5 Reasons You Won’t Be an Animator

This is a guest contribution by Rusty Gray.

It’s 2015 and You Won’t be an Animator

Another year is coming to a close.

You’ve spent your life fascinated by movies (Jurassic Park, Toy Story, Lion King). You’ve captivated yourself for hours drawing on paper or designing on the computer. You’ve probably even scared away dates with your excessive toy collection.

You couldn’t be more ready to be an Animator – to work at Pixar, Blizzard or ILM.

BUT you won’t.s


Nobody forced you to take a cold hard look at the truth.

Perhaps you even know what’s holding YOU back – but you’re choosing to pretend it’s no big deal.

This post is about giving you a swift kick in the teeth, because who else will?

If you want to continue pretending it’s all OK, that your dreams will just magically happen, that you don’t need to change anything – now is your chance.




There. Now the real artists can get started.

The first step to fixing a problem is realizing there is one. Below we’ll go through everything that could be holding you back from becoming an Animator.

Once you realize the problem you’ll have something to aim at. Then you can proceed to smack the crap out of it.

Pay attention to negative feedback and solicit it, particularly from friends. Hardly anyone does that, and its incredibly helpful. – Elon Musk

#1 You’ve Refused to Improve What You’re Terrible At

These issues are the most obvious. Lurking in the back of your head are all the little bits you know you can’t animate to save your life.

The stuff that makes you act just like Don Music:

Maybe it’s:

  • Quadrupeds
  • Spot on Lipsyncs
  • Fleshy Facial Animation
  • Weight
  • Walls
  • Perfect Overlap
  • Eye Lines
  • Strong Tempo / Beats
  • Gimbals / Constraints
  • Accidental Counter Animating

Doesn’t matter what you’re terrible at – write it down. All struggling points. Take note of what you need to work on and do short animations only on that. One pain point at a time. Don’t try to learn weight, overlap, and quadrupeds at the same time. It takes sooooo much longer.

At Animation Mentor I remember feeling overwhelmed by the spine – because I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to move. How do I overlap each axis properly? How does it respond per joint when the character moves ? What’s leading what’s following? It felt easier just to avoid it.

So I’d always try to skip the spine in blocking. My key poses would be there but I wouldn’t add enough breakdowns. I’d always end up stuck later trying to fix all these wall smacks or stop the characters head from wobbling.

Countless days were spent trying to fix what I tried to skip over earlier.

I persisted like this for months. Gritting my teeth at what I knew was coming.

Then when Spine Paranoia had GNAW’D my brain to pieces – I had enough. So I sat down opened up a scene – hid the characters arms and legs – and spent a few days practicing only the spine and hips. My understanding SKYROCKETED!

Now, I didn’t discover all there was to know but I got 5x better by focusing. How can you do the same?

  • Study awesome short animation segments
  • Listen to pro lectures (pro just means better than you)
  • Experiment with all kinds of approaches to get the same result
  • Ask how others do it

Out of pride I used to avoiding asking friends – pretending I had it down. Don’t be arrogant like I was. Play the fool and you’ll be wise.

Bottom line – don’t avoid your shortcomings – pick a time to face them and never have that weakness again.

#2 You’ve Ignored The Importance of Your Network

“Your Network is your Networth” – Tim Ferriss

Your Network is more important than your Demo Reel.

Yep, you read that right.

For a long time I thought the key to an amazing career was just being a phenomenal artist. Something I could do solo – in that quiet comfy introversion you probably prefer too.

Although, more often than not people get hired because of who they know. Without naming names I’ve seen very gifted animators get passed up for those who had an in. Before you rage blasphemy – know that this isn’t always true but it does actually make a lot of sense.

Think about it from this perspective: To freelance with you on a project – would you rather hire your classmate buddy or a complete stranger?

Thought so.

If you believe your demo reel is strong enough but you just can’t seem to break in where you want to go – it’s probably because you need some help from the inside. Someone to sing your praises beyond your resume details. Really, at any point in your career its never a bad idea to start making friends.

Before you do here are a few tips.

There are 2 dangers to networking:

  1. meeting people to ‘network’ (being a kiss ass / fake)
  2. Focusing all your time ONLY animating your shots (going solo)

If you want to actually have a network of friends worthwhile don’t do either of those.

The 1st is more effective than the 2nd because they don’t hold back talking to anyone and everyone. Eventually though, it all comes back to bite you, as people get wise to the pretense.

And if you sit alone laboring long hours in the dark expecting to turn yourself into Michelangelo – you’ll be crippling yourself like a painter who holds the brush with only their left foot. Even Michelangelo started as an apprentice and used his hands.

Without spending 5 pages detailing this out – the key to networking is not. Be a friend. Be helpful. Give, give, give without expecting anything in return. Especially to the pros. Leave helpful critiques, shoot reference, boost others spirits, sing praises of others. Do that and you’ll have everyone pulling for you.

The best part is you’ll have much more fun with some buddies around.

#3 You’ve Let Procrastination and Perfectionism Paralyze You

Perfectionism is often viewed by many people as a great thing. Maybe even you feel the same way. How could it be bad that you’ve got high goals, high standards, lofty expectations?

Well, Procrastination and Perfectionism are often the same mind game. And its a killer.

What do I mean?

As a student (the prideful arrogant one mentioned in above) every animation had to be outstanding! My first walk cycle was going to get me into Pixar! So every key – every pose I made was going to be perfect the first run through – no mistakes. And the walk cycle wouldn’t be vanilla, it would be something completely unique like a drunk old man with a cane who falls over and gets back up to continue walking all in a 540 frame loop.

How do you think that turned out?


Actually it was sooooo good I never even tried.

I set the bar soooo high the mere thought of starting was painfully paralyzing.

You must have been through the same experience. Maybe you face it every time you try to do an assignment for school. Or you’re picturing so much difficulty even starting to learn the art of animation that you haven’t even taken a single class!

Can you start to see how Perfectionism and Procrastination can go hand in hand?

The great news is the solution for both is similar and simple.

Right now you probably have these kinds of thoughts:

  • What if my body mechanics aren’t perfect?
  • What will everyone think of me?
  • What if this shot doesn’t blow everyone away & land my dream job?
  • What if I waste 2 years & all of my money learning only to fail?
  • I just can’t get motivated about my shot

Thinking this way leads you in a circle of lazy depression.

Simply decide from here on out to Fail Forward.

Dive in expecting to making mistakes, excited to do so, and eager to learn from them. After all, the quicker you do so the sooner you’ll be a badass animator.

That means be messy. Throw a glob of paint on the wall. Make tons of sloppy scribbles.

After the mess has piled up all over – you can dig in finding the treasure underneath as you toss the trash.

Great art comes from remembering what it was like to explore as a 5-year-old and then making decisions as an adult.

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over. – Richard Branson

Once you just get started letting mistakes happen, you’ll never see perfectionism or procrastination’s ugly head again.

Simple. Not Easy, but Worth it.

Making an Animated Short (FREE ebook)

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#4 Your Demo Reel Is Boring

Your shots are boring. Yes, yours!

That dialogue looks like two creepy zombie muppets mouthing a bad joke in Chinese

Oh look – you also have a block guy pushing a box while having what looks like a seizure – how exciting!

It sucks but somebody had to say it.

There are still too many demo reels full of these types of shots. And maybe your shots really aren’t that bad but if you’re not landing interviews it’s time for a reality check.

Does your reel feel like this?

Your art has to leave an impression or you’ll spend years empty-handed.

Your reel doesn’t have to be as strong as this reel – so long as you are aware know it and decide to do something about it.

All it really takes is 1 – just 1 – amazing animation to open all kinds of closed doors for your career. And once that shot exists, it can pay its dues for decades to come.

For example:

I’m sure the artists above would agree their reels were greatly improved after these got added in. You MUST do the same to get hired.

Create 1 masterpiece. The very very very best you can do at this moment and begin your reel with it. Pair it only with your 2nd and 3rd best shots. Abolish the rest.

Yes! You’ve got to get brutal. Delete, Burn, Disintegrate your old shots from your reel. We’re after entertainment – lame shots will only kill the mood. With this quality over quantity approach you’ll make the audience believe you’ve always been this good. Getting hired suddenly becomes easier then.

#5 You Learned From The Wrong School

Graduated but jobless. The student loans continue to pile. Years of learning for what? Perhaps you’re like I was and you feel this way right now.

School is a towering hurdle that can snap your animated spirit if you let it.

They are most definitely not created equal and many are making it difficult to succeed.

By this point you’ve probably discovered the truth behind 2 of the most popular myths about college:

  1. Going to College Guarantees You a Job – It doesn’t
  2. Degrees especially from a prestigious (expensive) schools are what makes all the difference – They don’t

You fell into the trap.

Its ok.

We’ve all been coached this since we we’re little. The good news is it doesn’t have to be a waste. Take it from someone who’s been there and found a way out.

Chances are if your like I was at the end of my 1st school – you:

  • Realized you were mediocre at all things CG
  • Found your demo reel lacking compared to other student reels
  • Had no real connections to the industry

It should go without saying but this is the exact opposite of what you need to get hired as an animator.

The fastest way to solve these setbacks is to (you may not like the answer) go to a different school.

Before you throw something out the window – hear how different can change everything. Hold your excuses.

You’ve already learned the hard way what you need, so you’ll pick the best option for yourself this time. You’ve also gotten attuned to all that is ‘3D’ , so you’ll learn far faster. And perhaps best of all, the cost will be FAR less for some of the best schools.

What if going to another school meant 100% of your time was spent on Animation. What if it meant being surrounded by instructors who work at Disney/Pixar/ILM showing you how they do it. What if what really mattered was your demo reel – not some thesis or a resume. Wouldn’t you want to give it all another go? Wouldn’t you want to find out what your really capable of when given the best chance? That is how the schools I recommend operate.

Online Schools:

There is one brick and mortar exception I recommend. For those who live in San Francisco or can afford to move there attend the Animation Collaborative. You’re taught hands on by current artists at Pixar, as well as others. It’s also directly across the street from Pixar.

All of these options are taught hands on by the pros in a small class size environment with 100% focus on just animation. This is the most efficient way to skyrocket your skills to a hire-able level. The most expensive of these options is under 20k and like college its not something you pay in full. A class or term is anywhere from 1k to 2k, and in most cases you don’t have to take 1 class after the next.

If you could start all over again the combined cost of all these programs would be the same or less than your traditional college.

Really any online course will be much cheaper, easier on your schedule, and provide unparalleled focus on animation compared to typical universities. In fact Bloop’s Animate CC Animation Course and Blender Course are great examples. Just do your research with any program to ensure you’re getting what you’re after.

Now I’ll address some of the excuses you may have.

  • But I can’t afford it!
  • But I don’t have the time!
  • But what if I still don’t get hired?!

There are no guarantees you’ll become an animator. That’s up to you. What you have to ask yourself is – is animation my dream job? If it truly matters – you will make the time and you will find a way to cover the cost. After all, you found a way to pay for other schooling haven’t you?

And lets say you don’t get hired after another go. Do you just give up on your dreams? Would you be happier spending the rest of your life at a normal job? Would you always wonder – what if?

Trust me, the simple 9 to 5 ‘s will always be waiting. Maybe it takes a little longer for it all to click for you, but it will. A few friends of mine actually went to multiple online schools because they weren’t ready after the first go. They are now at places like Disney and Dreamworks.

Where will your story end?

Your Eyes Have Been Opened – Now Take Action

It’s 2015 and you won’t be an animator.

You’ll just close this article and do what you’ve always done.

Or maybe now you’ll get started attacking whats holding you back the most.

Is it:

  • Not Facing Your Weakpoints in Animation
  • Ignoring The Importance of Networking
  • Procrastination/Perfectionism
  • A Boring Demo Reel
  • The Wrong Schooling

You very well could have several ares to improve on but just focus on the one for now. At this point your eyes should be open and you have some guidelines on how deal with the problem.

My parting piece of advice comes from the man who made animation the way it is today:

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing – Walt Disney

Making an Animated Short (FREE ebook)

A free ebook covering the process of making an animated short film from start to finish.