written by Robert Kirkpatrick, President. Lava Studio
Employer: “I meet kids like you every day. I need you to tell me what makes you different from everyone else.”
Prospective (male) Employee: “Um…I wear women’s underwear.”
Employer: “you’re hired!”
When I started my career in New York, I had a friend who was a talented filmmaker who had won a student Academy Award, and expected to jump right into a great film career right out of college. He went from interview to interview and was going nowhere. Then, in the interview quoted above, he made the employer laugh. More importantly, he set himself apart, and got his career started.
You don’t necessarily have to cross-dress, but you do need to stand out from the crowd.
Now – What about you? Let’s assume you are going to art school because there’s something special about you as an artist. So, why does it feel like you’re training to work on an assembly line? Is this an art school or a trade school?
If you’re an artist who is feeling pressure to be more specialized than you want to be, I encourage you to resist that pressure. Learn the skills, but don’t throw out your individuality. The technical talents you have today are not be the same ones you’ll need a few years from now. It’s your unique perspective that will move you upward in your career. I’m amazed by Animation majors who approach graduation without ever having done any actual animation. “No, I’m a modeler, or a rigger, or a fur specialist, or whatever.” As a business owner looking for innovative creative people, I get very discouraged when I see a demo reel that consists entirely of static models. I swear I’ve seen the same reel from half the students looking for work. If your demo features a static character with horns, a huge automatic weapon, and enormous breasts, you may be a great and talented artist, but you are not original. What could you do differently?
I know you might have to have a marketable specialty to get the job that will kick start your career, and I’m not putting it down – but if you are a creative person who wants to do amazing things over a long career, you will have to develop a variety of skills, and you will have to make your own mark on the work you do.
I have a pretty successful career in the world of computer animation – a profession that didn’t exist when I was in college. I did this by never becoming too specialized, and by adapting to new technology, and by always trying to take advantage of my own creative perspective.
OK – I’m about to sound very old here, but you’ll all be my age much sooner than you think. And you want to be sure that when you ARE, you’re still relevant, and doing what you love, and getting paid to do it.
I was a kid who studied film and painting and at Pratt, and who desperately needed to get a job. Well, the one thing that the world seemed to need in the early 80’s was a lot of titles that streaked through space and said (whoosh!) SEARS! Or (whoosh!) CHEVY, or (Whoosh) WHATEVER. So here I was, an artist who knew how to use a film camera, (and yes those effects really did require a camera.) So I got a job as a graphic animator. And my career grew as animation technology developed, and I managed to get jobs at the companies that had the latest tools, and I developed knowledge and skills that not many people had, because not many companies could afford the equipment, which cost millions of dollars.
For you, it will be harder than it was for me. Everything is much more democratic now, and everyone can afford amazing tools.
The nature of technology is changing all the time, and your audience is getting more demanding every day. You have to be prepared to learn and innovate to keep ahead of everyone’s expectations.
So, what makes you special?
I mean, besides the underwear.
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