May 3, 2013

At a Crossroads

It has been 6 months, give or take a week, since I graduated from university after completing an additional Honours year for my animation degree and I feel that I am now at sort of crossroads.

Animation is my second career, after 10 years of teaching English and History I thought it was time to do something I was really passionate about. So compared to many of my animation peers, I am old. 34 to be exact. And given that I'm 34 and after 6 months of doing the odd freebie freelance job here and there I am beginning to question the sanity of leaving the 'security' of the teaching profession to become a full time artist and animator. No I'm not giving up, I'm just having a moment of pause- the curse of being a highly organised responsible perfectionist who is struggling with the nature of this new industry.

Last time I graduated from university as a High School teacher, my career path was pretty much locked in stone. I would become....a teacher. Simple. Reassuring yet restrictive as well, to me. This time however the range of choices in the industry, finding your strength let alone your audience and niche market combined with the fear that Australia is so far away from, well everywhere of significance and that the list of studio closures continues to grow- it is enough to make even a seasoned professional stress and a complete rookie noob enter career melt down mode. Overly dramatic? Perhaps, but the past 6 months has really allowed for time to think. Literally. Days and days of thinking.

This time last year I was focused, on track and highly optimistic about my career change and my own abilities. I was at University surrounded by creativity and a community of learners. Yes there was stress, panic, chaos and did I mention stress? But there was a structure and a direction and it is the absence of this structure and the surrounding support network of peers that has really left me full of self doubt and insecurity about how to break into this industry and actually make a living from it. And no this isn't a post to gather false yet friendly platitudes about my work, it's a reflection on how I feel at the moment without an anchor. See, with teaching I knew where I was headed.

With animation I have discovered that I was really craving a studio environment that essentially existed about 30 years ago. Where an animator could get in at the ground level as an in-betweener and work their way up through the ranks of the studio. With outsourcing to cheaper labour markets such as India, China and Korea many of the entry level positions are gone. Nowadays, animators are employed for the duration of a project and rely on freelance in between. For a person who was used to a regular wage as a teacher- this idea leaves me cold with a fear that I may never achieve any sort of financial security. And yes I understand that you don't get into animation or art for the money, but I do want to earn enough to make a living.

The industry in Australia is small. Really small and highly competitive. Especially for 2D animators and concept artists- cue the insecurities. Overseas once seemed like a good idea, but I've done that move before and it's tough, plus the ass has fallen out of the industries overseas too with many studios downsizing and closing. I apply of course, but in most cases I lack experience and there seems to be a distinct lack of motivation for the industry in Australia to embrace graduates even in the form of internships- one of the areas in which the Australian industry lags behind the Americans, especially in the promotion of paid and unpaid summer internships as a valuable aspect of learning. Then there is the many many opportunities to work for free on projects for companies in exchange for experience. I am not sure how this actually values our profession, yet there seems to be a proliferation of ads offering experience instead of money for work- I would love to see this situation at work in a hospital, ''Tell you what, you fix my broken leg and I will let you put it on your CV- it will look good for you.'' I have also been guilty of this undervaluing of our work- for family and friends only- but still it is a tough lesson to learn and having the confidence to place a monetary value on your work and skills is also something that can be a struggle.

So what does all this mean? Well it means that on good days I feel like I am working towards a goal and am promoting myself as an animator and artist with promise and confidence. On the off days I feel like an isolated artist who is tinkering around the edges of this industry lacking the metaphorical balls to jump right in and do.....animation stuff. At the moment, the plan is to continue working on my folio with the aim to develop my own project should a commercial opportunity not become available. A 'daytime' job outside of the industry is also a must at this early stage of my career- my biggest fear is that I will begin to doubt myself and have to fall back on teaching. It is not that teaching is a bad profession, but for me it represents the past and I really want to move into the future with a sole focus on my passion for art and animation. I want to make this happen and my biggest regret is that I didn't apply to study animation when I sat in year 12 in 1996 and instead let a guidance counsellor convince me that I needed a 'real' job like teaching first.

I'm not ready to give up just yet.

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