If you've seen a lot of animated films and commercials, you might have come across the work of award-winning animator and illustrator Kurt Guard. His knack for creating cutting-edge visual effects for short- and feature-length films, TV campaigns and personal projects is what lands him animation gigs with top-tier brands like BET Networks, based in New York, and Caribbean Broadcasting Network in Hollywood.
"I grew up with a drawing pencil and sketchbook in my hand," said the seasoned multimedia animator based in Atlanta. "My gift for seeing something interesting, drawing it with the right amount of detail then bringing it to digital life is what got me into creative media. My precision and consistency is what led to collaborations with big brands and industry names I would have never imagined - and I have a huge imagination."
At the tail end of earning a fine arts degree at Georgia State University, he came upon an opportunity any art student would dream of: The chance to work with award-winning director Jai Anthony Lewis Husband, who is known for his work on Disney's "The Lion King."
The opportunity jump started Guard's animation career and led to his receiving NAACP Image Awards for best children's program for 2012’s “Kasha and the Zulu King”.
"I couldn't say 'no' to an opportunity to create with Jai," said Guard. "I just couldn't."
Until that big break comes for up-and-coming film artists, Guard recommends the following strategies to help fast track a creative career with top animation studios and teams across the nation:
Networking with successful alumni
"There's something to attending the same university as famous or influential alumni that instantly creates a special bond with them," said Guard. "Sometimes it's as simple as going to class reunions and alumni galas or becoming friends on social media with classmates that will help connect the professional dots of breaking into the industry." Guard knows colleagues who now work on Marvel, Nickelodeon, FX and Tyler Perry Studios productions, but notes, "It's one thing to know these industry professionals, but you also need to know how to gain sincere access to them."
Putting yourself out there
Right after the artist Prince passed away in 2016, Guard developed a personal piece as a tribute to the musical mastermind. That illustration caught a colleague's attention, who reached out to Guard and got him in touch with award-winning TV producer Marsha Parker of BET's spin-off network Centric (now called BET Her).
"It happened that fast," said Guard. "She taught me about the importance of staying on top of tight deadlines and ready for roadblocks."
Guard highly recommends students commit to "passion projects" in order to generate a buzz with colleagues and creative producers.
"Passion projects are your best artwork - that are right up your talent-level alley and showcases your artistic range," he said. "For instance, if you're passionate about pop culture, political cartoons or celebrity pencil portraits, do that often and use social media to push your artwork to colleagues and industry gatekeepers."
Showing brands you're a problem solver
"If you want to work for Pixar, DreamWorks or Warner Bros., you have to do your research," Guard said. "Your work needs to reflect what that brand is producing. Then, you have to figure out what's missing. What's your 'wow-factor' that can amplify their mission and the direction they're heading into." When pitching projects to potential clients, Guard develops original, animated demos that will pique interest but also identify with the brands he wants to collaborate with. "After studying my favorite creative studios, I propose how I can help improve what they're currently producing as if I'm already a member of the team," he said. "That shows hiring executives and producers I'm serious about contributing to something great."
Sticking to your design guns
"Once you get that callback from high-profile production companies, you may start to think you have to go way beyond your design capabilities to continue to impress creative employers," said Guard. "You don't.”
Guard advises the talent that got you to the door is exactly what you need at the design table. Even on high-budget, stressful assignments, Guard suggests remaining composed and innovative with ideas to keep the design process flowing.
Making them love you and your artistic abilities
"Research is so important, which is something students should never take for granted," said Guard. "Before stepping foot onto any production team, understand the organizational structure, office politics and the ones who are the true movers and shakers to get creative projects off the ground." Once that's established, Guard says your design work can shine through much easier. "When you know who and what you're dealing with for projects, it's a breeze to get your part approved and done before deadline," he said. "You have time to factor in design barriers and still turn out your best work. I'm telling you: When you're producing tight work that inspires and makes your team members' job as trouble-free as possible, the high-profile projects will keep heading your way."
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