A couple months ago we had an Unreal Engine workshop with Waylon Brinck from Naughty Dog Games (Uncharted, The Last of Us). During the course of his lecture he made the point that the people who just do the bare minimum in the industry don’t really go anywhere. And I was thinking that that advice applies to school as well. Those who do just the bare minimum to graduate, even with straight A’s, won’t necessarily make it in the industry. If your portfolio is 100% school work, an employer will recognize that. San Diego is a very insular community. If you are a web student, for example, and you show up at an interview, chances are someone at that firm is a former Platt student. They know the Neighborhood Bike Shop site that you made in Fred’s class because they had to make it too. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t put classwork in your portfolio, but you should put other things in there too. Employers want to see that you can finish a project without a teacher standing over your shoulder.
Recent graduates have two reputations in the industry. Whether it’s true or not, you will be seen as either lazy and flakey, or as full of energy and eager to learn. You want to fit the second stereotype. They know you have no experience, they’re expecting that. The reason they hire recent grads is because you are enthusiastic learners who are full of energy. You want your portfolio to reflect that fact, and the best way to do that is by doing work outside of class. Lots and lots of work! Teach yourself new techniques and practice practice practice!
It’s up to YOU to get yourself a job. I talk to former Platt students a lot. Occasionally one will complain about how hard it is to start out in the industry (which is true). The first thing I always ask them is:
“What was the last project you worked on?”
“What are you working on now?”
“What have you learned since you graduated?”
“How old is your demo reel?”
“When was the last time you even opened Maya?”
I’ve taught Intro to 3D for more than a year and before that I was a TA for 6. I’ve seen lots of students come and go. I’ve seen students succeed in the industry and I’ve seen students who didn’t even seem to try; who just burned out and gave up before they even graduated. The main thing that all those who succeed have in common is that they all open Maya every day. They are always posting new personal characters on Facebook. They’re always emailing me asking for tips on new tools and techniques. They practice their art outside of school.
5 weeks is not enough time to teach you everything you need to know about Maya. The intro class is just the very basics. I like to say that we’re not even learning to walk in this class. We’re more like newborns who are just discovering that we have two feet and ten toes. The walking comes later in the advanced 3D classes in terms 5 and 6. But even then, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Without fail, the most common thing I hear from former students who land their first job in the industry is “School only barely taught me half of what I needed to know to do my industry job.” Now, a lot of that knowledge you won’t get until you do get the job. The studio will have to train you. But a huge portion of the knowledge you need to succeed will have to be self taught. The purpose of school is to teach you how to teach yourself. We give you the basic run down and equip you with the tools you need to grow on your own. From there it’s all up to you.
The work doesn’t stop when you get your degree, that’s just the beginning. The industry is incredibly competitive. Look at other people’s demo reels to see what I mean. Compare them to yours. And then, here’s the key, get inspired by that rather than discouraged. Instead of thinking “I’ll never be able to do that” go out and learn how to do it. Go on Digital Tutors, go on YouTube, email me, email other teachers, ask questions.
Become an autodidact, or die. Those are the only two options. Practice. Your. Art.
Mike Smith is a Platt College San Diego alumni with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media Arts with a focus on 3D Animation. He has been teaching Intro to 3D Animation at Platt College for over a year and was a Teacher’s Assistant for 6 years, before that.