Go for the thing you actually want to do.
Many students, teachers and family told me studying 2D animation in school from 2009- 2013 was foolish because there were already no more 2D animation jobs, and that I should study 3D animation. But I hate rigorous, technical work, I honestly hate computers all together. I’m not built for that kind of thinking, and I’m not interested in it. I was and am far more interested in drawing and film making than mastering technology. I’m almost four years out of school now, and have now had far better career opportunities than many of my 3D classmates because I am passionate about what I do.
My senior year of college, I narrowed the parts of the animation process that I am most interested in to writing and storyboarding. But, I was afraid to pursue those jobs because I knew from interning in studios that they were highly coveted positions. So, I went for cleanup and animation jobs, hoping to work my way up. I even got lucky and landed character design work down the line, though I’m not particularly interested in design. It was only when i started taking storyboarding classes, making storyboards in my spare time, pursuing storyboarding jobs, calling myself a storyboard artist, that those opportunities started to become available to me. And it turns out, I’m far better at storyboarding than I was at those other positions, because it’s the thing I enjoy the most. This is not to say “don’t take that cleanup job that pays the bills.” Take that job, and do online storyboarding classes at night, and read storyboarding blogs on your lunch break, make storyboard samples and comics in your free time on nights and weekends… Then, ask for storyboard tests, and test and test and test. It might take a while, no worries. Go ahead and put ‘storyboard artist’ on your website in the meantime instead of ‘illustrator’ or 'cleanup’ or whatever your more accurate fallback job is.
Don’t work in a studio in your fallback job and wait for someone to give you the opportunity. You might think because you are hard working at your compromise job, the management will reward loyalty with the job you politely asked for, or maybe were even too polite to actually ask for. They won’t give you that job. They probably won’t even help you get that job. So test within that studio if they’ll let you, and apply other places in the meantime while you keep paying the bills with that job.
There’s no excuse to me. Even people who want to direct can direct their own animated shorts in their spare time and build up a commercial directing portfolio from those shorts. You can do the same thing making crappy live action films with borrowed equipment in your spare time. It’s costly and time consuming, but you can throw your musician friend a couple bucks for the score, get a compositor buddy to throw effects on your short in exchange for some animation she needs, and buy a bunch of friends pizza to help you clean up scenes or hold lights or whatever. I’ve done it before.
I used storyboards as an example above, (read blogs during lunch, etc.) but apply that same tenacity towards whatever you want to do: vis dev, character design, comic penciler, stop motion fabricator, 3D modeler, whatever. I want to be a writer now, that’s the next hurdle for me. I’ve written two pilots and I’m taking it seriously, going to writing events, talking to people, refining my work and writing new material, and generally conducting myself as a writer. I have no idea how long, or even if this will take, but I’m pursuing it like it’s real because I enjoy writing, so I think I’d be good at it. Please don’t be one of these people that talks about all the stuff you’re “working on”, when you are really just thinking about working on that stuff. Too many of those in the world, please just go and get things done. “There are those who write, and those who talk about writing.” An adage I like. Apply it to whatever you like “There are those who design characters, and those who talk about designing characters…”
So please, everyone, go for what you want, don’t stop short now. You’ll be a lot better at your job when you’re doing the thing you like.