What’s your current job title, and what path did you take to get there?
I'm currently a freelance 2D animator and on my way to add "2D production manager" to that! Because some paths are entirely linear, cool, and some are crinkly-wrinkly, also cool.
I didn't know that animation was a business before I went to university in Augsburg, Germany. I studied communication design there, mainly to ﬁnd out what kind of creative work would suit me. Studying in Germany is almost free if you don't go to a private school – so while I sometimes regret that I didn't specialise sooner, I'm grateful for what I've learned about the creative industry and about myself, while not having to worry about earning back any debts right away.
For example, I found out that I was okay at calligraphy and crappy at graphic design. Or, I thought I'd love photography and hate motion graphics, but In the end, it was the other way round. Obviously, I didn't become a professional lettering artist. But I still like to think that having had a professor who was terrifyingly strict about shapes and lines helped me becoming better at animation clean-up years later.
On the other hand, my MoGraph professor at the time encouraged me wholeheartedly when I started to step away from clean graphics and towards scribbly frame by frame loops which I was able to use working as a VJ at a local club in the weekends. My ﬁrst step towards hand-drawn animation! However, motion graphics was only one of the many courses I had. So after graduation, I still didn't feel proﬁcient in either animation or design. For a year or so, I continued working as a VJ, even went on tour with a German band. It was a fantastic experience, but I made little improvements and little money.
So I asked my professor for further advice, and he quickly convinced me to apply for a great internship abroad rather than looking for an okay job locally.
A few months later, I was lucky enough to start as a design intern at Golden Wolf in London. I was so scared to speak English in front of people and kept silent as much as possible for at least two weeks! But everyone around me was just incredibly welcoming and inspiring, studio life was exciting, the internship went well, I got employed, and I thought I'd be a designer from then on. Until one day, I was asked to help out on some animation clean-up work. After a while, I was assisting our lead animators more often than I was designing. I had two wonderful years of learning from them and other talented friends there before I went freelance as a 2D animator.
That was almost 3 years ago, time ﬂies!
Throughout my animation career I’ve found that there are some things I like animating more than others, for instance I love animating morphs making something really fluid and fun, where as I find realistic walk cycles less exciting as they’re so technical. I was interested to know what it is you like and how that relates to your work?
I like character animation most, and I'm scared of character animation most. It's just diﬃcult for me, so there are loads of struggles! But also, it's fun. And it's awful. And great.
What’s something unexpected you’ve learned as your career has progressed? This may be something that you’ve experienced in your personal pieces or within studios life.
Something unexpected I've realised recently is that I'd love to try other things than animation as well. This seems like a very unimpressive revelation, not a lot of people do love their jobs 24/7 after all. But in our industry, it can feel like something we'd never admit, not really. Everyone complains about annoying projects once in a while, but in general, animation is something driven by so much passion! We continuously talk about improving our skills, we draw in our free time, we ask each other if we've seen that new animated short yet. So when the burnout rolled in, I felt like I was betraying my incredible colleagues and directors by sitting amongst them and not enjoying my work. This led to forcing myself through jobs for about a year of frustration, thinking, it will go away by itself if I just don't give up. And often this strategy works!
But for me, it didn't until I learned that it was okay to try something new. I realised that I don't always love animating, but I always love being on an animation project. The working-in-a-team and seeing-the-progress, resolving problems together and helping each other out and achieving and celebrating the ﬁnal result. So ﬁnally, I asked friends of mine whether they'd let me help to manage one of their projects.
I've always had an interest in production but never truly considered it; I'm a working animator after all and proud of it. So it took me a long while to take this step, realising that I won't lose animation just because I take a break from my Cintiq. My friends have a 3D background and are pros in the industry, so while I'd learn about being on the producer's side, they'd learn a little about the 2D pipeline. I get to work with some of my favourite animators and an exceptional director, but can take a break from the "gosh, I hate my drawings right now"-part. In the meantime, I'm (hopefully) improving my communication and English skills. And I'm gaining some headspace to enjoy animating again, knowing that I also have that other job that is new and exciting!
So I guess the lesson I've learned is that even later in our careers, we don't have to keep pressing on a speciﬁc path if we'd like to explore the side tracks, too. After all, it’s how I got into animation to begin with.
Everyone has low points on jobs, and I feel it’s important to turn those low points into something we can learn from and grow with. Have you learnt something from a low point on a job that changed the way you worked?
This is geared towards creatives freelancing at studios but maybe applicable to direct-to-client work as well: Never blame yourself and ask for time or help if you need it. We all think that we're too slow and not good enough. Instead, try to remind yourself that you're actually helping someone. And they know you are.
Being on the other side of production at the moment, I'm trying to estimate how long the animators will need on each shot. Not thinking: "This animator has to do it in 2 weeks. Otherwise, they suck." Instead: "I hope I didn't underestimate their workload." I've learned that when a producer asks you if you can ﬁnish something until a speciﬁc day or to make a time estimate, it's for them to be able to plan accordingly. Not to stress you out. So if you can't do or ﬁnish something, it's the studio's task to adjust. Usually, they will try to budget for wiggle room. If you ask for help or more time as soon as you realise you might need it, it helps them too!