Meet the Professionals – Steve West

1.  What’s your job title?

Director/Animator

2.  How would you describe your job?

I use illustration and animation to communicate ideas from people or companies to the public in an accessible and (hopefully) entertaining way. It may be a scientist explaining their thoughts on dark matter, a tech company describing how artificial intelligence is used in a new app, or a pharmaceutical company explaining how medication works. I think animation works particularly well in circumstances where it’s used to explain things that you can’t really see or touch.

3.  What is a typical day for you?

I usually start by having a coffee and catching up with emails. I work with a lot of international clients, so emails will continue to come in during the evening after I’ve finished work. After about 30 mins to an hour I’ll begin work on whatever project I’m currently working on. This could be creating character designs, drawing storyboards, animating, or even just sitting and thinking about the best way to approach an animation. Sometimes projects will involve a lot of research to make sure you fully understand something so you can interpret it in the best way possible.

Usually by lunch I’ll need to respond to a few more emails and I’ll carry on doing whatever project work I need to do after that. I find I do my best thinking between around 10 and 4, so after 4 pm I try to schedule in elements of the project which don’t use up too much brain power… maybe cleaning up rough drawings instead of working on concepts or research.

4. What skills/qualifications do you need to do your job?

I think primarily you need to be self motivated and curious. The equipment and techniques that people use are constantly changing so you need to either keep up or create your own. The software I primarily use is the  Adobe Creative Suite and a 3D animation package called Cinema 4D, but people have created excellent animations using old techniques like flick books or zoetropes, or programmes not designed for animation at all, like Microsoft Paint.

I studied music and have no art or design related qualifications, those may help, but the main thing people will look at is your previous work, so spend your time making work. Do personal projects, collaborate with other people, just keep making things. You’ll get better and every piece you can make is an example of something you can create, which is useful because people only ever really want to pay for something they’ve already seen.

5. What experience do you need?

Personally I think it’s a good idea to work in a junior position at a larger animation studio or post production facility early on in your career. This will give you a good idea of what other people in the production chain (like sound engineers or video editors) need when you’re working with them. It will also be a point when you can make connections with other people in your industry.

6. What kind of person do you need to be to do your job?

As mentioned before, I think you need to be self motivated. Nobody else can really say when a piece of design is “done”, so you have to want to make it as good as it can be. You’ll be working with other people all the time, so you need to be respectful of other ideas and opinions and able to express your own clearly. You need to be organised. No matter what sort of animation you do, you’ll be creating and managing lots of assets as well as making sure you keep to schedule over the weeks, months, or even years that your animation takes to create.

7. Who is your creative inspiration and why?

The physicist Richard Feynman. I highly recommend his book The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. He was someone constantly curious about the world and enthusiastically threw himself into anything he was interested in, from quantum physics to painting, picking locks, to playing bongos.

8. What advice would you give a student looking to get work in your field?

Keep making work. I can’t stress how important it is to be creating your own projects. Sometimes you’ll decide what you’ve made is terrible and you never want to show it to anyone (this will definitely happen) but you need to keep making.

Don’t be too worried about what other people have done and follow your interests, even if they seem unrelated to animation. I’ve found dancing has been very helpful with my character animation (Chuck Jones used ballet dancers as reference when creating Bugs Bunny), but your unique pattern of interests is what’s going to make you interesting. If you love basket weaving, acrobatics, and bird spotting, make sure you make time for those too.

The route I took is unusual and I’ve worked in jobs that didn’t exist when I was at school and don’t exist now (DVD authoring) so I don’t think any prescribed career route is too useful. Nobody knew that Instagramming your dog wearing the latest men’s fashion could be a financially viable occupation but it is so, whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it.

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