Saturday 21 June 2008

The Seven P's (What I look for in an animator candidate)

Jeremy Cantor – Animation Supervisor – Sony Pictures Imageworks - May 4th, 2002

1) Perception (The MAIN thing)

Overall aesthetic/artistic/creative sensibilities….An "eye".

A grasp of general aesthetics: Composition, camera angles, screen direction, anatomy, posing, design, color theory, etc.

How does one develop such an eye? Years of drawing, painting, sculpting, film-making, studying art, watching movies, observing the world around you, etc. Someone does not necessarily need to be a classically trained "artist" to have a good eye.

This is by far the most important requirement because it is not something that can be effectively taught in the workplace. Candidates absolutely need to arrive with such sensibilities.

Many demo reels have animations where the fundamental principles of animation are (all but blindly) implemented by someone who clearly knows their software very well. However, their character design is unappealing, composition is weak, camera angle choices are bad, etc. Such demo reels rarely lead to interviews.

On the other hand, someone who can't necessarily recite Frank & Ollie's 12 basic animation principles and doesn't know Softimage/Maya/3D Studio/etc all that well, but somehow manages to make an entertaining demo reel animation with appealing characters & interesting composition, camera angles & screen direction choices will be much more likely to get an interview.

We can teach someone how to use a particular piece of software...

We can teach someone the fundamental principles of animation….

But we can't teach someone to have a good eye.

Effective self-criticism is also an important aspect of perception. Be able to analyze your own animations and figure out what parts are working and what parts are not, rather than relying too much on your supervisor's critiques as your main catalyst for progress.

2) Principles

A firm understanding of the fundamental principles & mechanics of character animation (anticipation, follow through, squash & stretch, timing, arcs, non-symmetry, 2ndary action, etc). It is not enough for someone to simply be able to list these principles from memory. Candidates must truly understand them and know how and when to apply them properly. These principles should not be implemented blindly. Sometimes certain ones should be exaggerated, toned down or even left out entirely. One must KNOW a rule before it can be broken effectively, creatively and appealingly. If your director tells you to make your character look heavier, do you know which principles need to be adjusted (and how) in order to arrive at such a change?

3) Program Proficiency

At least some rudimentary computer skills and familiarity with a full-featured 3D animation package is desired. However, a gifted animator with very limited computer skills will absolutely be considered as long as he/she has the capacity and willingness to learn the technical part of the job. (Except when deadline pressures don't allow for training time). While we are in fact an "animation" department, for better or worse, we do use computers and therefore, unfortunate as it may seem, even the most amazing animator is of little use to us if he/she is unable or unwilling to (at least partially) animate digitally.

4) Personality & Professionalism

We look for animators who are independently motivated self-starters as well as effective team players. Often, your supervisors are difficult to find (or perhaps out of town) and a candidate must be able to get things done without constant "hand-holding". Also, we work in large, collaborative environment where you never know who you're going to get stuck working with on your next shot or project. If you can't (at least pretend to) get along with just about everyone (at a professional level), you won't last very long. And be aware that this is a relatively small and extremely well-connected industry. Everyone knows everyone. (2 degrees of separation sounds about right). No matter how talented someone is, if they do not play well with others, such word will spread and it will become extremely difficult for them to find work. Furthermore, we like to hire well rounded people who have outside interests and hobbies. We are going to be working very closely together for potentially a long period of time, and we prefer to surround ourselves with potential lunch-mates, not just work-mates.

Be prepared to receive and appropriately respond to criticism (supervisors and directors are not always the most diplomatic folks on the planet). The ability to respond professionally to criticism and failure is often the very thing that separates successful creative people from non-successful creative people. How many times have you heard the story of the author whose million-selling book was initially turned down by dozens of publishers? (ie J.K. Rowling)

A strong interest in the subject matter produced by the studio to which you are applying is also a desired quality as well as a key ingredient for success. These jobs demand that you utilize the full extent of your creative energy for often very long hours in potentially high stress environments. Without a passion for the end product, it will be very difficult to handle such demands for very long. It is unlikely that someone who hates Science Fiction films will ever work above and beyond the call of duty or learn new software on their own time or attempt to "push the envelope" creatively or technically at a Visual Effects studio. Climbing the ladder in this industry requires a lot of creative passion. You will not go far in this business if you are only in it for the money (except perhaps in the executive branches).

5) Problem Solving

Be willing and able to accept and attempt to conquer technical and artistic challenges. When faced with a problem, don't be someone whose first instinct is to run to a supervisor and ask for help. Think creatively…Approach the problem from a different angle..Make a simplified version and do some trial and error. …Pick up a manual.

6) Precision

The teams I tend to work with pride themselves on attention to detail. Candidates should possess such sensibilities as well.

Do you understand the importance of that last ten-percent that turns a good animation into a great animation?

Do you look at the details of your animations with a fine-toothed comb before deciding that they're finished?

Do you check your work for technical glitches, geometry intersections, motion "pops", etc?

Is your resume or cover letter full of spelling errors? If so, can we expect the same level of carelessness in your work?

7) Performance

I find that it is often helpful if an animator has some experience in some form of performing art, especially one that stresses meticulous control of the human body: Gymnastics, dance, martial arts, diving, mime, acting, etc. Folks with such skills tend to have a better understanding of anatomy/physiology/kinesiology and can more effectively break down and evaluate individual body motions at varying levels of detail. Also, such folks tend to be less inhibited when it comes to jumping off their chairs and publicly acting out a performance to more effectively study how their animation should play out. Performers realize that it is okay to dance around like a maniac in the interest of becoming a better animator, and any co-worker who points and laughs is doing so out of jealousy for being too self-conscious to ever do such a thing them self!

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