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Interview Do's and Don'ts for Animators

The Do's and Don'ts
By: Charles Alleneck
Industrial, Light & Magic

We animators are a creative bunch, there's no question about it. The desire to do something creative for a living, to bring characters and ideas to life, is what got most of us into this business. It can sometimes come as a rather nasty shock to be reminded that it IS a business, and still follows some of the conventions of those "other" jobs. One of the most intimidating of those conventions is the job interview. How do you best express your skill, your energy, your creative edge...but also your employability? I don't profess to be an expert on the subject, by any means. So when the time came to write this article, I did what any good animator does: I asked for feedback from my friends and peers! Drawing from my own experience and the shared experiences of my co-workers, I've put together a little list of tips, and also of common pitfalls into which an unwary interviewee might stumble:

1. Know Your Potential Employer

The more you know about a studio before you go in to interview, the better. Know what films/shows/games/projects they have worked on. Make sure you know WHAT parts of that project they actually worked on; many films now farm out work to multiple studios, so you don't want to make the mistake of complimenting one studio for another studio's work! You don't want to come off as fanboy-fanatical, but you definitely want to express an interest in your potential employer's previous work. If you have an inkling of what projects may be coming down the pipeline for the studio, consider putting things on your reel that could apply to those projects (i.e. if you know they will be working on a movie about zoo animals, show them some nice quadruped animation tests). It sounds like pandering, I know...but the fact is, studios like to be able to immediately gauge how useful you will be to them.

2. Talk to Everyone in the Room

When you are speaking, make sure you address your responses equally to everybody who is sitting in the room. The quiet guy in the back might be the one who ultimately makes the decision whether to hire you or not.

3. Don't Badmouth Your Own Work

Most of us are our own worst critics, and we will never be 100% satisfied with what we produce. We'll always know we could have made a shot a little better...but don't apologize for your work! Be positive, talk about things you'd like to get better at in the future but don't point out past shortcomings. Don't make excuses for shots or say things like "it used to look better but the director made me change it." Let the interviewer come to their own conclusions, and follow their lead when talking about your past work.

4. Don't Wear a Suit

It's not that kind of industry. Of course you should look responsible, trustworthy, affable, hardworking, all that good stuff... but keep the attire casual. Animators don't trust other animators in suits.

5. Don't Focus on the Money

Of course our salaries are important to us-they put food in our mouths and geeky collectible figurines on our shelves. But you don't want to look like you got into animation for the money. Focus on the work, the challenge, the artistry, and let the money come later. Some animators even employ a lawyer or agent to handle all those pesky contract negotiations, but that's certainly not necessary for everyone (especially someone relatively new to the industry).

6. Don't Complain About Past Jobs

This is a BIG one. We've all had jobs we didn't like, but a job interview isn't the place to nurse old wounds. There are several reasons for this. First off, most companies just prefer a positive person over a negative one who will drag down everyone else around them. Second, our industry is very small-it could be that the person you are criticizing is a good friend (or even a recent new hire) of the person interviewing you. Third, companies don't like the idea that someday, when you move on, you may end up saying bad things about them to your next potential employer.

7. Don't Breach Confidentiality

This is sort of a sister issue to the preceding one. We work in an industry that values confidentiality quite highly. While we always want to show our most recent work, sometimes this just isn't possible because the last project we worked on hasn't hit theaters/networks/shelves yet. Professional companies will understand why you can't show work from certain projects, and they'll value that trait in you because it diminishes the possibility that you might someday be showing THEIR confidential work around.

8. Be Inspired!

Finally, make sure you express to your potential employer WHY you want to work for them. Whether it is enthusiasm for the specific work the company is producing, or just general enthusiasm for the artistry of animation, you want to demonstrate that you are a vibrant and creative individual with a real love for the craft. Talk about some animation that you love, that inspires you, and talk about what makes you love it. Don't fake it, be genuine and honest. Animation can be a grueling job, so employers look for artists who really have a love for the medium. There are undoubtedly many more things one can keep in mind when interviewing for an animation job. Heck, most people reading this article probably have a few tips of their own that I didn't mention. Sometimes the decision to hire or not to hire may be entirely out of our hands, as well. Ultimately, most interviews boil down to two things: the quality of your work and the appeal of your attitude. If you have both those factors working for you, you have as much chance as anyone of landing that sweet animation job. Happy interviewing!

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