How To Get A Job In TV Animation Without Hardly Trying - Part 1
Beauty is our weapon against nature; by it we make objects, giving them limit, symmetry, proportion. Beauty halts and freezes the melting flux of nature.
If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad.
Cartoons are stupid.
First off, working in TV animation is a loveless, thankless job. Like trying to take a dump after eating nothing but nachos for three days, it isn't as easy as it looks and it's probably way more stressful than it needs to be. TV animation work is seasonal, so you'll never have any real job security. And since cartoons are the red-headed-stepchild of TV and we've got an impotent union, you'll never make a dime in residuals for anything you do. Ever. Early last year I moved up to Genndy Tartakovsky's old office, where someone had taped this fortune to the outer cubicle wall:
That just about sums it up.
So you're not in it for the money. Or the fame, because there's really no fame. Or the chicks. Because 90% of the people in TV animation are dudes (good news for you artsy ladies!) So what's left? Well, you've got to love to draw and love to be creative. You have to be passionate about what you do. If you love to draw, keep drawing. Keep studying and learning and being creative and having fun. Strive to be the best you can be and hold yourself to a higher standard. Believe me, there are plenty of people in TV animation who are useless lazy bums. And some of them do very well for themselves. But being a useless lazy bum is a different skill set from the one we're talking about here, so if you'd like to be lazy and fall upward to the top of the entertainment industry you'll have to wait for my "How To Get a Job as a Useless Asshole" guide coming out later this year.
So you've got the tools, you've got the talent. You're the veritable Keymaster of the animation world, and all you've got to do now is get in the door. How do you do that? First, you'll move to California. Or, if you're a masochist, New York. Most TV animation (and film animation) is done in California, with a small amount in New York. Los Angeles is a great town, and I plan on living here for a long time. This city has a great "anything can happen" vibe that helps drive me. But since anything can happen, you've got to be ready for anything. Plan on being able to live for six months to a year in a crummy, roach-infested studio apartment that costs more per-month than your parent's mortgage. Because you're going to try and you're going to fail. Many times.
Most people in my animation class who moved out here didn't last six months. Granted, most of those people didn't have the staying power to finish school properly either. But if this is what you really want, be prepared to do what it takes to get it. Get that job at Fry's or become a stripper to supplement your income while you're drawing and dragging portfolios around town in your off-hours. Better yet, strip at Fry's. That place needs some love.
When you're bringing your portfolios around town, you'll meet all sorts of people who work in TV animation already. Some of these people won't be dicks. Get to know those people as best you can.
It's not in the nature of artists to be terribly social, but with any job you're going to have to work with people. And the more people who know and like you who work in your field, the more opportunities you'll have to find work. Just make sure you're not one of those goons who're only social when they need a job or a favor. Nobody likes those kinds of people. Not even me, and I'm very forgiving. Also, don't overdo it. Don't call every three days to get an update on your portfolio or ask for drawing tips. Just make your mark and let them come to you. It's sort of like dating. Being a little bit mysterious and elusive always beats stalking.
Until fairly recently, I was a hideously poor communicator. All baggage from childhood, and let me tell you that banishing that stuff improved not only my work life but all other aspects of my life as well. You don't have to be the life of the party, but if you brush-up on your communication skills, aren't afraid to tell some jokes, have some fun, and don't hide in your cubicle nine out of the eight hours you work during the day you'll be much happier and more people will remember you. Basically, just have fun and meet people. Remember that most of your coworkers are nerds too, and that TV animation is the Nerd Playground. Play.
So you're not in this for the glamour or the bling. You're a dedicated, passionate artist and you love what you do. You are stubborn. You will try and fail a dozen times and still laugh in the face of another rejected portfolio. You're financially secure enough to make laughing an option… at least for a little while. You're personable and friendly and nobody who interviews you is picturing you walking into work toting a sniper rifle. If you're all of the above, then you're ready to submit your first portfolio. Honor and fear will be heaped upon your name and, in time, you will become a TV cartoonist by your own hand... And this story shall also be told.