Careers in Animation
Careers in Animation

Careers in Animation
By: Mike Valiquette, owner, Canadian Animation Resources

Here’s what you need to know if you want to work in animation:
1) You have to love to draw;
2) You have to be prepared to work really, really hard.

A lot of people look at animation as an easy way to make a living. Yes, someone will pay you to draw pictures, and yes, cartoons are a lot of fun; but, like any other career, animation is hard work, especially if you plan on being good at it.

In the 25 years or so that I have been involved in animation I have worked at over a dozen different studios ranging in staff from 5 to 250. The one constant in all of these studios is the human dynamic. All studios are successful because of the talent they collect. No matter what your role you should always be aware of those around you and learn from their collective experience. Film is a collaborative process and everyone working on a project adds value to the whole. Respect others always, but don't be afraid to make your job, whatever it is, the best possible job that you can do. If every one does that, then you get a synergy that is impossible to describe.

   — Robert Anderson, VP of Production/Founder at Loogaroo Studios in Miramichi, New Brunswick

The first place you’ll work really hard is in your own home or high school: you better start drawing now. Take art classes at school or community centers; look around in your community and see what’s being offered: you might be surprised to find an animator living on your block who would be willing to teach you.

The next step is to get into a good college or university program.  Here in Canada, we have some excellent schools, such as Sheridan College in Toronto, Vancouver Film School in British Columbia, or Algonquin College in Ottawa.  There are a lot of schools out there, so look carefully at their programs and try to talk to some of their graduates before applying; make sure that the school offers the right kind of courses for your chosen career path, and find out where graduates are getting hired.

Animation: I couldn't imagine working in any other industry for a living. Mind you, I don't think they'd have me anyways.

   — Rob Davies, Owner, VP Business Development, Atomic Cartoons

You’ll work hard here, too; and you’ll learn a lot.  If you apply yourself properly, you’ll even graduate with a finished film to show friends, family, and prospective employers.  Be careful when you’re making your decision: a lot of people are surprised at how hard animation really is, and some don’t finish school.
If you do make it through, you’ll have some choices to make:

Really how can I complain? I'm fortunate enough to be in an industry where I'm paid to doodle and laugh the entire day away. The last few years my work day consists of reading scripts and designing characters while trying to add a few gags here and there to punch up a story. There isn't a day I dread heading into work..... But, before i paint this business up as all strawberries and candy, anyone first starting out has to realize the sacrifice and work ethic needed to survive in the business. You also have to truly love drawing and telling stories, as this is not your regular 9-5.

   — Kyle Marshall, character designer/board artist on Jimmy Two Shoes

If you want to a career in cartoons, be prepared to go where the work is. Vancouver and Toronto are big production centers, but there are studios from coast to coast. You can find work all over this country. There are companies in PEI, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and pretty much everywhere in between.  And within the industry there are many different jobs.  These days, most people get hired to animate, usually in Flash or Maya, but there’s always a need for good designers, layout artists, storyboard artists and production staff.
A career in animation doesn’t necessarily mean cartoons.  The video game industry employs hundreds of artists in Canada alone!  There’s also the visual effects (VFX) industry to consider.  A few brave souls even decide to go it alone and make their own films.

I spend my day in heated debate over what a chicken might say to a pickle. Life doesn't get much better :)

   — Craig Young, VP Production, Amberwood Entertainment

National Film Board production centers in every province in Canada, so there’s that to consider, too.  

A lot of options, for sure, but the one thing they all have in common: WORK.
Animation is a great way to make a living.  It’s a field full of creative people who get excited about what they do; but it’s still a job.  Starting out, expect to put in long hours honing your skills.  Be prepared to move around a bit to go where there’s work.  Be respectful of those you work with and you’ll find many artists who are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience.  The field is full of many different kinds of people, but remember, they all have one thing in common: at some point, every one of them chose to sit down, by themselves, and draw.