take constructive criticism,” he said. “Don’t be too married to your work and realize people aren’t attacking you on a personal level, but are helping you make the product better.”
Josh’s biggest takeaways in terms of how to “make it” in the animation industry can be boiled down to one important skill: being as fluid as possible. Animation work is about helping characters flow smoothly from one frame to another – why not treat your animation career the same way? If you’re too rigid in your animation skillset, you won’t fit in to an ever-changing market. But if you flow with the market — be adaptable in your talents, work with multiple skill sets, and be open to improvement and critique — you’ll give yourself the edge in the field.
For more creative career insights, check out our interview with NBA 2K17 technical artist and Cogswell alum Bugi Kaigwa.