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Joshua Pinker on joining the animation industry
Joshua Pinker is a 2D animation artist, originally from New Jersey. He graduated from Lesley University in 2014. Since then he has contributed as an animator on numerous projects with studios across Canada and the United States. In his spare time Joshua self-published and released an e-book, Your Animated Journey, which is a self-help guide for artists interested in working in the animation industry.
Your Animated Journey includes an overview of the animation pipeline, advice on attending animation school, as well as practical tips for resumes, portfolios, business cards and job opportunities. At 131 pages, the Bonus Edition of the e-book also features a Questions & Really Good Answers section with advice from recruiters, artists and other professionals, such as Kacie Hermanson, Chris Burns, Aaron Cowdery and Todd Ramsay.
We interviewed Joshua Pinker about his book and his advice for artists finding their way into the animation industry. You can follow our conversation below.
Cover art for the Your Animated Journey ebook by Joel Mackenzie.
What does your day-to-day role as an animator look like?
I'm currently working for two companies on two different shows. During the day, I work for Portfolio Entertainment in Toronto, on Doomsday Brothers, which is going to be airing on Sundays on Adult Swim. That's been really fun! And I've been working on that show since January.
With Doomsday Brothers, we have a server. For each new episode that we start on, all the scenes are there and get broken up into quotas. I usually do 1500 frames over two weeks, which are around 40 to 50 seconds. We download the files and open them up. That has the background, the characters, and the animatic. I go to town and just start animating, submit it and then I get revisions back from supervisors. Once it's all done, I compress the project file and send it off.
At night and on weekends, I have homework for the other show, Drunken Rewind for Straight To Tell. And it’s pretty much the same thing. The only difference is for Portfolio Entertainment, I'm a senior level animator, freelancing as an extra hand. With this other show, I'm actually the lead animator — I'm the only animator for the whole season — which is really awesome. It's more responsibility, not only for coming up with the acting, but it's my style and my animation throughout.
How would you describe your book, Your Animated Journey, and what led you to make it?
Your Animated Journey is an ebook that I somehow found the time to write? It's a self-help textbook for anyone that's interested in working in the animation industry. If you're right out of school or if it’s you’re just starting out, this book has helpful information to succeed, strive and be a professional in the industry.
The book does not cover how to animate, because all that information can be found elsewhere. You can go on Toon Boom's website where they have amazing tutorials, you can go on YouTube to find tutorials on how to use Harmony or how to animate. I'm the lead animator on Drunken Rewind, and I'm a senior animator on Doomsday Brothers, but I don't think that my animation style is how everyone should be animating. That's why I kept that completely out of the book.
Instead I focused on portfolios, resumes, networking, doing your research, interviews, pay rates, things like that. It is just as valuable information to know and master. There are so many more things that go into getting a career, being professional, getting more opportunities, getting promoted and working within the industry. I feel that there's a gap right now with people coming out of school and entering the industry, so I wanted to fill that gap of information as best as I can.
Joshua Pinker interviewed Christine Huot, Kacie Hermanson, Chris Burns, Ricky Silva, Aaron Cowdery, Rachel Ashley, Adam DiTerlizzi, Todd Ramsay, Ramiro Olmos, James Nethery, Marcel Pontes and Kitty A. Tomblin.
I saw that you spoke with studio reps and artists who do very different jobs. Was there anything that they mentioned that changed the way you think about the animation job search?
At the end of my book, I have a Q&A section with twelve animation professionals. I have studio owners, studio recruiters, animation directors, rigging artists and animators. They were super amazing! I asked them all specific questions about their careers, and they gave me their knowledge and advice.
A lot of their advice worked well with what I experienced. The recruiter that I have in the book, Christine Huot, she hired me to work at Brown Bag, so I went to her for, “What are your do's and don'ts in an interview?" It's really helpful information that isn't easily accessible anywhere else. To some, it might seem like common sense, but to others it's like, “Oh, I didn't even think about that!” The information covers a broad range of experiences.
There are so many different tiers, roles and positions in our industry, so the book helps everyone. Whether you’re doing 2D or 3D animation, you still have to have a resume, you still have to go through an interview, and you still might have to take an animation test. Those are the things I talk about and try to help anyone get through. I really feel like the Q&A section is the hidden gem in my book.
You currently work in Canada, but you are from the US. What do you like about the Canadian animation industry, and why might it be challenging for artists outside of Canada to find work up here?
Yeah, so I'm originally from Belleville, New Jersey. I love New Jersey, and I'll never lose my New Jersey accent. That was pretty much the thing that harmed me in the beginning, because I would go to the job fair at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and the recruiters would see my portfolio, and they'd say, “This is great, but I can tell from your Jersey accent that you're not from Canada, and we can only hire Canadians at this time.”
So I went through a long period where it was just no, no, no, because I’m an American citizen. The reason why I wanted to go to Canada was because I always had the goal that I want to work in the animation industry as an animator, and a lot of people don't know about outsourcing. A lot of shows start in California, where they'll do storyboards, character designs, and the voice recording, and then it's off to Canada, Korea, the Philippines or Mexico. So when I would be watching cartoons on Saturday morning and see Jam Filled or Brown Bag in the end credits, I was like, “Okay, so everything that I want to work on is happening in Canada.”
So it was, “I need to focus on that!” I was really lucky to get the opportunity, and the industry is so strong there. I started on the west coast in Vancouver and Kelowna. Now I am on the east coast, in Toronto. Within my first year, I worked for three studios. It's nice to have options within a city and jump around and get opportunities, so it's been great. It was a lot of hard work to get to this point, but I'm loving all the opportunities that I'm getting.
You have a chapter in your book devoted to the animation pipeline. Why is it important for artists working in the industry to understand not just their own role in a production, but how a production is made?
It is super important to know the animation pipeline. The animation pipeline is what goes in beginning-to-end to make the animated series, short, commercial, movie or game. It shows that you need an entire studio to facilitate making this production. Not one person can do everything, so you need multiple people with different different skillsets to work on specific things.
For artists who never worked in a studio before or are used to doing everything themselves, it's important to know what a studio is like. It's a team effort! But there is a series of processes that effort has to go through. Making sure that every studio has a good pipeline is important because you want to make sure everything runs smoothly. You can tell pretty quickly when pipelines aren't that strong.
Table of contents from the Your Animated Journey ebook.
Are there common misconceptions that people outside of the animation industry have about how an episode of an animated TV series is made?
When I graduated University, I would have people just randomly find me online, and they would ask, “Oh, I want to hire you to do a cartoon. Can you do the animatic? Can you do the storyboards? Can you do everything?” They think because you're an animation artist, you're the go to to make everything happen. That's not the case.
Yes, in school you learn everything, which is really valuable to know. But everything isn't done by one person. There are multiple roles on every team. That goes back to knowing the production pipeline, and knowing whose jobs are specific to what part of making the cartoon.
I think back in the day, illustration and animation went hand-in-hand. If you wanted to animate you also had to be a good Illustrator. That's kind of split a little bit, especially for me. Before I went to animation school, I had no art background whatsoever. No portfolio, I didn't draw. I played sports the whole time. So today, for a lot of the animation, I'm using the program to help me move the character using deformers, load assets made by the rigging artists, and then I'll draw a hand or two, or I'll draw custom poses for the torso.
How do you say no to a job offer?
You're throwing me a curveball here! No, that's a great question.
I always want to keep progressing, and in my mind, that means working on new things. To be asked to work on something I already worked on, it really made me think. It was a one-year contract, which offered a lot of stability. Talking to others on the team, I asked, “How do you feel about going back to the show?” and they were like, “I don't really want to do it, but that's the only show available.”
So I thought, “Why would I want to follow what everyone's doing and feel like that's my only option?” That didn't sit well for me. So I talked to the producer: “I'm sorry, but I want to explore other options.” A lot of people don't have that luxury because they need to pay their bills, they have mortgages, and they have kids. I was lucky to be in a position where maybe I'll pick up some freelance work somewhere else, or maybe I'll interview at another studio? It’s tricky, but you should always have the passion and never feel like you're chained to the job.
How important is attending an animation program if you want to work in the animation industry?
I feel like all the deans and chairs of animation programs are leaning in, like, “Yes, say the right answer.” Should you go to art school? Or should you not go to art school, and learn everything yourself? I had someone recently ask me if they should put money into a four-year school and get a bachelor's or just take three months and do online tutorials. I am 50-50 on this.
Right now, everything that I'm doing using Toon Boom Harmony, using these character rigs — every character is different for each show — doing the animation on the characters for web series and TV, all of these were skills that I learned on my own. None of this stuff that I'm doing today is what I learned in school. I watched tutorials and I got textbooks. Working on multiple shows and getting that snowball effect, I picked up more skills from each show and project and implemented them on the next show.
Do I think going to animation school is still important today? I do. Because you need that foundation of having a schedule, progressing throughout and having the goal of getting a degree. And having that, like, okay, you don't have anything to do in the morning, but you have class at three o'clock, so get through your homework, and then go to class... And in-class work with other students and listen to the teacher give you instructions, get the feedback and critiques on your work, and improve them — that's really valuable!
When you're in school, the experience is, “Okay, here's my assignment!” And then you get critiques on it. That happens when you're at the studio. You work on something the supervisor gives you, you rush back, and you have to do it. Getting that experience in school helps you deal with it when you're in the industry. If you're going to a well known school, they have alumni working in the industry so they can connect you to give you more information or help you get a job. Or for the graduating class, the school would do a screening of everyone's films, and they'll invite people from the industry. It's valuable to have the school help you out and give you those connections and show you ways into the industry.
But are you going to be one-hundred percent ready for the industry? Of course not. And that's kind of the gap of information that I found, and that's where I'm trying to help out with my book. Everything that you learn in animation school is valuable, but you're always going to need more.
Joshua Pinker's business card, as featured in Your Animated Journey.
You mention the importance of resumes and portfolios, and you have two chapters dedicated to those topics. Why can it be challenging for artists, who may be very talented at storytelling, to express the real work that they do for potential employers?
It's hard. It's difficult because you want to stand out from everyone else. Some artists I've seen, they'll tuck characters into their resume, or they'll make their resume super cool looking, but then studios hate that, because the format isn't laid out for them to scan and read. It's tough to stand out.
Here’s what I did: On the back of my business card, I put the characters that I've worked on from previous shows. So when I give out my card, that recruiter might not have the time to visit my portfolio, but if they see the back of the card they might say, “Oh, he's worked on a lot of shows.” It's a visual representation of my career, what I'm capable of working on, and what I do. So that sticks in their brain. I've had some bad-looking business cards before so I'm really happy with this card.
What are ways that you can find opportunities that you can apply to? What kind of research can you do?
Research is really, really important. When I was in Boston, the kids, the students, they would just say, “Okay, here's the three studios in the city. I'm just going to keep applying to those because I live in the area.” And that's like, you apply, find out they're not hiring right now, go do a part-time job and wait three months, apply again, and then just keep getting turned away. And that's a terrible thing to keep doing.
I have a chapter just based on research, because it's so important. I Google Search animation studios in different cities, to see whatever comes up. And then I will add the search results to a folder on my bookmarks bar. Then I find a studio, click on it, see their work, and I'm like, “Okay, this is like medical stuff. Throw it out. Oh, this is like, commercials and explainer videos, throw it out. Oh, here's cartoony stuff. Okay, let me save that.” And then I'll start to save everything.
Then — everyone's gonna know how obsessive I am now — I'll put everything in a spreadsheet. In Excel: here's the studio name, here's where it is located, this is the date when I applied, someone got back to me, this is the HR manager’s email. I will keep notes and keep everything organized. And I'll include what shows they worked on.
And there are common sense things like watching a cartoon on TV and being like, “Oh, I really like this series. I would be a good match. Let me go to the end credits.” That lets me see the studio that worked on it, the names of the directors or supervisors, then I can go to LinkedIn and follow those studios for updates. Those are all things I did. It involves casting a wide net and being open-minded. You might have to travel or you might have to freelance for a studio across the country in a region with a different time zone.
It's kind of funny because growing up, I loved sports. When I think of a sports team like the New England Patriots, I know they play at Gillette Stadium, it's in Foxborough, Massachusetts. I can remember that off the top of my head. The head coach is Bill Belichick. If I'm going to be in the animation industry, this is not just a job, this is my career. I want to make it a point where I know the studio's name, where they're located, maybe some directors’ names, and the shows that they work on. Knowing what everyone is working on and when shows are going to end, when other studios are hiring, it's really helpful. And it makes it easier when you build those connections to then say, “Hey, I remember a few months ago, you told me a new show is going to be starting in December. I’m going to apply for that.”
Also try to find strategic times for when to apply. Connect with recruiters on LinkedIn. They’ll post, “We have a new show starting!” They're going to look for the storyboard artists first. Once you see a job posting for storyboard artists, know that in a few months, then they're going to be asking for animators. Sometimes when I know a show is like halfway through production, I'll apply with, “I know you're halfway through production, but do you need an extra hand?” And I’ll hear, “Yeah, actually, we are missing deadlines and we heard you are really fast.”