Each year, there are thousands of self-help books published with the intention of helping people succeed in the business world. Despite that, there hasn’t been a comprehensive book about how to succeed in and navigate through the animation world…until now!
Animating Your Career is a book written by Steve Hickner, a current DreamWorks employee who has directed The Prince of Egypt and Bee Movie. Hickner has worked in the industry for over 30 years and in the process has done nearly every job possible in an animation studio, from shooting pencil tests for to producing. He’s worked at nearly every studio in the industry: Filmation, Disney, Amblination, and DreamWorks. He’s definitely an expert with a lot of knowledge to share about what it takes to create a lasting and successful career in the animation industry.
Hickner’s purpose for writing the book was to provide artists with the knowledge he wished he had when he started out in the industry. There was no manual on what to do once you get promoted to managing a team. In the 1990s, Hickner began holding sessions with his studio employees where he could explain and share his knowledge. Nearly 20 years later and after a fruitful and fulfilling career, he has finally released those words of wisdom as a book.
What I really enjoyed about this book is that it was one part how to succeed in business and one part biography. Hickner does a fantastic job of incorporating stories, anecdotes and lessons from his career so that they make the principles he’s trying to teach come to life. He doesn’t just tell you what to do, he also shows you how he or others he’s worked with did it. This biographical structure also helped me to better understand Hickner and his career better. With each page, I was excited to see what story from what studio and what time of his life he would share next.
The book is separated into two parts: “Making Your Dream Happen” and “Leading and Growing.” The first part–“Making Your Dream Happen”–tells wide-eyed animation newbies what to expect and how to succeed in their new jobs. He explains the skills and attitudes he and other successful animators had that made them stand out from their peers.
One of the main takeaways I had from this section was the power of attitude; those with positive, optimistic attitudes are usually the ones who succeed. Another takeaway was the importance of taking opportunities. Don’t look at certain assignments as demotions or beneath you, use them as opportunities to show off your very best work and show that you are dependable.
The second half of the book–“Leading and Growing”–focuses on what to do once you’ve been promoted to lead teams of people. Basically, what to do once animating isn’t your main responsibility anymore. This half won’t be as relevant to green animators, but will be important down a few years down the line. Many artists go to school to learn how to draw, animate and create art; however, they never learn how to be good leaders and managers, yet are thrust into those roles with expectations to succeed. Hickner emphasizes management principles that will make sure that you don’t fail when giving the opportunity to lead.
I also enjoyed the cute drawings of the book’s mascots, a cat and dog, which helped to further visualize the lessons throughout the book. The cat and dog each represented goofus and gallant and basically showed you what to not do and what to do. It became easier to put yourself in each of their shoes and ask yourself, “Which one of these am I in this situation?”
While this book is called Animating Your Career, yet you do not have to be an animator to gain something from it. No matter what creative role in a studio someone is in, I believe they will find value in this book. I, myself, do not work in the animation industry at all, yet I still found insightful principles that I could apply in my own career to help me succeed.
After reading this book, I wanted to share if with all my friends, whether they were animators or not. The book is a very easy, quick read because Hickner does a fantastic job at enveloping the reader in his story while simultaneously teaching the success principles. Whatever stage of your career, whether in the animation industry or not, you’ll find a lot of insights in this book, while having a great time reading it.
Animating Your Career: Book | E-book