Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Testing II

There have been lots of internal and external debate on testing over the years. There are a lot of members who don't like board tests because they believe them to be over-long and abusive (in our experience, many are). And there are members who think that tests, properly handled, are useful tools.

The issue: When are tests useful, and when not? We present another member's take on job tests. ...

In Defense of Testing

Okay, I get it: A lot of people don’t like tests. They don’t see the value of testing for positions in our industry, they feel tests are abusive and insulting, and they don’t believe they should have to offer any more proof of their talent and experience than their resume and portfolio show.

I understand this position, but my experience and opinion are different and I hope my fellow Guild members will consider the idea that tests might be a useful hiring tool and that WE – the members of Local 839 – have the power to shape and control the tests that are given out.

I got my first job in the industry after taking a test. I had a BFA in Illustration and over ten years’ experience in different art fields (but not animation) when a college friend asked if I was interested in taking a background design test. My portfolio qualified me to take the test and he could vouch for me personally, but I needed to show the art director, creative director and show creator that I could match the style of the show. It seemed like a reasonable request back then and I feel pretty much the same about testing now.

As an art director, I can see from a portfolio review that a job applicant has strong drawing skills, a good sense of design, and understands anatomy, perspective, color. What I can’t necessarily see in a portfolio or resume is whether that person understands the sensibility of my particular show and can work in the style already set. I offer reasonable tests to the artists with the most promising portfolios, and they have a chance to show that they’re right for the job. Any further testing needed is paid for as freelance.

Storyboard tests can be a bit more complicated because the job itself requires a different range of talent and know-how. Many comedy shows require that a storyboard artist possess not only drawing skills and film-making knowledge, but a deep understanding of the spirit and style of the show and the ability to write most of the dialogue and gags from a premise or outline rather than a full script. A short test is virtually a necessity in order to narrow the field of applicants to the ones who might be right for the position, and an outstanding test can seal the deal.

Now mind you, I said a SHORT test. I understand that storyboard artists are often given two, three and even four script pages as a test and many Guild members have complained that the work takes days or even weeks to complete. This is NOT a reasonable test and nobody should ever spend that much time in an effort to get a job that many others may be competing for. The people reviewing storyboard tests are just as busy as the rest of us and probably won’t spend more than a few minutes looking at each submission.

If you receive an unreasonable test and you still want to try for the job, then only do a portion of the test: choose the part that you think will best highlight your skills and a grasp of the show’s sensibility and style and do your best in a limited time frame. You can explain yourself (why you chose to do only a portion of the test, how long the work took to complete, etc) in a cover letter submitted along with your test . . . or not.

The people creating tests in this industry are usually members of our own Guild. Production teams may organize materials, hand out and receive tests from applicants, but it’s the art directors, show creators and other creative managers who conceive the actual tests. People who know how to do the job that needs to be done are the ones who decide what goes into the test and what they want to see from prospective hires. It is the responsibility of those talent seekers to create tests that are REASONABLE. They should imagine themselves in the position of applicants and construct a test that has clear parameters and instructions, includes any necessary reference (model sheets, style samples, bibles, blank storyboard sheets, etc), and can be completed in no more than two to four hours.

There are some tests out there that are reasonable, and there are probably many more that are too long, too complicated, confusing, or just a downright waste of time because they won’t reveal any test-taker’s unique qualities. But animation tests have been around since the start of the industry and they are not going to go away any time soon. We have to live with tests whether we choose to do them or not, and the best thing we can do for ourselves and our sisters and brothers in the Animation Guild is to take the time, effort and courage to shape and control the tests themselves. We can do this by collecting the evidence – any test currently in circulation – and taking them to the studios and producers who hand them out. We (The Animation Guild) can’t force a change unless we confront the guilty parties with tests in hand, and we can only get the test packets from our members.

If you receive a test. please share the test packet with the Animation Guild. We don’t need YOUR completed test, we only need the test materials you received from the studio – it’s completely anonymous. Steve Hulett keeps a file of all submitted tests packets, and he needs reasonable tests as well as unreasonable ones in order to make a case for change at any Guild shop or production. Can you imagine the response he would get if he called a producer to demand a more reasonable test if he didn’t have proof that said producer’s test was unreasonable in the first place?

We can’t change anything using hearsay and sob stories as a weapon; WE NEED PROOF, and the proof is the test in YOUR hands.
Please send all tests to the Animation Guild (shulett@animationguild.org) so that we can better educate the test makers and advocate for our members!


Darrel said...

Well written....makes a lot of sense and thank you for sharing.

Llyn Hunter said...

In response to In "Defense of Testing," the current problem with the tests is not about liking or not liking them. It is about unpaid work for the evaluation of a position.

When it is suggested that WE have the power to shape and control the tests, I suggest that currently this is completely wrong. Every test I have been given in the past two years has had a week turn around time. In that period I have presented at least 3 of 5 tests to the union (two were at the time non-union shops). They may or may not be able to do anything about the test, but usually they get back to me after I have completed it, and so has everyone else. By then, all the union can do is lodge a protest, and we who have taken the test are out of $500 to $2000 worth of our time.

When the article talks about needing a test to “seal the deal,” that might be understandable if the producers were narrowing the field down to three artists and then handing out the test to finalize a decision, but most of the tests are given out at the cattle call. As to the people looking at the tests. if they knew what they were looking for in the first place, there would not be so many tests handed out. Often there is no indication when applying for a position what kind of show is being produced, and applicants can’t even tailor the samples they send as good examples for the future show. Those supposedly looking at past work don’t appear to want to take the time to look at peoples web sites, they just want to see what each person can do with the current property on the table.

It is required by our contract that the tests be “a reasonable amount of work”, but what is reasonable? “Reasonable,” is an abstract term with no solid definition. None of the producers are giving tests that take less than three days to a week to complete, and once again the most unreasonable thing above all, is that we are all doing it for free. Thousands of dollars and days of wasted time that is of no expense to the show runners but are lost hours of our lives. The testers want something for nothing and we are giving it to them because we need the work.

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