A large part of presenting yourself to the industry as a potential employee or resource is defining yourself. What am I, what do I have to offer and how might I fit in to various types of teams. That’s basically what you’re doing when you apply for a job. (Its also a good way to explain that no one should take a job rejection personally – a top talent doesn’t do an employer any good if that talent’s abilities don’t compliment those of the existing team. Nor will a less experienced applicant get a chance if the basis skillset and interests don’t match – or if the time isn’t right.)
One of the most decisive ways of defining yourself is in terms of being a generalist or a specialist. This will seem obvious in the context of direct skillset… an animator that can’t find a slider if the rig’s interface hasn’t been prepared ‘properly’ is a specialist, a technical director that not only rigs, programs and shades but also animates is a generalist. Both have advantages and disadvantages and fortune or misfortune when looking for a job.
But there’s another way of viewing this distinction that has no direct correlation to skillset. Content. Take a hard-body nurbs auto carriage modeller – there’s a classic specialist based on techniques and task. But then there’s the specialist that models, textures, rigs and animates sauropods. And only sauropods. Or intestinal lining. Or criminal reconstructions. Animation technologies are currently overflowing into countless other industries – its truly a golden age. The more generalist your scope in skillset, the more likely you’ll be able to fill one of these niches. You’ll also make yourself attractive to cooperations with that theropod animator over there, or that heart visualization expert – just in case a client calls and wants something beyond the range of your offering.
And there’s a third specialist/generalist distinction; you can be a specialist or generalist within the production workflow. A specialist will shrug his or her shoulders when confronted with the “bigger picture”. A generalist will tend to be aware of how his or her work integrates not only with those directly before and after him or her in the pipeline, but with the film as a whole. A generalist is usually a better communicator because of this, though not necessarily so. A pipeline generalist will be more capable of assessing priorities and consequences and therefore tends to make the better supervisor. They also make the better subcontractor. In contrast to the day-rate freelancer, the subcontract freelancer assumes part of the risk that a job contract proposes by putting a fixed price on it, and therefore appeals to a much wider range of employer. Sounds good, and it is – but this breed of employer is the most difficult of all – the partner.
Next: jobs as partnerships
Jobs; where to find ‘em