Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Interview // Megan Jo - Animator

Megan is one of those awesome people you just want to high-five, but you don’t want to seem lame, though I’m sure Megan would understand. What’s not lame are the animations she makes. We particularly like this one about those jars that just don’t open. Megan has worked as a freelance illustrator and animator at all sorts of rad places: XYZ Studios, Viskatoons, ABC, Roar Educate and now Square I. If your want to get paid for drawing robots, animating juggling pigs and making crazy characters come to life listen up to our chat about the world of animation outside a cafĂ© on a freezing Melbourne day.


My Favorite Note – Hi Megan! Are you cold?

Megan Jo – No I’m all right. At work I’ve got a heater and its right under my desk and I just came outside and was like “jeez its cold.”

My Favorite Note – Where are you working now days?

Megan Jo – I just recently started a gig with a studio called Square I. They’re a traditional animation studio and this is my third week there. I’ve always been a free lancer and I freelanced, animated and illustrated part time and a bit of teaching in between but these guys offered me a full time contract for a year long production on a TV show called Dogstar Season 2.

MFN – Cool. What’s Dogstar about? And why haven’t I heard of it?

MJ – A lot of people have heard of it but haven’t actually seen it. It’s a kid’s show that’s pretty much all Australian made which is a big deal for us because there is not a lot of animation that actually gets made in Australia. So lots of people want to get on board. I’m pretty lucky to have a full time job there because what usually happens is you get a job on a production like this and you do part of it, so you do a few months in design or art. But I’ve got a job there for the whole production from start to end. It’s just a cute kids show about polluting the Earth so bad that we all need to go in space ships and go to a new earth. We put all the Dogs on a space ship but it gets lost so a family of kids has to go find the Dogstar.

MFN – So it’s like Red Dwarf?

MJ – Yeah but with dogs and kids. Much cuter.

MFN – Is Cat there?

MJ – There is a cat called Boombah who’s voiced by Shaun Micallef. Yeah the cat does speak, which is great. Boombah is an advanced cat that can smell dogs so they use Boombah the cat and a spaceship to go sniff out the dogs.

MFN – So what are you doing on it at the moment?

MJ – I’m the story board assistant, so I’m not actually doing full boards. It’s quite intense because they are 20 minute episodes. Something like 370 drawings to go into an episode. It’s a lot of drawing and takes a long time. I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m just learning the ropes and doing a bit of organizing, putting the story boards together and learning how the process works and fixing up sequences. So the Director looks through the story boards and says this doesn’t work and we re-do it. That’s what I’ve been doing today. Drawing space dogs!

MFN – yay!

MFN – What’s it like going from freelancing to a full time job?

MJ – It’s a bit of a change. This is my third week so a long way still to go yet. When I was freelancing I still did a lot of in-studio work. A long gig would be maybe 2 months. So I’m used to working in different studios and working in studio. It was very hard to give up freelance because I would work my arse off to get all the contacts to live off it and now I have to keep turning them down because I have to concentrate on this job but I took it because I’m learning lots of new skills to progress my career.

MFN – Do you think that’s a good idea? Focusing on one big project instead of maintaining your contacts through smaller gigs?

MJ – The choice was for two reasons. Where I am now is full of really talented guys and I’m learning from them and I know they will encourage me to improve my illustration work. The other reason I took this job was really just about learning something new and I think it's really important to always be excited about learning new things. I was doing great at freelancing. I had lots of cool jobs; I got to draw robots and all sorts of things. People would hire me based on my style of work so I was drawing what I wanted to draw and it was a dream come true but I did it for a while and had my fun. Its kind of time to move on now and learn something new and not get stuck in that. Although it was hard to give up it was the right choice.

MFN – So it’s hard to get a full year job?

MJ – It depends on what work your doing. Certainly I find most studios’ these days prefer to hire young people on a freelance basis because they don’t have to pay someone when they don’t have a job on. A lot of people prefer it because they get to pick and choose what jobs they want and you get to work with a lot of different studios, which is a lot of fun. But of course there’s not a lot of security in being a freelancer. There are certainly heaps of people with full time jobs out there in studios. It’s really just a life style choice. A lot of creative people prefer not to work part time.

MFN – What type of people are good at freelancing?

MJ – You have to be really disciplined. A lot of people kind of think oh what a life! You swan about. You work when you want! You can work at 3 in the morning if you want! You must have it good. But in reality it’s not like that.

Sure it is glamorous because you travel a lot and you can make your own hours but you will realise pretty quick you have to stick to routine if you actually want to make it work. When I was freelancing I would get up at 9 and start work, even if I was at home, and work all day. I would work 7 days a week all the time. The pay off was that I would get to do great work and then take a couple of months off! I went over seas it was great. So you work really hard but its not really a problem because you do what you love doing. It doesn’t feel like a drain. You’re young enough to have the energy to do it.

MFN – How do you go with the rush of work! Work! Work! Then struggling to find jobs when you’re freelancing?

MJ – I was really lucky because I had the teaching job offered to me so even if there was a lull in work I would have teaching to concentrate on. It did help having a part time job there. Melbourne is a pretty small design community so once you get in the door and been on the scene for a while you don’t have to worry as much because work will come your way and you wont have to actively look for it as much. I’ve had maybe two or three big clients who would consistently give me work so I would alternate between studios. You just have to get over the first hole of establishing yourself.

MFN – Tell us how to get over the hole! The cracks of the situation!

MJ – Don’t give up! It can be easy to get discouraged. You just have to continually work at it. Don’t be afraid to work really hard instead of going out on the weekends. Sometimes I’ll sit at home and draw all weekend.

MFN – How do you go from University and get known?

MJ – Its scary. You finish uni and your all like “what do I do now?” It makes it easier if you do IP (Industry Placement) because a lot of people continue their placements. So if your lucky enough to get an IP there is likelihood you will continue on and get experience. If you don’t get an IP and you finish uni you just have to put yourself out there and folios speak for themselves. Don’t be afraid to go and chat to people in studios. Even if your not going to get the job just ask to come in and say hi and have a chat so people know who you are.

MFN – Is that what you did?

MJ – Yeah. When I had a lull in work I would just look who was out there at what studios had popped up and say Hey I’m an animator. Ill just pop by the studio some time and see what you do and you can see what I do. People are happy to do that usually. And if you have just finished uni you should be doing your own projects. Always do your own stuff! Don’t get too ambitious and say, “I’m going to make this a feature film and it’s going to be awesome blah blah blah!” Set yourself little tiny projects that are achievable, experiments to teach yourself stuff and when you finish work show people, show studios. If you have made something your happy with send it to a studio and say “Hey can I get some feedback?” Because then they know who you are.

MFN – What else should you be doing?

MJ – Having an online presence is really important. Get a website. Studios do not want physical stuff; they just want a link to your work online.

MFN – If you email someone your websites link will they actually follow it up?

MJ – Yeah they usually will. Maybe not straight a way, maybe two weeks later or even a month later they might click on it.

MFN – If they don’t reply to your email after two weeks should you send them more emails? Pester them a bit?

MJ – No way!

MFN – Is it raining? I think I’m imaging things. I often do.

MJ – It’s ever so slightly spitting.

MFN – Lets go inside before it starts pouring.

MFN – Its warmer on in here. So harassing people with your work. Not a good idea?

MJ – No! Do not hassle people. Just let them know who you are. Firstly you have to have the talent and a good folio, showing off your work is important but personality is the second most important thing to studios and people that hire you. They want someone they like to work with so part of the game is networking and choosing in a big way. Go to gallery openings, go to designer events and talk to people. That’s the other way of letting them know who you are and that you’re interested in the industry, not just emailing them all the time. Show up to the things they show up to and be part of the community.

MFN – What are those things you should show up to? Especially for you as an animator?

MJ – I go to all the festivals. All the film festivals, all the animation festivals. Fortunately we live in Melbourne and there is always something happening. There are animation clubs that set challenges; there is a lot of online stuff I’m a part of. Illustrators Australia has events and you go along and meet other illustrators and you help each other. If a job comes your way and you can’t take it or it’s not right for you, you recommend your mate and they will do the same for you. It’s about supporting each other. Designers love parties.

MFN – For people who aren’t in the industry yet how would you find out about these events?

MJ – Australian in Front will tell you what’s going on. They have job forums as well, which is interesting to check. One of the great things about going to uni is you meet people in other disciplines and they will tell you what’s going on and you can check it out.

MFN – You went to Swinburne Uni. Do you think university and training is necessary in getting a job?

MJ – Definitely. You will not be looked at or considered if you don’t have your uni degree. If someone applies for a job and they don’t have a degree and you do they just won’t get the job. That’s how it works. It is competitive and gives you that extra something you can offer people.

MFN – What course did you do at Uni?

MJ – I studied multimedia design. That’s really broad. Design in general crosses over. People don’t want just a print or TV campaign. They want a full bundle with a viral Internet campaign that goes with it.

MFN – Is that something to push about yourself? That you are multi-talented?

MJ – No. You will always be working in a team. It’s good to have various skills because people like that because they can throw you different odd jobs. It’s important to specialize at something. Try to find something that’s unique about you and your work because people will seek that. When your doing your own stuff or you show studio work, make sure it’s something you want to be doing because that’s how people will remember you and that’s what they will hire you for. So be careful what you show people. Don’t just show them everything, show them what you want to do and what you want to pursue in your career.

MFN – What do you think about working for free and doing internships? Lots of people are so desperate for work and think that’s the only way to get in that they sell themselves short or work for a lot less than is accepted by people in the industry.

MJ – Internships are great, but you shouldn’t work for free. If your doing work experience for sure that’s free. If you go into a studio or on a film set for a day to see how it’s all done yeah that’s done for free because you’re observing. As soon as your doing something that people are getting paid for people should be paying you and don’t ever think otherwise. Lots of students fall into that trap and a lot of people are taking advantage of it. If your constantly working for free you’re never going to really expand on that. You need to start getting cash straight away. There’s a balance: how much you think your worth and how much its worth to you to do something.

It’s difficult if instead of going for a full time studio position you decide to freelance, quoting and how much you should ask for a job. It’s difficult and a lot of it comes with experience. You will find a lot of people don’t do this for the money; I certainly don’t do it for the money. I’m an animator for god’s sake! None of us are doing it for the money. I’m just happy to be able to make a living off it. People are usually quite fair, only a few people out there will try to take advantage of you. Most people are lovely and nice and really helpful because it is hard and it is competitive and you have to work your ass off so once you get some work you want to help other people. Don’t be suspicious of people wanting to help you they are probably genuine, but keep your smarts about you.

MFN – Is that a big part? Helping other people?

MJ – OH… I think so. I have a lot of people who help me out.

MFN – Like a mentor? How do you get one? You can’t just say ‘I want you to be my mentor”.

MJ – I don’t think you can just find yourself a mentor. They don’t sell them at the supermarket. You will find that if you start working a full time job at a studio someone will automatically become your mentor. At the moment I’ve taken this new job and I had to certainly have a certain amount of industry experience to get that job. But I’m working with somebody at the moment and you could say he’s my mentor. There is kind of a balance there at the moment. He’s teaching me a lot of new stuff and will take time out of the day and just sit down and explain to me how he’s done something or what he’s thinking about something and in the other hand I have to do something less glamorous in the studio like organizing scripts and stuff.

MFN – Did you ask him to be your mentor? How did you approach that?

MJ – No. I don’t think anyone would rock up and say, “Hey can you be my mentor?” because that sounds pretty lame!

MFN – And you don’t want to be lame.

MJ – No you got to be cool…because we are designers

MFN – You’ll get kicked out of the club if you’re lame

MJ – Ha, yeah the cool kids club. Just be full of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask people questions. I know that’s a problem I have sometimes, especially when you haven’t worked in a while you don’t want to admit you don’t know how to do something or your struggling. But you have to get over that and just ask. Don’t be afraid to look at what people are doing and learn new skills.

MFN – When you start out should you try freelancing? Or search for a cheaper job that’s studio based?

MJ – For me I chose to freelance because it’s the kind of lifestyle I wanted and also it’s really hard to find a full time traditional animation job. When I first started they didn’t have any traditional animation jobs, they were all illustration jobs but it was a really good experience. I personally love freelancing and a lot of studios prefer it now a days.

MFN – What are the moments when you are all like “This is awesome! I love being an animator!”

MJ – When you get a brief and your creative director calls you up and tell you they need some robots, like 12 of them. And you’re like OK, any more direction? And they just say to see what you come up with. They pay you to draw robots for two weeks. It’s ridiculous! I have these moments every day because I get paid to draw. When someone asks you what you do and you explain your job and feel bad at how awesome your life is compared to their accounting job.

MFN – It’s worth it, doing a creative job?

MJ – It’s my life. My work is my life. I’m really glad I stuck with it even though there have been some hard times. I’m always excited by what I’m going to learn next. Don’t be scared to take risks and just go for it. Do what you love and it will pay off in the end.


Megan's notes:

Australia in Front

FFFFound Blog

Cartoon Brew


UNIT 16 Forums

And stalk people you like!


Words: T, E

Image: Neon Sunset