The inside track
While there are many animation courses and courses for TV and film production, there are no degree courses specifically focused on animation production currently on offer at any UK university.
Many animation courses teach students about the fundamentals, such as time management, budgeting and scheduling. Some bring in industry professionals to talk though production processes and business skills and some set project briefs for the students to give them some real world experience of pitching and working to tight deadlines. Several set group projects, where students have the opportunity to take on the producer role within the team.
National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA) at Bournemouth University
At the National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA) at Bournemouth University they invite professionals from a range of backgrounds – from fully animated features to commercials – to talk to their computer animation students about the business of costing models, contracting, IP and working with lawyers, setting up your own company and so on.
They recognise that in such a technical industry, creatives need to understand the CG pipeline and the cost implications of how long things take to make. In the future, Bournemouth University would like to run a course centred on producing for the VFX and animation industries to go some way to improve this situation.
A small percentage (around 5-10%) of animation graduates that have a good understanding of the process and good people skills go on to production roles in studios. Some animation graduates go on to set up their own studios, where by necessity they have to take on the role and this can be seen in studios such as Blue Zoo, Animade and Beakus.
When I get an email that says, “I’ve done an animation degree but I want to be a producer”, well that’s so unusual. Also his email was very engaging and the timing was right as we were just starting production and looking for a production assistant.”
Tom Beattie, Tiger Aspect, on hiring Production Assistant Omari McCarthy
National Film and Television School MA Producing
The National Film and Television School MA Producing course requires that as well as producing two live action projects, its students each must produce an MA Directing Animation student’s graduation film.
Industry professionals are brought in to tutor the students, dependent on what specialist support they require. Many animations produced at the NFTS go on to win awards including recent BAFTA winner The Bigger Picture, directed by Daisy Jacobs and produced by Chris Hees. Watch the trailer for The Bigger Picture below:
As there has been a growing awareness that there is a shortage of skilled producers in the industry there have been a few one-off courses delivered over the past few years. However these courses have been few and far between, even though there is evidently a need for production training.
Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival offers The Encounters Producers Course, which was established in 2012 and has trained more than 40 aspiring and established producers since. The training features seminars and discussions led by acclaimed producers, who shared their knowledge of financing, production and distribution. The next course is due to take place in September 2016.
(This course was supported by the Creative Skillset Skills Investment Funds and presented in partnership with Aardman Animations and the University of the West of England).
A&O Studios in Cardiff also established a Creative Producer Training Scheme course in 2014. They mostly recruited illustration students, who brought a multitude of ideas to share and develop. They hope to develop the scheme further to focus on short form animation and comics, and to train up students to produce their own projects.
The best way to get into animation production is to gain experience on the job and to learn from experienced professionals. By asking questions of the people you are working with you can learn a lot about the workings of the industry and you will find that most people are willing to share advice and help you get on.
Demonstrate to the people that hire you that you are indispensable. Show willingness and enthusiasm, and bring strong organisational skills to the mix. Volunteer to take on tasks above and beyond what is expected of you and your employer will want to keep you in the team.
Seek out apprenticeships and training opportunities to get your foot in the door. Almost half of the workforce has undertaken unpaid work experience at some point in their career (Creative Media Workforce survey), but nowadays thankfully there are more paid opportunities available. Look for opportunities through resources like Hiive, BFI Film Academy, Creative Access, Animation Base and larger organisations like the Walt Disney Company.
As the majority of production and creative roles are still rarely advertised and found through informal recruitment methods (being directly approached by an employer or former colleague, or told about it by a friend or relative) it is important to make sure you find out where the animation community is locally and attend networking events and speak with other professionals about opportunities. There are networks across the UK for animation professionals and some host regular events such as Animation Base’s Festivus in London or Show Me the Animation in Bristol.
As the industry is close knit, it is essential to go to lots of animation festivals and trade markets to meet people who might know of opportunities. Keep an eye on the studios that you would like to work with so you can be first in line when they are hiring. If you have periods of unemployment, consider what other short term or part-time work you can do, such as illustration or temping.
Make sure you stay on good terms with everyone you work with and meet, as people do tend to ask others for recommendations and you want to ensure that what is said about you is positive. First impressions are key, so be personable and professional at all times.
Some tips from the professionals
Don’t forget to make eye contact and smile. It goes a long way!”
Lucy Murphy, Creative Director and Head of Content, Azoomee
The advice that follows comes from established animation professionals at various stages in their careers – but with significant experience of animation production. Click on the titles below to read their reflections on how to get into the animation industry and to build a career as a producer:
In for the long haul
"You need to think about what type of work you want to get into from the start as animation is a long haul. Some people really like working on one TV show, producing series after series after series. If you want more variation in your career, think carefully about which direction to go in...With the production management internship programme at Disney we tend to favour production graduates who have an interest in animation over animation graduates who want a creative role, as we need people who understand processes and schedules and can work with spreadsheets.”
Beth Parker, Manager, Production (Animation), Disney Channels EMEA
Don’t be afraid to meet new people
"If you are at university take on projects that are outside of the course and don’t be afraid to meet new people within the industry... Recent graduates should definitely keep an eye out for internships, as there seems to be lots of opportunities about and internships are a great way to learn. They should also meet professionals within the industry and talk to them about their experiences.”
Hannah Elder, Production Coordinator, HIT Entertainment
Be a sponge
"Be open to do anything and everything that is asked of you. When I started at Passion I spent a day as a runner and this gave me a good insight into how all the roles connect and impact on one another... Be a sponge. Take every opportunity to learn from those around you. You never know when something you’ve heard might be useful in the future... When you’re starting out and looking for a role as a receptionist or a runner, having already had experience of working creatively and developing your production skills really demonstrates to the production company that you’ve got potential.”
Kirsty Ratcliffe, Production Assistant, Passion Pictures
Step out of your comfort zone
"Don’t be afraid to start as a production Assistant if you’re an artist. Don’t be afraid of doing a job after you graduate that’s out of your comfort zone, as long as you keep your career aspirations in check on a six-monthly basis. It can’t hurt to try something to see if it’s where you want to go and to see what opportunities might arise.”
Jamie Badminton, Creative Director, Karrot Entertainment
Make yourself indispensable
"Make yourself indispensable and then people can’t do without you. I was in the right place at the right time, but my willingness to get involved ensured that I was taken on... Try to find work placements or internships so you can see the inner workings of a studio or a crew and learn the trade. Get your foot in the door, keep your eyes and ears open and be as helpful as you can. Always have respect for the art and respect for the process.”
Allison Abbate, Producer
Put yourself out there
"Volunteer for tasks even when you don’t really know what you’re getting into. Put yourself out there.... Watch everything and talk to anyone you meet. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’ve always been delighted answering people’s questions, as you want the people you work with to have a good understanding.... When I wanted to get into development I found a good script editing course which helped me as a script editor and as a writer. You have to be prepared to fund this professional development activity yourself.”
Lucy Murphy, Creative Director and Head of Content, Azoomee
Be a self-starter
"You’re more likely to get a job in a studio if you are seen to be a self-starter. You can see the ones who are on animation courses. They might not be the best animator or designer but they’re the person who manages the team and makes things happen.”
Owen Stickler, Managing Director, A&O Studios
You can’t learn about production from a book
"You can’t learn about production by reading a book. Every production is so different. You just need common sense, good organisational skills, a questioning nature and tenacity.”
Kath Shackleton, Producer, Fettle Animation
Useful links and resources
The following links and resources may be helpful for gaining a better understanding and knowledge of the industry and the opportunities available to develop a career as an animation producer.
- BFI Film Academy
- Creative courses awarded the Tick
- Creative Producer Training Program at A & O Studios
- National Centre for Computer Animation (NCCA), Bournemouth University
- National Film and Television School (NFTS) MA Producing
Annual events every animation producer needs to know about
- Annecy International Animation Film Festival: Meetings
- Berlinale: European Film Market/Co-Production Market
- Cannes Court Metrage
- Cartoon Forum
- Cartoon Movie
- Edinburgh International Film Festival: Industry at EIFF
- International Film Festival Rotterdam: CineMart
- The Children’s Media Conference
- Animation Magazine’s Trade Show Calendar for more global events
Networks, communities, work opportunities, industry news
Information and data
Some companies producing animation
- Aardman Animations
- Animated Women UK
- Animate Projects
- Animation Alliance UK
- Animation UK
- Babycow Animation
- Collingwood & Co
- Fettle Animation
- Karrot Entertainment
- HIT Entertainment
- Lupus Films
- Mackinnon and Saunders
- Nexus Productions
- Red Kite Animation
- Tiger Aspect
- Passion Pictures
- The Walt Disney Company
- Wildseed Studios