Interview with Heather Carpini – Freelance Animator

We got another great interview this week! I am happy to share with you all an interview I did with the crazy talented Heather Carpini! Heather and I just recently met after working on a fun project last month. However, Heather has had an awesome career as animator, both as a freelancer and at some major studios working on big name projects! She is a really fun person to work with and an awesome animator to boot. So please take a moment, check out her demo reel below then give the interview at read. It’s got some great answers!

Where are you from and how long have you been working in animation?

I am from Newport News, Virginia. I’ve been working in animation since 2002.

What made you want to become an animator / do you have a specific moment that sparked your interest in the field?

I can’t recall the exact moment. I always loved animated movies and cartoons. I was obsessed. I would pause Disney movies so I could draw the characters.  I was always drawing. And then when I was around 10 or 11 I started telling people I was going to be an animator at Disney when I grew up.  I still haven’t worked at Disney but I am an animator!

Are you self-taught or did you get some type of formal education / training?

I went to Ringling College of Art and Design in the computer animation program.

Have you always worked remotely/freelance or have you worked “in-house” jobs as well? If so which studios?

I have worked both in-house and freelance animation jobs over the years. My first professional animation gig was working remotely in 2002 on the Hermie and Friends series for Glueworks Animation.  Most recently I worked remotely on the film “Rock Dog” with Little Zoo Studio.

I have also been fortunate to work in-house as a contract animator for Blue Sky Studios on the films “Horton Hears a Who!” and “Ice Age: Continental Drift”. I have also worked in-house for Sony Imageworks on “Green Lantern” and I’ve worked in-house at some smaller studios on various projects.

Can you describe your typical work day as a remote freelancer? If you worked in a studio setting before how does it differ compared to working remotely? Are there things you like better about working remotely and vice versa?

My typical day as a remote animator can vary based on the project/projects I’m working on and if I’m working a “Day job” at the same time.  Typically if I’m solely working remotely my day starts in the morning around 7 or 8am, I check email and skype, get any notes together and make a plan for what I need to do that day. I work till I get hungry, take a lunch and then work till dinner. Usually there are some skype meetings/notes in there.  Sometimes my day is longer or shorter depending on deadlines and notes, sometimes I jump back on after dinner to hit any late notes so the client has the updates for the next morning.  The main difference between remote and in-house is that working remotely I make my own schedule – which I love!  I happen to be a morning person but if something comes up and I need to go out during the day I have the flexibility and can work at night if I need to, I don’t have to “request off” or be held to a schedule as long as the work is done and deadlines are hit.  Both remote and in-house have their pluses and minuses.  The thing that I miss the most about working at a studio is the sense of team work and the atmosphere, I really like having other artists and animators around to bounce ideas off, and especially having senior animators to learn from on a daily basis.  I also miss having an IT department, when you work remotely you have to handle all those software and hardware issues yourself!

Do you keep a regular set of hours?

Typically I try to… but that’s just my personal preference. I feel most productive in the morning so I prefer to work early and I try to stick to a routine as much as I can.  Sometimes given deadlines and feedback and time zones; that isn’t always possible and that’s where it’s important to be flexible as a freelancer. Sometimes the client’s needs are such that you have to work later in the evening or you get notes at the end of the day that need to be hit by the next morning.

I have noticed the industry often has a bit of a seasonal tendency at times, with more jobs during certain times of the year and less at other times. Do you have advice for things to do during those slow periods of the year?

It’s always a good idea to be diversified.  Have a large skill set, maybe even a backup plan that doesn’t involve animation.  Slow periods can be devastating on your finances, not to mention your stress level.  Since I made the switch to remote freelancer and decided to stop chasing the in-house jobs I have learned to keep all my options open. During slow times I have taught painting classes, been a pet sitter, worked in graphic design, and real estate. The main thing is to have options and to make sure you save money during your busy times to help hold you through the slow times.

In your experience working remotely, what is the most common method of interacting with the client? Do many studios utilize some form of pipeline tool like Shotgun?

For the past couple years it seems to be Skype is the most common tool for interacting with clients, both chat and video.  I’ve worked for a number of different companies and it seems like everyone has their own way of doing things. Many of the larger studios have some sort of pipeline system but some don’t. Smaller studios you might just be uploading scene files to an ftp server. It really just depends.

How did you break into the freelance market, specifically remote work? It can be tricky for new comers trying to get that first gig, do you have any advice?

Network, Network, Network!  I’m not really that good at networking myself but it’s a necessary skill in this industry. Every job I have had, I have gotten through someone I have worked with previously.


What advice do you have to upcoming animators and students who want to work in the industry but maybe cannot get into a physical studio right away?

Network, Network, Network! Go to industry events, keep up and participate in online groups and keep working on your reel. 11second club challenge is good, or make up your own stuff and have people critique it.  Above all, be persistent. Keep applying, send your reel. I got several rejection letters from Blue Sky before I got the job working on Horton Hears A Who!

Part of doing freelance work is having to learn some minor business skills. Do you have any advice for learning the business side of being a freelancer? Do you have any tips or good resources you would recommend on topics such as quoting, invoicing, taxes, contracts?

This is probably the least fun but one of the most important aspects of the job.  For taxes I use turbo tax but I’ve also gone on the IRS website and read about being self-employed, working from home and what I can deduct, so that I don’t miss anything. Make sure you keep detailed info and have a good filing system for contracts, invoices and receipts. Also, always read your contracts!

What are your thoughts on the growth of remote workers in the animation industry? Do you think it will become more common as years go on and the technology continues to improve?

I hope it does! With the speed of internet connections and ability to work off-site I hope more common place for studios to utilize remote workers. It allows for more freedom and stability for where you can live. Cost of living and quality of life is a big thing as you get older and having the choice to not live in California, Vancouver or New York is a big plus for remote workers. Also not having to relocate constantly to chase contracts in the film industry.   That’s my hope anyway!

Do you have any favorite projects that you have worked on?

Honestly I have loved all the projects I have worked on. The films hold a special place in my heart but the fact that I can work on such fun stuff and get paid to do it is truly a privilege.  Once, on a film, a supervisor gave me a shot that wasn’t very exciting and he apologized… I told him don’t apologize, there are no small shots! Every shot in the film needs to be there to tell the story.  So that would be my closing thought… remember there are no small shots or small projects, do your best and enjoy the opportunity!

Thanks so much to Heather for sharing her time and answers with us! If you want to learn more about Heather, check out her IMDB page, or her LinkedIn Profile links below: