25/11/20 • Animation Insights

How to be an animator: part one

Back to Spotlight

We might be biased, but we think that working in the animation industry is one of the coolest careers there is. As well as being an outlet for creativity, animation has the power to convey complicated concepts simply through visual artistry. Because of this fact, the demand for animated content keeps growing. As demand for content grows, so too does the demand for talent. New opportunities open up all the time in the sector, especially in Ireland which is a global hotspot for a booming industry. All of this combines to make animation an extremely rewarding career for those that choose to pursue it. But have you ever actually wondered how to be an animator?

Many people might think that in order to be successful in the animation industry you must know from an early age that it’s what you want to do. And while many of our crew did indeed spend their youth honing their artistic abilities, their various pathways into the industry vary greatly.

We asked our crew to share some stories on how they first got into animation – we hope they inspire you.

The biologist 

Silke Czarny, FX Artist, may have always had a passion for drawing. However, her main field of study was actually Biology, and she spent years studying the science at university before gaining her degree in the subject. “I then spent some time as a Fieldworking freelancer for nature conservation, assessing populations of bats, birds, lizards” she says.  

So, how did Silke come to spend two years working at the SPA Studios in Madrid on the hit Oscar-nominated movie Klaus 

Silke Czarny, FX Artist

“I taught myself to animate FX for one year after I lived in London, by way of Adam Philip’s online course on 2D FX animation, working as a waiter for a year and a bit” she says “and a year to the day after I started the online course, on the 2nd of April 2018, I started my job on Klaus”.  

It sounds so simple when put like that, however Silke put a lot of hard work in throughout that year, streaming her coursework on Twitch and adding extra flourishes as her skills developed. Around this time, she was also living with a friend who was an animator, which created the perfect environment for her to hone her skills.  

The transition to a career in animation wasn’t without its setbacks either. Silke’s first role might have been a dream job, but it took a number of months to secure. In fact, she initially applied to the role about three months before the studio called her to do the test in Madrid. On the day of the test, she was asked separately how she would approach a specific FX task. Her resulting work must have been impressive, as she was recruited on the same day. 

“I said I needed a month to sort living arrangements out, then packed my car and put the rest of my stuff in storage.” 

What an exciting introduction to the world of animation! 

The doodling hairdresser 

Another member of our crew also found themselves working in a different industry before realising their true calling. Or rather, having someone else realise it for them. This is Alex Smeaton’s story. 

“I took a slightly different route into animation – I was actually a hairdresser for 5 years beforehand. I moved to London to work in a salon being trained to teach hairdressing to other hairdressers. One day I was in work and had no clients. I was drawing cartoons on receipts when a colleague noticed and said to me; ‘why are you hairdressing? you should be doing something with these!’  

Alex Smeaton, Animator

“I actually quit the next day and came back to my hometown to study animation at the university there. After I graduated, it took a while, but my first proper studio job ended up being in Germany working on The Amazing World of Gumball! I think it’s a nice story, because it shows you can change career whenever you want.” – Alex Smeaton, Animator 

The Robert Shaw moment  

Sometimes, opportunity comes knocking and you’ve just got to answer the door, no matter how much you might feel you’re throwing yourself into the deep end. Something which our Animation Supervisor, Andy Stevens, can attest to:

When I was studying for my animation Masters I managed to tag along to a pre-production meeting for an indie-pilot project as a part of my research. They needed some solutions for some of the problems they were having in sorting out the animation and as this was partially what my Study was about, I had a sudden Robert Shaw Jaws moment and said I’d help figure it out. Flash forward a few months later I was rigging and animating for the pilot, generally in over my head, but I was working with friends, we shared knowledge, and in the end I feel we came out with not only a good project but an intense trial by fire to leapfrog us into the industry as a whole.” 

The brief hiatus 

Adam Powell, Trainee Animator, studied animation in Colaiste Dhulaigh. However, after graduating he went a different route altogether, and started working in a warehouse. “It was good cardio,” he said, “but I was miserable”.  

Adam Powell, Trainee Animator

Despite this brief period of misery that many of us have no doubt felt when in the wrong job, there was something positive to be gained from the experience. “It motivated me to try harder to get into the animation industry, and about a month after I finished the warehouse job, I got a trainee position at Treehouse Republic. I guess my contribution is to just keep going no matter how scary it is, because it’ll be worth it when you finally land that first job”. Relatable.  


Want to hear some more from our crew? Then check out part two of this three-part series on How to be an Animator here! 






Back to Spotlight