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Book Review: “Animating Your Career” by Steve Hickner

Animating Your Career
By Steve Hickner. Foreword by Don Hahn.
(Brigantine Media, 178 pages, $19.95)
Order: $15.64 on Amazon, $9.99 Kindle edition
Book Website:

While art skills are obviously important to a career in animation, they’re only one thing that influences an artist’s success. As films, TV series and games are large scale operations, often employing hundreds of artists and costing millions of dollars, an artist needs to know how to work in a group and meet the needs of a production. If artists have any ambition, they also need to figure out how to improve their opportunities at the same time they are busy meeting deadlines.

Steve Hickner’s career in animation began shooting pencil tests at Filmation. From this inauspicious beginning, he parlayed hard work, ambition and a good grasp of studio politics to advance himself and produce films like Balto and to co-direct Prince of Egypt and Bee Movie. His book, Animating Your Career collects the wisdom he has accumulated along the way. His advice is field-tested and worth reading.

Part one of the book is entitled “Making Your Dream Happen,” and focuses on having a correct attitude, taking advantage of opportunities, managing your time and seeking out mentors. It’s aimed at artists who are still struggling to establish themselves. The advice in this part of the book doesn’t break new ground, but Hickner backs it up with stories from the productions that he’s worked on, so these truisms are reinforced with concrete examples.

Part two is entitled “Leading and Growing.” While less useful to beginning artists, this is where the book really shines. Artists who are promoted to management positions often find themselves in unknown waters. To quote Hickner:

“Although our new department managers may have spent years training to be at the top of their artistic disciplines, they were expected to step into a role as a leader without any training whatsoever. No wonder so many of them (myself included) were floundering. No reasonable leader would expect a person to grab a brush and paint a magnificent landscape without any previous experience, and yet here we were asking our best artists to become managers without the slightest instruction. Promoting people without any training is absurd, but that same mistake is repeated in company after company.”

Hickner also differentiates between managers and leaders.

“Managers control resources, and that usually means people, equipment and money. Leaders, on the other hand, guide and lift up the employees. They have the ability to focus people on a task and imbue the job with a higher sense of purpose.”

Management has a huge impact on the working environment and the visual quality of a project. Even experienced supervisors would benefit from this half of the book. Once again, Hickner backs up his advice with examples from the many projects he’s had a hand in managing.

In short, Animating Your Career is a manual on how to be a good soldier in the animation army. There are other worthy ambitions in animation, but if this is what you aspire to, Hickner’s book is a comprehensive guide to making you valuable to your company as an artist and as a manager.

MARK MAYERSON has worked as an animator, writer, producer and director in TV animation for 29 years. He created the CGI series Monster By Mistake. He currently teaches animation at Sheridan College. Visit his blog

  • Ryan Adams

    This book seems like a solid purchase, wherever you are in your career!

  • Panda Polygon

    Derision aside, it seems like the book is more of a guide to becoming a great general than a good soldier, don’t you think?

  • jkg

    “In short, Animating Your Career is a manual on how to be a good soldier in the animation army ( … ) Hickner’s book is a comprehensive guide to making you valuable to your company as an artist and as a manager.”

    Wow, that sounds like a guide for corporate Industry minions.

    If there’s a part about giving artists advices on dealing with terrible management rather than becoming a good obedient worker, I’ll be sold !

    • jmahon

      hey, I hate to be that person, but I think a lot of new graduates in our industry could use a good dose of realism about being a good worker… I mean, love your job and vy for a job that is fun and fulfilling, but everyone has to work their way up, and to do that you have to be a worker, too. I’m not saying I’m above them, but the school I went to included a sort of ‘how to work’ class, that taught the a lot, helped them get over the initial bad reaction when directors would rip apart your shot in front of you and how not to take that personally, etc… and gave us an edge. I’ve worked with a few people however who haven’t before, and there’s nothing more cringe-worthy than seeing a new animator argue with a director… They know all this about animation, they just came out of school for it… but not the more professional, interpersonal part of the business. And you’ve gotta know that part if you want to advance quickly and go from just being a soldier, to a leader.

      If one book out of a dozen covers this sort of thing, that’s good, people need to hear it. Even better, that it’s from somebody like this!

      • jkg

        Hey J,

        I haven’t read the book and my comment was based on the review’s quote and I don’t think affects the quality of Steve Hickner’s book.

        The only book in this vein I read was David B. Levy’s “survive and thrive…” which was great and I guess may share common advices as how to “break in” the Industry.

        Things like not taking criticism personally, being a good worker and loving his job, granted these are important and I never questioned that, but on a general matter and outside what the book does or not, there’s something about the “soldier” and “leader” thing that can be misleading for aspiring artists and current ones, the animation Industry has a business model no different than others that treat workers with very little respect and give little care to the craft, and believe me I haven’t seen many places where management understands the craft and their artists, and yet, there’s a common understanding that WE owe the management everything and NOT the other way around.

        There’s a world outside Hollywood feature film and smaller artist driven studios that really doesn’t deserve that much commitment. There are countless soldiers in Indian sweatshops that would probably find all this surreal.

  • Pedro Nakama

    It’s a different time. Hickner started in the late 70’s/early 80’s. The industry is not like that today.

  • Toonio

    Be mindful that in reality A LOT of talentless sociopaths make the gross of the management and leadership positions in the animation industry (like in any other industry in general). And they got where they are by smooching, kissing butts, nepotism and selling out.

    Hard work should serve YOUR craft and no one else.

  • Rab Smith

    I worked in Steves’ London studio in 1990, but quickly realized that starting as an inbetweener meant churning out endless ‘join-the-dots’ fare, and I was bored rigid—-I used to go into the studio at weekends to work on my own animation. One Saturday, I passed Steve leaving the main front door as I entered, and he made it very clear he was displeased to see me coming in to do test stuff—not long afterwards, he sacked me with a days’ notice, refusing to look at the test stuff he knew I was working on. Ironically, he later gave me a glowing reference stating that I SHOULD be active in animation….maybe just not in his studio!

    Attached is an example of my original cartooning that I hoped to animate at Steves’ studio—this was lost to the World, Steve refused to even look at my stuff. Sorry if this sounds cynical, but the place was no use for potential animators at least when I was there—-hope you are reading this, Steve, and do reply, under your youtube moniker if need be—-thanks for nothing, Mr Hickner!