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March 19, 2020

Studio Day for Animation Students

The Hench DADA Division hosted studio executives for a day of insider advice

The John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (Hench DADA) held its annual Studio Day on Monday March 9, transforming the SCA Gallery into a meeting space for students and studio executives who came to campus to give career advice and recruit students for internships and jobs.

Thirty-one studios registered for this year, including Laundry, Framestore, Apartment D, Nickelodeon, Bento Box Entertainment, Buck and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ninety-four students participated in the day’s events.

"What we all get to do is sign up for studio slots and talk with studio representatives for 15 minutes where we show them resumes, websites, portfolios,” said Collin Schuster, a two-dimensional storyboard artist. “We get their really helpful feedback and maybe some connections along the way. It's the staple of the Animation experience." 

"My favorite part about Studio Day is having face-to-face contact. It's really hard a lot of times when you're just submitting resumes," said Jacqueline Howard. Howard is in her senior year hoping to graduate into production management and seized this opportunity "to get outside of the artist field and really communicate to the studios that this is what I'm interested in." 

For many of the students and studio execs Studio Day is a reunion. Graduate students can participate in the event during each of their three years in the MFA program, and undergraduates can join in their junior and senior years.  Since many of the same industry representatives return (or share notes with their colleagues), it means students have the opportunity to build relationships at several of companies.

"Some of the [students] are graduating this year that we're seeing a second time, so we're tracking some of the people as they go through the program," said Warner Bros. Animation Group Producer Connie Thompson. 

In exchange for participating in Studio Day, animation students walk away with specific career advice. "In class, we learn how to refine our resumes and cover letters, but the real thing is every studio wants to see something different. Some studios … even though they're large, they don't necessarily have that department that you're looking for," said student Catherine Chen. "If I had to choose, I would go with . . . being really specific about what you want to do. So, for example if you want to be a production assistant everything on your resume should be about that. You can do visual development or something else, but even if you do that, you have to really emphasize all the tools you use and how it can apply.”

The professional animators enjoy SCA's Studio Day just as much as the students. "We are always looking for great new talent to come work with us on our movies, so this is a natural place to come because USC is amazing and the students are just top quality," said Connie Thompson of Warner Bros. Thompson’s team, which included Warner Bros. Animation Artists Manager Leif Green, attended last year's event and offered SCA student David Zhu an unofficial mentorship. "He comes to some of our classes that we sponsor for our artists so that he can meet other professional artists. We're trying to get him in," Green said, explaining that Studio Day sparks these important relationships. 

Brooke Keesling, who is Head of Animation Talent Development for Bento Box Entertainment, has attended Studio Day several times. "Before I was at Bento Box, I recruited for Cartoon Network, Disney, and Warner Bros., And I've been here on behalf of two out of three of those studios," Keesling said. "One of my favorite students [Tuo Kan] was when I was at Disney; he was one of our interns. I chose him to be an intern and we loved his work so much there that we had him do some outside projects. I've hired tons of [USC] alums [like] Miguel Jiron. He's over at Sony I believe right now. He's amazing. There's countless success stories coming out of USC.”

Teresa Cheng, Chair of the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts, said that “Studio Day is great practice for our students for their careers beyond USC.  They learn how to present themselves professionally and pitch their work succinctly to studios that are here to find up and coming talent to join them.”

The day was one of the last campus gatherings before classes and events went online or were canceled, due to fears of spreading coronavirus.