Skip main navigation


How did animation directors get started? Watch four directors talk about how they began their careers.
I first got started in animation completely by accident. I wanted to be a pilot, but I’m actually completely colourblind, so that was never going to work. I started studying photography and my best friend was doing foundation art, and he had an animation lecture, which I gate crashed with him. And all of a sudden, everything that I liked sort of lined up, lit all my fires creatively, and the rest is history, as they say. I got myself into film school and studied animation because of that one chance encounter. So to get into film school, I created a show reel. When I studied animation, there was only two degree courses, so it was quite hard to get into the courses.
And it was very practical. There was just a lot of practise, a lot of drawing, a lot of observation, a lot of life drawing, animation tests, learning the craft, really, just going over, and over, and over it again. And slowly but surely, then learning how to put character and expression into the mechanics of the basics of animation. The first time that I ever really thought about animation as a career was during high school when I had the opportunity to go and visit Pixar Animation Studios.
I grew up in northern California, only about a half hour’s drive from Pixar, but it was the suburbs and the culture of the town that I lived in, it just never seemed like a viable option to go into the arts. You know, you became a dentist, or a doctor, or a lawyer and doing the arts, even though I had always been a very strong student in all my art classes, it was just considered very impractical and for the dreamers, basically.
So when I went to Pixar and was– I was looking around and it was just this amazing, creative space where I saw all these people and realised that for them, this was their job, and they were making these amazing films that I loved. And for the first time, it seemed like something that I might be able to do. And it just really inspired me and opened my eyes to the possibilities. My path into what I’m doing now was somewhat convoluted. I didn’t study film, I actually studied science. But while I was studying science, I started drawing posters for university events.
And because that’s all what I liked doing as a kid as a sort of hobby was drawing, but I thought– I didn’t realise there was a career connected with that. So while I was at university, I got into drawing the posters. And I thought, well maybe instead of getting a job connected more closely with my scientific course, I could get a job connected with drawing things, because I really enjoy it. So I got a job thinking of ideas for adverts, first, which was sort of what I was doing when I was drawing these posters.
And then when I was thinking of ideas for adverts, I realised that there were people that directed adverts, and they also tended to be the people that also directed music videos– the ones I liked, anyway– and I started trying to direct my own music videos while I was working in this ad company. And then eventually, I got this quite basic show reel together of very simple music videos and little test commercials, and somehow that got me represented by Blink, where I am now. I started animating when I was at university. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was studying fine art at Kingston Uni and all of my projects had to be conceptual, and sort of art pieces.
And everybody I knew was making fine art, and they were really into the Saatchi Gallery and all that kind of modern art. And I was more interested in telling stories, so I used to make puppets and I used to hang them in different ways and make photo stories, and they were saying, why aren’t you being conceptual? This is a fine art course, you should be being conceptual. And I found I was just much more interested in telling stories and creating characters. So I was actually doing pixilation tests on my friends at the time while I was at university, but I didn’t really know what I was doing.
But they were all sort of tests, and they kind of led me towards doing this kind of thing.

Several of our contributors tell us how they got into animation.

As with the NFTS graduate and current animators, they have come via very different routes. Some of our contributors started very young, doing animation as a hobby, while others discovered it much later having come through Art or other disciplinary pathways.

To find out more about careers in animation, there is lots of excellent advice available on the ScreenSkills website.

This article is from the free online

Explore Animation

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now