Sierra Gaston is a digital arts and animation student in her senior year. Originally starting out as a nursing major, she switched to the arts in 2012 after illustrating her first two children’s books. She seeks to enter the industry as a 2D/concept artist or character designer. Besides painting and animating, she loves archery, horseback riding, reading, bantering, and dreaming up projects that keep her perpetually busy.
For an animation or art student looking to get into the game or film industry, I could easily say that the most important element of one’s school career is networking and making connections with those who are already working professionals. Let’s face it—the pool of students working to get into the industry has rapidly grown over the past decade and the job market is saturated as a result. So how does one get recognition and eventually a job among the seemingly endless sea of applicants? The key is establishing yourself as a face and valuable asset, not just a name to potential employers.
Going to conferences or expos is an excellent way of connecting with those in the field who are currently employing, or may be able to get in a good word for you when their company starts hiring. Two events excellent for this purpose would be the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, CA, and the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank, CA. Both offer new graduates and applicants access to game and animation companies that are currently hiring. GDC provides an entire floor full of companies that are looking to hire, while CTN encourages job-seekers to submit portfolios ahead of the actual event to well-known companies, who then contact the applicants and conduct interviews during the event.
At these events, there are literally thousands of other people attending who are working professionals. Many are more than willing to talk to aspiring animators or artists and always on the look for fresh talent. Business cards are an absolute necessity at this point, as they provide you with a way to stay in contact with your connections. Attendees at expos know they they’ve been successful at networking when they return home with handfuls of business cards and contact info.
Sometimes, chances to visit studios can even arise from making the right connections during an event. Once significant employees of a company or studio know who you are and what kind of work you can produce, doors will start opening and provide even more opportunities to make significant connections. Studio visits also gives an excellent look at what the company wants from their employees, so when job positions open up you know what to target and how to style your work according to the studio’s aesthetic direction.
It is also very important to network with fellow students or alumni. Those who you go to school with will also likely be your coworkers in the future, as the game and animation industries are so specialized. Making connections and friends now will serve as important contacts in the years following, because they will be the first ones to refer you for a position when one opens up in their studio. Alumni are also very likely to recommend or chose someone for a position who attended the same school over an applicant who did not. While it might not be as easy to meet alumni, it is pretty simple to create a LinkedIn account and make connections that way.
Connections and networking have a way of helping when it’s least expected—in such a competitive industry, it’s definitely a helping hand that any student will find necessary when it comes to landing a first job!