We have all chosen animation as a career because we love it! Once we’re hired, most of us are naturally eager to start animating the most heroic, physical, or emotional shot we can get assigned so we can wear them like a badge on our demo reel.
However, it’s not up to us but our leads or supervisors to assign shots and, for good reason, these demo reel-worthy shots usually go to more senior animators. So if you’re recently hired to a job you are probably not assigned the most meaty shots.
In my first lead position at a commercial studio I realized how nice it is when everyone is project focused and not demo reel focused. The old adage here is “There’s no ‘i’ in team.” When we were in school, we usually worked alone and the goal was creating the best demo reel to be hired. But, when we are hired for a job our mentality must shift from demo reels to completing the project as a team.
On an animation team, especially at commercial studios with tight turnarounds, your mentality should be “what can I do to help get this project across the finish line.” You should put aside your aspirations of getting ‘the best shot’ of the project and imagine if you were leading the project, what kind of attitude would you want your team of animators to have? Would you want them positioning themselves to always get the best shot? Or would you want someone who’s going to take whatever is thrown at them with a smile on their face and get the job done?
Your love of animation needs to broaden in these cases, not dwindle or narrow, when you don’t get the ‘best’ shots. You’re contributing to a greater whole with many moving pieces that all have to get done. Animating background characters or making a library of cycles for a crowd may not be the most glamorous animation you envisioned yourself doing when you were a student, but once you’re an employee, and if you want to continue to be hired, you need to develop a project-focused attitude and not “can I put this on my demo reel”-only attitude.
This also means you’ll probably have to continue to animate at night to get your demo reel-worthy shots if you want to move onto another studio, but if you’ve been project focused and not demo reel focused then most likely the studio you’re at will want to keep you for the next project.
Your demo reel can only say so much about you as an animator, so once you have the job take the opportunity to show you’re easy to work with and a team player if you want to keep getting hired. Your resume will also speak volumes if it shows a studio wants to keep you around, it means you’re doing something right.
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