Animation production assistant trainee Rebecca Hardess on Trainee Finder

Having graduated during the pandemic with a first-class BA honours degree in animation and visual effects, it took Rebecca Hardess just eight months to find her first job, thanks to a place on ScreenSkills’ Animation Trainee Finder pilot.

Animation Trainee Finder offers on-the-job training to new entrants to help them break into the industry. It’s previously run by ScreenSkills’ predecessor Creative Skillset and re-launches in September 2021 thanks to contributions from animation productions to the ScreenSkills Animation Skills Fund.

After leaving Falmouth University, Rebecca emailed animation companies, including one run by Erica Darby, whose credits include Horrid Henry, When the Wind Blows and Moshi Monsters: The Movie, asking for work and saying she was trying to break into the industry.

As Rebecca explains: “They said they didn’t have anything right now but they mentioned a couple of other projects - however they said they didn’t have the funding for me.

“Then Erica got in touch a few months later and said we’ve got a project called Circle Square [a pre-school show for Channel 5’s Milkshake! children’s block] and we’re going to look at getting funding via ScreenSkills so we can train you up as a production assistant. So without ScreenSkills I wouldn’t have had that role so it was a great opportunity.”

Erica and Helen Brunson, the other executive producer at Wyndley Animations’ Circle Square helped link her up with ScreenSkills to apply for the Animation Trainee Finder pilot scheme.

As she acknowledges: “I did my process a little bit backwards as I found the production before getting onto ScreenSkills, which I had heard about whilst at university, but it was really easy. I had to create a plan of what I wanted to learn on the project and what I wanted them to teach me but also what I wanted to give to the project as well and what skills I wanted to gain.”

Having signed up and created a profile on ScreenSkills’ website - which Rebecca says was “really easy to do” - she was then able to also access other useful information.

“There are loads of interesting talks and sessions you can attend [and] it means you can see other contacts within the industry and other projects so it’s a great tool for anyone coming into animation or TV.

“I attended a session at Cardiff Animation Festival that talked about production management and an online session with Aardman where we created models, so I learnt more about stop motion.”

That was something of a dream come true as Aardman Animations inspired her to go into animation.

“I’ve always loved stop motion. Aardman and Wallace & Gromit were like a childhood obsession; I love their films. But animation was something I didn’t think I could do until I got to A levels and I thought I don’t really want to be an art teacher or go into fine art. Then I came to do UCAS and saw the course at Falmouth.”

During her time at university she was not quite sure what she wanted to do within animation but, “I was really lucky that I was kind of forced into the producing role and realised I loved it.”

She began on Circle Square in March 2021 on a five month contract and learnt about all aspects of production management. Although she officially only had one mentor, she says in reality she had three - Erica, Helen and production manager Charlotte Curran - and they each showed her different aspects of the production process.

“The contract length allowed me to learn from start to finish so from pre-production and production to post-production, such as putting effects on, how they do deliverables and how they conduct their meetings. It was an amazing, invaluable experience.”

Due to the pandemic she worked completely online, using Slack and Zoom, and only met Helen and production manager Charlotte Curran during the last two weeks of the project when they came together for a meal.

However, as she points out, the online set-up meant she was able to live at home in Wales and save money - useful as a freelancer.

Having finished on Circle Square in July, Rebecca went straight into a three-month contract for Cardiff-based Cloth Cat Animation’s CITV series The Rubbish World of Dave Spud. Her production manager boss said her Circle Square experience meant they felt confident employing her.

Rebecca says ScreenSkills Trainee Finder was such “an amazing opportunity” that she would like to be involved with helping the training body once she’s more established. She applauds the company’s expansion into more animation training and has already told students in the year below her at Falmouth about the scheme she did.

“If you’re straight out of uni or struggling to get that first role it’s a great way to get that first step up but it’s a half step which is perfect as it means you can learn. I learnt so much at Falmouth but it’s so different from what you do within the industry. This was the perfect step for me.”