Things I've learned from NOT being in the industry

I don't usually tend to do these types of posts, mostly because I don't consider myself a credible source and because many times anything I would say is already out there in a more well thought out podcast or article. Nonetheless I think I might have a unique perspective that might be of interest to artists out there wanting to break into the industry.

In 2011 I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design with a degree in Computer Animation. Throughout those years, I didn't get any internships over the summer months and my senior year I had 2 interviews. One of which the company interviewed everyone who applied. There was always this feeling of watching peers get high profile internships over the summers or even job offers before graduation. It is 100% normal and almost inevitable to compare yourself to your peers. To get the feeling all is lost when you haven't garnered any interest from studios big or small. To think well that's why I'm not having any success, I'm not as good as so and so. Which brings me to my first point..

Point #1 Jobs don't necessarily go to the BEST artist, they go to the best fit for the studio. 

This isn't the NFL Draft folks, your not gonna be ranked and chosen in talent order. At Ringling they would often repeat "know who you want to work for" If you have a dream job in mind then you know what kind of work would be up their alley. There are often comparisons out there about is art school worth it, and what other avenues you can take. etc etc. Which I won't get into, but the perspective I can give might be unique in that I've now done both approaches.

After graduation I continued to hit the pavement. Looking for work and following up with the interviews from school. About 4 months later I got a skype interview with a commercial studio in New York.

Point #2 If you are not from or currently live in New York, Los Angeles or Vancouver. It's ok! 

I'm from St. Louis, Missouri, which for those of you who aren't familiar with geography its basically as middle of the country as you can get. Being in the right city can be a huge help but it's not impossible to get job interest from home. The job ended up going to one of my friends from school. Which takes me to..

Point #3 It's a small industry, you're more than likely going to be up for jobs against people you know. If you don't get it, don't be sour. Be happy! You now have a friend at a studio!

Having friends and contacts at studios is a great thing. You can visit, meet the recruiters and lots of times when places are looking the first thing they do is ask people that already work there if they know anyone before even posting the job online.

After that near miss and months of searching to no avail, I was torn. The next logical step would be to get myself out to a major city. LA or NY. None of which are easy feats as a fresh college grad with no income. It was around that time that a friend of mine brought something to my attention. She was working in San Francisco at a mobile game studio and had heard of Anim Collab. Anim Collab was brand new at the time. Started by Pixar artists it's literally across the street from Pixar and classes are taught by various Pixar employee from all parts of the pipeline. My friend offered me a couch and I was off to San Francisco.

Anim Collab was a great experience. I'm not here to review any schools good or bad. But what I got out of the classes was an expansion on the knowledge from Ringling. Ringling is a generalist school so getting to dive more into animation and acting and film was a plus. Being around industry people and literally the studio itself is definitely more motivating than sitting at home trying to make art from your bedroom.

Point #4 You don't stop learning once you graduate, so don't stop making art. Even if you're not being paid to do it.

It's now been another handful of months and the summer is arriving once again. Internships are coming back around and jobs as well. Still no interest. At this point I'm starting to reapply to jobs for the 2nd and 3rd times, there is a whole new batch of recent grads to compete with too and I have nothing on my resume. The benefit of these schools that have started to pop up in recent years is that you can put them on your resume.

Point #5 Not having job experience isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I've had studios (big and small) show great interest in me even though I still had no job experience or internship to speak of. At this point discourage starts to set in pretty heavy and the constant grind and stress after 4 years of art school and another of job searching. Not to mention I've now been lapped by the next graduating class.

Point #6 Take a break! Go outside! If you're starting to feel burnt out it's ok to stop for awhile.

After my stint at Anim Collab I went back home again. Still on the constant lookout for jobs, I decided to try out iAnimate. Anim Collab is not an online school and iAnimate allowed me to keep going from home. During this time I also decided to go to CTN for the first time.

Point #7 Conventions are a great way to network and meet new people and recruiters face to face.

To me the real benefit of art school are the friends you make because friends in the industry are really helpful. A lot of jobs will get passed to them or to you just by knowing someone. Conventions are also a great way to get feedback directly from the studios of what they like and want to see more of in your work.

With a handful of interest at this point, but no one following through with any offers my next move was a strategic visit. I had semi made the decision at this point to head west to LA. Instead of diving right in I planned a trip in which I could look for possible places to stay, visit studios that I had previously interviewed with, visit studios that my friends were at.

Point #8 Strategic visits are a good way to remind studios you exist and put a face to your name. It also might help you stay motivated and inspired, without having to fret over moving cross country jobless.

All I did was email the recruiters I had interviewed with and say that I would be in the area if they could spare some time to show me around. The nice thing about the animation industry is that everyone in it tends to be really awesome. I've gotten to visit Sony, Disney, Warner Brothers, Pixar and even Rhythm and Hues at the time. After this trip I returned home once again with renewed hope and continued to polish up more new work and reapply. It was at this point that I started to get more interest, more interviews. None of them ended panning out in the long run, but that leads me to..

Point #9 Interviews are actually a sign that you're on the right track, so don't be discouraged if your still not getting any jobs.

This was now my second go round with an upcoming summer internships and another graduation class to compete with. At long last I struck was a bit of good fortune. A mobile game company liked my work so much that they flew me out to California, put me up in a hotel and interviewed me in person. They were a smaller company so they liked the fact that I was a generalist on top of liking my artwork. Which now brings me to one of my favorite points of all!

Point #10 Most of the time people just want to get to know you.

The majority of the questions I was asked by this company had absolutely nothing to do with art. They just wanted to get to know me, my artwork had gotten me in the doorway now they just wanted to know if I was someone they would want to work with everyday. They would ask me where I was from, what movies I liked, etc etc. Just be yourself! Even though things were going really well, sadly the job didn't pan out because they ended up closing the position altogether. But that's life, that's what all the people say, riding high in April. Shot down in May! Ok maybe those weren't the right month's, I think it was more like riding high in June and shot down in September but that doesn't rhyme.

At this point the amount of rejection took a bigger toll on me. Going to the expensive art school, doing more classes, being lapped by two graduating classes. Rejected by studios at least twice each. There are only so many studios out there to apply to and the industry wasn't getting much bigger. Digital Domain in Florida vanished, as did Rhythm and Hues. Lots of studios started sending work to Canada and overseas. Layoffs all over the place, so now you're competing against people with major experience. I had a hard time continuing to make new work, especially with the pressure that "this must be good because I need it to get me a job". It's ever increasingly hard to please lots of different studios artistically. So after a break I decided to switch things up.

Point #11 Personal work is just as good to do as portfolio work.

Up until this point I had been animating my butt off for years. I decided to start modeling again. No more staring at graph editors and I could make anything I wanted. That's when I made the Batman model, you can find below. Having new work is also a good way to update recruiters and get yourself out there. Doing something completely different is also good for recruiters, they get tired of seeing the same exercises and the same type of models and animations and drawings. It helps them remember you too.

Point #12 The Internet is your friend.

I know many friends who have gotten big name jobs all because someone found their work online. Through twitter, blogger, tumblr, an article, facebook, linkedin or even your own webpage. As someone who isn't a big social media person, I learned pretty quickly how powerful twitter can be for artists. Just by having a friend retweet a piece of your artwork means 100s more people have your work show up on their computer screens. Add recruiters on linkedin, do whatever you can to get your work out there. Half the battle is getting people to see your work.

Point #13 Location helps.

After awhile I finally managed to make the jump out to LA to be closer to the industry. Crashing with family until I could get on my feet. Many of the jobs in the industry are "hey we need someone right now!" They call you up out of no where and want you to show up the next day and work crazy hours. Jobs you maybe applied to years ago and never heard back from. That is where being in the right city has it's advantage.

Point #14 Make good art. 

Ok this one I stole from Neil Gaiman. (if you haven't seen his speech look it up). From my experience it has rung very true, that no matter what happens good or bad just make good art. If you've chosen to pursue art then you must like doing it, so whether you get paid to do it or not just make good art and have fun. It's kind of like the wild west. There are no rules! You get in however you get in and everyone takes a different path and gets there at different times. This should be a freeing idea, if there are no rules you have nothing holding you back. Do whatever you want, CREATE!


My hopes in sharing all this would be to show people that, it's normal to struggle. Whether you go to the best school or the worst school or no school at all or all of the schools! I've seen people of all ages start animating or drawing later in life and get jobs. I've seen friends not even go to school for animation and study it really hard for a year or two and get right into Pixar. Just work hard and have fun!


  1. Found a link to this on Twitter and wanted to thank you for writing this. I've been trying to break into the animation side of the industry for a while now (I'm in live action) and though I'm proud I was able to interview, the rejection stung that much more. This is the pep talk I needed to hunker down and get to work on some stuff I want to get done for CTN, so thank you!

    P.S.: I'm also from St. Louis. Parkway South! :)

    1. No way! Parkway Central kid over here haha. I am glad it helped! I've been going through things for about 3 years now. I only hit the highlights in the post but it's easy for everything to take a toll. Keep it goin! If you ever need help/extra eyes feel free to shout out. Good luck with everything!

  2. Thank you for the inspiring post, Sam. Stay awesome and keep going! (: