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Alumni Panel

Panel discussion with USC Hench-DADA alumni representing different areas of the animation industry. This is your opportunity to learn and ask questions from a wide network of Hench-DADA alumni! Reception following the panel discussion.

Benjamin Hendricks
Greg Araya
Melissa Fontanini
David Bazelon
Hsin-I Tseng
Will Meyer
Shish Aikat
Adriana Jaroszewicz
Michael Walsh

Categories: 10/13/10 Alumni Panel
  1. Lisa Chung
    October 17, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Sitting in on the alumni panel this week was like getting a glimpse into our future. These were the people who once sat in our seat and had the same concerns as we do now about the program and our careers. For this very case, it was hard not to hang onto their words. It was likely that we would run into similar challenges and situations once we start looking for a job such as knowing what to do during the wait periods between freelance jobs, editing an interesting + concise reel, getting feedback, etc. It was amazing to hear how many “got lucky” in getting into the business, but as Sheila pointed it out, it’s only because they did great work to start out with that caught the employer’s eyes. In fact, Ben Hendricks mentions the importance of building a marketable reel while you’re in school. I couldn’t agree more. Also, I appreciated the wide range of careers represented at the seminar such as 3D Animations, compositing, games, lighting, crowd simulation, music video, stop motion, children’s programming, etc. It shows how vast and versatile animation can be which also means more career opportunity beyond the entertainment industry.

  2. Linda Liao
    October 18, 2010 at 9:37 am

    The alumni panel was somewhat encouraging for current students to watch. Although finding a job after school will be a challenge and there will be no guarantee that USC will be able to facilitate such things, it is nice to know that there is a network out there to support our graduates. I felt their reflections were honest and riddled with trials and tribulations that many people go through.

  3. October 18, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    School is always the most important place to pursue our dreams and build up the most reliable network in our life. People we meet in school will become our classmates, our friends and maybe our family members. To think about that, I just realized how precious it is… so cherish our school time and that would be the best memory in our life.

  4. October 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Part of what made this group great for us was how recently some of them graduated. I think Mike even pointed out that studios are more willing to hire students than they were just 5-10 years ago when some of these guests were getting into the industry. Even though it’s because they know they can pay us less, it shows increasing trust of students and their institutions, and we can get a foot or two in the door.

    The differing opinions and experiences are more encouraging than they are confusing. When some said we should have a generalist reel and others said we should specialize, I think it just means that there are opportunities open for all types of people, as long as what we do show is good. My most recent reel has a lot of techniques and styles, but it was helpful to hear that even 30 seconds of good work is better than a bunch of filler. I’ll be taking into account their advice on a “mostly thesis” reel when I put together my next one for summer internships.

  5. Matthew Steidl
    October 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    The alumni panel made for an excellent seminar – these graduates share more experiences and concerns with us current students than with any of the other guests so far. They were honest and frank, and the sheer number of success stories is a refreshing reminder of why we chose to come to USC.

    I had the great opportunity to talk to Shish Aikat afterwards, and asked him how working internationally fits into aspirations to work in the American Studio system. He said that international work experience, or even the desire to work internationally, is considered a boon by many major companies. And since English is prevalent in many of the countries where work is farmed out – Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, India, etc., it’s usually not even necessary to learn another language. I also think that his advice about asking alumni that work in desirable companies to look at your reel in exchange for lunch is a good idea, and hope to try that soon.

  6. Ian McCormack
    October 18, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    This was a very helpful seminar. I was able to hear what I can expect life after USC to be. The stories they told gave me a mixed feeling of confidence but still a bit of caution. It’s never a bad idea to learn from other people’s mistakes.

    I had the privlidge later at the reception to speak with both Mr. Aikat and Mr. Walsh. Both were very nice to me and informative. Towards the end of the night I was overhearing a conversation between Mr. Walsh and Professor Furie about motion capture. It was incredibly technical and although I didn’t understand them some of the time I picked up a great deal of lingo used in the motion capture industry.

  7. Javier Barboza
    October 18, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    The alumni presentations, was interesting, watching all the different work reels was very informative, gameing, cg, modeling, commercial work, many different styles I especially enjoyed the panel discussion the most. How their views in the current animation job market where very different, some said it was good other said bad. Very important life facts, for during and after USC.

  8. Louis Morton
    October 18, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    I reelly appreciated the reel advice from real alumni! It was very informational to hear everyone’s thoughts on the matter and especially talking with Ben after the seminar on making different types of reels was very helpful. His idea to keep the reel in mind while working on school projects really stuck with me. It’s a bit overwhelming for me to think about making a reel already, while I’m still just trying to figure out how animation works. But I think it’s a fantastic idea to develop these school exercises into reel-worthy projects at a later time. It was also fun to talk to David and Hsin-I Tsengn afterwards about stop motion and using mixed media processes on a professional scale. I also really enjoyed when David said that a studio saw a couple of weird shots in one of his films and called him in because they liked those shots. To me this shows the importance of having an original idea or look, something may be weird, but it will also then be memorable!

    • Sheila M. Sofian
      October 19, 2010 at 11:37 am

      Just be careful when “keeping the reel in mind while working on school projects.” This can be a double edged sword. I have frequently heard from industry professionals that students often submit work that looks formulaic. Frequently students assume companies want to see work that looks like theirs. However, as you heard on the panel, reviewers are often attracted to original work if it is impressive. My advice is to do what you enjoy the most- usually that is the area in which you will ultimately excel.

      Also- remember this may be the only time you can create truly original works of art. Once you graduate you will be working for other people. Take advantage of your time at USC!

      • Amy Lee Ketchum
        October 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm

        Thank you Sheila and Lour for these perspectives. The alumni reflected the idea of being marketable in a competitive environment and staying true to your passions. Although they did not sugar coat the difficulty of finding and sustaining a job, they also seem to be dedicated to their field, and hence the challenges are worth it.

      • Ben
        October 27, 2010 at 3:11 pm

        I know there were some mixed messages in our discussion. My overall point is that you can be weird and still create marketable art. I felt like I did this while I was in school — my films were nothing if not weird. But if you want to work in a field like visual effects and you come out of school with no photorealistic work (however strange it may be) then you’ll probably be up the creek.

        And to echo Sheila’s point, your time at USC is very very likely to be the last time you make your own film for a looong while, so definitely make work that inspires you!

  9. Amy Lee Ketchum
    October 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    The alumni panel gave me the impression that we need to be as well rounded as possible before we graduate. For me this means getting up to speed on the various Adobe programs and Maya. Although, my interests lie more in the experimental and fine arts side of animation more than in the commercial side, I plan on heeding the advice from last week and making sure I have a set of marketable skills.

    I also appreciate Sheila’s comment about making films that we enjoy and not totally catering to potential employers. The challenge in the next few years will be to balance my personal interests with developing job skills.

  10. Cecilia De Jesus
    October 19, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Like Amy, I really took note of the panel’s advice to be have a few marketable skills for the future. When I toured Song Pictures Imageworks last week they echoed those same words. They encouraged us to be versatile in our sets of skills so jobs will be a bit more plentiful. After speaking to a few of the alumni panel members individually it was also nice to hear that even though they have jobs for big companies, they still try to do some of their own work on their down time. It seems like there are many periods of down time in the animation business that free up time for more personal expression and individual interests. I really enjoyed hearing this presentation and seeing where we might end up in the future. I will always try to follow their simple advice of work hard and do good work.

  11. Rachel Jaffe
    October 19, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Like many of the comments before mine seem to suggest, the alumni panel was astoundingly helpful in terms of the realistic views is members collectively expounded — whether regarding the viability of a recent graduate earning a paycheck from a large studio or the sustainability of keeping a job at a smaller boutique effects film. Though the value of the panel didn’t necessarily stem from hearing the compelling career tales of any solitary enterprising alum in particular, learning about the professional paths they, as a whole, have carved out amid the artistic-economic turbulence of the industry was inspiring to an almost ineffable degree. Likewise, the opportunity to, post-panel, pepper the alumni with the odd question or three about life following graduation was unspeakably illuminating!

  12. Yang Liu
    October 20, 2010 at 12:23 am

    I really love this talk last week because it really shows the reality outside of the school. I also want to point out how many times that they talked about “lucky” in their career. It seems to me that the key things for them are: 1, skills 2,networks 3, luck.. I realize how important it is to have a good reel in order to gain a good offer, after some interviews experiences….. However, it should not conflict with projects at school, because it can limit the storytelling, the creativity and courage to try new things, as i believe. A reel sometimes does not require creativity, but rather asks for profession. We ARE going to school for getting a life-long job in animation, but making a great personal animation is also the philosophy in this school. If we going to learn only the technical part of animation , we should not come to USC because USC offers and expects more than other schools. Keeping this in mind, I can clearly see why our alumni is being extraordinary successful from our program.
    The talk also gave me a lot of confidence to just stay calm with my studying here at USC. Although it’s very tough to get a job nowadays in this industry, it is still valuable to focus on making our own animations, for the fact that: what we learn here will never expire.

    • Jovanna
      December 16, 2010 at 11:05 pm

      In the alumni panel discussion, an overwhelming majority expressed the importance of chance and luck in their careers. Repeated phrases included, “Being a the right place at the right time” and “the hand of god,” as defining forces in their job placement. Happenstance seemed to eclipse skill, ability, and interest. Importance was placed on landing any job, while words like goals, purpose, inspiration, courage, and ambition were almost completely absent from the discussion.

      Mike Mitchell, who was my mentor at Calarts, told me to always remember, “A job is not a career.” While a job might use one-tenth of one’s potential ability, the value of a career lies in the constant progress of ability, knowledge, creative ingenuity, and achievement. I’ve always interpreted this statement as a warning. Creative stagnancy is real and possible without a full, purposeful use of ability.

      Ambition denotes an artist’s attitude toward their work. The panel re-agitated this idea in my mind: A career without ambition is a purpose lost in chaos.

      • Sheila
        December 17, 2010 at 11:55 am

        Hi Jovanna,

        I think the panel emphasized that skill, ability, and interest are important, and they prepare you for the moment when the timing is right and the appropriate job opens up for you. Remember, you won’t stay in a job for very long if your work is not good. I don’t think anyone would claim you could get a job (or build a career) on luck alone.

  13. October 20, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I was particularly interested in Adriana’s talk. It was nice to hear from a former student who is now teaching, especially since that is the career path I hope to follow! Adriana also works with Laban movement analysis, which is a method for analyzing movement, originally designed for notation of dance, but also sometimes used to analyze animation movement. It will be interesting to see how her work with Laban analysis of animation develops. Often as animators we have rules for representing movement, and we know that humans behave a certain way while in motion. However, it is not always clear why we move in those ways, so perhaps this movement analysis might provide intriguing insights.

    • October 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm

      – Laura Cechanowicz

  14. Justin Connolly
    October 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

    I must admit that immediately following last week’s alumni panel I was filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and discouragement about the prospects of navigating a career in the animation industry after graduation. While the panel’s comments represented a wide array of perspectives and reflected a plethora of unique experiences, they all seemed to have one common thread throughout; “expect frequent periods of unemployment.” Coming from a background in studio art, where steady employment is extremely hard to come by, I really took this to heart since I simply can not afford to leave USC without having better prospects than when I arrived.

    That being said, I appreciated the panel’s candor when discussing the realities of life after USC and I think it was better to hear that advice now then later. Furthermore, having the knowledge of what to expect after we leave the security of the academic environment, will serve us all well and hopefully better prepare us for the transition into our careers.

    Additionally, I realize after having time to digest the comments and advice from the alumni panel that they only represent a small sample of the many USC graduates working in the animation industry and everyone’s experiences outside of USC will be different. At any rate, I think the best advice that came out of last week’s seminar was to make the best possible work you can while you’re in school and to create work that reflects your unique personality and your passion. I for one will embrace this advice and continue to put it into practice.

  15. Gregory Jones
    October 20, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    It was great getting to meet the alums and seeing what they’ve made of themselves after their time here. It’s good to know what kinds of jobs so we have an idea of what to prepare for or what to do different in order to have a different type of job. I especially enjoyed the one on one time after the seminar and really getting to know them. They provided a very real and candid insight that I’m sure was invaluable to all of the students.

  16. Ryan
    October 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    It is always nice to hear former students talk about there work and where they are now as well as how they got there. What I maintain to believe from hearing them and my own past is there is no singular approach or way to finding work or doing one’s own work. Everyone wants something different and there is no way to predict what will be wanted or how to achieve it all you can do is work hard know the people around you support them and get the support back…

  17. Linda Jules
    October 20, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    This week’s panel was not only a wonderful look at the breaking in period after animation, but it was also a nice look at the range of career possibilities available to us after graduation.

    I have to admit that I was left with a bit of fear at what might happen after grad school. But then I decided that it was good for us to hear what the reality of the job hunt is like. Yes, it’s scary. But more importantly, it’s reality. I have always known that animation within the film industry (as opposed to education, design, etc.) usually comes with contractual responsibilities that end when the project ends. But to hear these panel members tell us about the reality of work life as an animator made me feel like I should just be ready to keep my skills sharp and my eyes open, instead of just being scared that there might be periods of unemployment.

    Back to my original point! I was most excited to hear about the range of jobs that these presenters had. From higher education, to compositing, to–my favorite–augmented reality systems, these panel members really showed me a side to USC Alumni that I never really thought about. I look forward to being one of those panel members one day.

  18. Eric Tortora Pato
    October 20, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    I was so glad that I had a chance to ask about the dark side of networking, and get a fairly straight answer on that from the alums. It’s reassuring to hear that long suspected truth from the horses mouth, that, although you must always be careful, and things can turn out unpredictably, you still need to think about the needs of the project, your company, and your reputation when recommending people. I must admit that I was a little disappointing we didn’t have a bit more people from traditional animation and TV, not to mention indie and experimental, to get a more complete survey of the alums at large, but even though many there were involved in CG and effects, I found it jarring how much people’s recommendations and advice varied, sometimes even with in the same company. Just goes to show you that the nature of our industry is far from objective and set in stone. Creative People: we’re all crazy folks.

  19. Juan Gonzalez
    October 20, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    It was very calming to see students with different backgrounds and interests go out to the real world and start making a living out of their particular skills. They projected a good feeling of camaraderie between them, helping each other find jobs and always willing to help their USC fellows. These hints to the reality in the near future was refreshing and I appreciate they took time to come talk to us about their experience.

  20. Allen Yau
    October 20, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    It was a great opportunity to have conversations with our own alumni. The advice of networking and portfolio is super useful to me. I found it was a fun experience to hear our alumni talking about how their jobs are going and how they interact with their own classmates after graduation. Especially Hsin-I’s experience is very valuable to international students. It was a bit shame that we couldn’t hear more from her. According to my experience here in DADA, many international students are very concern about how to find a job and a working visa in animation industry after their graduation. Maybe someday we can have a panel discussion focused on this topic, since we have many international students in our department.

    I appreciate our alumni’s suggestions of portfolio reel. Though they’ve created a dilemmatic issue between a skill-set-oriented reel and a festival-oriented reel. I personally tend to have my portfolio include both of these two aspects, it’s not easy but worth a try.

    Some part of this panel conveyed a message of “Looking for a job after graduation is not an easy task”. I think it’s a common thing that alumni complain about the life after graduation, I don’t blame them. I do appreciate what they said, whether positive or negative, that is all we need to realize before we graduate and lose the chance to do anything helpful for after-school life while we are still in here.

  21. Shaun Kim
    October 20, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    I always wonder about the Animation alumni’s works after their graduation. Having a seminar with our alumni was really good experience for expecting my working life after graduation. All people have different ideas about preparing for getting a job, but all different ideas gave me a chance to think about various possibility. Plus, a simple reception with alumni is a good moment to talk to each other.

  22. Jordan Hansen
    October 20, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Like some of my classmates have said. It was nice to see what one can expect after leaving school to enter the workplace. I liked that there was a range of experiences from immediate success as a general artist, to fighting tooth and nail for a very specific job. It is interesting to see or rather hear how the industry has changed in some people’s experience in just a few years. I’m not sure whether I am more or less hopeful after the presentation. It kind of balanced out to about a level playing field between the good and bad experiences of those that have come before me.

  23. Miguel Jiron
    October 20, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Last week’s seminar was very informative in the hard facts of student life and beyond, aspects that are sometimes hard to balance with other factors of school here. The dynamic between following our artistic impulses and keeping in mind to be prepared to break in the industry is a hard one, and the best most people can say about it is to just do both. Which of course is easier said than done, ha. I really appreciated the candor and honesty of the alumni, and it was nice to see the warmth of camradarie between them too. School can be sometimes a conflicting place of goals, and even there were disagreements between the alumni on advice and how best to balance school life. This is why it was so great to see them talk all about it and hash things out; I hope we get to have more glimpses of USC alumni in the future too.

  24. Brandon Lake
    October 20, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Last week’s seminar was memorable, if only because of the stark contrast in mood when compared to last week. It really was a serious look at the life of an animator in the industry. I would never have thought about the need to save up in preparation for inevitable unemployment. It was all extremely informative in the end no matter how bubble-busting some of it seemed. They also stressed the importance of networking, which is something I can never hear too many times.

  25. Burak Kurt
    November 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    The presentation of the alumni was a good one, yet it was a little bit on the depressing side and I don’t blame the presenters for that in fact I should congratulate them for being so honest about their experiences. WAside from all the depressing thoughts what I took from the presentation was; be honest with yourself, do your best and more and you will be fine.. At least for a while… Then you will be fine again… C’est la vie.

  26. November 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I really like this activity. It is very good for current students to know something about the industry and some experience of students who have already graduated from here. Especially, everyone’s focus is different, it is a good chance to find a person also in your field and learn something from him or her..

  27. Kim Cagney
    December 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I enjoyed hearing the alumni stories, and I definitely think that Yang Liu’s comment is very much on the mark – what determines where you end up are your skills and how you present them, networking, and the inevitable luck. How these factors affected the alumni, and their views on them was an interesting perspective to hear

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