How do animators break into the entertainment industry? Digital media and outlets like YouTube and Vimeo have made it easier than ever to gain exposure, but increased competition can make it seem harder than ever to get that first job in a mainstream studio.

At Escape Studios we focus on helping our students get the right skills to find work in the industry. Having the right skills is vital, as well as your own blog, website and animation demo reel. As we get ready for our evening class in producing animation, starting this September, we asked Lion King producer Don Hahn to explain how students can break into the business of animation.

Don Hahn is an animated film Producer whose credits are almost a roll-call of the Second Golden Age of Animation. His films include Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Beauty and The Beast, The Lion King and the 2014 hit Maleficent. He has also published many books on animation, the most recent being The Alchemy of Animation, and he also directed the documentary film Waking Sleeping Beauty, about Disney film-making and the creative process.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the animation business?

Don: I get so many people who want to break into the film business as animators, writer, directors or producers and want to know how. Here's a checklist:

  • Have strong work in your portfolio and clip reel, or strong writing samples.
  • Be yourself, know who you are and what you do best.
  • Work harder than anyone else.
  • Be relevant, make sure your skills are up to date.
  • Send studios your cv/resume and follow up with a phone call.
  • Find a mentor in the industryStay flexible, and be willing to move if you get an opportunity.
  • Get into the culture: it is easier to get hired if you live in Los Angeles or New York City or London and can intern or get an entry level job at the studio you want. It is hard to get hired if you live in Kansas and don't want to move.
  • Stay positive, stay persistent, stay in contact.
  • Don't let the obstacles scare you away. Each studio has firewalls built up in order to keep the hobbyists and fan boys out. As a serious artist, it's part of the rights of passage to get beyond those firewalls with your talent and persistence. If they don't return your call, don't like your reel, can't talk to you unless you have an agent, or don't have anything for you, see these for what they are...obstacles to keep the amateurs out. If you want to be professional, you'll find a way to break past these with time and persistence.

In short: be better, be faster, be smarter, be stronger, work harder, work longer and there will be no stopping you.