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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
The Long and Winding Road
by Shannon Muir

When I first started making contact with people in animation many years ago, the sentiment I found was that persistence, luck and talent were the qualities needed for continued success in this industry. Given the radical changes that the industry's seen in such a short time, one more word seems appropriate to add to that list: adaptability. For me, the first anniversary of September 11th drove home how much I've had to be adaptable in a very short time.

When I woke up that day of the anniversary, I couldn't help but remember where I'd been a year ago. Just days before, I had turned in a resignation at my live-action facilities job at Artists Television Group to go work for what I thought would be nearly a year working as a Production Coordinator on INVADER ZIM for Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Inside my heart leapt at the idea of finally getting to work around animation again after years out of production to finish pursuing my education, though I'd never lost touch with the field. That particular morning though, I woke up sick after a restless night of sleep and knew I'd have to call in sick.

Then I turned on the television. It was 6:30 am Pacific Time. The world knows what was going on, and what was to come.

All that joy I felt, while not extinguished, was definitely muted. I would not leave Artists Television Group for another week and a half, and remained surrounded by the horror and uncertainty that the country felt. The knowledge I would go on to spend time in animation kept me going.

Little did I know that would be short-lived.

I think, after finding out INVADER ZIM's order got cut back, really was the hardest time for me. A large part of the hope that remained my security blanket of sorts during the initial tragedy, I now found ripped apart. For the next eight months, I would only get paid for three days of temporary work, plus a one-day consulting fee for what should have been a several month job on a direct-to-video, that (for complicated reasons I can't go into here) did not come to pass. Several other promising interviews with animation studios ended with not being selected, but the competition in all cases was fierce. Most of my time I spent locating people to interview or researching for this column. I made this column, and my own personal related site, my primary mission while also doing some product reviews and selling some miscellaneous articles on writing and fiction. The business became tight and tough, and I felt I owed -- and still feel I owe it to -- my readers to see both the good and bad of the way things are right now.

The reason I brought up the anniversary of 9-11 is because that day, which by all rights should have been one of tragedy, actually became the day that renewed my hope. Around 10am, the phone rang. The temporary agency that struggled to find me a few assignments offered me a four month position in the Human Resources division of a major studio for what appears to be a limited time project. Stunned at first, I accepted the position, not only because I needed the money (though that definitely was a reality after six months of scattered work), but because the challenge interested me.

I suppose you could argue that this job isn't in animation, and you'd be right. However, it's very much in entertainment and an area worth learning about for my own long-ranger personal goals of being a writer and producer. Even if I don't do Human Resources stuff firsthand, I'll be grateful to know how it all works. Not to mention it's enough money to barely live on. I get to walk around a studio atmosphere every day, and if I stand in the right place I can see all of the studio and the surrounding area from the building where I work. It's a strong reminder of what I gave up my family and my familiar small town surroundings to come down here and do. Even if it doesn't last the whole four months, I'm grateful for every day.

Over the past six months, I've seen professional animation writers and other animation personnel at San Diego Comic-Con and other opportunities. From talking to them, I know that the struggle I've had finding things isn't just a fluke; things have been tough. More opportunities are arising, but due to tighter budgets, you may have to be willing to be paid less or be a Production Assistant instead of a Coordinator to get on a show if competing against others who have more Coordinator experience than yourself. Ultimately, whether or not you are willing to take those roads is a matter of personal choice. Even if you are open to all possibilities, though, you still have to get selected above other tough competition.

As I worked on putting the final touches on this column, I received an email asking me how did I get so successful. It's scary to get asked that for some reason; I envision myself asking that of producers who have been around for ten plus years or more. Success, when you really think about it, is in the eye of the beholder. To someone who wants to become part of the business, I guess the fact I've been in and around it six years really might be remarkable. To me, I share as I go, but I have a long and winding road ahead.

That would be my message to people, especially anyone starting out. Keep those things in mind, and take opportunity in the entertainment industry where you can find it in this current economy. What knowledge you gain now may help you years down the line. At the very least, you'll hang in there to be around when opportunity comes and train in the value of patience. Don't give up if this truly is your calling.


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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