A question I hear quiet often is how did you break into the animation industry? There are times when the entertainment industry can feel like this elusive being that’s too difficult to navigate or even find an open door to step through. So in this week’s Brown Geeks of Animation highlight I asked Nick Sharma, storyboard artist at Duncan Studios, how he got his first big break.

Nick was kind enough to share his entire journey. So without further ado…

My Animation Journey by Nick Sharma

My journey started in a middle class family in India. My parents separated when I was young so it was me, my mom and my brother. We often struggled to make ends meet. From a young age I was very inspired by Disney cartoons that aired on tv in India. I would watch the Jungle book on VHS over and over again. I realized later on that these cartoons are actually drawn by people! So I would pause the video and draw the pictures almost everyday after school. I was completely overwhelmed by this art form (especially by all the 90s Disney films, which were often hard to come across over there).

I decided that I would like to do this drawing thing as my job. Unfortunately, being in India meant having very limited resources to learning art professionally (for example, live model figure drawing was definitely not available at that time) and no knowledge about how to navigate through this seemingly far-fetched goal. To be honest, India didn’t have many prospects in the field of animation or fine art.

After high school I attended MIT Institute of Design in Pune for 4 years where I learned 2D animation and a couple of other random things. During that time I was lucky enough to get a gig working as a comic book artist at Raj Comics. I worked there for two years. I did many other illustration based gigs during that time. All these experiences allowed me to get better at my drafting skills, but I was very unfulfilled by the nature of gigs that I was involved with.

In 2013, I decided to come to the US to attend the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art in Van Nuys. My mother has always been very supportive of my foolish dreams and so she made the decision to sell her house in order for me to be able to come to America and attend this school. I attended LAAFA for two years and gained very valuable knowledge about art fundamentals and academic drawing and painting. At this point I had no more money to be able to continue to live and study here, on top of that, the Visa that I was offered at LAAFA prevented me from taking on any work. There was no choice, I knew I was going to go back to India. This is the moment where I feel I had some supernatural aid that came to my rescue.

During my time at LAAFA, I met this wonderful girl named Anjali (my fellow classmate at that time and a great artist) and we became best friends, spending all our free time together. One thing led to another and we fell in love!

She and I decided to get married for me to be able to stay here. I would honestly say I was terrified because I didn’t know if that was the right thing to do. This is how I was able to get a Visa and stay in this country and continue with my artistic journey. The entire transition period of immigrating to a new place and culture was pretty perilous, full of self-doubt and insecurity which I had to overcome, including learning how people communicate here.

But long story short… I was working for a couple of years in LA making a children’s book, doing character design and illustration gigs, and publishing a sketchbook –  but also getting a bunch of rejections from all the studios. I still didn’t know exactly what I needed to know to find a job in animation so I decided to take a year off, took storyboarding classes at CDA with some really talented artists and created a story portfolio. 

Based on that portfolio I finally got my first interview at Disney Feature, and soon after, Pixar as well. But those interviews didn’t pan out to me getting the job. I cried myself to sleep those nights… haha!

More job applications. Duncan Studio in Pasadena had a storyboard position and I emailed their team. After I interviewed, they graciously decided to take me onto their upcoming animated feature project as a storyboard artist! I was so excited and grateful to work with such a talented team. And this is how I finally ended up breaking into the animation industry where I get to draw cartoons for living! My family’s support, Anjali and her family’s support – everyone’s sheer love, chance/fate mixed with some good amount of hard work got me to where I am.

Thank you, Nick, for taking the time to speak with us. You’re an incredible artist and we can’t wait to see what you do in this industry.