What does it take to create an animation career?

Lydia Evans and Riley McLaren – animators, teachers and long-time collaborators – are the co-owners of Chunk Motion, a successful design studio. Their recipe for building a career in animation? Hone in on your talents and take the time to explore until you find the perfect fit.

Lydia fell in love with animation as a child after watching the extras on a Jackie Chan movie. ‘They built a town completely in 3D and then comped it into a desert shoot location,’ she says. ‘It blew my little mind that so much of what I saw in the film wasn’t actually there. I had no idea they could do that.’

Staying true to her dream, Lydia followed the passion for animation all the way to Deakin University where she explored the different types of animation.

She experimented with frame-by-frame animation which involves either illustrating individual frames to create the illusion of movement or manipulating an object in increments so that it appears to move on its own. ‘Frame-by-frame animation is something I never wanted to do,’ Lydia explains. ‘I didn't have the patience or drawing skills.’

Another option was 3D animation where animated objects are digitally created to move like real objects in a three-dimensional space. ‘I didn’t have the 3D skills to create the sort of things I wanted to,’ Lydia says.

It was during this process of elimination that Lydia happened upon her niche. ‘Throughout university I discovered motion design, a subset of animation that really seemed to make sense in my mind,’ she says.

Motion design creates motion with graphics and design in a film making or production context. As Lydia explains: ‘2D shape/vector based assets can be keyframed to create attractive animations.’

Riley was also drawn to motion design, but not until he’d explored all other options. ‘I have always been a creative person, but I couldn't nail down exactly what I wanted to focus on,’ he says. ‘Illustration, writing, game making, film making, animation, graphic design, web design: I feel like I've tried them all out.’

Riley attended Deakin with the intention of majoring in film. In his second year of study, Riley finally made it onto a set and began creating a short film. ‘Nothing against film sets, but they are just not for me,’ he says. ‘Once we made it to post-production, where I could piece together the whole film and colour grade it, I flourished and felt most at home.’

Riley found that studying at Deakin allowed him to explore different passions until he honed in on a career. ‘It played out more like a choose your own adventure where you could pick and choose what interested you and benefited you the most throughout your time at university,’ he says. ‘Looking at other universities, I felt locked into just film and television without much exploration into other aspects.’

For those considering studying one of Deakin’s courses in film, TV and animation, Riley’s advice is: ‘go into the course with wide eyes and don't brush off any particular technique or method without first trying. If you're someone that loves 2D animation, don't instantly dismiss 3D or other programs because you could just find something that you didn't even know you were looking for.’

A collaborative career

While still at Deakin, Riley and Lydia collaborated on their third-year production project and this shaped their creative relationship. The project, The Rusty Hook, was selected to be screened as part of the official selection at the Melbourne International Animation Festival and the Australian International Animation Festival. ‘We worked together exceptionally well and because of that we’ve supported each other to further our careers,’ Lydia says.

Upon graduation, Riley started a full-time role with a video production company and Lydia worked as a freelance motion designer. ‘I did a whole collection of jobs, lovely narrative pieces, some quick, sweet shape animation,’ Lydia says. ‘I was getting a decent amount of work but naturally I was still in the mindset that I needed a “real job” and that freelancing was just temporary.’

When Riley’s employer asked him if he knew anyone else with a similar skillset to his own, he recommended Lydia. ‘It was full-time work in my field!’ Lydia says. ‘I was pretty proud to be employed so quickly out of uni.’

Her enthusiasm didn’t last too long as the company treated their employees poorly. ‘Riley and I were coming home from our full-time jobs and freelancing at night and on the weekends which we really preferred over what we were creating during the day,’ Lydia says.

They quit their jobs and freelanced side-by-side, building their businesses together and eventually creating their own Motion Design studio. Their impressive portfolio includes video content for CrownBet, Gami Chicken, Australia Post, Digital Innovation Festival, Prostmate and more. ‘We’ve always got each other for support and inspiration and there’s no way we’d be where we are today without each other.’

Riley says his time at Deakin taught him about collaboration. ‘The most important skill that I learnt throughout the course was communicating and forming connections with other students,’ he explains. ‘Opportunities like Deakin TV opened up so many doorways, especially as an animation student. Even three years later, I continue to work with past members on a range of projects from commercial to personal.’

It’s these connections that help you to create a sustainable career. ‘Being good at what you do is one thing, but finding like-minded people and forming friendships with people in neighbouring fields can help put you in people's brains,’ Riley says. ‘When they need an animation, you want them to instantly think of you.’

Taking the leap

If you see a future for yourself in animation, Lydia suggests you jump straight in. ‘Just make stuff for the fun of it and you’ll learn so much,’ she says. ‘This industry is wonderfully supportive and everyone is bursting to share how they made something, to recommend resources and advice.’

Lydia speaks for herself and Riley when she says animation is a fantastic career. ‘It can be challenging at times but it is exceptionally rewarding to see your creations go out into the world.’

Keen to get started on your own animation career? Learn more about Deakin’s Bachelor of Film, Television and Animation.