Origin Stories: The Career Path of an Animator

One of the most difficult questions an animator is faced with is “What do I do next?”

When you’ve finished your initial training - were do you go? Let’s say you land an internship - what do you do when it’s finished? Or say you’re working at a studio - what next?

I got in touch with a handful of people in the industry, and asked them to tell us about their career paths. I’m hoping other people will find it as helpful and insightful as I have.

My thanks to Jessica Austin, an animator from Blue-Zoo Animation Studios, and Mathew Rees, Senior Animation Supervisor at Aardman Animations, for answering my questions.


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Jessica Austin, Animator at Blue-Zoo

Where did you begin learning animation?

My studies in animation truly began when I was at college. As animation has always been the career I wanted to follow, I was determined to learn it any way that I could. So in my Fine Art course, I was researching into Muybridge and animating in 2D using Adobe Photoshop, even showing my teachers a thing or two about animation! I continued with this dedication until I finally reached University to study it in depth. I went to The Arts University at Bournemouth where I was taught the basics of animation traditionally and from there I moved into CGI Animation.

How did you find your first paid gig?

My first paid gig after University was at The Imaginarium Studios. I knew about the company through family connections and contacted them asking for work experience, I went for an interview and showed them my portfolio. I worked for free for a few weeks as it was a foot in the door of the industry and I felt it would be great experience to have. I loved working there so much I just didn't go away like a bad smell! So they had to keep me on! I gradually moved into working in Facial Animation from Performance Capture data.  

How did you find your current job?

After graduation I was always keeping an eye on studios to see what was available. I applied for the Summer Internship Programme at Blue Zoo Animation Studios, after being accepted I was employed two weeks before my internship was due to end. 

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

The most enjoyable part of my job is not only working on great shows with interesting characters, but also working alongside some really talented artists who all work together and help each other grow. I am constantly learning from everyone and its amazing to see how much we progress together from show to show.  

What advice do you have for people setting out at the start of their careers?

Be brave. Show people what you love to do and be true to yourself and what you enjoy doing. Go to events and network, let people know you are there. I actually met my Blue Zoo interviewer at an animation event called Bring Your Own Animation before I applied for the Internship and I feel this helped sway some of the decision making because he remembered who I was and knew what kind of a person I was.   

What advice do you have for animators whose careers are beginning to take off, but who aren’t sure how to progress, or what direction to go in next?

My advice is, you never know until you try! Any experience is good experience. I worked in Performance Capture before starting my animation journey, but I wouldn't have got to where I am now without having that experience.


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Mathew Rees, Senior Animation Supervisor at Aardman Animations

How did you find your first paid gig?

My first paid gig was working for Beryl productions in Cardiff as a freelance 2D inbetweener.

How did you find your current job?

I freelanced at Aardman for a while before being brought in on a short term contract for 3 months, I've now been here 9 years!

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Being able to animate day in, day out is by far the best thing about my job. The fewer meetings I have to attend the better.

What advice do you have for people setting out at the start of their careers?

Keep practicing your animation. I used to do dialogue shot after dialogue shot in my spare time to improve my skills. Also network at festivals and websites like this one [LinkedIn].

What advice do you have for animators whose careers are beginning to take off, but who aren’t sure how to progress, or what direction to go in next?

Same answer as above and I suppose initially get any job you can in the industry. Don't hold out for the Pixar job! Getting experience is vital and once you do get your chance don't ruin it by not being a good team player.