Skip to Content

13 Strategies to Forge Your Creative Career

Apr 7, 2023

Throughout Ideas In Motion, our oh-so-special guests have divulged many sparkly gems of wisdom–tips, tricks, advice, you name it.

We often ask, “How did you get into motion? How did you begin to carve that path for yourself?”

From discovering their craft to growing within their respective roles in the industry, no one's story is identical, and yet their advice never contradicts each other’s. At times, in fact, it's repeated verbatim e.g. don’t be a d*ck.

I know, I know, hardly a groundbreaking suggestion. But sometimes the seemingly obvious warrants a mention. The proof is in the pudding.

With guests continuously lending their voices, know-how, and perspectives with generous candor and dazzling support for the larger community, it’s impossible to feature and contextualize every insight revealed in each hour-ish-long episode of Ideas in Motion. So if you can’t stand to miss a beat, find the full episodes here.

From versed creative minds, here are 13 strategies to forge a dynamic career in the creative industry...

Whether you’re just starting out or are as seasoned a creator as this rib-eye, may the accompanying quotes provide you with some form of support, encouragement, reminiscence, or inspiration.

The following conversations have been edited for clarity and brevity.

1. Reach out to people.

Just be genuine, just be nice to people. I'm teaching senior-year students, and I understand their panic because they're about to get into the real industry. It's really difficult. It's challenging that you don't have connections, but it's so normal because everyone will start that way. So, just reach out to people; don't be shy. Send cold emails and make a really good portfolio because people don't know you, so the only way they know if they wanna hire you or not is through your work. So that's the very first step. And then after that, just don't hold back. Reach out to people. You will get a lot of nos, but what's a phrase? All the nos will lead you to a yes. Something like that. So yeah, just, don't sell yourself short. You can always update your portfolio. You can always send out a new email telling people like, “Hey, this is my newest reel,” but just do it. Do it right now. Reach out to people. - Melody Shih // Art Director

Being nice and just being cool in general with people and actively continuing outreach is an amazing first step to building a network, whether it's now or later. You can always find time to be outreaching to somebody new. - Adrian Letechipia // Host

2. Know thy medium.

When you do reach out to someone digitally, the only main difference between in-person and digital is that you have to be much more succinct in digital. Because if that person is worth their weight in work, keep it short. They don't have time and it's not personal, but they do not have time to read a giant backstory of where you came from and your goals and dreams, and I hope I do this and I wanna work here. Like, “Please can you review my entire portfolio?” That will not get the attention that you want. It's as simple as, “Hey, I love your work, specifically this. I'm an up-and-coming, whatever. I just moved–insert city name here– I'm graduating this year.” Like one snippet of context. And then say, “Here's my work. I'd love your thoughts if you have a minute. Sincerely.” Done. - Adrian Letechipia // Host

3. Everyone’s been there–keep going.

If you find something you want to be good at and you're not good at it, that's totally okay. Anyone can do anything. Try to find people that help you get better. If you don't have that support system, if you don't know anybody around you, go a step further; if you don't have the internet, look at a book or read other resources. Look up what the people around you or the people you look up to are doing. How did they get there? If you see the work they're doing, and that's something that excites you, it's okay to imitate; art imitates art, and it comes back full circle. If you can imitate what they're doing and get really good at it, then you can start being original, and you can put together that work and send it out to places. Get involved in the community and ask questions and just say yes in the beginning so that you can learn when to say no. And if you have to struggle for a little bit, it's okay if it's gonna really get you somewhere else. I went and worked at an agency that was very small, but I was able to make connections, and that led me to find people, who I could send work and get a foot in the door. Just, connections. I know a lot of people throw that word around. It's like, how do you find connections? Look things up, look up agencies. Don't necessarily go for the bigger one, go for a smaller one, and then they'll know someone who works for the big one you want to work at, and you'll get there somehow. So nothing is impossible. - Liam Elias // Creative Director at Scholar

At the beginning of my career, I was a wreck every day. It was hard. It was intimidating because when one graduates, I don't know if art schools still do this, but they sort of tell you that you are the one that's gonna be doing everything. And it's like, no, no. You're doing just a part of the project. Like, we have a sound designer. You don't have to worry about that. That's more or less, what was intimidating for me, was the idea that I was gonna have to do the whole project by myself, which is not what happens. It was also a task for me to learn programs. And learning the programs quickly, like how they actually work, was key for me. The more that you know how to use your tools, the better. You can conceptualize the artwork that you want to do if you know how to make it. More than anything, overcoming that intimidation was learning my craft well, and learning the tools well so that then, if I wanted to do something or something was in my mind, I was able to do it. Because at the beginning, it's very overwhelming. Should I do it in 3D? What's the best way? Learning how to construct a project, how to organize it, how to ensure that you build it the correct way, once I learned that is when I stopped being as intimidated. I think it was learning the tools more than anything. - Dorca Musseb // Freelance Designer/Animator

When you're starting, you think you need to know all the tools. You need, need to offer everything and then your first website turns into like, “I can do 3D, I can do, characters animation, I can do VFX, I can do stop motion if you want me to” and none of those are like, like proper, basically.

My first job in Boston, coming from the market in Spain and feeling like I had to deliver a lot for very little, was doing some storyboards for a studio and they asked for four storyboards. Four thirty-second ads needed storyboards, “For tomorrow at four. That's fine. No?” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess, I don't know. Let's do it.” And of course, you live and learn. I mean the storyboards are like, I still have them, there are characters with like copy-pasted arms flipped over that they just look like, it's not okay. - Julio Michelon // Motion Designer

I would say that it is important just to build your portfolio. Like, make cool sh*t for yourself. Do whatever you want if you're not getting work and put it out there, and hopefully–it might take a long time–but eventually, you'll get better and better and you'll have work that people are seeing on the internet and maybe the right eyes will see it and they'll be like, “That's exactly what I want, that's what I need for my project.” So, I would just keep making cool sh*t. If there's no work happening, keep being an artist. - Lyla Ribot // Senior Animator

4. Diversify your skillset.

As long as you have the drive to learn something, you can apply the same things to another software and start getting better. For me, you have to be careful when you say it's not about the app, because there are certain things you can only do in one app, but it's just your ability to use the app for what you want to do. I'm not great at every single application. Like, I open Photoshop, I have a Maya C40 and ZBrush, etc., and I use each for what I need. I learned how to do that one specific thing, and that one specific thing is gonna teach me to learn another tool within the project. And a year later, you realize, wow, I just learned this whole program without even knowing it. - Liam Elias // Creative Director at Scholar

There's value in being specific about your skillset and focusing on one thing. I do feel for my part, I've learned that exploring other venues makes that specific thing that I want to do a little bit stronger. Because you're looking at it from a different perspective. So it doesn't necessarily mean that you don't explore other things. I encourage anybody who, if you like doing, a certain thing, to go do 3D for a minute, and that will inform so much of what you do with that one specific thing. It's a great way of adding to your repertoire. - Dorca Musseb // Freelance Designer/Animator

Part of my trick as a freelancer being able to just jump right into a project and be nimble is to just adopt whatever workflow is presented to me, which is usually, an After Effects project, driven by heavy expression. Which is fine, you know, that's great. And I'm still learning. The more I learn about code, the more I'm learning how powerful expressions can be. And after learning, 3D and RealFlow and all these other software, being able to implement that into a 2D space is great. That's why I do love this new software that is coming out and I do encourage people to learn beyond After Effects, you know, the scripts and the plugins and, and reach out and just try to learn. - Lori Samsel Hamasaki // Senior Motion Designer

5. People have short attention spans.

Keep your reel short; a minute and a half is good. I try not to go more than that. I always find it's a balance between like, this is what I want to do and I do have these skills also. So you might slide something in there that’s kind of lame, but “Yes, I can green-screen someone out and put animations behind them.”

I will say, you wanna put the f*cking coolest shit you've done, the stuff you're so f*cking proud of, you wanna put that upfront. You wanna put the flashiest sh*t you've done upfront because if someone's interested and they're gonna hire you, they might not watch the whole thing.

People have short attention spans. When you're younger, you might not have enough choices, so just put your best in front. Once you start to have enough stuff for your portfolio, you can direct it in a certain direction, whatever that is. If you wanna just do intense character animation of other people's stuff, then put that in the front. But if you wanna have it be more your own designs, you put that towards the front. And have your name and address, contact info. - Lyla Ribot // Senior Animator

6. It’s not about your ego.

All artists have their own egos about their own work. And it is so hard for people, even myself, to jump out of the loop and look at things objectively; we’re all very biased. And sometimes you have to be very careful about managing this ego.

I find some people easier to work with when they’ve had experience with a client directly or they have been creatively directed. They tend to take notes, better ‘cause they understand this is not personal, this is not about ego. We're just talking about work, and how to get clients what they want. Some younger artists, they're just very like, tunnel-visioned sometimes, and you have to encourage them. You never should say, “Oh, I don't think this looks good.” Be thoughtful about the wording and very encouraging. - Dino Qiu // Creative Director at CVLT

7. Listen and step out of the way.

What I've experienced a lot is people being afraid of telling an admin something or being critical or bringing something to the table. Especially people who are from marginalized communities because they don't know what their reaction is gonna be. And when they see that they have a voice, when they see that they're being listened to, it opens it up even more for them to be more comfortable and bring more ideas to the table. But that has to do with the people running it. If you are running a community just to say, I have a community, and it's all about this, then that's a community of one. And then everybody in the community's gonna look like you, and it's gonna be just like you. Well, great. You have a community of yourself. If you want a community that is diverse, that has different people coming in with different ideas, and they're open, and they're comfortable telling you something is wrong, then you need to listen. And I've been to communities where it's like, this isn't comfortable, and you are being told that people are not comfortable, and you're not doing anything about it. I'm gonna have to leave because, at the end of the day, I have to protect myself, and I have to protect my mental health, and I have to protect my exposure to certain things. So, unfortunately, you're not gonna have me there.

Listen to the people that are marginalized. Listen to them, include them, have them be a part of, because I've seen spaces where “We're gonna build this” and then no one in that buildup in the top tier is actually a marginalized community. And it's like, how are you gonna build it without us? Right? The best advice I can give you is to listen and step out of the way, step out of the way. - Dorca Musseb // Freelance Designer/Animator

8. Don't be a d*ck.

If anyone's looking to get into freelance, I think half the job is just to be pleasant to be around. If someone does great work, but they're a d*ck, you don't really get asked back. ‘Cause even if you're the most talented person in the world, if someone can do it like 90% as good as you, they'll just be like, “Well I'd rather work with this person because they don't…” you know? - Mark Phillips // Senior Motion Designer

When you're young, you have to prove that you're a person capable of working and are nice to work with. So say yes to more things. And as you start to progress your career, you'll be able to be a little pickier. But the number one thing people are gonna hire you for is your portfolio. It also helps not to be a d*ck. Of course, stand up for yourself. But, don't unnecessarily be a d*ck. - Lyla Ribot // Senior Animator

9. Step outside.

Creative people need input as much as output. And there are times I think like, I need to go see this movie, or I need to go to the museum or walk in the park. I think that’s important ‘cause when you're finishing something, you are kind of spent, like pretty much emptied out. So you need to put something in before you can start, forming something in your head. So, I think it's important not doing anything. It is hard. I mean, I can't say that I'm good at it. It's like, in the morning I tackle that guilt or anxiety and okay, I'm good. Then you wake up the next morning, and that's another feeling. So just every day, I guess you go on. - Masayoshi Nakamura // Animation Director

This idea that you have to always be going and always be doing, and I'm gonna grind until five in the morning, I don't do that. I don't like hustle. You know what I mean? I just try to learn and do things that I think look good and hopefully that attracts other people to be like, “Hey, I want you to be in my team.”But definitely like you have to pay the bills, sometimes you have to reach out to people. But I know that grinding myself into work isn't gonna help because that's not even where my inspiration comes from. Inspiration comes from living life. So I feel like the more I relax and enjoy life and be present, the better thinker I'll be for the next project and hopefully, I have something helpful and nice to bring to the project. Like, when you take those mental breaks, that's when your best ideas pop up. Right? So in this whole conversation of bleeding edge and how do we stay ahead of things? I think that rest and time off have a huge part in that. I think that's what it's about, is the bleeding edge is really just like, take a shower and relax.

Because that's when these ideas really do come and I think you just have to be receptive to the ideas. The ideas that come to me, like I didn't sit there and formulate them; I didn't build them like a mountain. They literally just come to me and it's like, “Oh, that would be so cool.”

My job is to be receptive, so like, take the walk and go to a place you've never been before, explore. To me, exploring is my biggest inspiration, to see new things or just talk to people I've never thought that I would get along with. Getting outside your comfort zone is actually really comforting in a weird way after a while ‘cause it's uncomfortable to be stagnant. I feel like nine to five every day is not moderation for my craft, you know? It just sort of happens and it comes out and then whatever. But sometimes it requires a lot of hard work to execute. But I don't care at that point; I'm in a flow state and time doesn't even matter and I've been working for five hours listening to the same song on loop, you know? And then magically you've taken all the little tiny bites that an ant takes, to eat the elephant or whatever. I just think that being receptive is all it takes to be on the bleeding edge. - Lori Samsel Hamasaki // Senior Motion Designer

10. One for the reel, one for the meal.

How do I balance creative expression with meeting clients’ needs and expectations? One for the reel, one for the meal. Just balancing out, you know, knowing that this is the client's work and sometimes the client is paying for it, and this is what they want and when they want it. At some point, you are going to have to give in to the client. However, also, I see a lot of people do whatever the client tells them to, and then on their website and on their reel, they do the version that they wanted. So it's the director's cut of what we really wanted to have, and that's another way of balancing that. And since I'm a freelancer, just taking on work that I feel is more along the lines of my values. - Dorca Musseb // Freelance Designer/Animator

11. Do it because you want to, not because you have to.

I think aside from all the business of making money and all that stuff, I think anything you do, do it because you want to, not because you have to. So when sh*t goes down, you won't regret it. That's how I kind of made my decisions, even when I was starting the studio. So when things didn't work out, I was okay with it because it was my decision. Starting a studio is great. Do it if you want to, even if you don't think you can, but only if you want to do it. And then I think, surround yourself with the people who trust you and trust them. People change, so it's just if you're willing to sacrifice and risk yourself with your life and career, then do it. - Kaori Sohma // Creative Director

12. Know your worth.

When I went to college, they taught us design–great–plus, color theory, all that stuff. But nothing about money, nothing about freelance efficacy, none of that. So, I mean, it's stuff you learn over time. But if I could go back in time, I would be like, this is what you should ask for now. I worked a 30-hour day once and billed for like, I think a day and a half, which is ridiculous. So have overtime rates, weekend rates, and holiday rates. I would just lay it all out. Don’t be taken advantage of. - Michael Luckhardt // Motion Designer

13. Share the love.

Reach out to people on social media. Like on Instagram, if you see something you think is really cool or you think someone’s animation is amazing, tell them, let 'em know, not just like, “Oh, it's cool,” and swipe out. Leave a comment, and I think they'll be happy to know. It seems really tiny like it's nothing, but that's actually a good way to build relationships with people. You know, I think if everyone could just show a little bit more of their appreciation. Like, let your fellow creatives know that what they're doing is cool and it makes you a better professional, right? - Melody Shih // Motion Designer

I'll email people and be like, I love your website. This is incredible. Your work is awesome. And so many times, the response is, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I just spent my day and whatever.” And it's funny because we all live in our little bubble, and we're so worried about, like, everybody actually just wants to be told that their work is great or that you inspired them or that, you know, something cool came of it. - Adrian Letechipia // Host

Never hold back on your appreciation. That is the number one thing. The only way to motivate people to do better work is to make sure they're happy.  - Dino Qiu // Creative Director at CVLT

14. Set yourself up for success. *Bonus

Do I believe in giving first holds? Not anymore. I used to do it all the time. In fact, up until a few years ago, I would still do it. I'm gonna say yes and no. I'll give you an example, this company hit me up I’d probably say, four months ago. The job didn't pan out, but that's beside the point. This company did the end title sequence for one of the recent Marvel films. Big name, big studio and they asked me if I wanted to work on a title sequence, and I'm intrigued. So I did give them a first hold. Granted, if they asked me for months upon months of time, I probably wouldn't have done that. But it was like a month and I really wanted the job, so I gave a first hold to that.

If you go the other way around when people say, “Hey, can I get a first hold from you?” And they don't tell you any details at all, and it's for over a month, I will usually give second holds. Because I feel it's a lot to ask for a freelancer who gets lots of weekly offers for work or just inquiries on availability, "Hey, we want this whole swath of time blocked off that you may or may not be booked for and we're not gonna tell you what the project is.” It's hard to give a first hold for that.

I've been spurned a little bit from first holds in the past. And you would think how, so I'll give an example. It's mainly companies being a bit unreasonable. Company A will give me a first hold. They'll ask for a first hold for X amount of time, and I'll say, “Sure.” And then company B will come out and say, “I want to book you, but I wanna book you for $200 more than your day rate for this big job.” And you're like, “Okay, but I have a first hold during that time. What do I do?” So I go to a first hold, I mention the rate increase, ask if they can match that and I've been put into a guilt trip where it's like, “Oh, this is the rate you agreed to with us. Why would we increase it?

It's much simpler to give second holds and whoever's ready is ready to book you. It's a little bit dependent on where you are in your career. Because, in the beginning, I used to take first holds and I had no other offers so I mean, so what to the first hold, it's fine. But now I can have a week where like seven people reach out every day of the week like, “What's your availability next week or next month?” And taking a first hold, you're now checking in with that first hold seven times. It's just a little silly after a certain amount of time if they're not gonna book yet. - Michael Luckhardt // Motion Designer


More incredible guests with ideas to boot coming soon.

Watch the latest on YouTube and subscribe to get notified of upcoming episodes.

For inquiries about Ideas in Motion, email Let us know what topics you’d like to see covered and make sure to join us during each episode’s Q&A to get your questions answered!


More from Fable: