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10 Simple Steps To Get Started In Animation, VFX & Video Games

get started Feb 07, 2018

Want the Guidebook and checklist I talk about in this video? Click here.

Are you wondering how to get started learning the right skills so you can one day break into the film animation, VFX, or game industries? 

If so, I'm gonna walk you through the 10 steps that you need to focus on in order to make that happen.

And if you want a checklist (to help you track your progress), click here!

Before we begin, my name is Mike L. Murphy… 

I worked on Lord of the Rings (I was one of the main Gollum animators), Harry Potter, Iron Man, Iron Giant, Fast and Furious… 

I also worked on a bunch of crummy movies! 

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to work in the movie industry. When I was 16, luckily somebody saw my lousy high school artwork and asked ‘do you want to be an animator?" 

PRO TIP: You don't have to be super awesome to get started. So if you're thinking, "I have to be the greatest artist ever before I can begin studying animation, VFX or games” the reality is you just have to have the passion and the drive to develop amazing skills over time.  Yes, it takes YEARS to get good, so never compare yourself to others.  

Back to our story…I really wanted make movies… I didn't really understand what animation was versus filmmaking, so I said, "Sure!" 

It turns out this person’s brother was an animator at Disney.

Before I knew it, I getting a tour of Disney animation while they were creating Aladdin.  I thought, "This is really cool. I wanna do this." 

Fortunately the artists I met mentored me… They laid out some steps for me to take.  Now it’s my time to pass them onto you!

Here’s who this article is for:

  • Kids who are curious in art and find it exciting to do
  • Teens who are considering having a career in the arts
  • Hobbyists who want to develop pro skills (and even start a career)

Whoever you are, I promise this info will point you in the right direction.


1. Commit to Making Your Dreams Happen!

This is a very hard and competitive industry, and you're always judged on your work. 

That means you need to be very determined to do whatever it takes to develop your skills.

If you're not confident in yourself (not necessarily in your current skill level, 'cause you're gonna get a lot better), then you need passion and drive to master your skills (that’s when confidence happens for you). 

In other words, if you don't believe that this is what you're meant to do in life, then you're not gonna make it happen. 

That’s because life is going to beat you down!

For every 100 “NO’s” you get, you'll get one “YES”. 

You have to be willing to have everyone say, "No, no, no. You're not good enough. You're not talented enough. We're not hiring you, right. No, no, no." 

Yet if you keep trying, keep believing in yourself… eventually you're gonna get that YES, and that's when things change for you. 

So commit to making your dreams happen! 

No one is going to come along and say, "Here's studio worthy skills, here’s a job at your dream studio” It just doesn't work that way. You have to make it happen for yourself.

Will you commit to doing that?

2. Understand the Process that Projects get Created In

When I was first starting out, I just thought, "Walt Disney just made all those movies. He just sat in a room and did it all himself”. 

Boy was I mis-informed!

Making any sort of movie, video game or app requires a whole team of people. 

When you go out there and have your own career in this industry, you're gonna be one of many. 

Think of this industry as if it’s a car...  

Is it possible you could design it, create all the materials, build it out, test drive it, and market it? 


That means in this industry, you’re going do one thing (the exception is if you get a job as a generalist…but those are typically on very small projects after you’re broken into the industry having mastered one important skill). 

Instead of doing everything, you’ll be the person that makes the seats or the fuzzy dice that hang off the rear view mirror.  You're not going to do everything! That’s why you need to understand the entire process. 

The step-by-step process that is used to create exciting projects is called aProduction Pipeline’. 

Basically, every project starts as an idea that eventually ends as a finished project.  It’s just as if a car company said ‘we need a car to sell’ and then took all the steps to build it.  An entire team of talented people need to make that all happen.

What are all the action steps that have to happen between idea to finished product?  What are the different jobs and skill sets that are required to do it all?  How long does the entire process take?

If you want to go deeper in this, check out my 5 Skills Workshop.

3. Develop the 5 Skills Studios Require 

Speaking of the 5 Skills Workshop, you need to master the 5 skills that world-class studios require you have.

A lot of artists have the misconception that they have to be great at everything. Like, "I have to be the world's best drafts-person, modeler, animator, rigger, lighter and texture artist…” 

It takes years to master just one of those things!  So why spread yourself thin trying to get good at them all?

Here’s a dose of reality…you can only really do one thing well at a time.   

But studios require you master 5 skills

That means you must know what they are as soon as possible, and then focus on learning the skills in the right order so they compound and make each next skill much easier to learn.

In the 5 Skills Workshop I reveal what all five of those skills are in great detail. 

The one that all artists know they must master is ‘artistry’.   Being a great ‘character animator’ is an example of that.  Or being a modeler.  Or rigger.  Or storyboard artist.

If you're just starting out, you need to be able to determine what type of ‘artistry’ you want to focus on.

I’ve seen so many students waste years being unfocused.  They then go to apply for a job and aren’t a master of anything.  They are good at a lot, but not world-class in any.

Unfortunately, you have to pay the bills! 

That means you need to plan how you’ll get a job, and build a sustainable career. If you haven't developed an ‘artistry’ enough, you’’ never break into the industry. So it's really important that you understand what the five skills are, and remember that artistry is just one of them!

To find out the other four skills, see if the 5 Skills Workshop is right for you (since you're reading this now I'll extend the 65% off discount to you...that's a savings of $150)..

4. Focus on Foundational Skills First 

We talked about ‘artistry’, and the foundation of all ‘artistry’ is drawing. 

You might be thinking, "I don't wanna draw, I wanna do CG! There’s no need for me to learn how to draw a darn thing."

Well, that's a bad misconception to have! Whenever you apply to a studio, they're going ask to see your life drawings. 

If you don't know what ‘life drawing’ is, it’s where you draw the human form.

Typically these are nude models.  It's kind of nerve-wracking if you've never done it before! But the reality is that's just art. You have to understand how the body looks, how it moves, how it flows. 

The reality of drawing is that it’s a language.

You're describing three-dimensional objects in the real world.  You view something in real-space, think about how to describe it on a flat piece of paper, then commit to putting your ideas down. 

So you’re taking a 3D idea (three-dimensional) and transforming it to 2D (two-dimensional, or flat).

When you know how to do quickly communicate your visual ideas in a visual form, you’re speaking a language.  It’s much easier to draw what you’re thinking rather than trying to describe it in words.  

Studios demand that you know how to ‘speak the language of drawing’ so that you can easily communicate with the rest of the crew as you work together to create a visual thing (a movie, game, commercial, show, etc).

The other skill that you need, aside from drawing, is story. 

I'm not talking about writing a script or a novel! 

I simply mean that whenever you create anything, you need to be clear on the ideas you want to communicate before you put that pen or pencil down on paper. 

You must always think ”What's the main idea that I'm trying to communicate here?” 

Most artists have too many ideas, and they have trouble committing to just one.  When you master the art of ‘being clear on what your ideas are’ you’ll be light-years ahead of everyone else!

You understand those two foundational skills, especially if you're starting out!  

That’s why it’s really really important that you get life drawing classes.  If you can't access them then just search online for pictures of people in bathing suits.  Get a sketchbook and just start drawing what you see. It's not as good as seeing somebody in real life and drawing them, but it's the next best thing.

Another action you can take is to visit a local park or mall and draw people.  Wear dark glasses so they don’t think you’re creepy as you stare at them!  Then do quick gesture drawings.  This is where you give yourself 5-45 seconds to draw the main ideas of whatever you’re committing to paper. 

You have to speak a ‘visual language’ if you want to have a career creating exciting visuals! 

Make sense?  You gotta make drawing a top priority for yourself.  No excuses!

5. Do Simple Projects First

Next up is do simple projects first. 

A lot of artists try to bite off more than they can chew, then they choke!

Instead of having a simple ‘project’ to learn a specific skill (for example, animating a bouncing ball to learn basic animation principles), they try to model a human, rig it, animate it, light it and choreograph it in a massive fight scene.

If you do  that, you’re gonna get overwhelmed and end up wasting time with no real skill to show for it. 

It's not to say that down the road when you've mastered all of those individual skill sets you can’t do something big and ambitious. But for now focus on little projects that will inch you towards your desired goals.

Earlier I mentioned drawing.  Instead of trying to paint a giant mural, how about you simply fill a sketchbook up with quick sketches?  That way you get a lot of experience and the workload is manageable.

For now, I recommend you focus on the simple little things that are gonna let you develop the skills of drawing and story before you move to the more advanced stuff.  

Here’s my recommended steps for developing those skills:

  1. Get a sketchbook
  2. Block out :15 minutes a day to draw
  3. Give yourself permission to make really awful drawings!
  4. Go someplace where people are and draw them
  5. If you can’t get out of the house, then find images of people online and draw them.
  6. For each drawing you do, answer this question first ‘what is the main idea I’m trying to convey?’

6. Build a Strong Portfolio (to get into Art School)

Here you want to build a strong portfolio so you can get into art school.

When I was starting out, there were only a handful of schools in the world that taught animation. Now it seems like every school teaches it…and the quality depends on who the main instructors are. 

If you want to learn from industry pros you need to find a school in a major city that does animation like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, New York, Vancouver and London. 

Another (and cheaper option) is online animation schools.  These often have working professionals teaching them and allow you to study anywhere (since you can attend classes online).  

If you want to become a professional, you must study with professionals.  There’s no way around it. 

And all those schools require you submit a portfolio in order to get accepted.  This helps them make sure you’re ready to be trained, and have your skillsets well enough developed.

I recommend you focus on your education and the foundational skills of drawing and story when you’re first starting out.  Then you can add in the 3D graphics trainings once you’re solid on the basics. 

I know its sexy to jump straight into CG (computer graphics), but that’s like putting the cherry on top of thin air…you need the cake underneath it to hold the cherry up!

A lot of my old college classmates never got jobs in the industry because they didn't take the time to focus on the foundational skills.  

7. Attend Art School and FOCUS!

As mentioned before, a lot of artists want to study everything!

Their focus gets divided all over and they rarely develop any skills that become ‘studio worthy’. The reality is that you need to spend a vast amount of time to really master getting good at just one skill. 

Assuming you focused on drawing and story, you can expand upon that once you’re in college. 

I recommend you spend your first 2 years trying to get a general understanding of all the different skills involved in creating CG graphics and animation.  Then in your final years you must FOCUS and try to get really good at just one skill.   

You’ll eventually have to graduate college and get a job.  Studios will only hire you if your skills are ‘studio worthy’. 

In other words, it needs to look close to the quality of work the studio is already creating.  If you wasted all your time getting good at a lot of skills, but great at none, you won’t get hired.   

It's really hard to break into the industry, and the only way you're going to it is your art has to be as good as all the other professionals out there.   

Keep in mind that once you launch your career you can continue to develop your other skills in your free time.  You won’t be forced to only do one thing for the rest of your life.

When I first started my career I was hired to be a character animator (that means I animated characters doing mostly acting).  My mastery of animation led me to develop new skills of storytelling, directing and producing.  You can evolve too, but only if you focus on one thing at a time!

Thinking of doing online classes?  They typically will have you specialize in learning one skill only . 

The biggest question you must answer when you’re halfway through college is ‘what is the #1 skill that I want to get paid to do?” 

If you can answer that, you’ll be one step ahead of everyone else!

8. Make Industry Connections 

You want to start making industry connections as soon as possible. Artists are introverts, and stretching outside of our comfort zones (like meeting new people) is scary.  The reality is that you're gonna get all your jobs from referrals. 

I estimate that 95% of all the jobs I ever got was when a friend recommended me to studio they were working at. 

That's gonna happen to you too.

That’s why it’s really important that you start making industry connections today so you have a network of people to help you get a job later.

How to meet others in the industry (or who will eventually be)?  Jump into forums. 

In fact, you should click here to join our Group over on Facebook. It’s full of amazing people like yourself who are wanting to get started, and make friends who support them.

You can also find where local industry events are.  Nothing local?  How about local art gallery openings where you can talk to other artists? 

Get out of your comfort zone and make sure that you start meeting people whom have similar interests.  

9. Apply for Junior Positions at a Studio

/>Assuming you have industry connections, you should simply call them up and say, "I just graduated. I got my portfolio. Do you know anyone that's hiring?" 

If they know, like and trust you they’ll probably say, "Let me go down to Human Resources and see if we're hiring here…” 

If they are, the studio recruiters (usually the Human Resources department, or the dead of whatever department you’d be apply to work in) will set up an interview. That's where you apply for junior positions. 

What I mean by ‘junior position’ is you're not going to be the head of the studio right out of college. You're gonna get hired as a junior-level artist.  They’ll give you easier tasks to do until you get good enough to be promoted to ‘senior-level’ positions. 

Don't have the mindset that you must get out of school and immediately get hired at Pixar right away…  

Instead you should say to yourself, "I want any job at any studio that'll hire me. I want to get paid to get more experience and build my portfolio up.”

10. Build a Career

What is an ‘artistic career’?

This is basically where you’re proven that studios will hire you. 

Your main goal is to get 3 jobs.  3 is a lucky number and shows a clear pattern. 

After that you’ll find it 10x easier to keep getting work.  That’s when you can move out of your parents house and get your own place, lease a car and buy a new pair of sneakers!

With every job you do, your #1 goal is to keep building your portfolio. 

A portfolio consists of:

  1. Reel. This is any motion based work you have, like animation or 3D model turn-arounds.
  2. Website. Your website should have your contact information and work samples.
  3. Portfolio. This is your drawings that show you are solid in your foundational skills.

Next Steps:

1. Get Your Free Course & Checklist

If you found this helpful, I’ve created a downloadable checklist that will help you track your progress as you complete these 10 steps.  You’ll also get a video, Facebook group access and a bunch of other surprises that I don’t want to spoil.  Click here to grab yours now!

2. Enroll in the 5 Skills Workshop 

Ready to go deeper and discover what studios really require you to know?

This is a $197 online workshop, but because you're here now, I'm gonna give you a very special discount. Click here for the full scoop!

I’ll even give you access to my Getting Started in Animation and VFX Guidebook. This sells for $19.95, but it’s your free bonus if you enroll in the Five Skills Workshop right now.

I really love it. I think you're gonna love it too.

Wrap Up:

I hope this gave you some insights into how to get started making your dreams happen.

If you've got any questions I suggest you join our Facebook Group. If you're not yet a member, just request to join, and then give us 24 hours (Monday through Friday) to approve you. You can go in there and start geeking out. 

Hopefully, this served you well!  Remember that only you can make your dreams happen.  So commit now and don’t let anything stop you!

All the best,


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