I got my first internship in feature film animation at 16. That in itself is pretty nuts, but then I got asked back each summer until I ended up getting a job after college at the same studio. Internships are about building relationships that will hopefully last a long time. My relationships with those at Sony Pictures Animation are what that lead to my post-grad job at the age of 21 (Sony made a little video about it).
When I was 16, I reached out to my dad’s friend who worked at Sony Pictures Animation and personally asked him if he could help me get an internship. He passed along my portfolio and luckily they were new to hiring art interns, so I got a chance to be one of the visual development interns. It is important to recognize that at 16 my work was good, but not better than a kid who was in college and eligible for that internship. It was a connection that got my foot in the door. But, I wanted that internship so badly that I made sure it wasn’t a connection that ended up getting me asked back.
Here are some things I learned over four years I was an intern that I hope help you get asked back!
You are the grunt: you do the grunt work
In order to make sure that next year when they asked me back (and I was sure I could get them to do that with my naive confidence) it was purely because I worked hard and proved I wanted it more than anyone else. So I did everything they asked of me. It goes without saying that if someone asks you to do something inappropriate or that makes you uncomfortable, go to your boss or HR. That first summer I scanned hundreds of pages of artwork, made binders of artwork packets, pinned lots of artwork to boards, sat quietly in meetings taking notes, made a bunch of boxed mashed potatoes, made posters for events, and organized a whole copy room. I did the work that was time-consuming and lowly. That is what an intern does. That is what you do as an intern: you show that you are willing to help your team and the people you work with by being an asset.
Find mentors and learn from them
I truly loved the random tasks. How could I not? I got to be at my dream animation studio working alongside the best artists in the business, including Marcelo Vignali who ended up becoming my mentor for years after. In between all of the random grunt work, I was able to have art lessons with some of the rockstars I looked up to. I used to ask artists I admired to help teach me tips on how to draw like they did, how to streamline my character designs, or even collect reference images efficiently on Pinterest.
Get involved: go to lunch
Put your phone away, go to lunch, get drinks if you legally can, then connect with your co-workers on LinkedIn. You are next to people living a life you might potentially have… talk to them! Learn how they paved their path and get to know the people you are working with to make a long-lasting connection. Some of my fellow interns from my summers at Sony are still my friends today!
Don’t discount anyone
Over the years I witnessed first-hand other interns or higher-ups dismissing the knowledge of those different than them. What I mean is… you never know who you or others will be in a few years. Someone lower than you at one time could be hiring you later and someone with a skill you cannot relate to might be able to teach you something useful. I used to ask environment artists for lessons on how to draw the environment, even though I only wanted to be a character designer at the time. I am currently working mostly in children’s books and all of that knowledge for the environment design has become incredibly useful now!
Great! Now that you have done all of those things and had a fruitful internship: ask to come back. That is scary and vulnerable, but here is the thing: no one knows you want to come back until you ask them. No one can read your mind! If you want something, you have to ask for it.
Say “Thank you”
This doesn’t mean a whole lot if you don’t do the other things, but I believe in the power of a kind handwritten thank you note. So after every single internship, I used to write a handwritten thank you note to every single person who helped me during the summer. Yes. Every single person. Even the executives! Sometimes I even would send them handmade paintings too. This is an extra step that shows them you care and not only that, but you are appreciative and grateful of the time they took to be there for you (something no one is entitled to).
Now go rock your internship!