Practice, Practice, Practice!
Some Helpful Career Tips from Drexel University’s Nick Jushchyshyn
Nick Jushchyshyn, Program Director of VR & Immersive Media at Drexel University worked in vfx for features and TV shows before he started teaching in 2010. He joined Drexel in 2012 where he was the Program Director of Animation & Visual effects for 6 years before moving on to launch and direct the VR & Immersive Media degree program and Immersive Research Lab. So, he knows a lot about many different aspects of the industry and what it takes to get your foot in the door. We asked him a few questions about the do’s and don’ts of job hunting in 2020: “The most important thing an animation student can do to prepare for the job market is to practice, practice, practice… ideally while getting and applying feedback from experienced advisers/mentors,” he says. “This is not a discipline where you can simply watch a tutorial or take a lesson and then head off into industry as a practitioner. Much like mastering a musical instrument or dance or some other sport, success is connected far more to your personal efforts and practice than simply the information you’ve been exposed to.” He points out that sometimes, the hardest step in this cycle is the first one. “Our instinct as humans is to hide our weaknesses, so it’s natural to be apprehensive about opening up to others at the start of this journey, but there really is no better way to improve quickly and effectively than to request and apply feedback on iteration after iteration of work. The fact is, this is exactly how the industry works. We come away from watching a masterfully animated, gorgeous movie or broadcast series with a compelling story and are left with impression that what we saw on screen was exactly what was planned from the start. In reality, by the time the public sees anything on screen, the show had been written, re-written, animated, rendered, reviewed, revised .... over and over and over, by a creative team critiquing one another along the way.” Relationships Matter According to Jushchyshyn, a demo reel or interview visit can’t fully express a candidate’s ability to take and apply feedback on their work over extended periods of time, but this skill is one of the most important traits that employers seek. “Building relationships with industry mentors through these feedback cycles can show your tenacity, determination and commitment to quality to people in the industry that may later become job references or even invite you to apply when an opening becomes available in their organization,” he says. Philadelphia-based Drexel University offers two programs that ensure students gain hands-on, industry experience before graduation. The first is the co-op program, which has been in place at Drexel for at least 100 years now. With co-op, students have sixmonth breaks in classes built-in to the academic program, where their “assignment” is to work in industry. Students in the programs can choose between a four-year academic program, with a single six-month co-op, or a five-year program, which includes a total of three, sixmonth co-op experiences distributed over their academic career. “These opportunities not only provide students with out-of-class work experience, but also affords them the chance to experiment with potential career paths,” says the program director. “While many co-ops are with traditional entertainment-based studios, others use these opportunities to try work in other areas like medical visualization, architectural visualization or corporate communications. With the launch of our VR program, we’ve even seen employers recruiting our students so the organization can learn about these new disciplines from them. The second opportunity is our Drexel in LA program, which runs each summer in a ‘pop-up’ campus in Los Angeles. This is different from co-op, since it is a short, three-month engagement each year, and it happens while classes are being taken. Drexel arranges for housing and class space in LA. Students are matched with day-time, summer internships and take their Drexel classes for the quarter from LA-based instructors, or online.” Jushchyshyn is quite excited about the boom in VR and immersive media projects over the past few years and the opportunities it offers Drexel grads. “Now that these immersive tools have become so readily available, a whole new array of industries have been looking to hire our students for their expertise in this field,” he says. “As a result, student demand in these classes grew rapidly over the past six to seven years, such that a few classes became many, which became a minor, and now we have an entire Bachelor’s degree program specifically in VR & Immersive Media.” When asked to offer some helpful tips for future animation professionals, he says, “Remember to love the work, not just the end result. Practice and improve your craft constantly. Seek and apply critique from experienced people you respect. Finally, leverage a balance of traditional art and design skills with current technologies that allow you to produce more work at higher and higher quality, repeatedly. Essentially, learn to do difficult work well. If you can do that, and continually learn and apply new skills and techniques that build on what you’ve mastered, you will be positioned well for success in the years and decades ahead!” For more info about Drexel University’s animation and VR program, visit Drexel. edu and digm.drexel.edu/acelab