Insights for Non Artists:
A World of Choices
of funny looking back, but I grew up thinking that writers and
actors were the only jobs you could get on an animated show if
you weren't an artist. Not until I actually came to Los Angeles
and got the chance to visit the Jumanji production offices (where
I'd end up with my first job) did I see all the people that made
a show come together. Even then, I didn't see all of them. Recordings
and post-production didn't happen in-house at that studio, like
it does at some others.
You may be
sure you know exactly what you want to do. If so, more power to
you. When I first got to Los Angeles, I thought I did. I knew
I wanted to write for animation. Period. However, after taking
my first job as a Production Assistant, I began to realize how
much I needed to know and how many choices I really had. If I'd
had access to those career options before I came to Los Angeles,
perhaps I would have approached things differently. I really don't
definitely does influence the approach I have on my columns. You
see, every time I write one of these pieces, I primarily envision
a young person who doesn't live in a major metro area, doesn't
have access to an extensive library or bookstore -- just plugged
into the Internet and driven by a dream. While I try to make these
accessible to everyone, this is the audience I want to reach the
most. Who knows what new perspectives may lie within that can
be brought to this industry that might change things for the better?
Even if it's just one person, I wouldn't want that person to miss
out becoming part of this community.
upon a time, I knew a little girl in a relatively small town who
dreamed of working in animation but had no clue of all her possible
roads until after she wound up in Los Angeles. Though lucky to
make contact with several professional writers from her Washington
State home while growing up, and fortunate enough to have access
to a university library, that was all she knew of the industry.
Much remained ahead left to learn. If there's anyone out there
who's anything like that, I'd like to make it a bit easier on
them. So much of what I learned in my early years came from other
professionals reaching out to help me, and now that I'm in a position
to do so, I want to start giving back.
that many people are offering resources to the non-artist in animation,
at least not yet. I honestly don't know of many other websites.
Acclaimed animation writer Jeffrey Scott does a regular column
for Animation Magazine. As far as books go, only Producing Animation
(by Catherine Winder and Zahra Dowlatabadi) has come out to touch
on the areas of budgeting, scheduling, and roles of the non-artist
staff. If you're interested in timing, there's usually a chapter
devoted to timing and exposure sheets in many books geared to
animators, but that's about it. I only know of three books that
deal with animation writing in whole or in part. The latter of
these is J. Michael Straczynski's The Complete Book of Scriptwriting,
Revised; the comprehesive books are Marilyn Webber's Gardner's
Guide to Animation Scriptwriting: The Writer's Road Map, and a
new book from Jeffrey Scott simply entitled How to Write for Animation
(which goes above and beyond his magazine column). With the exception
of Mr. Straczynski's book, the others titles have appeared relatively
recently, indicating an emerging need (or at least the acknowledgement)
of resources for the non-artists in animation. I would love to
be joined by more non-artist viewpoints whose backgrounds are
similar or different from my own, and I am willing to add my voice
to the world of resources, especially for those just considering
their career options.
As to my own
choices, I've been in Los Angeles for five and a half years and
don't really regret any of the choices I've made, I just wish
I'd had more information at the time. I got out of animation production
a year after moving here to further my education in screenwriting,
since writing is what I moved down here to do to begin with. I'd
written a few sample episodes of shows, but saw places I could
improve. Honestly, I didn't feel I could concentrate while I was
on a production. I made sure to still go to Comic-Con International:
San Diego yearly to keep in touch with writers I'd met, and later
went on to write articles about the business. So I never drifted
totally away from animation, but might have benefited from having
more resources to plug into and decide my course of direction.
I felt reassured that distancing myself from the production side
to focus on writing was the way to go. During a panel discussion
at Comic-Con in 2000 that I was moderating on "Breaking and
Entering: Careers in Animation," one of the panelists encouraged
me to share my background. I admitted I'd previously worked in
production but got out to further my writing education, because
a writer was what I wanted to be. As the panel continued, I began
to learn by listening to the panelists that many of them survived
doing other entertainment-related jobs, particularly administrative
work. At the very least, that allowed them to keep networking
until opportunity came. That's what I was doing at the time, so
I felt pretty solid about what I was doing.
opened my eyes was when I took a class offered at UCLA Extension
in Animation Writing. One of my instructors, Greg Weisman (who
I've since invterviewed), began his career as an animation executive,
then became a producer, and then expanded into writing, story-editing,
and voice directing. This completely boggled my mind. For some
reason, I had gotten it into my head that I couldn't have used
my production road to break into writing, that one would keep
me from the other. Greg was living proof that was the farthest
thing from the truth!
What I learned
in the end was that in order to become the best writer I could
be, I had to not limit myself. Producers can be writers, after
all. I'd been a Production Assistant and Coordinator, a path that
ultimately does lead to the rank of Producer. These things are
not mutually exclusive.
So, as soon
as I completed my education at UCLA Extension, I began looking
around for any way back in. I had one interview (for which I made
it to the second interview round) for a Post Production Assistant
on a fairly long-running prime-time animated series before being
offered the Production Coordinator slot on Invader Zim. In that
process, I learned yet another thing, which is don't sell yourself
short. I'd been out of actively working in the industry -- though
I'd still been networking and writing about it in the interim
-- for almost four years, and initially thought I should come
back in as a Production Assistant because I'd been gone so long.
Now that I've been a Production Coordinator again, I've seen going
back would have been a mistake for my resume and myself. I stumbled
a few times, but the inherent qualities were still there. Now
I'm prepared to keep on going, wherever things may take me.
to you: be prepared to do likewise. You never know where this
industry may take you. So choose where your interests seem to
be, but if you are offered a job in a different area of animation
that you seem qualified to handle but isn't what you dreamed,
consider giving it a try. You may learn that this different area
is where your heart truly lies. Perhaps you'll just learn more
about the animation business in general to make you better prepared
to pursue that long-term dream. Regardless, you should find every
way to can to inform you of your paths for career growth.
find what I do helpful, I would appreciate hearing about it. Let
me know what works and what doesn't. I mean, I can write for my
own credits and personal satisfaction, but if no one else gets
anything out of it, I'm not accomplishing what I set out to do.
That's what it's all about to me. So get in touch, let me know
where I can bring you more information. Odds are, it's something
I could benefit from myself.
here to discuss this column in the dFX
is known in the animation industry for her work as a production
coordinator for Nickelodeon's Invader Zim. She also served as
a Production Coordinator for Extreme Ghostbusters and a Production
Assistant for Jumanji: The Animated Series. Muir is an accomplished
writer and often participates on panels or as a guest speaker
at conventions like Comic Con International.
to Los Angeles in 1996 from Cheney, WA (population approximately
8,000), knowing she wanted to be part of the animation business.
Since then, she's never strayed far from making that dream reality,
whether it be actively working on a production or writing articles
about the industry.
You can email
Shannon Muir at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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