How to Get a Job in Animation and Visual Effects Industry Right After Finishing School Specially for International Students
Well, the answer is simple: Plan it while you are still in school, but how?
Jul 1, 2020 – Every year many graduated international students have to leave behind their dreams in the United States since they are unable to find a job within 90 days after graduation in their chosen industry. Animation and Visual Effects jobs are unfortunately, few and far between and are highly competitive commodities to secure under normal circumstances for citizens, but strict visa laws make it even harder for international students attempting to break into a field of dreams. The total unemployment days that each international student can have during OPT and OPT STEM is very limited, so They have to be completely ready by the time they graduate. Of course, what I am suggesting in this article is not only useful for international students, but it’s going to be helpful for everyone who likes to find a job right after graduation.
My name is Elham Sepehrjou. I am an Iranian woman with a BS in Applied Mathematics and deep passion for Animation. At age 29, I decided to study Animation academically in the United States, so I came to San Francisco and started my MFA in 3D Animation and Visual Effects in 2014. I joined The Third Floor, Inc right after graduation where I had the opportunity to work on Men in Black: International, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home, and many others. Having gathered an invaluable experience, I then started to hop around the industry joining firms such as MPC and Halon Entertainment, two additional Visualization houses in Los Angeles. I was able to learn more about different studios, their techniques and their pipelines. Which is why I want to pass along my experiences and give you an insider’s perspective and some useful tips as to what helped me the most to succeed in finding a job right out of school.
• Take the most useful courses and focus on their homework. Listen to your teachers’ critiques. Spend as much time as needed on your primary animation coursework in order to deliver it at the highest quality and to the best of your ability. Spend your time efficiently, prioritize your courses and spend more time on courses that are going to be more important in your career and excites you the most.
• If your school’s classes are not good enough and you feel you need to learn more, taking online classes with experienced, well-known teachers can be a good alternative. However, you should make sure that you have enough time to spend on their homework.
• Try to help your school-mates by making or improving animation clubs at your school. Animation clubs can bring students together to learn from one another. More experienced/senior students can pass on their experience to younger students. Animation clubs can also bridge the gap between academia and industry. When I was a student at Academy of Art University, I had the chance to be a board member at Tea Time Animation Club. We had weekly gatherings that focused on a single lecture topic to inform students about and discuss. Each session would start with the latest news from animation and visual effects industry, and would end with reviewing volunteers’ animation homework. Sometimes we even had guest speakers from Pixar, DreamWorks, Disney, 2K, Blizzard, etc.
• Build useful classes. No one knows how to make a school a better place to study and learn better than the students and faculties themselves. If you feel you lack something, step forward to make a change. If you feel like adding a class to the curriculum can help you and the others, just go for it. Make the request, find the teacher who can/wants to teach that course and let your department head knows. When I was a board member at Tea Time, I had the chance to watch many demo reels from students who were about to graduate. They had amazing ideas and the pieces were well animated, but it seemed like after a certain point they didn’t know how to polish their animation and take it to the next level in order to look like professional feature animation in the industry. Therefore, I made a request for making a Polish Class at our school and asked our “Pixar-ist” teachers to teach it. Other students, teachers, and even the head of the department supported this idea and we made it happen. This class helped me a great deal when it came to polishing the animation in my demo reel before graduation and it helped take my shots to the next level and plan them better for next time.
• You have to have a good demo reel if you want to get a job in the animation and visual effects industry. A good demo reel is going to be made out of your best animation assignments, so be more precise about your homework shots because they are basically your reel. Show your work to the other classmates you see excelling and ask them for critiques before showing it to your teachers, or presenting it as finished work in class.
• Every year make a demo reel and resume and apply to different companies. You may get rejected, but there is always a chance to get an interview. You never know what could happen if you don’t try. Going to interviews will help you to build connections.
• Get some industry level experience; Preferably a paid position. Nobody is a fan of working for free, but honestly, as a student, it was the only way that I could get any industry level experience. Think of it as taking another class that you are paying for with your time and hard work and in return, gaining experience. You may not be earning money, but you will get your foot in the door, and hopefully walk away with a better understanding of the job you are seeking. It is a win, win situation as long as you are learning something from talented artists and supervisors around you and taking steps towards your goal. Otherwise, you should be looking for a better fit, especially if it pays.
• Try to do your homework at your school’s computer labs. Being in the lab, makes you feel like you are working for a real company along with your other coworkers. Working in the lab also motivates you to work harder, especially when you sit beside other hardworking, talented students. Then, whenever you have a question or you need a critique, you can easily ask the people around you.
• Work on collaborative projects, because they will teach you about teamwork, an essential tool in any industry. Collaboration forces you to rely on others in a pipeline, and causes you to realize that there are others relying on your work to be delivered on time. Group projects also means supporting a chain of command and receiving critiques from your supervisors. Working under different people will teach you different ways to communicate and manage your own team someday and tackle different obstacles with different strategies in order to get the job done on time.
• When you are closer to graduation try to participate in industry events and exhibitions like SIGGRAPH, Lightbox, CTN, … Participate in reel review events and show your work to professionals and try to improve your demo reel based on industry standards. Also try to make connections and be nice. You never know who you may be working for in the future, or who they could connect you with for a job.
• Always be nice to everyone. Your classmates and your teachers will work in this industry. This industry is so small and if people know you as a nice person, everyone would like to work with you in future.
• When you are in your last semester, you should be almost done with your final demo reel and resume. It’s time to apply literally everywhere. Read their requirements carefully and adjust your demo reel and resume based on what they need. Don’t forget about all internships and apprenticeship positions. They are the best way to enter a company and learn everything from A to Z in the most proper way. Usually companies look at their interns as their investment, so they would like to keep them as long as they can. Unfortunately, these positions are not well paid.
• This one really depends on the situation, but don’t be too picky. I know most of us come to the US to work at Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Blizzard, and everything, but if you don’t have your dream offer, it’s better to accept whatever offer you do have in order to build your resume. This way, you can buy some time and build your resume and complete your demo reel to get better job offers in future and jump to better companies. It lets you get your foot in the door, which is way better than staying at home and burning your limited unemployment days and constantly stressing out the entire time. In our industry, contract terms are usually based on the length of the project. Unfortunately, the scope of each project is constantly changing due to creative notes and projects will suddenly run out of work, leaving artists unemployed, or between 2 projects. Sometimes you will have a gap between finishing one project and hopefully waiting for the next to begin. It is more than likely that you will have some mandatory unemployment days, so try not to burn your allowed unemployment days unwisely. Not everyone can get hired at a major studio straight out of school, but in the long run you can do whatever you want to do. If you know your goal, plan for it, network, work hard, keep a positive attitude, and with a little luck these steps will get you to your dream.
• At the end I want to mention one important thing. If you graduate with strong talent, the entire world would love to hire you. The United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, etc. so, if for any reason someday you have to leave the US, it is not the end of the world. You always have opportunities in other countries and you can always come back to the United States later if you want to. Think of school as an investment. Animation and life in general is not always about the final destination, but instead about the journey that get us there. Although we cannot control every single event, we should make the most out of our opportunities. Unexpected things will happen and you will have to change your path, but as long as you are moving forward toward your goals, you will persevere and win. Not everyone’s success path is like a straight line. There are a million ways to reach our goals. Never get disappointed. If life gives you lemons make an amazing lemonade.
This post was written by Elham Sepehrjou.