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Throughout our Interview Series we have searched for animation professionals who can translate their industry experience into tangible advice for our aspiring animator readers—which is exactly what we got with Matt Winters of Austin Visuals.
Since 2007 Matt has successfully led Austin Visuals (yep, you guessed it, and Austin, Texas based production house) by sourcing some of the top animation talent in Texas and by thriving despite overseas outsourcing by providing value-added services.
When we approached Matt and Austin Visuals to take part in our series, he volunteered without hesitation. The resulting interview gives our readers extremely tangible advice on how to properly apply for freelancing work, how to handle the business-side of the animation industry and the importance of networking:
For any of our readers not familiar with you could you explain your studio's vision and what separates you from the (vast) competition?
At Austin Visuals, our Studio’s vision is to create high quality 3D Animation and Graphics that will impact the lives of our community, employees, and clients. We hold ourselves to a high level of integrity and a commitment to delivering quality products to meet our customer’s needs, while maintaining a “Green” attitude towards the environment. We live and breathe art and technology, and as such, provide an exceptional experience for our customers, associates, and community.
As a creative professional how have you handled the business-side to running an animation studio?
It starts with building a hard-working team that is all about creative problem-solving in order to make animation come alive. I lead by example and surround myself with specialists and experts that know how to get our jobs done right. The guess work should be taken out of each step of the process in a production as much as possible. Giving more than you has become common place around our studio. I strive to stay open to new ideas and inspire others to grow in their personal and professional life because this means that the company will grow as fast as we do.
How did you initially get your foot into the door of the animation industry? (aka what was your first job and how did you get it?)
My first job, I was a 3D Visualization Artist for the NASA Develop Program in Savannah, Georgia. In school I saw a flyer mentioning that there was a NASA internship available to any local community engineering student. I applied in person along with numerous other applicants who may have been more qualified for the position, but I knew I had what it took to make it on to the NASA internship. I was not an engineering student, but I saw that part of their requirement for the Internship was to produce an Animation. When I arrived in front of the review panel, I told them “You should not hire an engineering student to do an Animator’s job.” “You should hire an Animator instead, and an exceptional one at that, which I am.” Over 100 applicants applied that day and NASA was going to choose four to build their team. I was one of the four they chose. I attribute resourcefulness and creativity in seeing opportunities. Creating opportunities in spaces where it seems impossible to most people.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. I also have a background in Computer Science from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. I learned plenty from my colleagues at school, YouTube University, and a healthy dose of Googling and Wiki-ing things. I would always seek out the Masters in my field and learn from them whenever possible. When they were not around I would learn from online resources such as DigitalTutors and The Gnomon Workshop.
Who does the hiring for your company?
I created my own hiring process. This is one of the most important things, I believe. A great company is created by great people. The entire company participates in the hiring process at certain points, because I believe that the addition of each new associate should be a process everyone in the company should be able to contribute to. After all, it is their company too.
What skills/qualities does your firm generally seek out when hiring new employees and what would make one applicant more attractive than another to your company?
We seek highly motivated individuals with an exceptional level of integrity. We also look for strong leadership qualities and responsibility. They must show a passion for the arts and be technology savvy on the software used to create the media we produce.
Has the trend of overseas animation outsourcing affected your firm, if yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
We have not endeavored in overseas animation. We have compensated for the overseas trend by building a company from the ground-up that is highly adept in an ever-changing economic climate. We focus on balancing automation with fun and self-expressed creativity.
If you were going to hire a new employee/intern what qualities would you look for in a person and portfolio and where would you look?
We look for highly motivated individuals with a passion for animation. We search for candidates with strong animation backgrounds and a strong presentation by their demo reel. We look for potential candidates using Craigslist, local universities, and job board posts.
Do you hire freelancers? If yes, what would make you throw work their way?
Yes, we hire freelancers. I would throw away their application though if in the first email communication they fail to include their contact information, if their website is difficult to navigate, or if they have to include an apology for the work they want me to view.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
We prefer to use the Adobe Master Suite Package, and Autodesk. These packages are not required but strong knowledge of Maya, Photoshop, After Effects, and 3DS Max are required.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators looking to break into the industry?
My advice for aspiring animators is to never stop practicing and honing their skills. However, it is only half about who and what you know. The other half is who you are.
Check out more interviews at The Animation Career Review Interview Series.