In the eye of media, weird for an animator
A couple months ago I was part of a panel at Pixelatl, a big animation festival in Mexico. The talk was about the Mexican animation team for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”. Around that we had two days of press junkets (I just learned what that is) accompanied by Netflix. We’ve been invited to the premiere in Morelia (red carpet and everything!), other festivals, screenings and inaugurated a small exhibit in Mexico City. It’s overwhelming but I’m enjoying our time in the spotlight as this does not happen much to animators, but this film is groundbreaking, especially for Mexico, so we’re having our moment to shine.
As usually happens, when people who are interested in your line of work see you have a bit of success, they want to know how it happened. It’s hard to imagine how a big leap like this takes place.
Imagine the typical iceberg meme...
where we can’t see what’s underneath. From afar success may look like some fairy god-producer waves their magic marker and blows colored post-its in our face and “poof!”, our name shows up in the credits of a mayor movie. We don’t see the struggle behind it: the years of studying, practicing, hours editing reels and CVs, looking for work, jobs that pay crap, jobs we hate but we take for the money, disappointment, months of unemployment, networking and the actual work itself which is physically and mentally exhausting!
Post-Pinocchio doesn’t mean my life is sorted out for good either. This may open bigger doors, but the challenge of finding work is ongoing. At least the days of people offering me the “opportunity” to work for free are long gone.
I have been offered full-time teaching jobs, some from colleges I had applied to years ago (oh, now you want me!) but I can’t be put on the shelf and limit my ability to be in productions. Having clarity about where you’re headed is vital.
When we attend a conference with professional/successful artists on stage, there is always someone in the crowd who will ask THE QUESTION: “how do I get to where you are?”. Likely during the same session one or two other people will raise their hand with the same question rephrased: “what steps do I take…?”, “how does that happen?”.
Now, I understand where it comes from, and I do have a bit of advice, but I have to rant first:
Granted, we don’t always know where to start, but I also have to admit that hearing the question so often annoys me when I feel that the person asking is hungry for a shortcut. Those people that haven’t even started and are bedazzled by flashy onscreen credits, just want attention and the password to invoke the fairy god-producer that will carry them flying into the secret society of working artists.
We don’t need to ask “how do I become a musician?” We know we start by getting our hands on an instrument, taking classes and practicing like crazy. Do you want to become a storyboard artist, a photographer, a motion control operator, a writer, an animator? Do you know how to do it? No?
Here’s some tough love that not many people will dare say…
Most people that say they want to become artists or that are in school right now, will struggle greatly or not make it professionally. And I’m not talking about lack of opportunity, I mean from a lack of effort. Talent itself is a result of effort. Yes, ability and opportunity come differently to all of us, but we have to first commit to something, and not everyone will have the stamina.
I’ve taught at a few universities and most students are more focused on getting passing grades, they seem to think that that’s enough to land them a job later or worse, they’re not even thinking that far ahead. Only one or two per class show real engagement and go the extra mile toward building a first portfolio. I’ve said it in class, on stage and I’ll say it here: no one cares what school you went to or even if you have a degree. What can you do? Do you have something to offer? Can you compete for a job?
There is no secret path, no magic. In the wise words of Britney Spears, “you gotta work, b*tch”. Most days have no glory. You have to enjoy the work itself and the satisfaction of completing something having given it all you’ve got. It’s trekking through mud just for taking pride in doing it. If you’re focused on growing, the satisfaction is momentary because you’ll look back on some of the work you did a year ago and flinch because you know that today you could do it better. To me personally, my drive comes from the challenge itself, I’m more excited about how far I can go, how good I can get (and hanging out with amazing people I admire along the way).
Nobody is born knowing. People now tell me “oh well it’s easy for you to say, you’re in movies”. This bothers me enormously because it wasn’t easy or quick. I earned my place and the effort and learning never stop. I started out just like everybody else, knowing nothing and often failing.
Yes, there is advice. Here’s what has worked for me:
- WORK B*TCH! Develop you’re ability non-stop. See, this is why the question bothers me, to me it’s obvious that if you want to be an animator, or a dancer, a musician, writer or dentist… the first thing you do is learn how and get good. That takes effort over time. There is no shortcut.
- Believe you can do it, know you want to no matter what – don’t be delusional, know what you’re getting yourself into, but also take that leap of faith and decide that you won’t have it any other way.
- Know you will cry many times and sacrifice a thing or two along the way. There’s an ugly part to any profession you choose. But if you love it, you accept the whole of it.
- Be seen. Show your work and know people. I don’t mean befriend the magic producer and ask them for money, it doesn’t work like that. I mean create community. A big part of getting work is getting recommended for it.
- Keep a good work ethic that includes having the utmost respect for the team, the project and expect respect for your work in return. You will encounter successful people in every industry that make you wonder how they ever got the job. Don’t be like them. Don’t be difficult but don’t be a push-over either, demand good work conditions and proper pay – if you don’t you make it harder for all of us.
So what type of aspiring artist are you? The type that’s bedazzled by the glory and wants the shortcut (and will likely not succeed) or have you got the grit and passion to commit? I’d bet my money on the latter and I hope we get to work together.
Opportunities come and go. Are you ready for them?