Thursday, November 14, 2013

portfolio stuff (pt.1?)

so earlier today i tweeted something about aspiring artists breaking into the industry having difficulty preparing a competitive portfolio. seems like it struck a chord with some, and they asked me to elaborate on my thoughts about this. i'll try to keep it short, because i could go on about this for awhile. in this post, i'll elaborate on just my thought process behind the specific tweet from today: it's no surprise that students are confused as to what their portfolios should look like coming out of school trying to break into the biz. keep in mind, by no means are my words gospel. i'm just reporting what i've seen work time and time again, what hasn't, and what i know from my time in the industry and my friendships with the people looking through portfolios.

i'll get everyone on the same page first by backing up just a bit. see, many of you have reached out to me because you know some of my history and know that i have lots to offer by way of giving a portfolio review or feedback of some sort. at lot of times, i hear questions like, "if a potential employer looked at my site, what would make them pass on it?" or "how do I keep their attention?" or "basically what would I need to have to be able to apply?" and after some investigation, i've found that the reason for these questions is because the sources to what they've been hearing is all over the place. half the time it's from a super seasoned veteran who's been in the industry as long (or longer) than the aspiring artist has been alive. this causes problems because they're so far removed from what it takes to get a job at the most competitive of edges today. essentially, their careers speak for themselves, which is fine, but what about a kid who's fresh-faced, right outta art school? the portfolio methods or hierarchy ladders don't apply the way they did pre-1996. then the other half of the time, these aspiring artists try to latch onto what they gather from following more current industry players. the problem here is that they spend too much time imitating the frosting without getting the ingredients to bake the cake -- so that they can bake one -- THEN frost it.

to clarify:
scenario A)- you come out of school with your best graded project in every class all crammed into one portfolio with some life drawings at the end of it. in essence, it's a mess to a recruiter, but you're hopeful to get an "entry level" gig (mainly due to your love of drawing) as a prop cleanup artist or whatever so that you can work your way up to a full-fledged character designer.

scenario B)- you end up with a portfolio that looks like a sloppy, diluted version of artwork from your favorite artists, and you try to pass off your lacking knowledge of anatomy, color theory, or imagination as "your style".

now of course there are tons of half-steps in this rainbow of possible types of portfolios. these just happen to be the ones i see THE MOST. and i'm not talking about the good ones i see from time to time, which definitely happens, but this post isn't about those portfolios. so then someone reading this might wonder, "well what ARE the answers to those previous questions??" unfortunately, it's hard to nail down in one answer because each discipline has slight differences. maybe i can resolve more about this in a followup post. but i can tell you this: very seldom does any recruiter look for a jack-of-all-trades; so one common denominator here is that if you have a hodgepodge of artwork in your portfolio, it will be very hard to land a gig at a major animation studio these days. the key is to specialize in something. shit, you can specialize in MULTIPLE things, as long as you separate them into multiple portfolios. at the very least, have multiple pages on your site to categorize.

sounds like a lot of work? it isn't. at least not for those who really want to be here. there are plenty of empty cubes on my floor waiting to be filled by the people who want it badly enough and are willing to put in the time and effort to nail the first hurdle -- the portfolio review.

Monday, November 4, 2013

writing a cover letter for an internship?

Many of you have found me online or have been sent my way by someone who knows me to try to offer some guidance for breaking into the animation industry. This includes snagging an internship. Recently, a student who is in this very position has been sent my way by one of her professors who I just worked with on a show. She sent me her portfolio, cover letter, resume and asked for any help at all. I love people like this because these are the ones who will go far. Anyway, here are a few little tidbits I gave her already just based on her cover letter. Some of you could use this as well, but not all will use the advice..

The first thing is, make sure to do your research. Don't start out this very important letter as "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 would you throw out right away? Probably the ones who seem to not care very much.

Also, sort of on the same note, do your research and find out what the internship is all about. For example, a union studio is much different than a non-union studio. Interning at Titmouse will be a much different experience than interning at Nickelodeon. Do you know anything about Nickelodeon's internship? Have you looked it up online? Don't applying for something that doesn't exist — meaning if the internships is for production positions ONLY, do not apply for artistic positions! Your application will 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.)

The good news is, these two suggestions that I mentioned go together because probably all of this info is on one page of a website. AND, if you wanna be really stellar at networking, you could even email the recruiter to ask more questions. That will REALLY show you care and that you put time and effort into something you really want. This will put you far ahead of many people competing for the same position. When you go to apply, there is a better chance of being recognized or remembered, which will improve your chances for success.

The last suggestion is to add a little bit 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 say that though. No one likes brown-nosing. The way to do it, though, is to make your letter feel like you're writing it to THEM, rather than "Dreamworks" could be taken out and substituted with any other studio name. Maybe it's not a huge deal, but I know that when they look through hundreds of applications, they'd rather choose you, who Disney (or whatever studio), specifically means something to you rather than being "just another internship".

Hope this helps!