The Rookie Awards has always been the best way to help digital artists get discovered without having to compete with professionals for attention, not to mention win a mountain of prizes!
Over the years our entrants have been setting the standards of student artwork exceptionally high. They have walked away with industry recognition, mentorship, cool prizes and have connected with their peers and other industry leaders, globally.
Doug Alberts tells us how winning the Rookie Awards, Rookie of the Year for 3D Motion Design, propelled his career and shares some invaluable advice for other aspiring artists on a similar journey.
Entering The Awards
Why did you decide to enter the Rookie Awards?
I decided to enter the Rookie awards 2019 because as a student, there aren’t many chances you get to show your work, let alone be inspired by other artists your age around the world. It gave me a chance to put myself out there without the fear of losing a client or being judged too harshly, unlike the professional world. Plus, who doesn’t love a little friendly competition? Or should I say inspiration?
Describe some of the projects you included in your entry?
In my 3D Motion Graphics entry, I added projects that were done in my spare time; personal work. I was at RCAD and for some reason, the school work I was doing looked so…well “school” work. It lacked the charm and heart I think my personal work had so I decided to just enter personal work. This included “Sorry”, “Brother”, “Teeny Tiny Story”, “Common Expressions in Succession”, and of course my reel at the time.
If you could enter again, what would you do differently?
Well to completely contradict myself, I think I would enter some school work. Looking back now after graduation, some of the school work I did really balanced my portfolio out. Not to say only personal work is bad or only school work is bad but the mix of both really makes you stand out as a student. It shows you know how to work within rules and of course without rules. Both are super fun!
How has the Rookie Awards helped you on your journey?
The Rookie Awards has helped me understand that the peers that you enter with are going to be the exact same peers that surround you in the industry after graduation. It’s helped me also grow more comfortable and confident in my work. I seriously entered in 2019 with no anticipation of winning Rookie of the Year. I just wanted to show my work, as it stood, without me there to talk over it.
What advice would you give to people thinking about entering?
Well, number 1, enter. Seriously, there’s no harm in entering, especially in the supportive and encouraging environment it is. And who knows, you may just snag 1st place. Number 2, add work that you enjoy doing. If you enter something your teacher really loved, or someone else really loved, that’s really nice and all but does it still speak to you? Choose your best work and the work you’re most proud of.
What made you want to work in creative industries?
Well, my Mom is creative and so is my Dad. Sometimes I feel like I just got the gene to want to make, make, make, and never stop. I would watch commercials when I was younger and loved the bumpers that would come on between commercials and the show. I knew there had to be someone behind making those amazing little 5 second clips. The only thing was, it really didn’t have the name, “Motion Design” yet. In high school, my parents would give me Adobe Flash, or a shiny copy of After Effects instead of PS3’s and XBoxes for Christmas. I knew this little hobby of mine would go from clay stop motion in the basement to what I wanted to do everyday.
Describe your education journey that helped you become a professional artist?
I decided to go to art school at Ringling College of Art & Design. In all transparency, it was way over budget but seriously was the most amazing option in the country. I received a scholarship that allowed me to study there without financial fear. The coursework was incredibly hard and stressful and seriously, time management was everything just to find sleep at night and maybe sneak in a run. But I owe the artist I am today, to those four years. Being fully immersed in concept, design, animation, stop motion, and various other studio classes really helped me understand the things I like and more importantly, don’t like.
How did you get your first big industry break?
Well I’d have to point to Joe Donaldson for that. He was a part of faculty at Ringling and formerly worked at Buck. He was the person that really encouraged me to keep getting better, try new things, and understand how trends start and fade. He’d call me out when I’d copy something and cheer me on when I tried something new. Joe has gone from a person I look up to and has turned into a person who I have the gift of calling my friend.
[Entering the Rookie Awards] helped me grow more comfortable and confident in my work. I seriously entered in 2019 with no anticipation of winning Rookie of the Year. I just wanted to show my work, as it stood, without me there to talk over it.
In addition, I’d have to say my internship at Giant Ant and Gunner. I really didn’t even have an interview with these studios. It was very like, “hey wanna come hang out for the summer.” And I mean seriously, who wouldn’t love that? The people at those studios are seriously the most patient, encouraging, and warmest people. I owe a huge part of who I am to these places and people who are too many to name.
What advice would you give artists to help them break into the creative industry?
I’d say put yourself out there. Post work on instagram, Behance, Vimeo. And honestly, reach out to people you look up to at studios. Imagine you’re in their shoes for a second. You get an email from a student beaming with energy, complimenting your work, and ultimately is a fanboy of all you do. Of course you’ll help them out/offer them a job. Don’t be a kiss-up but be genuine and I guarantee it will work out well for you.
On the Job
Where do you work, and what is your role?
I’m set up in Chicago, IL, in my 12x12 bedroom where between sleeping and working, I spend the majority of my time. Currently, I work as a freelance designer and animator for studios mighty and tiny, as well as direct to client. In addition, I’m repped by Hornet in NY as a director. It’s been a blast so far.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up, make some coffee, and take a look at the month ahead and schedule holds, bookings, and calls for projects. If it’s a freelance project, I’ll usually be on the box helping with animation and design. It’s super fun because you never know who or really what you get to work on until the project comes in. If I’m directing, I’ll usually get a notification from an EP at Hornet asking If I’d like to pitch/help out on a project. If it fits, I’m usually pitching within the next few days with hopes of winning. Either way, my days tend to be full and often offers moments where I can play and experiment which I treasure.
Describe some of the tasks you are given?
If I’m freelancing, I’ll be asked to animate a specific shot or set up a rig/AE file. Depending on the project, a shot may take a day or it may take weeks to get it exactly how we want. Sometimes I’ll also be asked to come up with tons of designs just to get an idea for what we want. I love doing both!
If I'm directing, I’ll usually hop on calls with clients and see over the whole project to make sure all is well. If I’m pitching, I’ll usually be working closely with EP’s and Producers to make sure the pitch gets out and everyone is happy with it. Again, it’s one of those things that I wake up and really don’t know what will come in but trust it’s going to be an awesome day either way.
Your favourite experience while working is:
Working with the Ordinary Folk team on a project for Christianity Explored. The people at that studio are my animation heroes and to jump on a project with them was a dream come true. Plus, it’s one of the first projects I worked on that hit deep because it was an extension of my faith. It’s not like we were selling soda or soap, we were telling a story that is so important to everyone on that team.
An experience you’d prefer to forget about is:
Well, honestly, I’ve never really had a bad work experience with anyone directly but more so myself. I’m sure we can all attest to Covid fatigue and when bookings get slow and not much is stirring in the pot, I sort of retract creatively. It’s super bad. When weeks stretch on and I’m bored, it’s not a good thing for me. I think those experiences are something I’d like to get better at. How can I use downtime as intentional rest or intentional play? Because ultimately, bad art is better than no art.
What software and tools do you use daily?
I use just about anything and everything. It ranges from Cinema 4D, After Effects, Illustrator, Photoshop. I also have a Cintiq which is uber helpful for sketching/storyboarding. In addition, I just picked up a Cricut paper cutter for play sake. It’s super fun to get crafty and get away from software alone.
How do you manage to keep upskilling while working?
Well that’s a tricky one. I catch myself running into complacency quite a bit, especially with personal work. With freelancing, I feel I’m good at looking up cool tricks in AE/C4D and using it in my work. At the end of the day, I understand that working alone, it’s hard to be challenged. Even if I learn something new off the computer, I count that as a win.
How have things changed for you now that you’re working professionally?
I feel not too much has changed at all since the Rookie Awards in 2019. Honestly, here’s why I think so. I would always hear faculty say, “when you get in the industry.” The thing is, if you are putting your work out there as a student, you’re a part of the industry. There’s no golden pass upon graduating or anything like that. So I feel I’ve always been a part of the industry professionally, even as a student. I actually feel one thing that has changed is I have more time than ever before. I finally have weekends, evenings, and moments to just be away from making. It’s a really nice work-life balance that I don’t think I had during school.
What is one thing you’ve learned about yourself since starting your career?
I’ve learned that I’m super hard on myself. Like to a fault. Sometimes it actually gets in the way of me making something personally or professionally. If you’re going through the same thing, honestly positive thinking has helped me most. The perfectionist mindset is one that robs fun and play and I think adopting that mindset into my work has been the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself.
Where will we see you next? Where will the journey take you?
Good question! I guess I really haven’t thought too much about it yet. I hope to keep directing and freelancing for a bit and continue to get my feet wet with directing. Also, in the future, hope to join a studio or who knows… maybe start one myself? Most importantly, I want to keep making personal work, it’s such an important part of fun for me!
Doug Alberts is a twin, from Chicago, and he loves coffee. Currently, he is working as a Director, Designer, and Animator. On the weekends, find him running, fishing, cozy in a hammock, or working on passion projects.