The digital art industry may appear impenetrable, but if you've got the time and will, internships can offer a mainline into its beating heart. You can gain experience, impress future bosses and even hang out with your heroes.
And that's not all. As well as giving you the opportunity to make lasting industry contacts, internships offer essential practical experience. For Robert Simos, an internship with Blind Wink Games provided important lessons in confidence building.
"It was intimidating when I first started," he admits, "not getting past 'Hi!' when working alongside artists I admire, but by the time I’d reached the end of my four-month placement it felt more like a home than a workplace." Also see our piece on how to transform a design internship into a job.
Build your confidence
Industrial Light & Magic studio's art director Christian Alzmann views this as one of the strongest appeals of internships. "I can’t stress enough the importance of being personable in the art world," he says. "Artists have a tendency to be shy, so I think it should be mandatory that all students either spend a year in retail, or get themselves in an art studio environment to build their confidence."
Once you're in, you can learn aspects of the job that aren't taught in school. "The art director of Sony Pictures Animation Marcelo Vignali really tested me on my research skills and how to correctly apply them to the work I was doing," says recent Sony intern Peggy Chung of her experience. "It was a wake-up call to the exact details involved in animation."
Use it as a learning curve
For Christian, internships shouldn't be regarded as a passive learning experience. "Do the job and do it some more in your free time," he advises. And recalling his first position in a studio: "I used it to absorb all the artistic powers I could. If I saw the concept guys working on artwork for a big creature project, I went home and gave that same assignment to myself. I did that until I felt I could hang with those guys artistically."
Conversely, all the will in the world won't help you if you're not equipped for the placement. "Go to school first," Robert advises. "I wanted an internship before studying, but school prepared me with the right level of skills and ingrained the importance of presenting my work and myself right. This allowed me to make the most of my placement."
Know your employer
Peggy agrees that a little preparation is essential before contacting companies. "Of course you must spend time researching companies," she says, "check out their website and see when the due dates are, but that's assuming you've already got a blog, website or PDF of your work to send them, with your resume and covering letter at the ready."
Whether your internship pays a minimum wage or nothing at all, training begets training, and once you've proved that you want to learn all that’s on offer, more opportunities will arise. "Many of the large companies have extensive training programs for all employees," says Christian, "and along with the training that's available online, it shows that if you want to make it happen, there's nothing stopping you."
This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 52.
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