5 Tips for Starting Out in the Creative Industries

21 November 2021Written by Emma Woodward

At a recent AIT Open Day, a panel of industry experts from the worlds of digital design, games, filmmaking, and 3D and 2D animation, were invited to speak about their own experiences and to answer student questions.

The creative experts on the panel had plenty of wisdom to share. All had been through the process of finding their way in the creative industries, and many are now involved in mentoring and training others.

Based on the discussion, here are five tips for anyone starting out in the creative industries.

1. Keep Creating and Building Your Portfolio

All our experts agreed that if you want to work in a creative industry, then it’s best to start working on projects now. If you want to work in digital design for games, 3D or 2D animation, mobile app development, or film, then start creating your own projects so that you can showcase those digital design skills in a portfolio or showreel.

Mark Millar is the business development manager at Alt.vfx – a world-leading visual effects and post-production company. His advice was to take every opportunity presented when studying a creative course that also offers access to software and equipment.

“Some students tend to come out of high school and then treat the course as if it’s still high school. But that is your foundation for going on and working in the industry, so take it as seriously as you can and work as hard as you can,” Mark says.

“If you’re really passionate about rigging, for instance, then do the little rigging projects on the side, and show the inner workings of a particular model and show how you’ve built the rigs in your showreel.”

Chris Murphy is the owner and director of Pub Games, and an evangelist for Epic Games. With a specialised skill set as a technical artist, his evangelist role sees him sent into games, film, and animation studios to fix problems.

His advice for building and showcasing your skills?

“Definitely treating school as a way to build your portfolio. Aggressively putting time into that final year project, and treating any assignment that’s going to have some sort of output as something that someone might actually see and look at one day,” Chris says.

“A bit more time spent on those assignments now means you’re not actually going to then have to finish a tonne of extra portfolio work when you finish school.

“The other piece of advice I would give is that throughout your studies, whenever you can polish something up, do your best to polish it up. Even if it’s touching on some of the fields that you’re not generally familiar with. Say you make a really cool animation, then putting that animation in a nice environment that’s nicely lit, and spending that little bit of extra time can be a really nice way to force yourself to understand the rest of it from a holistic perspective, and that can have a lot of knock-on benefits later on when you’re looking for a job,” Chris pauses for a moment before adding, “and also if you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.”

If you’d like to follow this advice, then you’ll find all the support that you need at AIT. Our courses help students to build their digital design portfolios and showreels from day one, with group projects, access to equipment, small classes so that the campus runs more like a studio, and opportunities to receive constructive feedback on your work from educators and from industry professionals.

2. Keep Knocking on Doors Until One Opens

The panellists also agreed that passion and persistence will be key when pursuing your career in the creative industries.

April Howard is a film producer, and a founding partner at Rollingball Productions. She has worked as an actor and journalist, and is currently studying for a Masters in Screen Business and Leadership.

“One of the big takeaways that I remember hearing, and that I probably need to remind myself of, is if you keep knocking on doors one will eventually open,” April says.

“We’ve all been there ourselves. Just knock on the doors. Someone will say yes. Someone will have that cuppa with you and have that chat, we all need mentors, and the more networking you can do, the better.”

Mark shared the story of a student who literally knocked on the door of the production studio where he worked, saying that he, “just appeared at the front gate one day.”

It later turned out that the student hadn’t appeared as unexpectedly as first thought, and that he had arranged to be there when he “emailed one of the producers because they were distant cousins, or friends, or something.” However, by this stage, Mark was already showing the young student around.

“He was just starting his course,” Mark says, “so I showed him around, showed him some showreels and talked about what it is we do.

“And then about a year ago, he emailed me saying, ‘Hey, I’ve just finished my final year film – do you want to have a look?’

“He wasn’t even applying for any jobs, he was just kind of keeping in contact, saying, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve been up to.’ And as soon as I watched it, I picked up the phone and said, ‘Do you want a job?’ Because we were looking for someone to come on as a junior lighting artist, and within two weeks he was on a plane up to start his professional career. And it was just purely his own initiative to maintain contact with the people that he’d met along his journey, and it just hit at the exact right time for us and for him.”

3. Work Hard, Network, and Learn About the Industry

“Without doubt, it’s an industry of hard work,” April says. “Sure, there’s a little, small portion of it that’s got some glamour in it, but the rest of it is rolling up your sleeves and being willing to work in a team and collaborate.”

“Recently we employed a producer, and what really made some of the candidates stand out was when they went that extra mile.”

“With a small team, we lean on each other to fill gaps… Our director/cinematographer, for example, spends a lot of time outside of work making sure he’s across the latest technologies, or the latest industry trends and things like that.”

Jacquie Trowell is an award-winning animation series director with Flying Bark Productions and an independent stop motion animator with over 25 years of experience in commercial 3D and 2D animation. Jacquie also urged graduates to show their passion for, and commitment to, the industry, and a willingness to work hard and collaborate with others.

“We all want to be working, right? That’s the reason we do this job,” Jacquie says. “If we didn’t have to earn money it would be great; because we could do what we wanted, but we do have to work, and we do want to be part of the industry.”

“I really value a good communicator, someone who’s ready to work with people. I think that collaborative projects in a student environment are really helpful – they help you work with people, and especially if you go to one of the bigger companies, you’re going to be working with a lot of people.

“Be prepared to learn. You’ve got to be prepared to learn all the time. That’s what I look for – not just the talent. You’ve got to have people skills, you’ve got to be able to communicate, you’ve got to work as a team, be prepared to learn, and then reap the rewards.”

In their final year at AIT, students form their own production teams to fulfil an industry brief, and develop a game, create a short film, animate their 2D or 3D digital designs, or refine their mobile app development. In addition to this immersive experience, final year internships provide students with a way to learn about the industry, and to practise collaborating with a real, working team in their chosen field.

Tamara Popper is AIT’s industry/internship liaison manager, and gets to see firsthand the opportunities provided to students through internships.

“Our internships allow students to work in industry for course credits. It is an actual subject, they write reports,” Tamara says. “They work with a supervisor, with a mentor, the environment is collaborative, and they get that valuable feedback on their work.

“There are real job outcomes. Some students are hired straight out of their internship, while others find contract work.”

“Students have won awards with the work that’s come out of their internship partnerships,” Tamara says.

Two AIT students, Nathalia Andrade Da Silva and Gabor Vermes, worked with LiminalVR in the digital design space to create the virtual reality experience ColorgizeVR which took Bronze at this year’s AEAF Awards.

“At the very least, at the end of the internship, students have a great reference, something to put on their CV, and they’ve started to develop their network. This industry works on word of mouth. It’s one of those ‘who you know’ industries.”

4. Make the Most of the Opportunities for Emerging Talent in Australia Right Now

The panel agreed that the flow-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic had actually created opportunities for graduates. From exciting new opportunities in 2D animation to traditional film roles, production companies are looking to expand, and with no overseas talent flying in, opportunities to support larger productions have been on the rise.

“There’s much more opportunity for students to actually get their foot in the door,” Mark says.

“I have to agree with Mark,” Jacquie says, “it really is a good time to be getting into the industry. I know, just with us crewing up [at Flying Bark Productions] on the second season of Wolf TV at the moment, we are battling with crew.”

Jacquie went on to point out the importance of going where the work is, and honing your skills to match the opportunities.

Chris had further advice on using your existing skill set to make the most of the opportunities that are available.

“If you’re looking at ending up at a very large studio… they’re going to often be looking for someone that’s more specialised,” Chris says.

“The smaller the team that you’re likely to be on, then you’re going to have more control over the overall product, but you’re also more likely to be more of a generalist, because you’re going to have to wear a bunch of different hats to get things done.

“So, don’t feel bad if your portfolio seems like it shows that you’ve got a rather general skill set. That’s actually a really positive thing in some spaces. And don’t feel bad if you think that you’re only good at one thing, because there are plenty of teams that need that one thing done really well.”

It also pays to remember that studios in Australia actually value emerging talent.

“Companies come to AIT looking for interns, in games, app development, in 2D animation,” Tamara says. “The companies have a need, they have been emerging themselves, and they get access to cutting edge ideas and talent.

“They are looking for emerging talent. They want to train up the best talent within their own studio, to train them on their pipeline.”

5. Be Prepared for Your Career to Take a Different Path

Jacquie, April, and Mark have all had varied careers, and while Chris says his “background’s a straight line” in terms of always heading towards games, he wasn’t initially expecting to take the path that he did.

April spoke about the different times in her life when she had been pulled towards and away from a creative career. After acting in television series during her high school years, April says that after that, “it all got a little bit scary when I was being offered jobs that meant I was going to have to leave my home and move to Sydney.”

“So, I decided then to call it stumps with acting and just focus on finishing school, and then, because I was a little bit young and from a regional part of Australia, I didn’t really know what to do, so I did business, just to have a foundation of something, but what I would say is, when it comes to being a creative person… I don’t think you can avoid finding your way home.”

From there, April’s career continued to evolve and change, as she came to the realisation that screen was the medium that she loved, and that she could also tell stories through journalism. Now, she continues to share stories on screen through Rollingball.

Mark also added that it’s common to see students or interns who start out on one track, before finding themselves specialising in something else.

“As you go through your course, be prepared to suddenly discover that you’re doing something that you didn’t intend to be doing,” Mark says.

Imagine a creative college where you can pursue your dreams in 2D animation, 3D animation, film, game design, IT or mobile app development.

Find out more about AIT and our courses by visiting our connect page and choosing your own adventure. Talk to someone about your study options, book a campus tour and have a look around, chat with a current AIT student or get started on your application.

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