Getting the J-O-B Part 4: Contacts in the Industry

This is my forth post in the series “Getting the J-O-B”. I have addressed Training here and Adrien has given his perspective for the live-action industry here. Our Building a Storyboard Portfolio posts are here and here. And Professionalism here and here.

Now it’s on to making and keeping Contacts in the Industry.


Training is the first important key to working in the animation industry for two reasons.

First, as I’ve mentioned before, you need to know animation to work in animation. And second, school is invaluable for making your first contacts in the industry. This is where it starts. It can be a lot tougher for an ‘outsider’ to break in if they don’t know anybody. I will never say “impossible”, but I will say “harder”.

Your instructors and fellow students can help you get that first job. And jobs in the future you don’t even know about yet! That’s why I tell you in the professionalism post to treat school like a job. It’s in school where you develop your work ethic and where others can take notice of it. Don’t underestimate that.

My very first job in the industry came from a recommendation from an instructor. Word was out within the community that a certain studio was staffing up on storyboard artists. These jobs aren’t always advertised in the traditional way. They can start by getting the word out among peers and colleagues.

I had gained the respect of this instructor (and built a friendship) while in school, so he didn’t hesitate to pass my name on to that studio. Of course landing that job was ultimately up to me. I still needed a strong portfolio and do a storyboard test for them (which I’ll talk about in a future post). I did…and I got the job.

So I was working at that studio.

A few months later they needed more artists. Guess who they came to first?


They wanted to know if we knew anyone to recommend and give a storyboard test to.

Yes. Yes, we did.

So I helped a few ex-classmates get their first job. See how that works?

I may never have heard about that job at all.

If my instructor didn’t think I was qualified (or didn’t just plain like me), he wouldn’t have given them my name. I know because I did the same thing when I was an instructor. I’ve given my opinion to others on who were the most talented students with the best work habits.

And I’ve encouraged studios to give certain students a shot just because I liked them. They may not have been the most talented but they worked hard and deserved a shot. Without someone vouching for them, they may have had a harder time breaking in. Those people are still working.

Develop a good work ethic early and that reputation will follow you. Reputation is everything in this business. Protect it!

Social Contacts Are Important Too.

Back in my first year of working, the people from our studio and another studio down the block used to gather at a bar on Friday nights. Nothing like a place full of animation-types to run up a beer tab! That’s how I started to meet people at that other studio…not from just dropping off my resume (which I had done).

They now have a face to your name, a feel for your personality (remember how no one wants to work with a jerk?) and they remember you better.

After my first job ended, it was someone from that social circle that told me about a studio in Ottawa that was looking for freelance storyboard artists. He had heard it from a friend of his (who I didn’t know at the time…but guess who it turned out to be? Adrien). I faxed the studio my work and got that job.

And so on and so on.

I’ve had a director from one studio recommend me to another director in a different city. I probably wouldn’t have made that contact otherwise. I wouldn’t have known they were looking for a storyboard artist because, again, those jobs aren’t advertised very much (if at all).

Your contacts grow from there.

You start to meet people who have worked at other studios. People are switching around all the time in this industry. When they hear of something coming up, they may tell you. I’ve had calls from people who say so-and-so recommended me to them…and I may not have talked to my contact person for quite some time.

If I hear of something coming up and I know of someone who would fit the bill…I recommend them. It just goes around and around. This industry can be a bit ‘incestuous’, so to speak. 😉

Join LinkedIn too. It’s a professional social network that’s really growing in many industries. Animation happens to be one of them. Because of the ‘people move around’ nature this industry has, people are using LinkedIn to keep track of their contacts. You can only ‘link’ with people you know or through mutual contacts. That’s what keeps it professional. Don’t abuse it.

I would say keep things like FaceBook (no, I’m not on it) a fun thing and use LinkedIn to be taken seriously in your profession. Don’t mix ’em. Just my personal opinion.

So what if you have no contacts at the moment?

Still send out those resumes and portfolios. And try to get some contacts. Ask everyone you know if they know anyone in the industry. You might be surprised.

Take a chance. Write a letter. Email someone who has a blog or website and offers their contact info. Can’t hurt. No one’s probably going to offer you a job, but you’re starting a connection. You might get some advice. They may know someone you can talk to in your city…and so on and so on.

But don’t try to scrounge the email address or phone number of the head of a studio. Trying to contact them directly without knowing someone who knows them…could be a bad move. Use your head.

But don’t just do this:

  • If you don’t know anyone in the industry, don’t just plop your work up on a website or blog and think people are going to come to you. You may have a long wait. Having your own website is great, just don’t make it your only source of job searching.
  • Don’t just search job websites. Some of those ads can be outdated and maybe not much will happen. Do research the actual websites of the studios and see if they have their own job announcements. Find the proper way to submit materials to them and do it that way.
  • Don’t answer ‘work-for-free-with-the-chance-of-future-work’ ads on Craigslist or wherever. It’ll be a waste of your time, it won’t create contacts in the industry and it will make you bitter. (More on that in a future post.)

So what do you come away with?

Relationships are key in this business…period. Make some.

Training can benefit in multiple ways.

Help others and others may help you.

Don’t be an ass. 🙂

The next post will be from Adrien with his take on contacts in the live-action film industry. Subscribe to the RSS feed or by email if you don’t want to miss it!

Here are the other posts in this series:
Getting the J-O-B Part 1: Five Key Things You Need to Storyboard Professionally
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Training
Getting the J-O-B Part 2: Building a Storyboard Portfolio
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Portfolios
Getting the J-O-B Part 3: Professionalism in Animation…or Anywhere
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Professionalism
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on Contacts in the Industry-Part 2: Unions and Film Commissions
Getting the J-O-B Part 5: The Right Attitude
The Live-Action Go-to-Guy’s P.O.V. on the Right Attitude

7 thoughts on “Getting the J-O-B Part 4: Contacts in the Industry

  1. Debi

    Why am I feeling a big rant brewing from you about work-for-free jobs? 😉

    Great info, as always. And as someone who skipped the art school, I can say trying to find contacts on your own is a very tough path.

  2. KJL Post author

    Yes, a post is brewing about working for free. Not too much of a rant because I haven’t really been burned myself. It’s just what I see out there and stories I have heard from others.

    Just some friendly advice with a side order of rant. 😉

    Thanks for your non-school perspective. How have you made your contacts? Adrien will have a different take on things too. It’ll be up tomorrow.

  3. Debi

    Can we get a side order of fries too?

    I’ve made contacts a number of ways. I’ve joined the local Women in Film group. I send out blind inquire letters to any production company I find that I’m intrested in, and do post card mailings. I’m not sure how well it’s working, but I’ve put several ads in Filmmaker magazine. Also, I’ve made contacts from working free/low paying gigs. I’ve yet to be burned (knocks on wood, crosses fingers), but it also hasn’t lead to any big job yet.

    There are some big warning signs in how ads are worded as what to stay away from. I can expand on that if you want on your, friendly advice.

  4. Todd Jacobsen

    All great points, Karen. You’re a smart one.

    I was thinking about saying something regarding personal favors outside of work–virtually every single one of my very best contacts has provided one in return for one, and I the same–but it probably goes without saying that it can come back and bite you in the ass. (Yes, it’s happened a couple of times.)

    However, if a situation warrants, my close colleagues and I don’t hesitate doing something “non-professional” for co-workers or industry habitues like helping them paint murals for their kids’ schools, etc. We find this kind of stuff goes a long way in establishing relationships, especially in a city like L.A. that can be kind of cold and cruel…and we may not get to the top of the heap like some others, but we do sleep well.

    And Debi: I knocked on doors, too. I didn’t know anyone where I went to school that wanted to get into animation. Keep at it, and make your contacts where you can.

  5. KJL Post author

    Debi – all great things you’re doing to promote yourself. Good on ya for getting ‘out there’. For film it can be a slightly different battle. I will welcome your comments when I finally get around to the ‘free’ post. Save ’em up!

    Todd – Welcome back. 🙂 Over time I guess you learn who to help out and when they may just be taking advantage. That’s some great advice about using your talents to really help those that can appreciate it (that’s key and the Karma is wonderful). As opposed to someone just using you that doesn’t put any value on your talent. Thanks for your contribution!

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