Lana Simanenkova on Finding Your Niche
Originally from Estonia, Animator and Illustrator Lana Simanenkova moved to London just over eight years ago to pursue a degree within illustration along with some of her friends. Before starting the course, she changed her mind and decided to take up an animation degree at Middlesex University instead, which worked out pretty well for her as it was a medium she “fell in love with straight away”, she shares.
With her course predominately focused on the principles of animation and classic filmmaking techniques rather than design itself, she decided to become self-taught within design and found her illustrative voice along the way. From our perspective, that willingness alone is admirable, she admits to sometimes deliberating “learning design properly and taking part in a workshop or something just to see how that process is different from what I’m trying to do.”
Today, Lana is a Senior Creative at the famous London-based animation studio, Animade and has been crafting work with them ever since graduating university five years ago.
Usually getting to the studio 10 minutes early to grab a quick coffee, she’ll start her day with a couple of ‘how are you’s’. Later, come the meetings to catch up on the projects she’s working on with the production team and then plans the agenda for the day. “From there, I’ll work a bit, have lunch, work a bit more, hop on a client call to keep them up to speed, take in and discuss feedback, bit more work and then clock out… if it’s a Friday, I’ll go to the pub with some workmates for a quick drink or two.”
When choosing Animation in university, it was seen more as a passion-pursuit rather than something she could create a viable career in. It was only until she gained some experience of making paid work for others after having graduated when she realised that her career could be both something she loved and could get paid for.
“Before that, I thought Animation was all about the starving artists making short films and hopefully finding the right funding to pursue making better and more meaningful short-form work,” she explains. “Working at Animade helped me see a bigger picture of commercial animation and possibilities there.”
Lana’s portfolio is filled with figurative illustrative designs that are cheeky, colourful, and characterful and would put a smile on anyone’s face – regardless of mood – which seems to be a consistent approach across all of the agency’s work. “We have a very strong identity that speaks to many people, mostly because we want to telegraph good humour,” she shares. “Within any animation, you always put a bit of yourself into it, like a character’s movement or a facial expression, even if it’s unintentional… I think we’re just a very fun bunch that likes to make puns and jokes between creating good work.”
Some of her favourite projects over the years at Animade have included projects with clients such as; Dropbox where she created the walking bus that mobile users will have seen on their log-on screen, IBM being one of her most heavily frame-by-frame animations and is quite frankly absolutely adorable, and Taxi Studio where she created the designs and animations for a brief to help attract talent into Bristol.
It’s not uncommon to look at the industry and the work that comes out of it to be down to an individual; the praise is often given to the person behind that design, that concept, or that idea. However, in reality, it all comes down to team effort and each bringing their own perspective and experience to the group and the project that they’re working on. For Lana, she has found collaboration within a team and flexibility with ideas to be at the forefront of the underlying success of any project.
“I’ve learned that teamwork is very important… Animation takes a long time to make. It’s nice to have a couple of people help you make something greater than what can be done alone,” she reflects. With good teamwork comes a solid foundation to build on different ideas, which in itself means that as a creative you must learn to “Not be too precious about your ideas” and to allow team members to develop them further, she adds.
As we look deeper into the industry, Lana shares her concerns on the gender gap and how, if we’re to move forward, it’s an area we need to continue talking about and challenge further. “The industry still has a long way to go in terms of balancing the gender gap. We need to be more outspoken about the gender biases and the glass ceiling, and pay disparities that women face with Animation that is still very male-dominated,” she emphasises.
Entering an industry whether that’s at the start or mid-way of your career can be a daunting experience for a lot of us, but making that transition can usually be made easier when we’re able to take a leaf out of somebody else’s book who has been there, done that. Seeking Lana’s words of wisdom, I ask what advice she would give to those aspiring to takes steps forward and break into the industry.
Know what your work is worth. “I see so many graduates come out of education not knowing what to charge for their work and accepting whatever number the client gives them as a day rate.”
Find a niche. “Being an all-rounder is good in some fields but I feel like a strong curated portfolio is better than one that is spread out too thin. Make potential clients instantly know what part of the animation process you are an absolute wizard at.”
Connect to your peers working in the industry. “Go to talks, events and animation festivals to make some friends, potential work connections and feel less alone in the whole venture!”
Although only five years into her career since graduating, her work began by and continues to push creative boundaries and rightly so, gleams with confidence that is both admirable and inspiring for those in the industry. But, what’s next for her?
“I’m in the process of making a short film under the flag of Animade at the moment between client projects… hope to get that released next year!” she shares. “Other than that, just to try and get better at what I do, work my way towards a Creative Director role and just learn and experience more.”