Womenize! Wednesday Weekly is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Esther Ko, Animator at Bioware. Read more about Esther in this interview:
Hey Esther! You are an animator at Bioware and have previously worked at studios like EA and Hi-Rez Studios. How did you land your first job in the field of animation?
Oh gosh, it’s a bit of a convoluted story! I always laugh when I think about how I got my first animation job because it really seems like such a fluke that I managed to get here at all – but now that I’m here, I’m never lookin’ back! First, I finished my undergraduate degree in Economics and instantly realized I wanted a more creatively fulfilling career (without actually having a single clue as to what that career would be). I impulsively moved to New York City in hopes of figuring out that career path while supporting myself as a graphic designer. There, I discovered (through a random conversation with a wonderful karaoke league teammate) that working in games is “Actually A Real, Viable Job.” A-ha, finally! I applied to and was accepted into a graduate program for game development (University of Central Florida’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy), and then was hired during my final semester using a portfolio filled with animations from my thesis project. The team that hired me appreciated how my portfolio showed cartoony gameplay animations and experience in Unreal Engine, since the role they were looking to fill needed both of those skills.
What is something that helped you advance your skills as an Animator throughout the years?
I really want to say something like “hard work” or “love for the craft” or “dedication” but… while those are still accurate answers, nothing has helped my animations more than the helpful feedback from the mentors I’ve been lucky enough to learn from. I can attribute every distinctive improvement in my animation skills to clear, applicable critiques from mentors like my animation director at Tiburon, or my old animation lead on Paladins, or teachers from online animation courses I’ve taken, as well as my leads here at Bioware. With that said, learning to swallow the fear of accidentally asking “silly, bothersome questions” and trading it instead for a love of having “specific, constructive conversations” was significant for me to even interface with those mentors in the first place! (Shout out to all my fellow shy and anxious peers)
Getting into the games industry is hard. What is a common mistake aspiring Animators do, and how can you avoid it to make the first steps into the industry easier?
A few things come to mind, in no particular order:
– I think this message is finally getting projected more regularly to new professionals entering the industry, but just in case it needs to be underlined some more: Learn to negotiate your compensation! And back that negotiation up with location and position specific research! When I first started, I struggled a lot because I kept conflating “I love animating” with “therefore I shouldn’t care how much money I make from this animating job.” Big mistake! Making sure you push for competitive pay does NOT mean you aren’t passionate about your work – in fact, it helps ensure that you can continue to support yourself longer in the work that you love.
– Less is more! Make sure your reel is under one minute, has only your best work, and that it is tailored to the studios you’re applying to.
– Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Just like how I mentioned regarding mentors – putting aside your ego and respectfully asking for clarification, advice, or critique, is huge in continuing to learn throughout your whole career. As an aspiring animator, this idea may apply most directly to feedback on your portfolio, but it also applies to things like not being afraid to ask the industry guest speaker what they look for in an applicant, or requesting your teacher to demo that hot animation trick again.
Thank you for your time Esther!
WWW Feature by Anne Zarnecke