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Digital Media FX - The Power of Imagination

Animated Insights for Non Artists:
Networking in Animation
by Shannon Muir

Note: This republished column has been expanded for Digital Media FX readers.

Often getting jobs in this business (or most types of business) hinges on who you know. So if you're just starting out looking for writing or production jobs in animation, you probably want to know where you can meet people when you don't have many professional credits, or perhaps none at all.

Conventions are a great resource. For example, I attended the Gathering of the Gargoyles 2001 in Los Angeles, and the offerings there were phenomenal. Over 50 guests from every aspect of the industry attended. I'm not even counting people like myself who appeared on the "From Fan to Pro" panel; many of these guests have been in the industry for over a decade. From what I observed, they easily conversed with anyone who approached them. Many of these people talking to them had no other professional credits, they just wanted to say 'hello.'

At one particular panel, someone went so far as to say if he had two scripts in front of him by new writers, one by someone he had never heard of, and one by someone he'd met once at a convention, he would choose the one by the person he knew. One brief meeting really could make all the difference.

Another place that's becoming a major Mecca for animation is Comic-Con International: San Diego. From the name, it sounds like a comic convention -- and did begin that way -- but now features SF and fantasy in all forms. The Animation Writers Caucus holds a yearly panel and reception (which is usually open to any interested attendees; check specifically if you go), and often the Con sponsors animation-themed panels. I had the privilege of moderating a panel on "Breaking and Entering: Animation Careers" in 2000.

These are just a few examples. All kinds of animation-related conventions (or even SF/fantasy ones with animation as a subset) happen in almost any major city. Search out directories on the web for events happening in your area, or by your area of interest. Also directories about voice actor guest appearances will also lead you to many convention listings, such as webcomics.com.

Also, if you're in an area where seminars are offered, either at college campuses or through organizations like the Learning Annex, attend and take advantage! Not only the people leading the seminar may be good to know, no telling what the background of your fellow students is. You may be surprised. I met some great people in my classes at UCLA Extension, some of which are now being taught online via sites such as OnlineLearning.net. Many institutions now offer online instruction, so geography proves less of a limitation, though ultimately you will probably need to move to the Los Angeles area and meet the people in person that you first met online.

Don't assume things like artists aren't worth knowing because you're a voice actor, or you shouldn't bother with sound editors because you want to write. Learning about any aspect of animation can strengthen you regardless of the path you choose. If you educate yourself about how the whole process works, you can do better at what you want to focus on (my personal belief).

If you think you're shy, and the idea of going up to people you've never met is terrifying, or speaking to a crowd is paralyzing, I have a response to that. I did too, once. Just start small. Bear in mind, especially if you want to be an animation writer, you'll have to be regularly in meetings where you may have to interact with people to get your ideas heard.

Try to find out if someone whose animation work you know and respect is coming to an event. Comic-Con, for example, lists all registered professionals expected to attend even if they're not guests of honor. As soon as you get access to the list of events (either online or at the event), pore over all the listings -- every panel, the booth signings, see if that person is appearing anywhere. If so, then go there. If not, then just try to keep an eye out for them (which I admit is tough in a sea of name tags).

However, when I make a suggestion like the above, I have to say don't get all gushy and gooey when you actually approach them. Better to slowly and carefully choose your words, even stumble over them in modest honesty, than coming off unprofessionally. Most professionals I've met, if you clearly explain you are working to be in the industry and also let them know you respect their work, seem happy to talk to you. Be brief, and offer your business card if the person would be interested; definitely don't force it.

That said, if you're brushed off for any reason, don't take it personal. It may not even be a true indication of the person as an individual; the person you approach may truly just be too busy. Respect it and move on... and pat yourself on the back for taking the first step. In either case, if you can bring up the nerve, try to meet a second person while you are there. If not, make a goal to shoot for two more contacts the next year.

The most important things to remember are not to badger people and work on building genuine relationships with these individuals. If all you do is sucking up to people hoping for work, they will see through you. Care about those you talk to, see what you can learn from them. Who knows, some may even become friends versus just professional acquaintances -- but it all begins with conscientious, courteous networking.


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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