Sunday, June 10, 2012

AnimSchool Interview: Disney Recruiter Matt Roberts

We'd like to welcome our friend Matt Roberts.  Can you tell us a little about your background and how it has helped you in your position as a recruiter at Disney?

I was actually adopted by a family of astronauts who found me on the doorstep of their lunar base and raised me as one of their own. Life amongst the cosmos was swell--beautiful night skies, exotic breathing helmets, food in tubular paste form. It was excellent.  But then when my astrofamily brought me back to earth with them, things changed. I had difficulty adapting to the new-found force of gravity and I subsequently bounced from job to job:  ratchet hygienist, latter day viking, I even used to dress up and scare people away from abandoned amusement parks until a group of meddling kids put an end to that REAL quick. It seemed like I was out of options when I came into the acquaintance of a mouse in red shorts who decided to take a chance on me and the rest, as we in the astro business used to say, is history.
I wish any of the above were true but I don't know how to finish this sentence. Believe it or not, I actually come from an animation background (a glorious, uproarious medium that I've wanted to go into since I was in the 8th grade). Needless to say, coming from an artistic background helps me as an artistic recruiter because I can use all my training and experience to recognize appeal, entertainment, and solid foundational skills and somewhat know what I'm talking about. Since I am an artist, I can really relate to the artists that I represent as well as the artistic leadership at the studio which really helps facilitate communication to both sides of the review process. Before I became a recruiter at Walt Disney Animation, I was actually a caricature artist at Disneyland, a job that entails a lot of conversing with people from all over the place which has definitely helped prepare me for the outreach side of the job where I travel around to different conferences and schools where I give presentations about our studio and just talk craft in general with artists from all walks of life. I could go into further detail about my weird, winding path of evolving from artist to recruiter, but I'd say the above covers the broad strokes without boring your readership with my autobiography.

What's a typical day like for you at Disney?

Wow, that literally changes by the day. There's always a whole lot of reels and portfolios to assess and of course a lot of answering emails. There's always a regular influx of candidates submitting their work and at Disney we try to be as communicative as possible lending feedback and keeping applicants up to date with our latest hiring needs. Even when we're not hiring, I keep in touch with many artists who we feel could fit in well with our studio culture to both encourage their talent as well as learn what's happening in the industry today. I do a lot of collaboration with our studio talent as well to discuss what our needs will be for our current and future projects so I can anticipate searching for the most compatible talent. We're also very hands on with our new hires and keep up an active dialogue to make sure their hiring process is as smooth on them as possible.

How do you prefer an artist submit their work? Do you prefer an online portfolio format?
What is the process a portfolio/reel goes through when you receive it and what's the average time the process takes?

These days the bulk of our reviews are digital. Anyone interested in applying with Disney Animation should create a candidate profile at and either upload a digital copy of their reel or upload a link to an already existing web reel. Once you've created a profile, you can literally update it whenever you want so ideally, we should always have your most up-to-date work and info handy.

Applications are considered by both recruiters as well as the artistic leadership in the studio. Candidates whose work interests our leadership are usually contacted for an interview, and from there if all has gone well, we'll want to proceed to hire the applicant. The process really depends on our hiring needs and the timing of the application. I've hired artists within a week of applying with us, I've also tracked and held onto reels for months until we've started hiring again.

Can you say something about the timing of submissions and the hiring process? How much of getting hired is due to applying at the right time? How much time should one wait before reapplying?

Timing is definitely part of the equation, but honestly, if we think you'd make a marvelous addition to our studio, we'll wait what it takes until we can bring you aboard. There are so many great studios active in the industry today that availability doesn't always align with our needs but that's why it's so important to maintain strong relationships out there: to stay informed as to what's going on in the industry and to be prepared to apply for an opportunity once it comes along. Along with our production hiring, we also have a summer internship designed for current college students. We also have a 3-6 month long Talent Development trainee program for newer talent that's 0-3 years out of school and happens twice a year: in the spring and the fall. We always post our current positions on our website so check us out regularly to make that timing align to your advantage! It's always a good idea to apply every 6 months; that way it's more likely a new opportunity has come along but even more important, it gives you enough time to significantly update your reel with your best and latest work.

Are you seeing more qualified applicants in the last few years than before? Is the bar raising for everyone as the 3D animation industry matures?

I would say the bar is definitely and steadily rising. Not only are there more studios developing quality content, but potential animators have more resources at their fingertips than ever before. From online schools such as the very host of this interview, to books on art-of and how-to, to affordable software, to blogging/tumblr/social media communities, you have a lot of options in developing your craft and receiving quality feedback to strengthen your craft.

How many modeler and rigger reels to you receive compared with animation reels?

We really receive an equal amount of applications across disciplines. The majority of reels come in response to posted open positions so the number of submissions really varies depending on when we're hiring and for what.

Lastly, what are some tips you recommend for an animator to get his/her reel noticed? What are some tips for a modeler or rigger?

With our studio, the 3 most important recommendations I can give to animators are acting, acting, acting!!!!! A reel demonstrating a solid versatility in performance and entertainment value are the best way to get noticed. Don't give us any gimmicks, don't worry about putting music to your reel, just show us your full range as an actor. Give us a multitude of personalities on your reel that feel like genuinely different, thinking characters that even ideally, come off as done by different animators. Give us a variety of acting techniques:  broad, subtle, comedic, dramatic, dialogue, pantomime, cartoony, realistic, etc. Think in terms of subtext and making scenes with at least two characters interacting with each other so that they can play off each others personalities. A recommendation I often throw out there is that if you have access to a quality quadruped rig, do an acting test with that to show you can believably move a different set of anatomy yet do so with attitude and expression. Give us genuine emotion and specific nuance, not generic expressions. We're looking for actors, so treat your reel like an audition and wow us with your versatility.

For modeling, the 3 most important recommendations are appeal, appeal appeal! We have very high aesthetic standards at Disney so we need to see that a modeler has a keen artistic eye and can tackle a multitude of stylization from simple to complex. We want to see that you have a strong grasp of anatomy and form but that you are very comfortable sculpting stylization. Give us not only a variety of artistic styles, but a variety of characters and/or environments as well. On your reel, we definitely like to see turntables so give us the finished model, the grayscale, and the wireframe so we can see how you go from topology to completion. It's also a good idea to include the original art your model is based on in the corner so that we can see how you actively adapt two-dimensional appeal into CG form (if you're modeling from another artist's work, just accredit the art to them in the image). Since we are such an acting centric studio, if you're an organic modeler make sure your characters show potential for acting and expression, something appealing enough that once rigged, an animator can jump in and get a full array of expression out of it.  Knowledge of ZBrush and Mudbox is definitely a plus. For rigging, like the previous disciplines, show us your versatility. Examples can be a human, a quadruped, a crab, a bridge, etc. Remember that a Character TD's job is really to service the animator, so when showing off the articulation of your rigs, make sure it's in ways that are believable and appropriate to the character and how it would move and show us that the articulation is efficient and intuitive to an animator's needs. We like Character TDs who are real problem solvers, who anticipate issues even before they arise so showing us custom tools you've built is also an impressive plus. I often recommend making friends with animators and giving them your rigs to play with; you won't really know how efficient and smooth your rig is until you let an animator test it to the point of breaking and embrace their notes to make it all that it can be. Showing your rig in action also helps demonstrate its full potential via applied use. Again, we love acting so give us characters that are set up for a wide range of expression and appeal.

We would like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer our questions.


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