Written by: Emma Woodward
Thursday, 21 October 2021
For students deciding what to do after Year 12, it can help to research all options. If you have ever considered a career in 2D animation, then this conversation with AIT educator Richard Bailey might give you an idea of what it’s like to study at AIT, and what you can expect once you’ve graduated from a 2D animation course.
AIT: Hi Richard. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself – your experiences working at AIT, your industry experiences, and any projects you’re working on?
Richard: Hi! So, I’m originally from Perth, but have spent most of my adult life on the east coast working in both Melbourne and Sydney. Growing up in Perth I was fortunate to be accepted into a Specialised Art program for high school, much like the GATE programs that exist now. It was a wonderful experience, being taught by practising artists in a variety of disciplines. It certainly helped foster a passion for making art and pursuing it as a career.
It was during this time that I also developed a passion for filmmaking, and animation seemed to be a great way of combining both art and filmmaking. After studying animation in college in Perth, I moved to Melbourne for my first job in an animation studio, working on the series “The Silver Brumby”. This was animating pencil on paper, in the traditional 2D sense.
Several years later I moved to the Disney Studio that used to be in Sydney and worked there animating on direct-to-video sequels. Both of these studio jobs were great experiences and I have many lifelong friends from those days. Disney in particular was also a great opportunity to not only work with other skilled artists, but artists from around the world, and learn heaps.
Unfortunately, the Disney studio shut down in 2006 with traditional 2D animation losing favour, and I moved back to Melbourne with my wife and young family. Since then I’ve worked for a number of studios on a contract basis in roles that have also included character designer, storyboard artist and director. I started to develop the desire to try and pass on some of what I’d learnt and the opportunity presented itself to teach at AIT.
I’ve been teaching at AIT now for two years, and have been thoroughly enjoying it, not only passing on my experience but also seeing the passion in the students and seeing them develop their skills. I have taught Creative Drawing, 2D Animation and Advanced 2D Animation. In addition to my teaching, I continue to work in the animation industry - last year I animated on the new Ari Folman animated feature, “Where is Anne Frank?” due for release later this year, and also the Lego series, “Monkie Kid”. I’m currently working at Princess Bento on a top-secret project for Netflix.
AIT: Why would you recommend someone study 2D animation or pursue a career as an animator?
Richard: Pursuing 2D animation and a career as an animator gives you the opportunity to have a job where you get to draw pictures for a living. It’s a career where you are constantly learning as each new project has a different set of problems for you to solve and master. There’s always a new challenge and new skills to further develop, and opportunities to work with amazingly skilled artists from around the world.
Unlike illustration which is generally a solitary profession, in animation, you work as part of a team and can learn new techniques and skills from your co-workers, as well as work with others who are also passionate about the industry. It’s also a joy to create something that other people receive enjoyment from.
AIT: Is there anything new or exciting in the 2D animation world that you’d like to talk about?
Richard: The resurgence of hand-drawn 2D animation over the last few years has been particularly encouraging.
With a major studio like Disney not producing the 2D animation they made their name with, it led many to believe the medium was dead, and while it did fall out of favour for a number of years, other smaller studios have raised its profile and been creating some great work and generating interest in the medium again, which in turn generates more opportunities for work.
While 2D puppet animation for TV series has been really popular, it’s also encouraging to see hybrid versions utilising both the puppet and hand-drawn elements. There appears to be an appreciation now for skill and well-crafted work, not just mass producing for TV. There’s also a lot more diversity in productions now, not only with visual style, but also the amount of adult productions on offer.
AIT: What would you say to anyone who worries that this industry won’t provide a viable career?
Richard: The animation industry can provide a viable career. I am certainly one who can attest to that, having worked in this industry for over 25 years.
I am still working in the industry in addition to my teaching role at AIT. It does require passion and perseverance though. If graduating students are prepared to work hard and are willing to continue to learn and develop their skills, the opportunities are there.
There are also opportunities to travel, with overseas studios also on the lookout for suitable and experienced staff. Production studios generally operate on a project basis with staff hired for the duration of a particular project, which can mean that when a particular project ends there may be an employment gap. Some staff may choose to move on before the end of a project, others may stay on and ride out the gap, or alternatively then seek work at another studio.
With numerous studios in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, there are opportunities to land a role at another studio mid-production. Larger studios may also be able to provide better continuity of work.
AIT: What’s different about studying a 2D animation course at AIT?
Richard: AIT is the only tertiary institution offering a dedicated course in 2D animation. Other facilities will include 2D animation as part of a larger subject such as 3D animation or VFX, but only AIT has a specific 2D animation course. AIT has a roster of industry professionals in their teaching faculty, so that students can be taught by practitioners working on productions that they know. AIT also has industry-standard equipment and facilities for students to utilise.
AIT: What sorts of tools, techniques, and software can students enrolled in a 2D animation course at AIT expect to learn about and use?
Richard: Studying at AIT, students can expect to use traditional media such as pencils, pen and ink, and watercolour as well as toned and black paper which can produce some striking looking results.
Students will learn about line, shape, form and texture as well as composition and perspective and gesture drawing. They will also learn how to plan drawings and sequences of drawings with thumbnail sketches, then develop and refine these into finished pieces. They will learn to explore different ideas and also discard drawings that aren’t working.
These traditional skills are still valued as important in this digital age as they provide the fundamentals, allowing you to transition easily between different software. Students will also learn an array of different software from Photoshop for image creation, through editing software such as Premiere Pro to animation production software such as After Effects and Toon Boom Harmony. All of these softwares are used professionally in the industry.
AIT: A student enrolled in a 2D animation course at AIT can expect regular talks from some of the biggest names in the business. What do you think this does for a student looking to get their start in the industry?
Richard: The industry talks that AIT offers provide that “look behind the curtain” to see how those working at a studio actually do their job. It’s often a bit of a mystery what happens in a studio on a given production and these talks can shed some light on production processes as well as what it’s like to work in certain studios and on particular productions.
Most will tell their story of how they got started. Everybody has to start somewhere, and everybody’s journey is different and these industry talks frequently repeat that message. Hopefully this provides the motivation to students that they too can attain one of these positions and work on a production that not only inspires them, but also others who wish to do the same.
There are also roles that people may not have heard of, thought of, or considered, which opens up potential opportunities. These talks should also show that there are opportunities for employment beyond graduation. Ultimately, we hope that these talks provide the inspiration for students to pursue a career in the industry.
AIT: Can you tell us all a bit about AIT’s internship programs?
Richard: AIT’s internship program offers students the opportunity for professional practice within an actual production studio. AIT has established relationships with different studios who offer the opportunity to intern for a trimester.
Students apply, as they would for a job, showcasing their work in a showreel and portfolio. If successful, students then have the opportunity to work in a studio and gain valuable experience seeing and participating in the work and processes involved in a real production environment. It’s a wonderful experience to witness the intricacies of a production environment as well as the overall process.
Students will have the opportunity to see the amount and quality of work created, working to schedules and quotas, and the decision-making processes undertaken from an individual level through to a team level. It’s also a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people who share the same passion and learn from their experiences.
AIT: The 2D Animation Course at AIT is structured under a Bachelor of Interactive Media. Will students have the chance to pursue their specific areas of interest?
Richard: The aim of the course is to provide students with a broad range of skills, learning the many parts that culminate in a finished production. The course is structured so that students learn the various skills as a unit with the view that it is part of a greater project.
Students learn drawing, scriptwriting, storyboarding, audio, animation and editing amongst other subjects. Throughout the course, students will develop and display a natural affinity to certain areas of the production pipeline. This culminates in the final year with The Forge program where they have the opportunity to pursue those specific areas of interest.
AIT: Can you tell me a bit about The Forge program?
Richard: The Forge is our final semester subject whereby students work as a group to complete a short film. This is an opportunity for students to focus on particular areas of interest, but also work as a team and communicate with one another in a simulated production environment.
In addition to having the opportunity to showcase the practical and technical skills the students have learnt, the equally important soft skills that are inherent in working as part of a team are also learnt - teamwork, peer review and feedback, negotiating and compromise. The Forge is the only subject the students take in the last semester, so that all of their energy can be focussed on the project. Final projects are then reviewed by a panel of industry professionals.
AIT: What typically comes next for 2D animation course students graduating from AIT? What have they learnt and achieved?
Richard: Once graduating from AIT, former 2D animation students can pursue their dreams. Graduating students will have learnt essential skills in a variety of roles and steps in the production pipeline. These skills and experiences will form part of their showreel and portfolio showcasing their abilities to potential employers. 2D animation can be used for a variety of means - from TV and film production, advertising, infotainment, education and games.
Opportunities present in a variety of mediums and graduating students can choose to work in one of these or alternate. Having learnt various facets of animated production and different skills, graduating students should show a preference for one or several of these facets.
If the students have taken part in the internship program, they will have gained real world experience in a studio to help further their understanding of the different roles available. Not all graduating students need to choose an artistic role, as there are numerous non-artistic roles within a studio. In addition to gaining employment within a studio, the skills learnt during the course can allow an individual to pursue their own venture if they choose to work independently.
AIT: Any additional advice you’d like to give to current or future students?
Richard: My advice for future and current students would be to make the most of your opportunity. Learn what you can from the professionals teaching you, ask questions, seek advice and feedback.
You also have industry-standard equipment and facilities at your disposal - use them! Create extra work, develop a passion project, enter competitions and festivals. You have the opportunity to learn and create - don’t waste it! Creating extra work will only add to your portfolio and help improve your skills.
Animation is a constant learning process - once you’ve finished your tertiary education you will still be learning, but on the job. The learning curve flattens over time, but there are always new techniques, skills and improvements to be acquired. This is really a career where practise makes perfect.