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