How to get Work (Freelance/Staff) in Animation
Kiel Figgins

Getting work in Animation, in either a staff position or freelance, boils down to the quality of your work and the level of exposure you have. First and foremost, having high quality work and the accompanied skillset will be a huge deciding factor in getting a job. You'll need to demonstrate you're skill set in a tangiable way, such as a portfolio or demo reel to be considered for work. Exposure will get your name out there and start getting you recognized. You could have the most amazing portfolio, but if no one can see it, it doesn't help much. If you've got a site going, that will be a huge help in spreading the word. With those ideas in mind, here are some tip to help improve the quality of your work and get the most out of your website.

Web Site
Web sites are the primary way to represent yourself. From a website you can host your demo reel, breakdown, resume and contact information. All of these can be linked quickly to recruiters and staffers. However, you can get a bit more mileage out of your site with the following:

  • Create a Links page.
    Link with artists, producers and coworkers. Not only does this up your ranking in search engines (sites that link to each or more links to a single site), but shows involvement with the community. Not to mention, someone may notice you've worked with a friend of theirs and hit them up as a character reference.

  • Who You Are.
    Make it very apparent who you are, what you do and that your looking for work. State that you're available and looking for work. I'd suggest putting this information in the 'Contact' page of your site.

  • Have a "News" or "Updates" section.
    This section should be on the first page you come to when visiting your site. This area is good for showing what's been updated or giving any sort of direction for returning users. People won't browse your entire site just to check if you have something new, that's been hidden.

  • Resume Page.
    Your resume page should have a proper html header: name, job title, Location, contact info, availaibilty. Be sure to have multiple versions available, such as: HTML, PDF, and a simple text file. Not everyone can open Word Documents, nor can they download files, so HTML is pretty universal and is searchable by online search engines.

  • Online Forums
    Online forums are a constant stream of what's happening in the industry. The more you're out there, posting work, providing feedback, reading threads, staying current with the latest and greatest, the better informed you'll be. I would suggest checking out the following sites on a daily basis:

    With those forums in mind, try to be more active than simply reading the posts, but also posting feedback or starting threads of your own. Personal projects are great thread starters, as are discussions on latest trends. When using the forums, the whole idea of is that it's free advertisement. So to get the most out of it, I would suggest:

  • Have your user name be your real name

  • Fill in your profile and account information. Programs used, location, job title, and so on will help make your posts and presence more legitimate.

  • Only post professional comments, steer clear of flaming or trolling. When you post constructive, concise or engaging feedback, other professional that are viewing the forums will notice. Even though you didn't post work, your feedback or insight is noteworthy.

  • Have a signature that has a link to your website, your name, job title. Others reading through your posts will notice your signature and be directed to your site. You can also use your signature to link other threads, such as a Work In Progress thread of your latest personal project.

  • Finding Companies / Clients / Job Postings
    The majority of freelance is handled in house, meaning you work at the studio, however some work is handled remotely. Maintaining remote freelance as a steady source of income can be difficult, but doable

  • has an A-Z company listing of all known / registered game studios. From this list, you could see if they're hiring or find the contact information of each one and send them your information. Sending out 20 to 30 of these introduction is a great start to getting out there. Be sure to mention your skill set, provide a link to your portofolio, what your looking for and how you can aid their company.

  • is listing of every known VFX/Motion graphic house in Los Angeles with a sub section for New York

  • is global map showing industry hot spots and companies located in that area

  • is a weekly newsletter of new jobs and companies hiring for games and film

  • There are a slew of job sections on CGTalk, CGChannel, 3dTotal and most other online forums

  • Google. Say you want to work for Naughty Dog, you could apply to their website directly and be funneled with the rest of the applicants or you could side navigate that. Try researching / googling Naughty Dog producers, animators and artists, see if you can find any of their personal websites. Contact them directly. But this is a different type of contact email. You don't start off by saying your looking for work, but rather drop in to say 'hi'. Keep it short and sweet, ask questions to give them a base to reply to. When/if they reply, then provide some information about yourself. Once a conversation starts, mention your situation and if they have any info, ask they keep you in mind. Try not to be too forward or fake. As this is a double edge sword. If your too aggressive, now there's someone inside that studio that's not a fan of you and may limit your chances if your name is brought up to them.

  • Working backwards.
    As you find individual artists you like or aspire to work in their position/job title, take a look at their resumes. See what jobs and studios they've worked at before and what they've done to get where they're at. Start googling and contacting those companies. If they attend lectures, conferences or other events, look into those as well. This is a great way of finding studios and other companies to work for to help you on your own path.

    Aspects to figure out before you start sending applications and introduction emails
    It is incrediably tempting to start contacting studios as soon as you finish school or your contract is wrapping up. However, reviewing the state of your current profolio, updating it where possible, and making sure you're contact information is accurate are all items to keep in mind. Some other areas are:

  • Get your website as polished as possible, including updated work, resume and contact information

  • Figure out your realistic day rate / hour rate, both high end and low end (what you would like and what is the bare minimual you'll settle for)

  • If you are applying for remote work, get the latest versions of the programs you've listed on your resume working on your home machine so you can hit the ground running. This also means transferring over any preferences, hotkey and tools

  • Figuring out if you are able or willing to relocate. Could you relocate for an onsite contract for a few weeks? months?

  • If applying aboard, be sure to have your passport handy

  • Your website is going to be used heavily for file transfer and project storage (especially for remote work), make sure it has the bandwidth and storage space necessary

  • Increasing your chances
  • Personal Projects Personal projects allow you to work that is truly interesting to you. From dialog, to action to motion graphics, you can do what you wish in your own aestetic. Beyond the looks, you can use personal projects to start moving into another field. Interested in games? Than work on a few action cycles. Interested in features? Work with shorter clips, and high resolution assets.

  • Online Presence (LinkedIn, AIM, twitter, facebook) Social media is playing a larger and larger role in recruiting. You can follow companies and recruiters on twitter to get the latest job posting. Stay connected with other co workers through LinkedIn and so on. Even with AIM, creating a professional account and leaving it on 24/7 with your away or status message stating your looking for freelance. Make sure your aim name is your real name and that your profile has your site listed in the info. One thing to note about social media is to try to avoid it when actually discussing the contract details, instead use emails. Emails have timestamps and can be archived and recalled easier incase clarification or conflicts come up.

  • Throw a dog a bone When you're first starting out, and trying to gain as many contacts as possible, sometimes you will presented a project that is for free or trade. This type of exposure goes a long ways, especially when you apply yourself at it as if it was a paying project. These projects also give you a chance to work with other assets or help fill out your resume.

  • Never too good for a project There are students pouring out of school and aggressive junior artists clawing their way up that will do the same work for next to nothing. Once you start saying 'no' to projects, you start shutting doors. Even aiding a little, a single model/rig/animation/ect to a project or taking a low bid or unfriendly timeline, will keep your seniority status and keep you up to speed. I'm not saying don't have boundries and preferences, but helping someone on a pitch for a game, could make you the primary contact if the pitch is successful.

  • Collaboration
    Falling in line with personal projects. Collaboration, or group projects allow you a great way to get two birds with one stone. Working with other artists expands your network, betters both of your portfolios, provides you with stronger assets to work with, and allows you to focus more on your individual craft. Instead of having to spread yourself thin to create elements outside of your field skillset. For example, if you're a modeler, you'll know that a strong concept will make a better, more memoriable model, so try teaming up with talented concept artists.
    Heres a brief break down:

  • Concept Artists: Contact modelers and offer your services. These can include: character designs, break outs from existing concepts, detailing, matte painting or character variants. Concept artists can also host their brush sets on their sites or online as well as produce painting or process tutorials as additional ways of gaining exposure.

  • Modelers: Contact concept artist and see if they have character sheets for their concepts. If your more focused on environments, again hit up concept artists and matte painters, but also you can build an environment that fits an existing character even if that character belongs to someone else. A full Env is far more impressive then a turn table cylinder.

  • Setup Artists: Contact modelers, they have usually have existing characters, vechiles, robots, you name it. Offer your services to rig them up and give the rig back to them for animation or posing. If it's approved by the modeler, post the rigs on your site or online, this will gain you a lot of fan fare and get your name out. You can also find completed work from online modeling competitions, look into Comicon and Dominance War for examples of this.

  • Animators: Contact Setup Artists, let them know you'll animate anything they rig and are willing to provide feedback on user interaction, workflow or preferences. Beyond getting feedback, the setup artist can showcase the rigs in motion to accompany the rig breakdown for their reel.

  • Lighting Artists: Contact animators or modelers for their scenes. From here, you can light the beauty shot of the characters or take an animation scene and give it mood lighting.

  • Once you get these personal/group projects rolling, you now have a more upscale personal project that you can post as a Work In Progress thread on your forum(s) of choice, which again gets more traffic to your site and more eyes from employeer's on your work.

    Budgeting for Animation
    Budgeting per second of animation shows a misunderstanding of the assets being requested. Animating a bouncing ball for six seconds is nothing like a crowd scene. Even per character is off putting (bipedal character for six seconds vs the same character with 30 dreadlocks for secondary). If a per second agreement must be reached, I'd recommend asking a lot more up front in terms of assets. Animatic to see the camera, timing and action, character sheet to gauge the complexity, then figure out the hourly rate from there base on your expected schedule and how it fits in their timeline.

    I would convey this information to them, and suggest working hourly, due to revisions and variations. You could give them rough estimates based on the shot and you skill level, if they wish to work with a lock price. Charge them per shot after getting the details required and set a strict revision clause. Something along the lines of: I'll show you the blocking, you approve that, then the polish, approve that. Direction changes / Revisions are handled hourly, major changes are handly hourly or billed as a new shot.

    Payment can be a number of options. Typically, I work hourly for clients that I've previously worked with. This way I know payment won't be an issue. When it comes to billing, I invoice weekly with a net 30 pay cycle. Other options include deliverables where you animate a shot, get it approved by only sending movies, invoice, once payments received, send the actual maya file. You could do with with 3 shots or characters or however the break down works. As you get more comfortable and consistent with a client, you can start doing larger increments or payment at the end of the project.

    Working overseas can be very difficult. Work Visas, cultural/langauge differences, immigration, passports and a slew of other restrictions and regulations apply. You'll likely have a better chance at working remote for these studios. If you really want to work on site at a foreign studio, there are some things you can do to up your chances:

  • Learn the language Being bi-lingual is a huge asset and allow you to hit the ground running and seperate you from other applicants.

  • Get a Passport If you get an offer from a studio or are in an interview and negoitations move forward, having your passport ready and up to date can be a huge deciding factor. Getting a passport takes time, time that may be crucial to the proejct your applying for. The company may very well go with someone else based on availablity alone.

  • Awards, Achievements, and Experience Some immigration laws require that when hiring outside of the country, that the candidate has a skill set that cannot be found withen the country. Having Awards, such as winning CG competitions, school awards, and the like can show that you are exceptional and have noted ability. Achievements, such as interviews, featured artists, front page plugs and lectures all show your involvement with the CG community and that you stand out in your field. Finally, Experience. Having a proven track record in your field can be a major selling point for the job your applying for. When applying for a job in another country certain exceptions can be made, however. Dealing again with certain immigration laws, it may be required that you have those two or more years of professional experience, before they can even bring you on.

  • Additional Notes

  • Hard copy of your porfolio Have a nice, presentable package handy in the instance the a studio needs a physical reel for bookkeeping or processing. This would include a dvd of your demo reel and printed copies of your resume and cover letter. Also, keeping a template will help speed up this process. Instead of creating a demo from scratch, being able to open up the last version in After Effects, swap out the new content and re render will make the process much less tiem consuming.

  • First Job Expectations For your first job, plan to work on site. Company's like meeting their contractors before offerring remote work, so doing a few jobs in house may be necessary before remote becoms an option.

  • Testing Expect to do an art test regardless of your skill when you applying to a studio. This is most common for game studios, but not uncommon in motiongraphics and features. If you are unable to do the test for whatever reason, bring this up to the studio to see if there are other options available.

  • Work Visas If you need a work visa, passport, green card to work for a studio, your chances of working there are much less.

  • Handling Rejection Don't take it personally if you don't get the job you applied or interviewed for. There are countless reason why you were passed over, none of which are likely to be relayed to you unless you know someone at that studio. Instead, keep your chin up and producing more work.

  • Be Involved Be involved with the local community (disccusion groups, events, meetings, schools) as meeting face to face is a great relationship builder.

  • Working without a contract Don't work without a contract or even start working till papers have been signed. Though this might not always be possible, really be vigilant about having signed documents stating your contractual agreements.

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