The Reality of Working in Animation: Challenges, Frustrations, and Passion

Anything you love has the potential to burn you out and destroy your soul. Quite an uplifting way to begin, isn't it?

But it's the truth. If you've never experienced moments of doubt and regret regarding your life choices, then congratulations. You might want to skip reading this because it's not meant for you. However, if you've worked hard to establish yourself in your chosen industry, occasionally feeling guilty for harboring dislike towards it and questioning if you should have pursued something different, then keep reading. This is me venting about my personal experiences working in animation.

I made the decision to pursue animation when I was 18, after exploring RMIT university on Open Day. At that time, the only animation course I came across was a Post Grad program, so I made up my mind to apply once I completed my three-year visual arts degree. When I turned 21, I got accepted into the Animation of Interactive and Media course. I always knew I wanted a career in visual arts; I just hadn't been entirely certain about the specific field until I realized that animation was a viable option.

When you land your first animation job, it's exhilarating! Working as part of a team, earning an animation TV credit, getting paid to create cartoons—it's fantastic. But then the dreaded crunch time arrives, along with relentless deadlines. Your work-life balance goes out the window. There are pesky fixes that may drive you crazy, and there will be days when your self-esteem takes a beating. You start questioning your life choices and wondering if you should have opted for a safer and more stable career path.

Whoever coined the phrase "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" was clearly a deceitful liar who probably didn't stay in their job long enough. Animation is hard work and can often feel like a slog. The deadlines can be unreasonably demanding, and you may not even enjoy the project you're working on; you're doing it solely to pay the bills. Believe me, I've been there. I've worked on numerous projects where I didn't care for the style, the story, or both. However, sometimes there are no other options, and I'd rather earn my money through animation.

Animation can be invigorating, especially when it's your own work and you witness your characters come to life. Creating your own world and seeing what was once just in your head become visible to all—it's incredibly rewarding. I remember staying up for 32 straight hours to complete my final project at Uni. I was overly ambitious; my film was seven minutes long, entirely hand-drawn, and well beyond what was feasible. But it was my passion project, so I was willing to go the extra mile. Looking back, I should have recognized the warning signs then, as animation can be incredibly tedious, especially when working on someone else's project. It's not only students who go overboard.

Nothing drains the joy, passion, and creativity out of a beloved hobby quite like turning it into a job. I used to work on my own short films and animations after my regular work hours. Nowadays, the mere thought of animating outside of work brings me no joy whatsoever. Animation, sadly, has become work to me and is no longer a source of relaxation. I still draw for fun, but perhaps it's because I don't find illustration to be as time-consuming as animation.

But you know what can truly extinguish the joy as you continue working in the industry? Being stuck on a project that you despise! It's when the animation style falls short, the designs are lacklustre, the production team seems clueless, and the schedule makes no sense. You feel like a mindless factory worker churning out animation, working overtime that goes far beyond the cute notion of extra hours. I'm talking about toiling till midnight after starting at 7:30 AM, only to repeat the cycle the next day, all without receiving any appreciation from the producers who concocted the absurd schedule in the first place. I've been part of productions that have burned out and injured animators, prompting them to consider changing careers. And occasionally, when I find myself in a dreadful position, I can't help but wonder if I should have pursued a different path altogether. Maybe marketing, business, or even debt collecting—I'm confident I would excel at it. This brings me to another point: the frustration of chasing after clients for payment. Fortunately, I haven't found myself out of pocket so far, but many other freelancers haven't been as fortunate. It's disheartening to feel underappreciated for your work. I love the animation industry here in Melbourne. I do. The community is fantastic and I have plenty of good memories and friends in the industry and have met through the industry. I am very fortunate to have been able to make a living animating but it doesn't mean I don't feel frustrated with some aspects of it from time to time. This would apply to most industries, am sure. Anyhow check out this article by Mark Manson . I think his post worded my thoughts out more eloquently.


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