Ask the Art Prof: What Does it Take to Get a Job at an Animation Studio?


I’m a beginning art student studying graphic design, and I’ve always wanted to work in a cartoon studio setting. Places like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network that are not your normal work places per say. All my life, my family has always said that it was impossible to get a job like that, and to not even try.

Well, here I am going into graphic design, but I want to know: What exactly does it take to land that kind of job, what should my art portfolio have, and is it even worth trying???”

Animation studio jobs are insanely competitive, as there are thousands and thousands of people out there who desperately want to be working in that field. You would be competing with people who have completed professional degrees in animation and illustration, and many others who not only have degrees, but who have been working professionally in the field for some time.

Getting a job would require an enormous commitment on your part, and would require years of hard work and rigorous training. I have a number of acquaintances from RISD who went on to work at studios like Pixar, Disney, and Nickelodeon.  My memories of them during my undergraduate years at RISD is that they obsessively did gesture drawings around the clock like there was no tomorrow, and were both highly disciplined and incredibly industrious workers. You have to be prepared to devote every part of your life to this initiative, it’s that competitive.

Gesture Drawing

Gesture drawing from a life model

If all of the above sounds intimidating to you, then I would say that it’s not worth trying.  If hearing that makes you feel enthusiastic, motivated, and revved up to go, then I think it’s totally worth trying.  Do your research in advance and make sure that you know what you would be getting yourself into. This is not a job that you can work towards occasionally, it practically has to be in your blood.

One basic requirement of an animation studio position is a solid grounding in traditional art. That means having really strong drawing skills, especially in gesture drawings of the human figure and of animals. The expectation is that all of the drawings are executed from direct observation, which means multiple trips to the zoo to draw animals in person, and countless hours drawing from a live nude model. Most animation degree programs require that students take courses in all areas of animation, to build a basic grounding of the overall process of making animation.

Inside Out by Pixar

Inside Out by Pixar

Jobs in animation studios are often times very specialized, so you would apply for a position in a specific area, like storyboards, character design, backgrounds, animation, etc. Technically speaking a portfolio would generally consist of artwork that highlights that area of specialization, as well as a reel of a number of your animated works. I’m not in the field, so I’m not able to provide accurate specifics, but that’s a fairly good approximation of what would be expected in an application.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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