Here is an in-depth interview I did for someone's school project where the subject was about "people whose dreams became their career". There were tons of hard questions and it is extremely long, but I thought some may find it interesting!
Q1: Were you ever reluctant to pursue your path as an animator and artist? What were those concerns?
There was never any point I wanted to completely abandon the idea of working in a creative field, but there certainly were times where I had doubts about taking certain paths. For example, in school I was often pressured to pursue 3D animation instead of 2D animation by professors since there are more big 3D animation jobs in the US than 2D. But even when faced with these kinds of doubts, I still found myself always pursuing what I really wanted.
The arts are not something you choose if you are looking for a career choice that is a “sure thing” or because you want to make tons of money. It is something you choose out of love and passion. So if you are making a choice to be in a creative field, you really shouldn’t compromise the things you really want to do. Just be realistic about your goals and have a good sense of where you’re really at. Arrogance can be an even bigger enemy than doubt in the arts. If you already think you’re the best, you likely won’t improve and will have unachievable goals for yourself at your current level.
But sometimes, it’s good to just take the plunge and not have any expectations. There were many times where I attempted things I thought I had very low odds of achieving, like applying to super competitive internships or entering my cartoons in major film festivals. I often live by the philosophy of “nothing ventured nothing gained” and still make attempts at things despite sometimes overwhelming doubts and I was often very pleasantly surprised by the results. That is still something I try to practice today.
Q2: What constantly motivates you through your day-to-day work?
The motivation to work on a creative endeavor often differs from project to project and could be based on a number of things. For example one of the most obvious reasons to work on a project is financial compensation. Even though I love doing creative work, I am an adult with bills and financial responsibilities, so my art and animation projects are often a juggling act between doing things I want to do and work that is going to pay me enough to meet my financial needs. It is important to find that balance, but for many that means they do art for someone else by day and art for themselves at night.
The artwork made during the day is work that is motivated by the need to advance your professional career and to pay your bills. Here you are motivated to expand your resume, build important contacts and references, and legitimize yourself as a professional. This could also come in the form of school, where your motivation is also to legitimize yourself as a professional by doing the work to get the degree that proves it. The motivation could also be to produce work for a portfolio in order to advance your career.
The type of art done at night is often motivated by deeper feelings and desires than surface matters like career and finances. The motivation for creating projects during your free time are far more complicated and personal to artists and are not often understood by people who do not also pursue some kind of creative endeavor. Some people create art in their spare time in the form of studies, where the motivation is to improve one’s skills through precise practice and exercise. Another motivation may be to create art to work out creative ideas that are floating around in your head, screaming to be let out! Others may spend this time trying to do types of art they are not yet in a position to be paid to do, like a graphic designer by day that makes web comics by night. Some artists may also be motivated by fame, and create art that is topical or popular in order to gain followings or garner more interest in their work.
Some artists are lucky enough to be in a position that the work they do by day is in fact the kind of work they are inspired to be doing. This is very rare since it is not often the artist who is funding the project and they are often limited by the person holding the purse strings. But I personally find the less involved that person is, the better the art being produced is! I believe this is because when people put their heart and soul into their work and are not confronted by too many limitations that others can feel those feelings when they observe it. I also think this is how art evolves and advances since the people funding the project aren’t often the idea person. I personally think reaching this point is the ultimate goal for any artist.
Q3: Can you give me some insight on the difficulties of being an animator and artist?
There certainly can be a number of difficulties. One of the hardest things is the societal stigma that artists receive. When asked “what do you do for a living?” in casual small talk, I find I often get mixed reactions when I tell them “I’m a cartoonist”. Many peoples’ initial reactions are “Oh, she must not make any money doing that and her parents support her” or “how is that a career?” There are a lot of stereotypes about artists being lazy, poor, uneducated, arrogant, naïve, depressed, crazy, and even drug addicts so some people are automatically doubtful of you. I often find myself having to explain or justify my career to people since people are so unfamiliar with it and often rely on these stereotypes to fill in the blanks. So dealing with judgment and misunderstanding from others who don’t understand my career path is a constant struggle and I find myself having to educate people about it all the time and find that they sometimes still doubt me.
Another difficulty is how competitive the field is. There is a very small pool of jobs in the creative fields and a huge pool of people pursuing these jobs, so competition is fierce. There are more and more art schools popping up offering creative degrees that are sending more and more people out into the field every year but the job numbers are not keeping up.
This in turn, brings about another difficulty, which is just how often you have to practice to be good enough to stay marketable. This often comes in the form of constantly training yourself on the latest software and drawing constantly to keep your skills sharp. You study books on color theory, read art blogs on latest trends, and attend life drawing classes to draw nude models from life to improve your anatomy skills. Being an artist is an endless pursuit with no real ceiling. You can ALWAYS improve and evolve no matter what age you are.
But all the time spent devoting yourself to your career and advancing yourself through practice often means sacrificing time with others like family or friends. There is a reason for the “depression” stereotype. This isn’t true of everyone, but sometimes spending weeks on end on a project in your spare time means turning down outings with friends or less time with your family. It’s important to have friends and family that understand this or conflicts can arise. This is why artists so often are friends or married to other artists or people closely related to their field because it is something most others just won’t understand.
Another struggle comes in the form of acquiring fame or notoriety for your art. Since fame is something that is very difficult to control and somewhat random at times, it can be frustrating when you have worked so hard to produce something only to have it go unnoticed. Often times the things that are the most famous aren’t necessarily the most shining example of the craft or are only famous because they are borrowing from something that was already famous. This can lead to stagnation in the creative fields where all we see is remakes of the same things and people are afraid to try new innovative things for fear of not receiving the fame or notoriety they desire for their work.
Q4: What do you love about being an animator and artist?
Mainly I love the rewarding feeling I get when I finish something and get to submit it to the client and hear their reaction or submit an animation online and get to read the comments. That feeling of pride when I get to see people enjoy my creations and hear that they felt the things I was aiming for them to feel. I also really appreciate when people understand how much work and sacrifice goes into making the piece too and love communicating with fans of my work.
I also really like helping and giving advice to people who are not as far along on their journey as I am. I particularly like helping women who are interested in animation as we are vastly under-represented in the field and I really want to be a positive role model to girls interested in animation. But I do try to help everyone whenever I am able.
I also love the feeling I get when I animate and see all the individual drawings I created work together in harmony when play them back. To watch a character successfully express a feeling or to choreograph an action successfully is very fulfilling for me. Seeing my drawings come to life and talk and walk was the biggest reasons I pursued animation. I also love just trying to figure out the right acting- it almost feels like I’m an actor that can play any role. I love getting out of my chair and acting out an action or looking in a mirror to nail just the right facial expression. It is a blast to become so absorbed in creating these things.
Story telling is another thing I love about art and animation. I’ve always wanted to tell my own stories but sine I am a visual person, writing was just never enough. I like making up worlds that have yet to be created, characters with deep personalities and struggles for people to relate to, and rich in depth backstories that all inform the look of the piece as a whole.
As much as the unfamiliarity of art and animation can be a burden to explain, sometimes it is also a joy to do so in the right company. Many people admire and are compelled by the idea of a creative career path and find the pursuit enchanting and this can make you feel very respected. People will ask you questions with stars in their eyes since they think of what you do as magic. With certain people, you have to even assure them that creating art is a skill like any other that requires practice and training and is learned, not granted to you by some god of talent!
I also love when I hit new plateaus in my art and see my skills evolving right before my eyes. I love comparing my latest work to my old work and seeing just how much I’ve improved using the practice and knowledge I gathered since. I love having that “eureka!” moment when I realize how I can vastly improve my animations or art while studying.
Q5: How often have you gone out of your comfort zone to advance through your path as an animator and artist? Do you consider it inevitable?
I would say that going out of your comfort zone is inevitable to be a successful artist. Whether that means you have to draw characters you don’t really like for a project you are on or have to push yourself to draw things you wouldn’t otherwise draw, getting out of your comfort zone is inevitable if you are looking to evolve as an artist.
On the career side of things, it is often pretty rare that someone is going to hire you to create things in “your own style” without any limitations. This means having a diverse range of styles to show in your portfolio is key. People want to see that you can fit into their project and meet their needs and this means you have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone.
It also means in your own practice, that you constantly need to re-evaluate yourself and not become too comfortable in one style for too long. Even if you love the way you draw, if you keep drawing that way, and only that way forever, you won’t evolve to the next level. It often takes stepping outside your comfort level to find the thing that is going to improve your art and to be constantly re-evaluating yourself.
Q6: How often have you relied on others to advance through your path as an animator? If you relied on others often, do you think you could have made the same advancements without their aid? If you haven't relied on others often, why haven't you?
Any decent artist that says they completely taught themselves everything they know about their art is a total liar! The simple way to prove that all artists are just part of an ever evolving aspect of humanity is to look at art history. Art from different time periods gets better and better as time marches on. This is because humans build on what the humans before them created.
It has taken countless artists’ lifetimes to establish what we understand about perspective, color, anatomy, you name it! The reasons artists today can be as skilled as they are is because of all the humans that pioneered the craft before them. This is why any artist who says they learned everything on their own is lying!
But beyond knowledge, I’ve had some wonderful mentors help me learn art and animation. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned in animation were from the ex-Disney animators who taught some of my first traditional animation courses. Thanks to them imparting even the slightest bit of their knowledge onto me, I was able to improve my own animations dramatically. Just two years of study under them changed my perspective on animation completely and blew the lid off of everything I had ever done before that. Of course me going home and relentlessly practicing on my own helped, but the foundation they gave me in that short time was invaluable and reshaped nearly all my opinions on art and animation today.
Beyond all the help and learning I got through professors, I also had the help of friends and family that was also invaluable. I could never have found a way to go to art school, buy all the art supplies, software, and equipment that I needed to learn art and animation if not for my parent’s financial backing and belief in me. My journey would have been far more difficult if not impossible without their support.
Q7: What is your dream? Has it been accomplished? Has it changed?
I have had many dreams and goals over the years. Many of them have changed, some have been abandoned, and others accomplished, but there has never been a time in my life that I didn’t have some kind of goal in regards to my art and animation.
I have accomplished several of my aspirations in the career department, including getting a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Animation, getting an internship in 2D animation, and getting a job in 2D animation at a wage that is high enough to support myself. I have also won a number of art and animation competitions I have entered over the years and am very proud of the fan base I have built for my art and animation with my online presence over the years.
As a young person, unaware of the state of the animation industry, I mostly dreamed of having my own animated series on television since that was my main source of animation growing up. Once I started to learn more about how that industry worked and that nearly none of the actual animation is done in the US, I found myself interested in doing 2D animation for games, since that animation is done in the US. I catered my portfolio to that and got a 2D animation internship at a game studio, but realized after working at a few studios that as much as I really enjoyed it, it wasn’t quite what I wanted and ended up accepting a job creating educational animations that was more up my alley.
These days my dream has completely shifted and evolved and has become somewhat of a more modern version of the original dream I had of having my own television series. Now my dream is to create an original series for online distribution where I can work on it with a team as an animator and director. After seeing the success of several others in this endeavor and seeing how close in skill and fan base we were, I realized this was at least a realistic goal that I am now working towards whenever I am not working. The ultimate goal would be to get the series to a point where it can become my day job and I can dedicate myself full time to the art I want to create with no restrictions and be able to share that directly with (hopefully a large number of) fans using the internet.
Q8: There are many stories of the world in which people lose sight of their dreams due to certain circumstances, and hold no further choice but to live a life they absolutely despise. How do you feel about those stories? Have they ever discouraged you from chasing your dream(s)?
I feel very sad when I hear these stories. I have been very fortunate to have the help I’ve had with achieving so many of my goals, but not everyone is so lucky. I knew many students in art school who were forced to drop out and abandon their dreams because of how expensive it is. I also know people who make wonderful and fantastic artwork but just don’t seem to get lucky enough to get a good fan base going online for their work. But the wonderful thing about these people is that despite these let downs and setbacks, they keep trying and pursuing advancing their art.
Then there are those who live lives that they despise, but despite the fact that they have the resources, do absolutely nothing to change it and simply give up. These are the people I have very little sympathy for and who I often get irritated even listening to since these people are most often very vocal when it comes to complaining about the situation they have put themselves in. The art world is chock full of people like this unfortunately. Many of these people often come up with an elaborate series of excuses to explain how it isn’t their fault and take no responsibility for their actions and never learn.
I personally have been discouraged by others’ stories of failure particularly in the form of job and wage statistics for Art Schools. Art and animation is super competitive and a small field, so the amount of people that graduate, get jobs in their field, and make a living wage, are far smaller than other colleges. Before I landed my internship, I was terrified that I would spend so much money on Art School only to come out with a huge amount of debt and a job no better than the jobs I had in high school. I was terrified of that for a long time and after I passed that hurdle I felt that a huge weight had been lifted off of me.
It was often saddening to watch many of my classmates end up in entry level positions unrelated to their degree and think how hard and what a huge disappointment that must be for them and their family. But I think far higher of the people that I still see polishing their portfolio and still trying than those that just gave up completely.
Q9: What have you learned from your experiences as an animator and artist (and any others in general)?
I feel like so much of who I am and how I view the world around me comes from what I have learned and studied in my pursuit of being a better artist and animator. I have met and worked with a number of people I otherwise may never have been exposed to and have found many people I’ve met over the years gravitated to me because of it. I’ve also found that some people are repelled by it and that too has changed and shaped things in my life.
Beyond the people I’ve met, it has also made me someone who is highly critical and observant about the world around me. I find myself constantly examining people and places using artistic principles and this in turn often inspire me to try new things in my art. It has also caused me to reject different types of art, animation, and media because I notice things I don’t like about it artistically. When I look at different visual media I am observing far different things than the average viewer since I have put so much time into learning all the small intricacies of media. These viewpoints have really colored the type of media I choose to indulge in.
I have also discovered many truths in practicing art that carry over into other aspects of my life like relationships and even philosophy. I simply would not be the same person without it.
Q10: Do you have any advice for aspiring animators, or generally anyone who'd like to follow their dreams?
Draw!!! Draw as often as you can. Drawing from life is often the most beneficial type of drawing you can do to really improve your basic skills. Once you master realism, then you can go back and stylize your drawings and they’ll be created by an informed artist who knows exactly what real anatomy looks like, but instead decides to draw a human with different proportions, for example. And try not to be too influenced by other artists’ styles. Find your very own!
Also, try your hardest when drawing from life to spend more time looking at the subject than your drawing. Don’t listen to the shapes your left brain is trying to tell you something is. Use your right brain to carefully examine exactly what you are looking at and record it on your paper as accurately as possible.
And if you are looking to pursue a dream outside of animation, some of the same principles apply, the biggest one being that you should practice the things you want to be good at as often as possible. Challenge yourself, go outside your comfort zone, find mentors, and never stop practicing!