Internship Reflections

Alright, this is going to be a bit of a digression from the art I normally post here. Last week, I finished an internship at readIMAGINE, a start-up developing children’s books for IPad. All the work I did is still under an NDA, but I thought I’d write down some of the lessons I learned. Honestly, they’re mostly for my own future reference, but they might be useful to other students, so I’m putting them up here.

1. A small studio can be a really awesome place to work. Like most every animation student ever, I had hoped to land a job at Pixar, Disney, or the like. However, after finishing at readIMAGINE, I think I had a better experience there than I would have at a larger studio. As an intern, I got to model key sets and characters for one of the stories we were working on, which would be totally unthinkable at a large studio. It was a thrilling, occasionally terrifying, and deeply valuable experience.

2. Your clients are everyone who comes after you in the production pipeline. Obviously, you should have the end product in mind, but the people who you are immediately using your work for are your fellow artists and TDs. The further down the production pipeline you go, the tighter deadlines tend to be, so if there is anything you can do now to make the lives of the people downstream easier, do it.

3. Label everything carefully. On my personal and school projects, I tended to just use Maya’s default labeling, resulting in polyCube1 through 434, and Blinn 1 through 97. When I’m working on my own, that’s generally perfectly ok, but it really doesn’t work at all with a team. Being able to quickly find and identify things in a scene makes everyone else’s life much, much, easier. Even tiny things like using “R” instead of “r” to indicate right can end up totally ruining someones day, as it might screw up a script that relies on case-sensitivity.

4. Tell people what you’re doing. Any tweak you make can end up affecting the people down the pipeline, often in bizarrely unpredictable ways, so make sure they’re ready for any weirdness.

5. It’s very possible to be too specialized. On CGTalk and the like, I’ve read a lot of people emphasizing the importance of specialization. That’s true to a point; you’re not gonna get a job if you’ve spent so much time learning to do everything that you can’t do anything well. However, focusing solely on one thing can get you into trouble too. At a studio as small as readIMAGINE, everyone except the character animators had to wear a lot of hats. Even at a bigger studio, having some flexibility is important. My boss, who was a lead technical director at Pixar prior to leaving to found readIMAGINE, said that even at a studio as big as Pixar he was reluctant to hire a modeler who couldn’t also fill some other job at the studio, as it meant that person would likely need to be laid off if the studio started a film that required fewer modelers.

6. The business side of keeping a studio running is really hard. I wasn’t directly involved in this in any way, but seeing the amount of effort and talent it took on the part of the co-founders to keep things running smoothly made it very clear to me that any studio that doesn’t have at least one person who deeply understands business is probably gonna crash and burn, regardless of the quality of the work coming out of it.

7. Timelines are often far less flexible in production then they are in school. In school, a project might be due Friday morning, but if you’re running behind Thursday night you always have the option of staying up all night to finish it. Directors (at least, directors who care about labor laws and employee welfare) aren’t going to be keen on you doing this unless absolutely necessary. As such, working steadily and accurately estimating how long something will take to complete are really, really important.

8. Don’t live somewhere where it’s a two hour commute, each way, to work. Just don’t. You get a lot of reading done, but not a whole lot else outside of work.

Thanks again to the co-founders and my fellow interns at readIMAGINE. It was a great summer.

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