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The creative craniums over at CRASH+SUES animation studio have a motto, “one-stop, made to order awesomeness.” Their self-proclaimed 'awesomeness' isn't as cavalier as it sounds though, the team believes that only through relentless passion (and an incredible amount of studio hours) can they turnout the brilliant results that the studio has become known for.
We recently got an opportunity to pick the brain of Sean Hall, CRASH+SUES's Animation Director for the past 5 years--who offered up some fantastic advice for our aspiring animator readers.
As a little background: Sean fell into animation about the same way a Plinko puck on The Price Is Right falls into a category—by bumbling around until he found the right fit. Despite loving the animation process since childhood, Sean pursued a career he thought would have more of a future, film-making. However, after not enjoying the big-picture production cycles in film-making as he originally intended Sean gravitated back towards animation—where he has since made a very successful career, and name, for himself.
Sean graciously offered some solid advice for those looking to break into the industry:
What is your firm's focus within animation and what led your firm to have such a focus?
Oddly enough, we don't have a focus as a company as far as animation is concerned. We are a smaller staff, but we have people here that do CG, traditional 2D, and stop motion animation. We are also a full service post production house for broadcast commercial work. So we do editorial, motion graphics, color, visual FX and finishing as well. I specialize in 2D traditional animation.
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is _________.
Creativity and Ideas. I think the technical boundaries of animation are falling away, and it's easier to produce great looking animation in all forms. There is still skill needed of course, but in the end, ideas are king. The lines between different types of animation are blurring so I don't think any one technique will ever win out. It'll be more about the end result, than what you did to achieve it.
What are the best and worst aspects about working in the animation field?
Time restraints are the worst since the perception seems to be, in the commercial world at least, that computers make everything quick and easy to do. That may be more and more true, but some parts of animation will always take time. It's hard to have a great concept, and not enough time to get it to the level that you'd like. There are always compromises.
The best part is that you get to make something from nothing. You can take something that only exists in your head, and given time, make something totally new, and bring it to life. It can be very satisfying.
Among your firm's achievements, which one(s) are you the most proud of?
I'm proud of the variety of work that we do. But as far as something I personally that I am proud of, that would be our ongoing animation campaign for HealthPartners. They allow for a lot of creative freedom, they're visually fun, and they've been a blast to work on.
What skills/qualities does your firm seek out when hiring new employees?
We look for someone with talent of course, but more importantly we want someone who can work well in a group. Someone who can take direction, but also someone who can be self directed. Someone who can manage a project and work within a deadline. It takes a lot of dedication and passion to work in this business so that has to be there as well. Software skills can be taught, but a lot of those skills can't.
What particular schools, if any, does your firm recruit new hires from? If none, where do you recruit new hires?
We recruit from schools locally. MCAD, Ai of Minnesota for the most part. We have an internship program, and that's usually where we find our talent. We again don't have a large staff, so we like to find people who will come on as freelancers for our bigger projects. Of course though we welcome talent from anywhere.
What advice would you give to aspiring animators?
Network, both online and in person. Do your own work and get it out there. Animation has the benefit that you can make your own projects to sell yourself with. Don't be afraid to send your reel around. You might not get a response right away, but that doesn't mean they didn't like your stuff. Most places are busy and don't have someone dedicated to hiring, so things can get lost in the shuffle. So try again in a month if you don't hear anything. Persistence and who you know, are the things that are going to get you in the door. Have fun and don't lose sight of your passion.
What were your most challenging projects, and why?
It would be hard to pick just one project, but the hardest ones tend to be ones that mix live action, animation, and FX work. There are a lot of technical considerations involved in integrating those elements, and it can be challenging. But that can also make them the most fun. I love that each project is different, and requires new problems to solve. It makes it tough, but it also makes interesting.
What kind of education did it take to get you where you are today?
I went to LMU in Los Angeles as a film student, and eventually changed to animation. I finished my degree at Ai of Minnesota. Having a film background helped a lot in being able to learn project management and to think about projects visually. I learned a lot about editing, and I think having an eye for that is important. I took a lot of art and drawing classes. My focus was traditional hand drawn animation, but I also learned 3D and worked in that quite a bit. I'd say a well rounded education is better than something overly focused. Learn to be a whole person.
What animation software packages does your firm prefer to use? Which one would you recommend to beginners?
The Adobe Suite, most importantly After Effects. Also Photoshop and Illustrator. For 3D we use Maya, and to some extent Cinema 4D. For stop motion we use a program called Dragon Stop Motion. I'd say start with Photoshop and After Effects. Having those skills will be huge.
Could you share with us your best story about working in the animation industry.
It's not much of a story, but early on I was tasked with heading up my first project. It was hard to have the pressure of a project like that riding on your shoulders, but when you pull it off and everyone's happy, it's a fantastic feeling. It made me feel like I was finally a professional animator. All that doodling on book covers and notebooks in school actually amounted to something.
Has the trend of outsourcing animation overseas affected your firm, if yes, how have you dealt with it or compensated for it?
Not that I'm aware of. We've never lost a job directly to overseas competition. But I'm sure it has had some effect. The best way to compete is to do top quality work and hope that means something.
Do you think that there is an increasing or decreasing demand for animators overall? Why?
I think the economy has made it harder, but demand for content is growing. Animation will always be demanded, it just might be in a different form than you might think.
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.