In this article I would like to share some of the experiences I had during my internships. I will also share my advice on how to land that first work experience, and why you should try to get it while you can.

Work done for a university module.

35 Applications sent, all rejected.

My first attempt at finding a job was met with a lot of rejection, which is a similar story to many artists trying to start out in this industry. In my first year of university

I was very keen to get some experience, no matter how small or for what kind of company. I applied to 35 companies worldwide that had open positions for a 2D art intern.

Two weeks after sending out my applications I got my first automated rejection email. It was demoralizing, but I kept my head up as I had still had 34 applications out there. A month passed, either silence or more replies giving me the bad news. One of those replies came from Atomhawk, the company that I wanted to work at most. Applying to Atomhawk was a long shot. I had only been studying for one year, but I tried nonetheless.

After all the rejections I felt hopeless, but I had to pick my head back up.

I studied for another year with a specific mission to improve my skills significantly. One year after my 35 rejections, I applied again, and this time I landed two 6-month internships. Both were at smaller gaming studios, and both were incredibly valuable experiences.

I gained very effective and valuable feedback during my year working at these studios. This feedback resulted in an enormous amount of improvement.  With reinvigorated confidence, I applied to Atomhawk for the third time. This time, they said yes!

Images done the month before the internships and the month after.


Why would you not apply?

Many students like the idea of doing an internship but think they’re not good enough.
The high quality work you see on ArtStation is what you should strive towards.

However, it’s not the quality you have to reach to be able to play a valuable role in a studio. What I’ve learned is that you need to show potential and a hunger to learn.

My advice is to apply for internships as soon as you can. I started applying during the first year of my course, and I was not successful. However, I am so glad I wrote those 35 applications. There is no downside to applying for intern positions. It never hurts to reach out and get your name seen. You might even get a valuable piece of feedback from it, which can help propel your skills to the next level.

I asked Darren Yeomans, Art Manager at Atomhawk, what he looks for in an intern:

“We generally look for someone who shows promise in more than 1 style and genre. They must know the fundamentals of lighting and form, and show a good range of rendering skills. They also need to display a good understanding of the design process.”

Try to find out what the studios you are applying to are looking for. That way you can add or remove pieces from your portfolio, to more closely fit their needs.

Work made during my first week at Atomhawk. Before and after feedback.


Every experience can be a step towards your dream job

It’s great if you aim to land an internship at the likes of Blizzard or Disney. But as those companies are incredibly popular, it's a good idea to look further afield. That way you will increase your chances of actually gaining some valuable work experience. That’s of course not to say you shouldn’t try. Always aim high, but be prepared to hit a little lower. You should keep striving to reach your dream job, but getting experience at a different company is still a step towards your ultimate goal.

If you’re a student that only applies to those top few companies, I highly recommend you look a little further and into a wider range of studios. Gamedevmap.com is a great website for finding game development companies from all around the world. It is an awesome resource to find companies that you may not have heard of before.

I went through more than a thousand companies on Gamedevmap and applied to the 35 which I was interested in. I looked at any company, no matter how big or small.
I realized I likely wasn't at the skill level to get an internship at my dream company. These work experiences will be your first steps in the industry, on a path that could very well lead toward your dream job.

Take your time when applying for internships. Don’t spend a few hours, finding a handful of companies and quickly throwing together a CV and cover letter. Applying for jobs is time consuming and involves a lot of attention to detail. I recommend to view it as a full-time job for a week or two. Look into each company and apply to a variety of different companies that interest you.

Screenshot of Gamedevmap.com.


Value is wherever you want to find it

It is well known that the entertainment industry is a competitive one. A lot of students are willing to move across the world for valuable work experience. They realize this experience can give them the edge later in their careers. If you have the privilege of being able to move to another country, it will greatly increase your chances of finding an internship.

I have lived in 3 countries over 12 months because of such experiences. It has been exciting and scary at times, but I am grateful I took the leap and did not hesitate. Travel times and visas permitting, don’t dismiss a potential opportunity just because it’s in another country. That experience could be the push you need to get to the next level.

Apply again

If you’re not successful in your application then you can thank the company for their time and ask if they can offer you any feedback; sometimes they reply! With more and more feedback, you can figure out what area you need to work on most. Listen to their feedback, do the work and apply to the same company 6 months later. Showing that you took their feedback to heart. This will showcase your dedication and willingness to learn, 2 things most companies value highly in a potential intern.

University work, before and after feedback from a fellow student.


Never give up

As Albert Einstein once said: “You only fail when you stop trying”

We often hear about the students that get jobs straight out of university, but that isn’t the reality for most. Atomhawk Concept Artist, Dario Jelušić, had his own Salsa dancing school and had an Electrical Engineering degree. However, he realized he did not want to pursue either for the rest of his professional life. When he got introduced to a Wacom tablet he remembered the dreams he had as a boy, to be an artist. So how do people like Dario go from studying Electrical Engineering to working in the entertainment industry?

Dario says his advice boils down to 3 words: “Patience, balance and perseverance.”

2 years after getting his tablet, Dario landed his first studio position. Another 2 years later he started at Atomhawk. Don’t worry, he still teaches Salsa class for the team at Atomhawk every Friday night!  

When you do land that internship role, be the person that you would want to work with. Step out of your comfort zone, connect with your colleagues and ask for feedback often. You will get the most out of your internship if you try to learn as much as possible and let go of any ego or pride.

Atomhawk Solarpunk Challenge; character design sketches, before and after feedback on the pose.


Feedback is key

I believe feedback is the most important aspect of the learning process. When we are learning we often do not see our own mistakes. Or we don't want to share it with others because we feel it isn't good enough. I believe it is vital to try and seek out as much feedback as you can. There is no such thing as “failing” or not being good enough while you’re learning. You can ask your friends and family, or peers and teachers if you're studying at an institution. There are many great online communities on most social media platforms where people are willing to give you their thoughts.

Every mistake is a step on the path to become better. You will learn the most from struggles that you overcome, feedback makes that process a lot faster. Feeling like you can't do something is a feeling you should not be scared of, because you will be able to overcome it.

Receiving feedback can sometimes feel like an attack on your work, especially if you’re quite proud of it. I understand how difficult this can be, in those cases try waiting a few days before asking for feedback. If you struggle with taking feedback, I recommend to keep asking for it regardless. You will get used to it, and then be able to benefit from the positive effects it will have.

2 year progress with very regular feedback from peers and online communities.

Conclusion

All in all, you should try to get valuable work experience while you can. It can greatly help in finding a job in the future. It will help improve your skills, create connections and give you hands-on experience.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected]

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