How To Get Started In Design and Animation

December 17, 2021

One of the most asked questions I get is from young artists interested in starting a career in design or animation. After answering that question many times, I decided to put this little article together going through the steps it takes to make it a career.

Before you read on though, understand this. Being a designer is not easy. It is very fun, but like anything else, it requires a lot of hard work, late nights, and practice to become a professional. It takes discipline. If that doesn’t scare you off, proceed to Step 1.

Step 1: Career or Hobby?

The first step is deciding if you want to design as a hobby or as a profession. 99% of the industry is client-based, meaning that you’re not often creating for yourself, you’re creating for a brand. So, before deciding this is a path you’d like to go down, remember that.

Step 2: Learn the tools

They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. To start down that journey, you need to first learn the tools that you’ll be using. Here’s a list of some software that is good to start learning. For best results, start at the top and work your way down the list (skip the ones that don’t interest you).

  • Adobe Photoshop – Design software
  • Adobe Illustrator – Illustration software
  • Adobe Premiere – Video editing software
  • Adobe After Effects – Animation software
  • Adobe Animate – Hand drawn and web animation
  • Draggonframe – Stop-motion animation
  • Cinema 4D – 3D Animation software

I’m often asked about college and if it’s necessary. The truth is, it may not be necessary, but it certainly helps. Being given assignments with accountability in an environment of like minds can be EXTREMELY beneficial. It was for me.

There are many options available including art schools, community colleges, and online programs. Review your options and see what works best for you. If you’re afraid of costs, understand that if there wasn’t a risk involved, everyone would do this. Consider the return on investment over the course of a career. $150,000 is a lot of money for college, but if it means you can do something you love EVERY DAY, that’s a great investment.

During this time, also keep searching for and building a library of your favorite work. Using Pinterest or saving to folders is a great idea here. It’s important to remember that you become what you consume. 

Step 3: Build a Portfolio

Once you start learning the tools, MAKE SOMETHING EVERY DAY! If that feels like too much work, design may be a better hobby than a career for you. Whether that’s school assignments or just some little passion projects for you, keep making stuff and you’ll be able to quickly build a portfolio.

A portfolio should consist of 10-20 pieces of work in a specialized area you wish to work in. SPECIALIZED is key there. Search for job titles or descriptions you’d like to have and ONLY put work in your portfolio that proves you can do THAT job. The less variety, the more specialized and focused you are perceived by others. So if you want to be an animator, your photography or logo design is more distracting than anything else.

I get it, It can be hard to specialize this early on. Remember though, you’re not committing your life to this one specialty, just for right now. You can quickly decide to change your specialty later on by changing your portfolio.

As you build your portfolio, replace the weakest piece with your newest work. You’re only as good as your worst portfolio piece.

Step 4: Become Part of a Community

Whether it’s local in-person or online, become part of a community and contribute to it by volunteering or asking questions of them often. I’m pretty convinced that community is one of the most important things to have in life for your own health. Especially one that is going through the same struggles and might be able to offer a helping hand.

Step 5: Networking

Reach out to people working in places you’d like to work at. Ask them if they’d be able to critique your portfolio, ask them out to lunch or coffee, ask them ANYTHING. The important part is making connections at the places you’d like to be.

Ask these people if you can follow them around for a day, ask them if you can shadow for a week, ask them to be an unpaid intern so you can learn directly from them. Every connection you make increases your opportunities exponentially.

Step 6: Apply For Open Positions

Using your portfolio, start applying for open job listings. The goal shouldn’t be to send to as many as possible but to apply for the ones where you think you’d be perfect. Ideally, the companies where you have some kind of connection.

Step 7: Repeat Steps 2 – 6

Up to this point, you may have spent 3 to 6 years of your life. Honestly, it’s really easy to give up if you don’t land a job quickly. You MUST be patient. If this is something you truly want to do, you should keep learning, building your portfolio, networking, and applying for open positions. It’s safe to assume that if you’re not getting opportunities, it’s because your portfolio isn’t strong enough yet. YET is the key work there.

Step 8: Keep On Growing

When artists get their first job, it’s easy to get comfortable and slow down. It’s ok if that happens to you too, but remember that this industry is always changing. I’m personally 13 years into my career and I still go over to YouTube on occasion to learn something new about the software I’ve known for a good portion of my life. It’s also important to stay inspired. Keep looking for the work being done that you really resonate with, it will help you create more of the kind of work you really enjoy.

If you’d like to dive deeper into your specific scenario, you can schedule a one-on-one conversation/coaching call with me. You can sign up for a 1-hour call at this link and I’ll be able to give you that personalized advice you’re looking for. Thank you and good luck!

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