Chris: Right. Exactly, exactly. Oh my. Well, was it awkward though, was it an awkward…
Chris: Because how do you have that kind of…I know it’s a bear, but how do you have that conversation?
Sarah: You kind of look at the script and then you look at the guy handing it to you and you kind of smile and you just wait for him to kind of say I know, but he doesn’t so you just feel awkward because you’re just wondering if it’s you. So I mean, it was definitely a valuable experience, it was my first time trying to figure out how to invoice which the graphic artist field handbook was super essential there. I remember when they asked me what my rate was and I was just like, “Uh, uh…” what do I say? And I gave them a range and it was really ridiculously low range, oh god. I didn’t know. I was just straight out of school, it was like $15-$20 an hour. I don’t know. And he was like, “Well okay, we’ll do $20.” And I was like oh my god, he gave me the higher end. Little did I know…
Sarah: So I mean, I definitely made my early freelance or just early career mistakes in that situation. But they were super nice you know, it was a really great experience for me just having something out of school. So part of the problem was after I worked for them, I would hear which I feel like this is a trap that a lot of people who might be freelancing might fall in, or just looking for jobs you hear, “Oh, we’ll call you soon,” or “We’ll have this listing soon,” or “We’ll pick you up to do this in like a month or a couple of weeks.” And then you’re waiting, and then you don’t hear anything and you’re kind of left there like wait, are they ever going to call me? And then a little more time goes by and then I didn’t hear anything and that was kind of where the cycle of what am I doing was fed into, because I was thinking oh god, they hate me, they’re not calling me for stuff. Which you know, my friends on the inside were like oh no, just right now we’re okay. It wasn’t a personal thing, but that’s where the debilitating self-doubt kind of feeds in, is why aren’t they calling me back?
Chris: I should have added an extra piece of toilet paper to the bear butt, I knew it!
Chris: I knew I should have added that twenty-third flick.
Sarah: Yeah. So you know, that was a really…it was a good learning experience time for me.
Chris: Yeah, no kidding. But this is interesting though, it’s interesting that you were dealing with all of this self-doubt and you were sort of going there into the mental spiral even after all of these validations.
Sarah: Sure. Absolutely because self-doubt’s even there when I’m working at a major studio. I don’t think it ever goes away as an artist but I feel…I definitely feel like the unemployment self-doubt, there’s something very, very upsetting about that.
Chris: When you’re not going into the gig and doing the meetings, and that kind of thing and things just stop.
Sarah: Right, I mean when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing the next day, then you stay in bed all day and then watch Netflix, that’s where I feel like the self-doubt as an artist really can eat away at you almost as a person. And that’s just something that I personally, I’m prone to that kind of stuff. Some people are more prone to feeling depressed and I happened to be one of those people, so I can get really into my head space, really over think things and over-analyze and you know…getting out of that, I definitely didn’t do on my own and that’s something that’s really important, is having the network of friends whether they’re online or in person, or family of whoever…
Chris: Circle of trust.
Sarah: Absolutely…who not only is building you up, but also being truthful with you about where you are, what you need to do because thank God, I had Shane and my friends because they were there to tell me, “Sarah, your work’s good but maybe you’re not getting the job because x, y, z,” rather than just blindly saying, “Oh, you’re so wonderful, I don’t know why they’re not hiring you.” It was more like, “Hey, maybe you should maybe take out some of the editorial stuff if you’re trying to get a job at a studio, like it was constructive which finding the people that do that for you is really, really important and it helped me and it didn’t happen…they were these things and I didn’t always take their advice right away. But hearing those things from them, it starts to build you back up. Some people can do this kind of soul searching on their own, I can’t and I’m forever grateful to the people who have been through those dark times for me because I wouldn’t be here today without them.
Chris: So how did the dark times finally come to an end?
Sarah: Well, long story short, Reel FX knew of me and liked my work and they were like, “Oh we want to hire you for Freebirds.” This was back when it was called Turkeys, this was a long time ago, and that just didn’t pan out because the budget wasn’t there, there’s a director change. You can kind of look on the internet and read about it. They were looking out for me but if the budget isn’t there, they can’t hire you. Luckily, I had a relationship with them just by, I would come in for lunch or the occasional freelancer, whatever, and they finally called me one day, “We have a PA position, it’s not art but we’re looking for a PA that needs to start right away and we’d like to interview you.” This was literally, I had filled out the application online for my local Apple store because I was like this was it, I just need to work retail. It was the same week that I was filling that out, and it was like you know what, I’m just going to do this interview and hopefully get the job, and I did. The PA job for me was my entry and it was also one of the biggest learning experiences for me because one thing about Reel FX being a smaller studio, I was brought in to work on the Ice Age Christmas special which is like a 22-min show.
Chris: Oh yeah!
Sarah: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: I remember that.
Sarah: A Mammoth Christmas – that aired on Fox later that year at Fox TV. Yeah, so that was my first gig and because Reel FX was working on a much smaller scale than the feature, I had the unique opportunity to be a general PA. So I wasn’t just a PA for one department, I was PA through the entire pipeline. So I was really exposed to a lot of the studio happenings and the 3D side, which as we talked about at Ringling, I was not exposed to. So I really got to understand Maya, not from like a ‘I can do it myself’ standpoint, but a what do they need from me as an artist standpoint, like the model numbers and the texture artists and everything. So that time being around other talented knowledgeable people in different areas, absolutely huge. So you know, not everyone’s path in animation is the same but I think being a PA is one of the most humbling, wonderful experiences you can do even when you’re out in the rain getting a hot dog or a higher up, or stacking chairs, or connecting phone calls. That kind of experience, if you think about it, most people in the workplace have gone through something like that. They don’t end up as a head honcho or a supervisor overnight, they you know, started from the ground up. You have to start somewhere, so for me that was a really great experience and luckily I was pretty good at it because I just happened to catch on pretty quickly I suppose and they ended up promoting me to an assistant coordinator towards the back end and then I was brought back as a full time coordinator for the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride which is at Universal Orlando in Hollywood. That was done at Reel FX, and I started coordinating the asset departments for them on that project which you know, at the time, Freebirds was in full production. A bunch of my friends were in the art department working on that and because Freebirds wasn’t ready to hit the CG pipeline and Reel FX was working on the Despicable Me ride before production on Freebirds was supposed to begin. So I worked even more closely with the asset department, which again as a VisDev artist now, that’s huge because I got to hear all the grievances from the modelers and the texture artists about what they wished they had in the concept art and I was just kind of mentally taking notes like oh you don’t like this, or you like that, or whatever. And that was really important to me too, because I also made a lot of really close friends who were rooting for me, who weren’t just artists, they were supervisors. Because when you’re a coordinator, you’re working directly with supervisors. It’s a really great way to network with people that have a lot more influence than just the average artist. Networking with people outside of your kind of social circle or age demographic is really big because they’re the people that kind of help with hiring decisions.
Chris: Okay, so today’s question comes from Shane. Not the same Shane, a different Shane.
Sarah: So many Shanes! What are we going to do?
Chris: It’s raining Shanes. Shane’s question pertains to concept art and portfolio submissions and he says, “I know there has been a huge blur between concept art and promotional illustration in recent years. But when putting together a portfolio for concept work, is it better to have more polished promo pieces or more loose design sketches. I guess I could throw in model sheets too. I assume it’s best to cover all bases if possible but I thought I’d ask if there was anything specific that may showcase appealing skills/work more so than others.”
Sarah: If you’re trying to get like book cover work, model sheets aren’t going to go very far.
Sarah: Um, they’re going to be really confused. So I would say, it’s just tailoring your portfolio to the job that you’re applying for or organizing your site in a way that is separated into different sections so they can easily navigate what they’re looking for. They being a perspective employer. So for instance on my website, I have an illustration section and a visual development section because my agent actually requested this because I actually use my website more for applying for book jobs, so I needed to make sure my site had all of the pieces that apply to book cover work. Front and center, in a section that was separated from my character modeling and prop stuff. The job you’re applying for, what they employer is looking for a lot of times this is very articulated in the website. It will say straight up what they want, if they say they want figure drawing, then have a section on your site which I have on mine called ‘sketch book,’ and within that I kind of dump weird different explorations of drawings or I think I have a few watercolor looking pieces which has actually gotten me work where the publisher has seen it and were like, “What’s this style? This applies to what I’m looking for.” If you’re not very strong at doing model sheets, I wouldn’t include them because that’s something you need to work on. And what’s going to happen is, an employer is going to look through your work and they’re going to see these weaker things and they’re going to be like, “This person isn’t as reliable as I thought,” even if it had nothing to do with what you were applying for, they’re going to see it and start questioning your ability. That’s where it gets problematic, so having a person kind of check you I think is helpful whether that’s on the forums or at Oatley Academy, or a friend or whomever. For me, it’s definitely helpful to have someone there to be honest with my work and say, “Ah, I wouldn’t really put that up,” or “Ah, maybe you should do this before you put it up,” or “Ah, I wouldn’t include it.” So having that kind of objective third party to give you feedback before you apply I think is really important.