Some animators find their home-away-from home in a large studio like Pixar or Disney; others, like Ben Burrell, enjoy the creative freedom that comes from freelancing and partnering up with small teams.
Ben currently runs a small team of animators and CG specialists, at a boutique agency of his own creation: Burrell FX.
Since entering the industry 10 years ago Ben has always preferred the exclusivity of working on close-knit teams, or working at boutique studios like where he learned many tricks of the trade, his Alma mater, Out of Our Minds Animation Studio . “We are a very small boutique” says Ben. But “this allows us to be flexible and selective of the projects we take.”
We got the chance to pick Ben's brain about what it is like being a freelance animator, small-studio animator and boutique studio chief:
For any of our readers not familiar with you could you explain your studio's vision and what separates you from the (vast) competition?
We are a very small boutique. This allows us to be flexible and selective of the projects we take.
As a creative professional how have you handled the business-side to running an animation studio?
I don't know many creative minded people who enjoy contract negotiations, taxes, writing-work estimates or the like. But I've had to learn these things as an essential element of the work. In fact, for any job, its the business arrangement that comes first. Then you get to be creative.
How did you initially get your foot into the door of the animation
I did a lot of freelance CG work before taking a job as an animator at a small studio called - Out of Minds Animation Studio. My wife was friends with one of the animators. Otherwise I probably never would've heard of them.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I went to live-action film school and taught myself how to animate on the side - both 2D and 3D. I surprised my professor one day showing up with my hand-drawn animated short film that I'd worked on in my house for six months.
I enjoyed the collaboration of a school environment. But I also enjoyed the freedom of exploring things on my own.
Who does the hiring for your company?
Right now we work primarily with freelancers.
Has the trend of overseas animation outsourcing affected your firm, if yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
We actually work with a lot of overseas freelancers. Its surprising how much talent there is spread out across the globe.
Do you hire freelancers? If yes, what would make you throw work their way?
I look for people who shine in one area. Jobs that are large enough to require more people, have to be broken up into tasks. That means I need to find someone who is a great modeler/z-brush artist. Then I need to hand that over to someone else to texture. Then to another to RIG, and another to animate.
For my needs, I can't use someone who is OK at lots and lots of things but not stellar at one particular thing.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which
one would you recommend to beginners?
Maya because its ubiquitous, Lightwave because its streamlined and easier to learn. Z-brush because its just damned incredible.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators looking to break into the industry?
Try a variety of specialties. You never know what you'll be best at.
Check out more interviews at The Animation Career Review Interview Series.