June/July '10     

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Tests are the trend in hiring, it seems.  Studios looking to hire artists are requiring they take a test to demonstrate their competence.  It doesn’t matter if the artist applying has a golden resume and portfolio to match - they must pass a test on their own time. FLIP asked such industry veterans for their angle on the practice of testing.

Rusty Mills
Tests don't really work.  Why?  Because they don't reflect the studio situation.  When working in a studio you generally do the work then a director gives you notes on that work and you adjust it to their liking.  In some situations the work could go back and forth a couple of times as things are tweaked.  This is never the case with a test.

When I was little and sent some drawings to Disney I got a letter back from Don Duckwall, who was head of production, and he made this statement "do not send in drawings of our characters; rather, create your own characters so we can see what you are capable of.  If you came to work here we would teach you to draw our characters."  To me, that has always been the best way to approach getting a job at a studio.  Even when I was producing and hiring people, I hated when the HR department made us start handing out tests.  They never looked right because the people taking the tests didn't know the particulars of the show.

Tests, in my opinion, only create animosity among people in the business because the only ones who are happy with the tests are the ones who pass it, which leaves many more people who are unhappy.  Often, the people who do pass the test are great at drawing the characters from the model sheet but their acting, staging, and film making skills are horrible.  So very often, inexperienced people pass the test, but later down the line it is more costly because things didn't work.  This isn't fair to the inexperienced people either, because they never really learn the correct way of doing their work, which comes from working under an experienced artist.

When I have passed tests, I ended up on a list to be called in case they needed extra help. They never needed extra help.  In this world today, people like Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, and the nine old men wouldn't get jobs because they wouldn't pass a test.

Rusty has won five Emmys for his work on “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain”. Hmm, let’s see…..TEST HIM!

Rebecca Rees
I did a couple years ago for 'Family Guy'...storyboarding. I did it cause I wanted to try and inch my way back into the industry after being out for such a long time. Mine was a different situation then most on your email list. But, if I were more established and had a current extensive portfolio of work, no, I wouldn't do it. Fuck 'em.

Rebecca was mentored by Eric Larsen in the 70’s, animated on “The Brave Little Toaster” and “Roger Rabbit” uncredited  (screwed!), and has done story work on “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast”.  Think she can handle “Family Guy”? – it’s pretty challenging stuff.  Test her!

Nancy Beiman
I've never had to do an animation test. My reel was accepted at face value. One studio asked me to do one many years ago and I turned them down. There were many others to choose from at the time. Today's market is different; it's a buyer's market for animators.

There have always been 'design tests'--studios do design work on spec and compete against one another to get the bid. I participated in one hilarious one once, which is another story. Again, my portfolio usually tells the tale. Designs are constantly changed, and the client should pay for these once the designer has been hired.

Storyboard tests are, I think, a reasonable request, especially when there are so many recent animation grads applying for positions. Since boards are done at the studio in real time, to a nonnegotiable deadline, I think that the test shows who can (a) draw on model; and (b) work efficiently.  Computer technology has also made it much easier to cheat and forge portfolios. People who submitted portfolios with plagiarized material would fail the test.

I would take a storyboard test; I'd consider it equivalent to an acting audition.

Nancy’s was in CalArts’ first Character Animation class in the ‘70’s.  She was animation supervisor on “A Goofy Movie”, and supervising animator on “Hercules”. She has written books on storyboarding and acting for animation.   But does she know shat she's doing? Only a test will settle it!

Patrick Smith
Unless they are paid, tests are total bullshit, and very much an insult to artists; it's a bad industry practice. It's right up there with spec work and contests.  Producers should know that the best talent out there most likely wouldn’t do tests, so they are missing out on the best people. You can quote the hell out of me on this.

Patrick independently produced shorts have won him many awards.  Independently test the hell out of him! 

Dan Root
Storyboard Tests: I've done a couple.

If you are talking about some kid with no experience -- then a test is a chance for them to jump to the next level and is probably a good opportunity.

As for "veterans" - in the case of a 2D TV show where drawing "on model" is one of the main priorities (after all, what's more entertaining than an on model drawing?) and the show is in a style that I don't have represented in my portfolio, then I think a test MAY be valid. But If I can point to something in my portfolio that's in a similar style then I think the artistic head honchos on the show should be able to recognize that I can do it. If they can't, it speaks to their experience, or lack thereof.

I've been on the hiring side -- with a thoughtful portfolio/ resume review, you can tell who can handle an assignment or not. The problem with tests: Time is money - so in effect, you have a big corporation / studio asking the artist to invest his or her own money in their project.

"Oh but it's just a little two page test..."

But even with a short test, the artist has to do the same amount of work, (learning models, assimilating the cinematic style of the show, understanding its particular world view etc.) that he or she would over five or more script pages. So much of the thinking work is done up front, the rest is just pencil mileage. Over the course of a project this assimilation process is absorbed within the schedule, but the first few pages always take longer than the last few.

With features, the process is more about a creative collaboration between the board artist and the director(s) and that only comes about from actually doing the real work together. A paid trial period seems like a more professional solution to see if the artist is a good fit for the project.

Dan has 20 years of experience as an animator and board artist for Character Builders Studio in Ohio on projects like "Space Jam" and "101 Dalmations II". But he's from Ohio - test him!

Dean Yeagle
Well, I only worked, on staff, for Jack Zander and then myself, so taking a test never came up, not even when I freelanced.   But as irritating as it may be, at least at a certain point when you think you're established, I guess you can view it as a 'screen test' for an actor.  Except that it takes considerably longer to do, of course.  I'd have to suggest you take into account who's asking you to do it.  Disney, Dreamworks?  Or some guy who's 'got a GREAT project, but not a lot of money...'  In that case, run.

Dean Yeagle’s career goes back to the ‘70’s, animating too many commercials to count.  And here’s one of his sketches……TEST HIM!

T. Dan Hofstedt
Hmmm... I guess if it was for something that I'd actually never done (like fly a helicopter or perform brain surgery) then maybe a test would be a useful tool... But if it's for something I've already proven I can do, then what's the point of having a resume, portfolio and reel? 

T. Dan’s animation has spanned from “Aladdin” to “Princess and the Frog”.  But can he make Dora explore?  TEST!

Ralph Eggleston

The business is more than ever being run by people who know very little about animation.  There's always the exception, of course--and we're all grateful for those.  But it's the exception.  

And not enough thought is given to the tests or what the expected outcome is.  And often, when the test is thoughtful, the expectations are not made clear to the prospective test-taker.  I prefer the "try them out" method than a standardized test.  Give them specific problems to solve, see how they solve them, and talk to them about their process.

The worst of my test stories was when I--along with several of my CalArts classmates--needed a summer job.  We all went down to the infamous DIC studios  (when it was still on Ventura Blvd. at Colfax).  The show they were hiring for was (cough...) "Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling."  They gave us all different "tests" from the show to do.  We all completed our "tests," and went down to turn them in.

They didn't hire any of us.  But they did use all our tests in the production of their show.  

No pay.  

Not even enough to buy a few more crates of Top Ramen.

 Ralph has done art direction on “Toy Story” and “Up”, and won an Oscar for his short “For the Birds”. But he couldn't pass the mustard for DIC - the hack!

Dave Pruiksma
Well, I have never been required to test except for a storyboard job at Filmation in 1980. I had no background in animation and not experience, so I was happy to do so. In the end, they told me that I put in too many poses and was suited more towards animation, (Filmation? Too MANY poses?)  But, it is a very different market today.  I teach my students at LCAD to approach each job prospect with respect and dignity, to take tests and interviews in stride, and to always act professionally.  This advice seems to serve them well as we have a very strong placement record.  My question, of course, is ever, why aren't managers and executives made to take such tests to prove their abilities and competencies?  Why wasn't Michael Ovitz required to take such a test?  Clearly, he wasn't qualified to do his job and walked away after a year of ineffectual leadership with millions and millions of company dollars.  And, finally, why are the HR people, who many times screen artist's work, not required to take tests?  Many of these screeners have never drawn in their lives, nor have they ever held artistic positions and are clearly not qualified to judge the work of the artists applying for positions.  Personally, I think testing is okay, if the practice is applied across the board to all workers at a studio. But, sadly, since the artists seem to be seen less and less as creative people and more and more as factory line workers, I am afraid the practice will continue for everyone from entry level to master.

Dave has animated on films such as “The Little Mermaid”, and “The Lion King”.  But is he qualified to teach on the subject?  TEST!

Will Finn
I was asked to do a storyboard test once not too many years ago, for a TV series freelance job.  I have mainly worked in features but I had a few freelance TV boards that were current in my portfolio, from another studio. They still made me take the test, but since it was a very simple one, I did it. I stress that it was very simple (a maximum version would have numbered no more than 15 or 20 panels).

That show (which went on to have a very brief run before being cancelled) did not hire me, but another show runner saw my test and hired me for their series.  I did two episodes for them.

That's my only exposure to testing. I think it is a dubious practice. Basically people hire people they know or know of and want to work with. Taking a test is a real roll of the dice.

Will’s career goes back to thirty years.  He’s done boards for films such as “Rescuers Down Under”,  “Hunchback of Notre Dame”,  “Over the Hedge”, and “Astro Boy”.  But you know, he may have been faking it, test him! 

Tom Sito
Bill Tytla offered to do a free test to get back into Disney in 1968. They blew him off anyway and he died later that year.

I had to do a test or two, even in the 1970s. I had trouble turning Flash Gordon around for Filmation. No one likes them, but what are you going to do?

Tom animated on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and Aladdin”, and directed “Osmosis Jones”.  He also knows the history of tests. 

Kirk Wise
If you can't make a decision based on an applicant's portfolio, reel, and experience, you have no business making that kind of decision.  Try asking a house painter if he wouldn't mind painting a whole room first before you decide to hire him.

Kirk worked on “Beauty and the Beast”, “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Atlantis” as co-director.  Give him a co-test. 

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