I am an animator/illustrator/director type. I split my time mostly between directing projects for clients and freelancing for studios to help them make work for their clients.
I studied at a small school here in Nashville, TN called Watkins College of Art, Design and Film. I actually graduated with a film degree and so my first jobs were as a freelancer, working on small film shoots around town as well as tiny directing jobs for small businesses while making personal shorts with friends in all my spare time. I never studied animation while in school, but I had a good friend and class mate who was getting super into VFX on his own time and he would show me how to do some things in After Effects every now and then.
Eventually, after I’d been freelancing in the live action world for a year or two, an animation job fell into my lap when a guy in town needed some flashy visuals to open a conference he was putting on. I was deeply unqualified, but I also really needed work and I knew just enough about After Effects and animation to not really be able to understand how ill equipped I was, so I took the job. It required a crazy amount of learning on the job and it was a nightmare to get through it at times, but by the end, I surprisingly felt pretty good about what I had made and realized that animation was perhaps a better fit for my brain than live action. So I made the switch and within about a year had completely transitioned out of live action and into animation.
I think style or a voice develops naturally overtime when you focus on creating things that you enjoy, follow your natural impulses, and remain true to your own interests. I think there is a tendency for artists to rush to find their style so that they can be more marketable or instantly recognizable. I understand where the tendency comes from, especially if you feel it can bring you more security as a freelancer, but I think it can often be super limiting in terms of growth. If you ever have the thought “I want to make something like this but it doesn’t fit with my ‘style’” I think that’s a sign that you’re forcing it instead of letting it come naturally. Just try not to think about it and keep your focus on making stuff you like whenever possible, and you won’t be able to help but to develop a voice.
I really enjoy working with studios as a freelancer and directing commercial work and hope to keep doing that, but I also really plan to set my sights on more purely narrative opportunities as that has been my goal from day one. I’d like to finally finish a personal short film as well as begin development on a series. Smaller things beyond that include opening a shop to sell prints and other things and maybe teaching in some capacity.
Don’t be afraid to keep trying a bunch of new things beyond what you studied in school and what you think your current path is. There’s still tons of growing and changing to do so it never hurts to allow yourself chances to stumble into new areas that you may end up loving more than whatever you feel you’re meant to do now.