Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Michael Morgan on Making it as an Animator

Our students at Bucks are fortunate in being so close to the thriving animation and VFX industry in London.  Last week animator Michael Morgan spoke at an event at Escape Studios in Shepherd's Bush, West London, where he talked about how animators can break into the industry.

Michael is an animator with an extensive list of credits in video games, TV Commercials and Feature films.  At the talk, Michael shared his experience of working on projects such as Star Wars - The Clone Wars, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and Planet of the Apes. 

In particular, he talked about how to get "From the Classroom to the Studio".

Specifically, how do graduates break into the animation industry? What are the secrets of success?

Michael Morgan
Breaking into the industry isn't easy. Michael started out doing video games, after graduating from college with some 3D skills, mainly in 3DS Max. Initially, he did a lot of modeling, but then in 2015 he found the online school Animation Mentor - the first online animation school.

It was at Animation Mentor that Michael learned "how to animate to the camera" and, armed with his new demo reel, he found work on the Clone Wars TV Series in Singapore.

After Clone Wars Michael worked on Tree Fu Tom, with a "very different style of animation", very "pose to pose" and cartoony, producing around 30 seconds of animation a week.

Later he animated CG scorpions on The Lone Ranger.  Here, the pace was much slower, animating just a couple of seconds of work a week.

Animators are actors
Michael emphasised the importance of animators filming themselves acting out a shot - shooting live action reference and then using this reference for their animation.

For example, on Guardians, there were 70 animators, with maybe 10 animators on a team. And nowadays even junior animators have to be able to "hit the ground running". If you "get a Rocket shot", you "have to act it out". Everybody is acting out all the shots - you even "act out other people's shots".  And someone else might have given the best performance - in which case that's the one you pick. It's a team effort, and you "have to get comfortable acting stuff out".

Michael also worked on many of the characters from Beauty And The Beast, such as Mrs Potts. This work was done in Montreal, but it was especially tricky because a different studio was animating the Beast, so they had to match their animation to the work done by a different studio.  For Chip, they looked at lots of reference of skateboarders, but really, "Chip is just a bouncing ball. You have to go back to the fundamentals".

What's going on in the animation industry in London?
Plenty. Lion King, Alien Covenant, Marvel's Avengers, Star Wars - Last Jedi, Paddington 2 and Wonder Woman. Soon, Disney will make Winnie The Pooh, and other classics.  Disney will re-make their back catalogue and much of this work will be done here in London.  Marvel are also doing Thor at Framestore.  The industry is very healthy - there is going to be plenty of work for animators!

Michael's Rules for Finding Work
1. Only show your best work
2. Polish your CV
3. Send a cover letter. Show passion!
4. Go to the big animation festivals and find the recruiters. Annecy in France, BFX in Bournemouth, Animex at Teeside Uni. There is life outside London!  Talk to people, find out what's going on.
5. Find internships and graduate programs. Blue Zoo, Aardman, Jellyfish, DNeg, and Framestore Launchpad.
6. Get to know the recruiters. Show them your latest work, but don't stalk them. You don't need to know them well, but you need "to be approachable". You've got to get away from your computer, get out there and meet the recruiters. Show them your work often, get feedback, improve it, and grow as an artist.
7. Be prepared to move. Michael has worked in Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe. The industry "is open to you". And, having a university degree "helps to make the visa process work faster".  His New Zealand visa "took two weeks".  Canada "took a few months". And "being in the Commonwealth helps".
8. Be in demand. Studios "want you when other studios want you too".
9. Build relationships with studios, and then you'll get to go back on the next project.

To break into a company, you "have to show them something similar to what they are animating". They want to see "a similar style" to what they are doing. So, your demo reel needs to be tailored to the work you are applying for. 

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days, take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK.

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