Mentoring: Jamie Wilson and Dani Abram

Animator Dani Abram

Jamie Wilson and Dani Abram’s journey through the mentoring scheme could be the perfect guide for why it exists, what you can get out of it and the keys to success.

Swansea-based Jamie Wilson studied animation and design at university with the hope of entering the animation world once he’d graduated. He worked diligently to achieve this, busily creating his own animations. But when he applied for jobs he got knock back after knock back.

“I must have applied for 200 jobs, and although I went for a few interviews, I couldn’t catch a break,” Jamie said. “So instead I did some freelancing work and built up my own portfolio.”

Then one day, he was looking online and came across the ScreenSkills mentoring scheme. He applied in the hope that a mentor could help him with his animation and ideally get him a job.

About the same time, Dani Abram, an experienced animator then based in Cardiff, whose credits include Grand Theft Auto, Halo 4 and Aardman Animation’s The Pirates, heard about a ScreenSkills mentoring roadshow run by the mentoring team to explain how mentoring could work, the benefits and what it entails.

“As a self-employed animator, I literally attend anything animation flavoured that the industry is talking about, so went along for this ScreenSkills mentoring introduction session,” Dani explains. “They gave a presentation about what the scheme involves and how it is structured with [a suggested] six hour-long sessions over six months.”

This really appealed to her as she had previously attempted a mentoring scheme, but found herself in constant contact with the mentee, which did not prove manageable. She was also encouraged to hear that the mentors did not owe the mentees a job.

“I was glad about that upfront as with the previous scheme it felt the opposite, like they were after something I couldn’t give them,” Dani says. So she signed up and waited for a response.

Weeks later and now living in Northern Ireland, Dani was matched with Jamie. In their first Skype meeting, Dani asked Jamie what he was looking for from mentoring, and he admitted he wanted a job.

Once they had gone through the paperwork and agreed that she could not guarantee employment out of their sessions, they got down to the business of at least helping him on that path.

The first session involved establishing where he would like to work and looking at companies in the surrounding area before establishing what experience he already had to match the work they did.

“We picked Cardiff because I’d been there and it was close to him. So we dug through the companies’ websites, like Cloth Cat, Bomper Studio, Jammy Custard Amimation etc,” Dani said. “I suggested maybe he should do some more children’s TV work so if he approached Cloth Cat Animation, for example, he could display that he had some similar style scenes in his showreel.”

Jamie worked hard on his portfolio, including acting on Dani’s recommendation to split it into sub sections to match the styles of particular companies and apply accordingly.

Jamie would then send his work over to Dani before each of their meetings with an agenda of what he would like to discuss. “He showed me some of his animations, then we’d go through them together,” Dani says. “It was handy to do it on Skype because we could then share screens. I would often show him what I was working on in the studio and draw over his animations using all the equipment. That was great because he could see it and he recorded every session. He is such a diligent guy.”

One of the animations from his portfolio they worked on was a Shakespeare soliloquy called To Be or Not to Be performed by an animated character on a stool. “We had a few rounds on that because he wanted to know every time how he could make it better in terms of acting, posing, timing etc. His first pass was very simple body moves. Like all animators, he’d completely ignored the face because that’s the scariest part to deal with and there are a million rules. So, I got him to focus on the eyebrows and do a full facial animation, using a real actor performing the lines as a reference. I’d then draw over some poses and get him to really focus his efforts in on a particular line with an emotional bit. There were three different rounds of it and to see him put so much work in and try so hard was really nice.”

By around the third session, as Jamie’s confidence grew, he was talking about networking and how to do that. As Dani knew the Cardiff networking scene quite well, she urged him to go along to the Cardiff Animation Nights, which she used to run.

“Quite a lot of people get together and watch animation films. It’s scary introducing yourself, but great to go and soak up the vibe. I told him not to panic, just go along and see,” she explains. “He exceeded my expectations, coming back from the first session with a few names of people he’d spoken to, and because I knew them, I was able to give him their contact details.”

Amazingly, one of those people he met, Chris McFall, director of United Filmdom, offered an interview where Jamie showed work including the Shakespeare soliloquy and ended up giving Jamie a job. “After our initial conversation, he invited me to their new studio to meet some of his people, we developed a relationship and after a month he offered me some work.”

This meant Jamie and Dani’s sessions took a different turn. “We did a session on pricing your work and knowing your worth, which is something I’ve got a lot of experience in. He was asking me if I go work for this guy, how much should I be asking for? That kind of thing,” Dani says.

Jamie is now enjoying the work, and has just finished doing some animation for the company 4Pi Productions. “They specialise in video domes, so they got me to do an animation for a four metre and 10 metre immersive video dome, which I did pretty much on my own, which was great.”

Dani is equally happy, satisfied that their sessions had been a success and having thoroughly enjoyed mentoring. She is currently busy working on a film version of the popular children’s TV show Puffin Rock with the companies Dog Ears and Cartoon Saloon. But she says: “I would happily sign up to the mentoring scheme again.”


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