Monday, April 25, 2011
The Juggling Match
As part of my School of Visual Arts Animation Career Strategies class, which I teach to graduating seniors each year, I ask them to bring in two questions each week based on the assigned readings. The texts cover just about every aspect of building and maintaining a healthy career in this industry, and the questions they inspire help to shape our discussion in class. One interesting thing that has come up time and again is fear or stress at the idea of having to do more than one thing at a time. In other words: while you’re going on interviews and looking for work, you should also be creating new samples (maybe specialized samples tailored to a project you’d like to work on), and networking by attending animation events/keeping in touch with your peeps online.
When I mentioned that it might be a good idea to volunteer at groups such as ASIFA, WIA, WICM, Animation Block Party, etc., a few students expressed concerns with fitting that into their schedule. Volunteering (in the context of animation organizations) is not a full time commitment, but an hour or two here and there, maybe spread over a month. I have to admit that I’m a little baffled by these fears, because my assumption is that this current generation would be experts at multi-tasking. Aren’t they the ones that are watching TV while texting, tweeting, and checking their e-mail? Maybe this modern-age skill for multi-tasking usually only serves frivolous purposes? I don’t want to believe that. But, there sure seems to be a gap in understanding that you need to juggle to earn and keep your place in this biz.
Time is among the most precious things we have, at any age. But, when you begin a career in animation, how you spend that time is especially critical. In this post I’m suggesting that its absolutely essential to be juggling things like the job hunt with networking, volunteerism, making new samples, etc., and for many newbies that may also mean adding working as interns for free or little money. Some will advise you to NEVER work for free under any circumstance. Others, such as successful newcomer Jake Armstrong, advises that its okay to work for free upon graduation, but insists you must set a definite limit at two days a week. That’s how he began (in an internship at Augenblick), and in only two years since, he’s become one of today’s most sought after freelancers (on both coasts!).
But, be careful in your internships. I just heard about a recent grad working at a studio where most every employee is an unpaid intern (all of them graduates), working for free, five days a week. She confessed that she hadn’t made it to ASIFA-East events in a long time because she just can’t get away. Now, as much as it’s true that no experience is wasted, I’d say this is still a very unfair situation. Not only is five days a week too much to ask of an intern, these free workers have been "working" this way for five months! Not only does this smack as illegal to me, it also robs the intern of the time he/she needs to use to find a REAL job, network/volunteer at events, and create new samples.
I don’t know that this kind of thing happens in other industries. I can’t imagine an oil rig opening up and asking oil workers to intern for free on the rig for five months/five days a week. Can you? But, animation artists line up for this shit. It boggles the mind. Yes, you have to pay your dues––we all did. But, paying your dues doesn’t have to involve being ripped off and abused. If you’re going to build a career of your own invention, you can’t do that without looking out for your basic needs and rights. You can’t juggle if your hands are bound.