“I’m an aspiring story artist, what components in your portfolio
helped you land the internship at Pixar?”
What a big question, and it’s the one I get most often! I can only speak to what Disney/Pixar look for in portfolios since I’ve only worked with those studios exclusively (and I’m guessing since you’re here they’re the studios you’re most eager to learn what their recruiters look for!)
*Before I get into this it SHOULD be obvious that for a story portfolio you have to include storyboards.*
The three biggest skill qualities that these studios value in their story artists are the following: Draftsmanship, Specificity, and Point of View.
It’s no secret that Disney has high standards for its artists when it comes to the quality of draftsmanship in the work they produce. More specifically, they look for an appealing shorthand and the ability to capture gestures with minimal overwork.
Being a story artist means your day is spent problem solving something over and over, showing it to the director, them changing it, and sitting back down to do it all over and over… and over again. Your drawing skills have to be at the point where you are confident and quick in your drawings to avoid burnout from slaving too long over your panels (which no one will see anyway). I was taught during my internship that a story artist must look at their work as redundant and iterative, meaning we aren’t in story to create illustrative masterpieces but instead little moments that together create a masterpiece.
Your shorthand will improve as your draw more. Practice life drawing and scene studies regularly. Learn how you see the world, create a mental library so you’re able to execute a faster and looser drawing. Studios are not here to teach you how to draw, they’re here to help you how to draw *quicker*.
This is one that I struggled with during my internship the most. Up until I worked at Pixar I created storyboards on my own not having to work too hard to be clear in my intentions because I was the only one looking at them. Imagine my frustration when I first showed my assignment boards to them room and no one understood what they were looking at! I even was told that my pitches were more entertaining than my actual boards. Big oops.
Shorthand doesn’t mean the absence of specificity. The more specific your boards are (where are we? Who are we looking at? What are they feeling?) the more your audience will be grounded in the world you’re creating. Don’t leave your art brain at the door! Which brings us to our last point…
3. Point of View
Film in its very core requires the filmmaker to have point of view. A story artist is a director, a trickster, manipulating their audience to feel what they want them to feel.
Keep in mind who your main character is and keep your camera around them, we’re seeing the world from their point of view. But we’re also seeing things from your point of view! Directors will want you on their shows for the ideas and specialties you can bring to a project. I mainly draw inspiration from the early 90's/2000's cult classic era. I'm a lover of gothic and psychological horror, elaborate costume design and dark whimsical aesthetics. And of course my film language is drawing from my favorite movies!
“I have a portfolio and I’m actively applying to jobs
but nothing has happened yet. Now what?”
Do what you would be doing anyways with or without "the job". What kind of art would you be creating or stories would you be writing if you had "the job"? Don't wait, do it now!
On a practical note always put yourself out there and apply for the jobs you think you don't have a shot at. I applied for a story artist position at Pixar when I was fresh out of school knowing I was a beginner and I would get rejected but that's how I ended up getting the internship gig instead! You never know who's looking so it’s best to apply for everything, no matter if you think you aren’t good enough. The right job will present itself at the right time.
“How do I know when to reach out to a recruiter about a job position?”
I try and be forthcoming when I apply for a position and message the recruiter initially to introduce myself and notify them of my application. Asking for feedback after a rejected application is neither here nor there and they won’t always have time to chat, but it can show that you are eager to learn! Just use your discernment, recruiters get shot with a lot of messages and it’s best to try and be quick, tactful and respectful of the time they DO give you.
“Do I have to go to art school to break into the animation industry?”
I didn't attend an art school. There are pros and cons to not going to an art school but I'm confident that it was the best decision for me personally. My advice to budding artists is not to get stuck on feeling like you have to take the "traditional" path into the animation industry ie. 4 years at an expensive art school and straight into a full time studio job. I went to community college in Indiana after high school, decided I wanted to transfer to Indiana University and graduated 5 years later with a BA in a major I created. The concept that there is a definitive way or timeline to achieve your dreams is bogus. Take the path that's right for you!
“What should I say when a recruiter asks for my rates?”
Know your wage rights! Here’s a great list provided by the Animation Guild that has updated info for animation positions and the wages you should expect to earn for that position.
“Can you look at my work and give me feedback?”
I don’t do portfolios reviews online but you do have the opportunity for me to review your work in person when I table at conventions like LightBox!
“What tools do you use to draw digitally and traditionally?”
I draw with photoshop on a Cintiq 22HD. I use brushes that you can download on the Adobe website, mainly charcoal imitations. Click here for an in depth tour of my digital art setup.
For traditional art I like using landscape sketchbooks so I can draw board thumbnails! I get my pens and markers from Shorthand.