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Animation director: How I got my job and where I'm going

Lisa talks about her path to become an animator and opportunities for growth in this field.

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Video transcript

I've always wanted to do animation, so at whatever point in high school when they tell you to start looking at colleges and where you might want to go and what you might want to do, I was very tunnel vision. This is the thing that I'm going to do, so I had... My parents and I... My parents were very supportive of the idea, and they helped me look at different schools, and I eventually decided to go to the School of Visual Arts, which is here in New York, as well, and I chose that school because they had a very specific focus on traditional animation, which for whatever reason is the thing that I really was sure I wanted to do, so not 3D, not computer-generated animation, but hand-drawn, traditional cell animation. So I started school for that and in my first year of school worked as an intern on an animated film, a feature animated film. That was a really cool project for me because he was still shooting that film on film and animating it on cell. Even though a lot of places had moved on, he hadn't taken to digital yet, so I kind of got this opportunity to work on animation in a truly old-school way. I was painting cells for him, and that was totally free internship that, you know, I wasn't paid. I just went like three days a week during the summer. I commuted to New York to work on that project, and I eventually worked closely with one of the girls there, and she eventually hired me to do some freelance animation for her as a student, and then I went back to Bill's studio for... She had recommended that I go back to his studio as an art assistant. I was paid $5 an hour as a... I think it was my third year in college, and I started that job. I don't know if you can call it a job. It was kind of an internship with a lunch fee, you know, and I ended up, you know, working there as an art assistant, working really closely with the producer there. I went on full time after I graduated, so I didn't have to look for a job in the first few months after graduating, which was great, and stayed there for an additional two years, and I worked very closely with the producer there, who is the person who has gotten me probably most of my jobs, so she has recommended me for a lot of different kinds of work throughout the years, and she is actually the one who built out the animation department, the animation team. It's not really a department but the animation team at TED-Ed. I think connections are kind of everything, probably in every field but definitely in the arts and in entertainment. Animation is kind of a form of showbiz, so you do get a reputation about you, and it is important to be someone who is easy to work with and to impress that upon the people that you work with over time. I would stress to never shut any doors because even someone who you really didn't expect to might turn around and be hiring you another day. So that is a really important reason why I chose and stay in New York City. The animation industry is quite rich in New York, as well as in LA. I've chosen New York for a variety of reasons, but it is important to just be on top of things in the community, so you know, go to screenings when they happen. Go to any events that are happening in the community to not just do the thing at work but to also attend festivals and to show up when there's something to show up to, and it doesn't mean to everything but to just make sure that you're known and active in the community, and I learned a lot about that from my internship because my director was a very important Indie filmmaker, so he was huge on the festival scene, and he would bring us to festivals, and he would introduce us to everyone, and that was so kind of him and also very generous because it meant that I walked out of school knowing a lot of people in the industry, and just having those relationships is really important for finding work but not even just because they might hire you but because they might tell you about a job, or when someone asks them they'll say, "Oh yeah, I loved working with her," or "Oh, I haven't worked with her, and but I hear..." Fill in the blank, right. So it's really important to make sure that that reputation is solid. I think any producer would tell you if they're hiring animators that they don't really care where your degree is from. They care about the body of work that you have, you're reel, more than anything your reel. For TED-Ed, for example, we look for people who have directing experience, as well, so someone who has made an entire project start to finish that is cohesive and knows how to take on a scope of production. So that's really important for that, but for people who are working as an animator on someone else's project, it's mostly about what you're capable of, and of course, the people skills and ability to get along and interact and collaborate and to take direction is really important, but first and foremost, it's what you can do. So the other thing that helps is, you know, especially when trying to get freelance clients or when trying to get people to look at your resume is, you know, the kind of clients that you've had before. So you know, if you have worked for a big name or you have something on your reel that has a big logo in it, people are gonna pay attention to that, as well, but there are a lot of different ways to get into the industry. Some people come from illustration. Some people come from a film background. I'd even seen people move from graphic design into animation. As I mentioned, there are a lot of different roles within animation, so storyboarding, editing, compositing and motion graphics, as well. So there are many different ways to be in animation, so I don't think it's necessary to go to school for it. I think it's very helpful, and I think it really does just help you take the leap to making all those connections, and as I said, it was vital for me, but I've seen lots of people with some insane talent and really, really intense dedication to self-teaching and learning also move into the industry. So I have been fortunate with work in that I haven't gone for long periods without anything animation related to work on, but I have had, for example, low-paying jobs or have had times where I didn't have animation work, but I would maybe volunteer on someone's animated project so that way I was still working in animation but then maybe waitressing on the side, as well, and I've definitely taken on any number of odd jobs. I've sold handmade stuff online. I've waitressed in a couple of different places in New York, which is really great income, so it's not a terrible thing to do, and I've, you know, sold things at the Holiday Market in Union Square. So I've done a lot of different jobs in between, especially when I was freelancing, but also kind of early on, I guess around 10 years ago, I started teaching animation to young people, so sometimes in classroom environments, sometimes doing professional development for teachers who want to bring animation into their classroom, sometimes in a shelter system in an after school art program, so in a lot of different environments, and at first, I was doing it when I had work as a volunteer because, as I mentioned, animation is pretty solitary, so it was something that I got to interact with other people, and I really like working with kids, but teaching also works out as a good supplementary income, right. So when I did that, at some point I realized that I could make money doing that, and I thought, "Oh, this is a good thing to just have "in my back pocket in case I have trouble getting "animation work at some point." So in terms of feeling confident, I haven't necessarily felt confident that I would have great animation work forever, but I do feel confident that I will always be doing animation, right. So I love the thing so much that it's going to be my down time if it's not my on time all the time. So feeling confident about that doesn't make me feel, like, stressed or like a failure if I'm doing another work for a minute or for a year, whatever. It's more important to me that I can enjoy making animation, so I totally would rather do an odd job during the day and make animation that I love at night than work for something that I don't like doing that's called animation full time. So it has just been a compromise of those two things, of like okay paying bills and also doing the thing you like.