By Margaret Lee
Animation Mentor graduates are working at some of the biggest feature film studios, including Industrial Light & Magic, Walt Disney Studios, Blue Sky Studios, and Sony Pictures Imageworks. They have worked on some of the most popular recent feature films—think Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Twilight 2: New Moon, Horton Hears a Who!, G-Force, and Open Season 2. We interviewed four Animation Mentor graduates to learn how they landed their dream jobs.
Even before graduation, Animation Mentor students are working on landing their dream jobs. In fact, students have the chance to network with seasoned animation professionals throughout the 18-month program. But that’s only the start. All Animation Mentor graduates have lifetime access to job search information and resources on the Animation Mentor alumni website. As Career Services manager Becca Romeo explained, her department does everything from “putting graduates’ demo reels on the website for review to answering specific questions about starting salaries.”
“AM gave me a strong foundation to start with. It made things much easier when I was transitioning from working at home to working in the studio,” said Malcon Pierce, a character animator for Open Season 2, Ice Age 3, and Tangled. Pierce got his first two jobs through his mentor, who forwarded his demo reels to people he knew. “Within three months of working, I already had connections in all the major feature film studios. This industry is really small, and that’s important to keep in mind when looking for a job.” Pierce recommends that new graduates fully utilize their Animation Mentor network for job opportunities. “Use your friends and contacts to forward your reel directly to someone in the animation department. Send your DVD into the studio. Apply online, get in contact with a recruiter. Keep in good communication with as many people as you can and be prepared to wait and be patient.”
2009 Animation Mentor graduate Travis Tohill only had a week off from school before starting his dream job at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Approaching graduation, he assembled his demo reel to weed out the animation that he felt wasn’t his absolute best. At the job fair the day before graduation, Tohill had his bag of reels and résumés handy. He recounted his experience: “I didn’t realize while I was in school how often major studios came to AM and looked at the demo reels of students and alumni. So when I went to the ILM table I was shocked– they already knew who I was! They talked with me after the fair, and we set up a phone interview.”
Less than a week later, Tohill was working on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. “I was completely terrified at the beginning. Suddenly, I was around a lot of animators I had been idolizing while in school. My first daily was on a full-sized theater screen in front of about 45 ILM animators. They took a look at it, gave me some notes, and I survived.” Since then, the Nashville native has worked on The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Iron Man 2, and Rango, ILM’s first fully animated feature.
For Lluis Llobera, a member of Animation Mentor’s first graduating class of 2007, feedback on his demo reel from mentors and students was essential in helping him break into the industry. After he completed his demo reel, he uploaded it to the alumni site, where other graduates were able to provide him with honest and direct feedback. Llobera recalled, “I have great memories from that time—we had, during the course of 18 months at AM, built a network of students whom we trusted and greatly respected.”
Llobera’s big break came from a fellow Animation Mentor student working at Blue Sky Studios. “He showed my reel around and the animation team really liked it, and next thing you know they sent me an offer straight away. You can imagine how lucky I felt.” Now Llobera lives in New York and works as a character animator for Blue Sky, animating the villain in the upcoming feature film Rio.
“I believe it’s the background support that AM gave that enabled my name to be out there and gave me that extra bit of confidence to break out in the film world,” explained Jeff Kim, a computer games veteran who now works as a previsualization artist for Sony’s upcoming video game, Thor. “Most of my jobs were from word-of-mouth and fellow alumni helping me when I was on the search. This networking would not have been possible without the community at Animation Mentor.” In the four years since his graduation, Kim has sent out his demo reel every three to five months. “It is very competitive out there, even for more experienced animators. I find that I need to constantly update my skills on the job, as well as on my own time. It seems like the bar is raised every six months.” While acknowledging the extra work required to stay current in the industry, Kim added, “that’s why it’s so exciting: there seems to be no limits and no lack of challenges.”
The common threads for these successful Animation Mentor graduates are preparation and persistence. By working hard in school to prepare for professional life, they are able to capitalize on opportunities as they arrive.