Last month I was very lucky to receive a test for a background designer position on Cartoon Network's show "Adventure Time". For those of you who don't know what a test is, I decided to write a little about the specifics of my test and what I learned from it.
What is a test?
When studios are looking to hire someone for a creative position, often times they will ask a small pool of people to perform a test. This is to see if the applicant can adhere to the show's style, meet deadlines, and how creative they are. When I applied to the background job, I was required to only send a link to my portfolio. The studio or hiring person can tell if the artist's skills are technically ready, and the test figures out how well they mesh.
What was the test?
For my test, I was required to design two different backgrounds. One interior, and one exterior. I was given two rough storyboards, a description of what I was to draw, and a whole lot of reference to aid in learning Adventure Time's shape language. We were also given the "Adventure Time brush", a fixed width brush that all the designers on the show use to ink the backgrounds. Since I applied for a background designer position, I was only required to do line. For those that don't know, most big TV studios have one artist design and render the line art for the background, and another one color it.
You have to work fast!
In any job, speed and efficiency are key. This is something that school doesn't really teach you. Whether you are given a test, or maybe a small free lance job, you quickly realize you are getting a baptism by fire. I thought I worked fast in college, but I didn't know how slow I really was. The key is to minimize the time when your pen is lifted from the tablet and you are staring off into space. Turn off that TV! Close out of Netflix! Log out of Facebook or Tumblr! Silence that cell-phone! If you find you work too slowly, take out these distractions and really try to learn how to be faster. It's not something that just happens, you have to work at it, really, really hard.
What happens after the test?
You wait! Many times, studios will already have an artist in mind when they post a job or a test, but they are legally required to advertise it, and interview or test other candidates. So, does this mean you can be asked to do a test and from the start someone else was always going to get it? Yes. Does it suck? Yes. Can you do anything to change that? No. Ok, ok, tell you something positive? Getting a test is still a really good sign. Studios will not waste your time. If they ask you to test, they are interested in your work. Also, many times studios refer to past tests when new positions come up. So, the test could be a tiny foot in the door. EDIT: Always make sure you get permission from the studio before putting your test up online.
Always ask for feedback!
A few weeks after the deadline had passed, and I was sure that I had not gotten the job, I emailed and asked for feedback on my test. I never actually heard back, but the important thing is that I asked. Definitely, do not pester. If someone hasn't responded, send a follow up email within several weeks only if the matter is very important. But after that, just let it go. If the person you tested for didn't respond, find someone else who is experienced enough to give you a good critique. If you know what to improve on, then it doesn't matter if you didn't get the job, because you have gained invaluable experience and knowledge with which to move forward from.
As a side note, I'm currently a free lance environment designer on the animated series "Superbook" produced by the Christian Broadcast Network. I'm learning more now than I did in 4 years of art school! But, more on that in a future post. :)