Monday, December 9, 2013

An Afternoon with Neth Nom

In amongst the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks, Tea Time had the pleasure of welcoming the talented Neth Nom to our Friday meeting. To a full house, Neth delivered an incredibly insightful - albeit moderately intimidating - lecture on the state of the industry, getting the most out of school, landing your first job, and what the future might hold for the next generation of graduates. With the fall semester coming to a close, and another batch of students walking the commencement road, I give you this summary of what he had to say.

Planning your Career as an Animator
with Neth Nom

Look around. 

Look at all the faces around you; your friends, acquaintances, perhaps people you haven't met yet. (for the sake of our online crew - think about where you're delegating your time to. Who else is reading this article?) What's the one thing you all have in common? You've all got a leg up on so many of your peers. And why? Because you're taking the time to invest in a community. This community. The community that could, one day, easily be your future.

Contrary to popular belief, your career doesn't start your senior year - not even your junior year! It starts the moment you walk through the doors (or sign in online) to your first class in your first year of university. Do you know what classes you're taking next semester? Sure, that's easy. But what about the semester after that? How about the semester after that? No? Perhaps it's about time that you start. School is an investment - depending on the school you attend, it a HUGE investment - and so you should be getting the most out of the money you're putting in. A big part of that is planning ahead. Not sure what path to take? Well, that's where this community comes in!

A huge part of this industry comes from the company you keep. It's no secret, I'm sure, that an individual almost needs a referral to get a second glance these days - but where do you get them? By starting to build those relationships now. Attend talks; befriend, talk to and ask questions of the most talented person in your classes; Join a community (i.e. Tea Time) to find those people with like minds and together, immerse yourself in the culture of animation. It's time to develop a genuine interest in the field you are preparing yourself for.

Frame through shots from your favorite animated films; get together and animate as a group - not all on the same shot, per se, but simply keeping each other in check; you should be as familiar with animation as some people are of sports -- You should know names and shots like they were athletes and successful plays! This is your future, don't phone it in.


Let's take a look at what an average student's day looks like. A typical 24 hours.

As you can see, it appears to be a pretty balanced life. There's some time in there for a social life, a little "me" time to watch some TV. For those who enjoy a little cash flow, feel free to swap out those for "job". It's a nice, comfortable pace.  

Unfortunately, with the competitive nature of the animation industry (particularly after a large amount of layoffs across the board), comfortable students are going to get no where. There are people with years of experience out there right now looking for the same jobs as you; you've got a lot of ground to cover. 

Now let's take a look at what your schedule should look like.

For a student hoping to make the most of their time while they are in school, this is an ideal schedule.

I know it looks intimidating, but in reality, it's not that much work. You just have to ask yourself what's more important: The newest episode of Family Guy (RIP, Brian) or achieving your goals? The more you sacrifice now, the greater the reward will be later when you set yourself up for opportunity.

"But what will I even animate for twelve hours? I only get x number of assignments per week, there is only so much I can do before I need feedback from my teacher."

We've heard these arguments time and time again and you are wrong. You can animate all the time because not every piece needs to be a piece for your reel. It is so important to keep this in mind. You should treat your work like a sketchbook, just like any artist would. Practice animating just a sphere, just a limb, but steer clear of the whole body. For those of you with those long months off - use your intersessions wisely! Take this time to bust out exercises, you don't have to wait for a teacher to practice.


Just as important as planning your day, is planning your coursework throughout your degree. It may be hard to know what you want to do up front, but the sooner you lock on to something, put your head down and get to work, the sooner your begin tallying the hours of practice.

Many schools give away free books of course listings, and they can also be found online, but don't blindly sign up for anything. This is where your community comes in. Find people that you trust in years ahead of you and talk to them. What classes did they take? What path would they recommend? Which professor is better for classes x, y, or z? Again, places like Tea Time are perfect for these sorts of questions. Online students - don't hesitate to use the forums to get in touch with your on-site peers! Many of us have met your teachers in person and help guide you towards the most ideal instructors. Take the initiative to sculpt your education in to what you need it to be.

Most importantly, however, is this word of warning: Taking more than one animation class a semester is a recipe for disaster. We've all heard the phrase "quality over quantity", and it couldn't be truer now. Taking more than one animation class (okay, maybe you can press it to two) immediately begins dividing your attention in ways that will not enhance your ability. Not only are you receiving two sets of opinions on the same subject, but you'll have double the amount of animation homework (i.e. weight-bearing work) to complete each week. This leaves no wiggle room for any "sketchbook" exercises, or personal exploration in animation and you'll get burnt out. Fast.

It's important to stock the rest of your schedule with strong foundation classes to enhance and sharpen your eye for animation, not dull it out. Take classes that will make you be a better animator, not just classes where you are animating.

Never forget: This is your career! School is just a tool, a resource for you on your path to success. Take ownership of your own life; be proactive; talk to those who came before you. Show good work ethics in the class, because your peers can vouch for you later. Reach out to your peers, learn from each other, and most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help!


The likelihood of getting a job straight out of school these days is pretty slim.
Please consider the following chart:

This chart represents the unfortunate fact of industry saturation. On the left, we have a list of on- campus students and an approximate number of how many graduate per year, while on the right we have the approximate number of actual, available internships (from the big 5) there's a pretty remarkable disparity here -- particularly when you add in online schools, like Animation Mentor, who have 300 students graduate a year. This disparity is caused by the layoffs, declining ticket sales/movie going, and, of course, simply the amount of interest in the art form.

So what is a graduate to do? First things first - maintain a community of animators, and don't stop animating. If you maintain connection with your community, you'll be in the first to know of new job opportunities, and also more likely to have someone who could recommend you. Plus, your friends and colleagues will keep you motivated to keep working, providing the feedback you'll need and the encouragement to continue.

Beyond that, it's time to be honest: is it the industry, or your reel? Reconsider your options - perhaps feature work just isn't right for you! But that doesn't mean you have no place. There are apps, startups, games, commercials - so many venues to vent your desire to animate, try to find one that works for you.

First Job!

With enough focus and dedication, it will come. Hooray, but don't think that your work is over yet. Just as important is getting your first job, is holding onto it for a while.

Don't expect the studio to give you any special treatment - you are new, and you will probably get stuck doing fixes or small 'nothing' shots you can do with your eyes closed after all the practice you put in through school - but it's important not to let yourself feel just that -- "stuck". Put so much love into even the simplest of shots. Knock it out of the park; if the shot is so easy, it's the perfect time to show them what you can do.

Just like in school, you should be planning ahead here, too. Set a 5 year goal! What is it you really want to do? Lead? Direct? Figure it out and then spend every day working towards getting there.

Take advantage of the studio's resources - make sure to look after yourself. The studio's highest priority is the studio, and generally this means they have absolutely no qualms letting go of under-achieving underlings. It's important to build a network here, too. Also like in school, surround yourself with those you can learn from and look up to. Though it's important to hunker down and get work done, don't forget to connect! Figure out how it is you want to be perceived - mingle! Don't let your colleagues fill in the blanks for you. Remember, these are the people who, given the opportunity, can vouch for you when it matters most.

Finally, not all jobs last forever. Keep track of your contract - particularly when it's supposed to end. If you know you're not coming back, never wait until the contract ends to apply for a job. Companies are big machines and it often takes a while to get anything done. It's too easy to get stuck with dwindling funds and months of unemployment.

A Final Word

It's not magic.

There is no 'big secret' to success except hard work, initiative, drive and more hard work. It sounds grueling, but don't be intimidated! This is good. News. It means with a little bit of effort, that your goals, your dreams of working in animation are always within your reach.


Thanks again, Mendel, Neth.
Happy Animating.

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  1. That pie chart is driving off a privileged assumption that students have much choice about if they get a day job while in school. Not all do it because they "enjoy a little cash flow." Many do it because that's how they're able to survive. Food and shelter cost money.

    1. I completely understand! I was in the same boat. I was an RA for four years and lived off of about 500 dollars of savings to get through university (I'm Canadian so I wasn't legally allowed to work in America), but that chart is based off of a completely average student - Someone right in the middle neither privileged nor facing any sort of extreme hardship - and simply for the sake of the demonstration.

      Besides, regardless of whether you're making money to pay the rent or take a night on the town, wouldn't you say that still qualifies as enjoying a little cash flow? :)

    2. There is a big difference between needing income for the basics and spending money on nights on the town. People can't just cut out their income for housing like it's TV or a night out. It'd be great if all students could focus just on school, you should if you can. It's just not an economic reality for many.
      I see that this blog post has great intentions and is overall great advice. It's just a little condescending to put "job" in quotations and forget that many students don't have much choice in the matter. It's not like watching Family Guy. This attitude implies that working students are somehow less dedicated than the student whose parents can pay for everything. That's a bit classist. I wouldn't point it out if it weren't for the many times I've heard students voice frustration and upset due to people at AAU having this attitude towards them about needing a job. Anyway, it's great that you're trying to help out students. It'd just be nice if folks were more empathic to those that possibly need help the most?

    3. It's not like that at all, I'm sorry you're reading into it like that, but there are simply other options to a job: loans; scholarship; attending private lessons like animation collaborative or Spungella that are financially doable Instead of choosing a school that costs 20,000 a year. We're not singling anyone out.

      None are the wrong option - I promise you, we are insensitive to no one's plight - It's just a matter of doing what works for you to get the job done.

    4. Also, as a small addition, notice that the chart says the "ideal" student schedule, not the "necessary" student schedule. If having a job is something that you, personally, need to get through school, that's just fine! But I do want you to keep in mind that not every student who doesn't hold a job during school is having their bills taken care of by their parents.

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  3. Great Article. very helpful. I understand the frustrations that anonymous person has but when it comes down to it. Just do your best to get what you want. "your very best and nothing less"