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Digital Media FX - The Power of Imagination

Animated Insights for Non Artists: Educating Yourself
in an Animation Writing or Production Career
by Shannon Muir - This article originally appeared in Suite 101.

I happen to have a Bachelor of Arts in Radio-Television and English, as well as a Professional Certificate in Screenwriting, but I realized recently this might give a false impression that formal education is a "must" to be part of the animation industry. While it doesn't hurt to have formal training, it is by no means required. If you have had the discipline and desire to teach yourself, or the determination to find someone who will informally instruct you, then show these qualities to people in a position to hire you, I believe you can go far in this business.

There are some, like myself, who like learning under some semblance of structure. For me, formal education provided a great way to interact with others (since I'm not terribly social) and learn to meet deadlines. It also helped me get well versed with structure. However, there comes a point where formal education can be a crutch and blind you to other learning opportunities, or at least that's what I believe. I also feel I've nearly come to that point.

One of my animation writing mentors stopped being formally educated before getting a college degree, but after being in the industry for well over a decade, received an award from the Animation Writers Caucus for achievement in the field. This argues that formal education is by no means necessary to succeed as a writer, though I know many animation writers who have degrees in English, Film, or Theatre. In the very first letter I received from my mentor, the opinion was expressed that most writers "fail to get out and live life," which could strengthen their writing. It seems to me the animation writer who gets out and observes people and situations, and brings those qualities to a script no matter what the setting (reality, science fiction or fantasy) should have a far better advantage than the formally educated writer who never steps outside the library or office.

However, in fair contrast, two of my animation writing mentors do have a lot of formal education and are relatively successful. One has completely a Theatre background, the other a mix of Theatre and English. My solely theatre trained mentor is also an avid world traveler, so he's brought a lot of richness to his writing by traveling the globe and looking at various cultures. The other constantly seeks to explore new challenges and ideas. These are things you can have with or without a formal education to expand your knowledge of the world and strengthen your writing.

Formal education isn't necessarily needed for animation production jobs either. When I first joined what is now Sony Animation, the Production Supervisor I worked closely with on JUMANJI had no animation background whatsoever before coming there; previously this person spent years in retail sales. However, many of the things learned in this totally unrelated field translated to animation production management; such as how to deal with people. It wasn't that many years later the same person turned up as Line Producer - two job titles higher and much more responsibility - on DILBERT for UPN.

Even if you haven't gotten your first job in the animation industry yet, or aren't in a position for or don't desire any formal education, you can still start educating yourself. Sit and analyze shows on the air. Pay attention to how everything's assembled, the flow of dialogue, how long time passes before the picture changes to a new shot, or the timing of how high an animated ball bounces on screen. If you want to write, track down animation scripts and their completed counterparts. See how what's on the page translated to the screen, what was cut, or what dialogue lines were changed. You can start educating yourself this way right now, until the opportunity to educate yourself on the job comes along.

Whether it's writing a scene every day for a sample ("spec") script, or communicating with artists and production personnel on a daily basis, you're learning and honing skills to make you more effective in the animation industry. There's always room to grow and learn and improve over the years. "Doing" is the greatest teacher.


Shannon Muir 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.

Muir moved 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 shanemuir@aol.com.

All editorialized columns, including this one, that appear in Digital Media FX are not necessarily reflective of the opinions of Digital Media FX, its partner sites, and its advertisers.

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