If you’ve been lucky enough to go to one of those universities that is renowned for its animation program and its students are actively recruited by major studios, good for you. Seriously, that’s awesome. But this post isn’t for you; you don’t need it. This is for the rest of us who, upon graduation, suddenly realize that it didn’t work. After all those years of overnighters, stressful finals, and bad cafeteria food, the demo reel we cut together to send out to the world. . . sucks.

You were promised professional level training and even help with job placement. The facilities were shiny and new when you toured them before enrolling, and you thought this was where your dreams were going to begin. Surely that dream job at [insert studio] was only four years away, if that.

I’m sorry, I really am. You were lied to. So was I. That is exactly what happened to me.

Don’t get me wrong; I had a great time in art school. I learned a lot about art, film and hard work. I met lifelong friends, had some wonderful teachers, and felt like I was part of a real community. However, it didn’t dawn on me until senior year that I had never asked about their job placement rate. It was almost zero. And at the end of it when I recovered from the sleep depravation and looked at the work I had produced, I knew I was in trouble.

Here’s what I was left with when I graduated. I swore I’d never show this to anyone, but here we go…

My post-graduation demo reel

For a year and a half after that, I tried my best to teach myself. I had already spent four years and a boatload of money to learn this stuff, so I wasn’t about to throw it all away. I was able to improve some by watching professional tutorials (which weren’t as readily available as they are now), but the amount of time wasn’t justified in the results. All this time I was working the front desk of a fitness club fake-smiling at customers, slinging memberships, and mopping bathrooms. Not what I had envisioned four years prior when the world was mine for the taking.

I took my laptop with me and animated on my lunch breaks. I did it before and after work, too. Still the results didn’t come. Eventually I’d had enough and decided to spend every dollar I had on online training. At that time, iAnimate.net was brand new and looked like just what I needed, so I dove in. The next two years were hard. I worked on my assignments every waking moment while also working full time. Around the middle of the curriculum I got overwhelmed and even had to backtrack in classes for more body mechanics training. But it was exactly what I needed. There is just no substitute for being trained and mentored by working professionals who teach because they want to, not because they can’t do it themselves.

If you’re in a school that isn’t delivering on its promises, I feel for you. I’m hesitant to ever tell someone to leave school since there are so many other benefits to it, but it may be necessary to consider supplemental options. If you’ve already graduated and find yourself in the same position I was in, I hope this gives you some idea of how to move forward. Remember, it took me eight years to land my first real break into the industry. Many people get in sooner than that, but also many don’t. The good thing is that once it happens, no one cares how long it took, or how many times you failed. The only thing that matters is your attitude and your demo reel. If both of those are of high caliber, your time will come.

Keep at it and never give up. Fight like hell and do whatever it takes to make it happen. If your school just left you with the check, get angry and use it to push on and find the education you need. The reward will be a career that will sustain you creatively and enable you support your family by doing what you love to do, which in my opinion is the most important thing there is.

Or you could quit.

Fuck that.