Saturday, January 7, 2012

Guest Speakers

My favorite class to teach is the animation career strategies class at SVA, which is titled Animation Promotion/PR (Public Relations). As I’ve mentioned before, when I was a student at SVA, Linda Simensky taught this class, where she brought in a who’s who of local animation talent to share the ups and downs of working-in-animation.

It’s been my pleasure to keep that same tradition going by bringing in talented guest speakers over the years such as PES, Patrick Smith, Candy Kugel, Mo Willems, Tom Warburton, Xeth Feinberg, Tina Moglia, Ray Kosarin, Allan Neuwirth, Debra Solomon, John R. Dilworth, Otis Brayboy, Ian Jones Quartey, Jake Armstrong, and many others. My rule for guest speakers is that they must have unique experiences different from my own (since the students are already stuck with me), and that each speaker represent a specific career path.

The 15-week course spun off into my first book in 2006, ensuring the information gathered has reached beyond my classroom. But, the best thing for me is how teaching this class gives me the privilege of meeting and connecting with a new wave of talent each year, and how through the students' questions and guest speakers' advice, I have a chance to learn something new too.

At the end of the fall 2011 term of my class, I compiled a visiting guest speaker list, so I could summarize the wisdom offered by each one. As a way to kick in 2012, I thought it would be fun to post this list below. Best wishes on your career in animation in the new year!

Eileen Kohlhepp- stop motion animator –
As a stop-motion animator (her current gig is animating for Henry Selick on his new feature!) she’s had to move around a lot and work in different cities, so she relies on staying in touch with people to help ensure future work. With each booking she updates her roster of clients as to her schedule––what she’s working on, when she’ll finish, etc. Giving former clients such updates has made it easier from them to hire her. Not a bad strategy.

Dan Meth- web animator-
Anyone who earns a living writing/directing/and producing his own animated cartoons deserves our attention and admiration, so I’m always happy to have Dan visit my class. This semester, he presented a power point lecture that included a slide displaying the logos for Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Vimeo with a headline above saying “Don’t Fight These.” Dan’s point is that social media as a powerful tool for today’s creative people, and one that has allowed him to spread his brand across the airwaves.

Kevin Maher- writer-
This human ball of creative energy, whom I’ve written about before here, told us that before taking on any freelance job he evaluates it based on how well it scores on a series of factors, giving it a 1-5 score on: money, creative satisfaction, ability to lead to new contacts, how limited an impact it will have on family time, and if it represents a clear step forward in his career. For Kevin to take on a gig it has to score at an 18 or higher.

Emily Campbell- Entertainment Lawyer-
“Be your own business agent,” advised entertainment lawyer Emily Campbell. She cautioned that animation artists that run their own studio businesses should never entrust the job of business manager to anyone but themselves. The thinking behind this is that nobody but the owner/operator knows what money is coming in and out and how to properly manage it. Plus she added that many times when people entrust their books to someone else it results in getting ripped off.

ila Abramson- Owner/recruiter of Ispy Recruiting-
North America's top expert in how to prepare yourself and stay prepared as an animation industry professional, ila explained how your resume/reel/portfolio, etc. are always in process, for your whole career. As a survival skill, animation artists must be in the habit of constantly updating their work to keep it current. ila told many cautionary tales of artists that didn’t do so and once their jobs ended (or the studios that employed them closed down), they found it impossible to retrieve samples of their work.

Liz Artinian- BG and color supervisor “The Venture Bros.” and founder of 2Art for TV-
Speaking to students as the next generation to enter the workforce, Liz stressed the importance of being professional in the work place and not to make the mistake of creating another “high school” environment on the job. She gave examples how holding a poor or immature attitude holds back achievement in a collaborative atmosphere of an animation studio.

Rick Ritter- storyboard artist on Nick Jr’s Team Umizoomi-
Rick, through his dead pan humor, explained that although he hadn’t trained to work in the animation industry, he was able to pick up much of his skills as a storyboard artist by learning from everyone around him––picking and choosing from the best of his co-workers skills.

Pilar Newton- home studio owner/operator of PilarToons, LLC-
In her naturally enthusiastic delivery, Pilar reminded the students not to forget that they’re artists and not just defined by animation-specific jobs that they get or don’t get. “You can work in other areas, such as silk screen, graphic design, illustration, etc…,” she said.

Tim and Mike Rauch -Indie Directing & Producing team-
If the job you want doesn’t exist, invent it and put in the sweat equity to make it happen––so was the example provided by the Rauch Brothers. In short, there was no studio, no job for which to apply to that would allow them to make powerful and gripping animated documentaries full of humanity. So, over a painstaking three-year period they tapped into their connections, developed their creative approach to the medium, proved what they could do by executing three fantastic sample films, and (all the while) sacrificing financially until all the planets aligned.

Fred Seibert- Founder and Exec Producer of Frederator & Media Entrepreneur-
If you know Fred at all, you can guess that he had the students’ attention from his first word, telling us truths such as buyers (networks, media companies, etc.) only pay attention to people who make things (films, comics, etc.) because these are the people that have something to say/sell. On the entrepreneurial side, Fred cautioned that his plans that failed were always the ones that were rushed and not properly thought through.

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