Abby Goldsmith: Side Trip Success
Here's a fact that might surprise you: working in video games was not Abby Goldsmith's "dream job."
As a high school student, her definition of success was two words long: Disney Studios. "I wrote to Disney feature animation studios, asking them how I could get in," Goldsmith says. "They sent me a list of schools I should go to."
The California School of the Arts was at the top of that list. Goldsmith applied, was accepted, and spent four years there.
"There was an animation boom right before I went to college," Goldsmith recalls. "Animators were getting eight million dollar contracts. When I graduated, Disney had just laid off 800 animators. I applied to just about every TV animation studio in California, and I wasn't getting anything."
This story the down-on-her-luck artist showing her portfolio around Hollywood is almost a joke in the ridiculously competitive entertainment industry. But there was nothing funny about Goldsmith's struggle. "I was really desperate that year. I didn't want to go home to New England, and I was trying to find anyone who would hire an artist."
Unfinished landscape, potential cover for a YA novel. Photoshop.
Surviving on emergency cashflow from her parents didn't help the situation much. The money kept her afloat, but was always delivered with a little something extra in the form of cautionary advice. "Every week they were saying, maybe you should come home, or maybe you should go back to school and major in something useful," Goldsmith says.
She holds nothing against her parents, and no one was prouder of her eventual success. At that time, however, it seemed unlikely she would fulfill her potential.
The lack of a strong support system made her situation all the more difficult. "I had friends from college, but they were all in the same boat I was," Goldsmith says. "I had taken ten or twelve different animation tests at different studios. I had even gotten hired once, and then they called the Sunday before I was supposed to start working to tell me they didn't have the position anymore."
Kehsa, from Goldsmith's novel "City of Slaves."
Magg, from her unpublished Young Adult novel.
Ready to throw in the towel but spurred to keep trying by thoughts of having to return to New England in defeat, Goldsmith applied for an art job at a gaming company. "I didn't expect them to interview me, because I'd had so many rejections by that point. It was ridiculous."
They interviewed her. Then they hired her. The long wait for gainful employment was finally over.
Now, Goldsmith has worked her way up from animator on Gameboy Advance titles such as Sigma Star Saga, Tak, American Dragon and Spongebob to lead animator on two new Nintendo DS titles due out later this year.
She loves the work she does now, although it is very different from what she expected when she entered college. "When I was growing up, my attitude was, 'I'll be a top Disney animator and work on films like Aladdin, or I'll fail miserably!' I never considered going into games, because I was so focused on hand-drawn Disney style animation."
Thomas Escorted. Illustration from "City of Slaves."
Although animation serves a very different purpose in video games, Goldsmith's current work with 2-D animated sprites in DS games is not so far removed from the cel animation of her college years - basically a high-tech version of those flipbooks you used to do in math class on boring days. "You're drawing on a computer," Goldsmith says, "but you still have to draw every frame."
The major advantage of the hardware is economy; if a character action is often repeated, it can be duplicated from the original frame. "There's a lot of cutting and pasting involved," Goldsmith explains.
While the vast majority of professional art gigs use digital tools, Goldsmith believes strongly in the fundamental skillset built in traditional drawing. "Principles of animation - squash, stretch, and follow-through, which are principles of movement - require study to understand. You can't just pick them up over a weekend, the way you can a computer program. It takes a lot of time and practice to capture the way things move, to make it look good - to give a character personality."
Vasquez Rocks. Student work. Acrylic on canvas.
Goldsmith - also a writer - encourages creatives to follow the dream, not the money. "It's really sad when people get a job in a field they don't like," Goldsmith says. "They get bored, but feel obligated to stay." She also believes that it's a good idea to widen your frame of reference, and consider possibilities in fields you might not have thought of initially. Goldsmith is a working artist today because she made that choice. "A lot of young artists and writers miss opportunities, or don't see them," she says, "because they're too focused on one area."
Goldsmith's website and blog are here.