How I Kick-started My Animation Career

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kickstarting animation career

By Gareth Gough

Hi my name is Gareth Gough and i’m a 2D Animator/producer working at BritishMuslim TV. I create animated children’s television content. It is possible to devour two packets of Maryland cookies using only one brew to dunk them in! If you don’t believe me I can show you!

A personal story

A new direction

At 27 I was working as a Sous Chef. I’d been chefing for about 4 years by this point, and I was pretty good. I’d worked my way up from kitchen assistant to sous chef, and it had taken me all over the UK and abroad, but I couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. I knew I needed a change of direction. There was an open road of opportunity in front of me and I just had to make the leap and grasp a new and exciting path.

I didn’t know it at that moment but a journey into animation was already underway. My natural talents and interests had always been in drawing, photography, stories and film. Ever since I was a nipper I could obsessively spend hours in my own world sketching out the details of a portrait or creating characters from the depths of my imagination.

For a while I had been thinking about the idea of going to University. In 2001, at the age of 18 when all of my fellow sixth formers had hurried off to Uni, I decided to move away to the coast and spend my days surfing and skateboarding. I wasn’t ready to commit to University. I knew I wanted to go one day but at that moment I wanted to surf and skate from sunset to sundown. I have always been a free spirit and wasn’t going to jump into higher education if it didn’t feel right in my gut.

Building a foundation

Fast forward 9 years and I realise I am ready. Looking through Prospectuses it became very clear that animation was the perfect fit for me. It encompassed all of my talents and interests. So I accepted a position at the Northern Film School in Leeds, on a traditional animation course. Two weeks into it I was hooked! Hooked is an understatement; it’s like I had taken the blue pill in the Matrix and there was no turning back. I consumed every short animated film I could. (Personal favourites that have stuck with me since are Dad’s Dead by Chris Shepherd, The Renter by Jason Carpenter and Ivan Maximov’s Wind Along the Coast. Of course the list goes on and on!)

After three years working solidly 12-14 hours a day, 5 days a week on my hand drawn animated shorts, whilst working evenings and weekends as a sous chef to pay the bills, I finished with a 2:1. To me, the ‘2:1’ didn’t actually mean all that much. The experience and skills that I had developed over this time were, and still are, what I hold closest to me. What I learnt is that dedication to the art form of animation was what got me through Uni, and what eventually would see me into the industry.

I moved to Manchester, hoping for an opportunity to get my foot in the door at an animation studio. To keep afloat I started chefing full time again, which felt like a step backwards, but it needed to be done. All the while I was honing my craft in my spare time. I had said to myself if it takes ten years I will remain dedicated to pursuing my dream of becoming an employed animator. I had even set myself the goal that at 35 I would be an Art Director in animation, which is still today my ultimate ambition. A year and a half later and every CV I had sent off was fruitless. Even though I am very much a ‘half cup full’ sort of person, I was finding it tough to remain positive about the idea of landing my dream job.

Job Vacancy: 2D Animator apply here…

Until one day, very out of the blue, one of my old lecturers had been contacted by a new Television Company called BritishMuslim TV and they were looking for an animator. My lecturer had suggested me for the position, and I was asked to come in for an interview. My first interview for a job in animation! I was over the moon, and petrified at the same time. I thought is this my one and only shot? I pulled myself together and said “I will land this job.” After 2 sets of interviews, I was offered the position!

The position was a 2D animator role. I was required to create animated content for the children’s show on the channel. When I say create, I mean the whole shebang! Produce TV shows, create title sequences for live action shows, social media…the lot! Pretty daunting as I had concentrated all of my efforts on traditional hand drawn animation using pencil, paper and a light box, and this role would be computer based animation. My experience with Flash was pretty limited as I really didn’t like vector style animation, and at the time I wasn’t aware of programmes such as Toon Boom, CelAction or TV Paint. So I thought about the best route to go down to create this sort of content and turn it around fast enough by myself. One more dimension of the job was to learn about a religion I knew pretty much zero about and understand all the cultural aspects that came along with that also.

I had to learn fast! I had two weeks before I started the job. I taught myself Flash, and researched the hell out of how to produce children’s television content. Two years later and I have progressed to Lead Animator/Animation Producer, with two series of my own animated children’s series under my belt. I am currently working on a new children’s series, and I am in the throws of pre producing a 4 part animated comedy pilot to be released in Sept 2017. I’ve also schooled myself in regards to Islam. I even now know a little Arabic which is an added bonus!

It’s been an interesting, and at times tough journey so far. I can’t imagine it’s easy for anyone and to be fair, I had a pretty lucky break. The one thing that has stood me in good stead though is a good understanding of traditional animation skills. If you can get the principles of animation nailed (walk cycles aside -as I think everyone struggles with those!) then you have a foundation that will get you there. Anyone can learn a piece of animation software, but it takes time to learn your craft, every day is a school day.

So, if I was to give anyone that wanted to kick-start an animation career a piece of advice, it would be to learn your craft and study it every day. Live it!