I get emails from students asking advice about breaking into games, film, the industry. And I thought I'd share some responses with you!
And to be clear, I'm not really posting this because I feel like I'm wise or quotable or anything like that, I'm just hoping animation students might get something from it, since I know sometimes it can be hard to stay motivated.
Thanks so much for the message dude! Sorry for the late response, we're pretty crazed around here and I wanted to set aside some good time, so pardon my stream of consciousness answers =).
Yeah so, As highly as I think of online courses like Animation Mentor, IAnimate, etc, and lord knows its done so much for me, I would always recommend at least having the experiences of an actual brick-and-mortar school, and obviously Sheridan is in the top-tier of animation schools, But man, there's just something about the energy, and the esprit-de-corps you get with the other students, on campus, pullin all nighters in the lab, stressin to make deadlines, that sort of thing yknow?! You learn so much from each other, and it really brings everyone together. I only had about 2 years of that at the Art Institute of Seattle, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. So , the Sheridan route, can bring nothing but good things for you, especially since you already seem to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of animation. Sheridan can push you to be an artist!
It was tough transitioning from games to film actually, really tough. You spend all day animating for your day job, but at the end of the day, none of my work was really applicable for a reel you might submit for a film job. So you're animating around the clock, doing new work after hours, taking courses like AM or I-Animate. It didn't happen right away for me either, it took years and years and a lot of rejection letters! So at times it's discouraging. But you know what they say, if you really want it , you'll keep trying and eventually you'll get it.
For me specifically, what happened was, a fellow student from AM, Rich Fournier, landed a temp gig at Blue Sky on Ice Age 3. He got that temp gig because he made a good impression on one of his mentors from AM. He busted his ass and performed well on that movie , so they eventually called him back for a full-time gig ! We had always kept in touch, he asked me how I was doing one day, and I remember that time in 2009, I had just been turned down for the Disney Animation internship, so I was feeling pretty down. He mentioned that Blue Sky was hiring full-timers, I thought I had absolutely no chance because I was turned from Blue Sky the year before, but he encouraged me to send him my reel anyway, and he would put in a good word because he knew my work and work ethic from AM. At the same time, I met Jamaal Bradley back in Seattle, Jamaal had worked at Sony for a few years and was then doing a stint in games at Valve, but was going back to Disney for Tangled. I had never worked with him before, but he came across my blog , saw some passion and potential, and knew I was trying to break into feature films. He took it upon himself to contact me, impart advice, take me to lunch, all to just help me get my foot in the door. It was amazing! So when I told him I was applying to Blue Sky, he was like, "Oh? Well I know supes over there, let me shot them your demo reel, they'll have some influence." And he did that, so I was attacking Blue Sky from several angles really. So that's really how I got their attention. It was all people that did me favors, and went out of their way for me.
When they actually watched my reel, they said, "Well, you need to work on your polish.... but we like your ideas." I had a bit of my short film, and assignments from AM. But I think the ideas in my short film got me hired. So one thing I like to tell students now is to push for the best ideas, and specific characters. You'll spend your whole life refining your craft, but the things that will help you stand out are your ideas.
Breaking in is the hardest thing to do, but once you get in, don't half-step. You'll start to meet tons and tons of amazing animators, and your reputation and work are your biggest assets. You have to hit the ground running. Come in, do your best on your first shots, you'll get cast better shots, the better shots you get cast, the more opportunities you have to shine.
One thing I would always always recommend too is to get to know as many people as you can. Not to say you have to be schmoozy and talkin up everyone. But most of the opportunities that came my way, came because someone put in a good word for me, and that only happened because I made great relationships with people. Back at ArenaNet, Blue Sky, and even here at Disney, my favorite animators are always hard-working, extremely humble, talented, and won't ever hesitate to help other people. And there aren't a lot like those people. Start that work ethic even now, in school. Be that guy. And as karma works it's magic, you'll find others are more than willing to help you out with things. There's no room for arrogance. Because what starts to happen when you think you know everything, besides being known as an a-hole, is that you stop learning. One of my supes here at Disney, Tony Smeed, asks anyone, even trainees, for feedback on his work. He's very talented, but one of the reasons he's so good is because he's humble enough to learn from anywhere or anyone. Those are the kinds of guys that succeed in this business, they are constantly students and people want to work with them/ hire them.
Anyway I think I've rambled on enough! Again I appreciate the message, best of luck and remember to stay humble!