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Award-Winning Animator To Teach Class on Self-Branding

This is the continuation in a series on faculty teaching in the MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program.

By Jacob Nelson

This fall, Eric Patrick will teach students the importance of marketing themselves and creating their own brand — skills he is quick to admit to have struggled with throughout his long, varied career in filmmaking and animation.

“I never had one career,” Patrick said. “I wasn’t really looking for one career.”

The Northwestern associate professor has done award-winning children’s animation (Blues Clues), independent film animation (Stark Film) and political advocacy animation (Citizen Primer). In September, he will be teaching a course for Northwestern’s new MS in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, a one year program designed to help students develop the business skills and industry contacts needed to thrive in a creative environment.

“It always has been critical to brand yourself,” Patrick said. “People with the knack for self-branding always did better in their careers.”

Patrick considers this self-branding to be a holistic, experiential process, heavily influenced by social media and viral videos. With so much media available, knowing how to get your work noticed is invaluable for artists.

“You have to really do something to call attention to yourself,” Patrick said. “You can’t just assume, ‘Because I’m good, people are going to find me.’”

Part of the reason Patrick’s own work has been so varied is because he wasn’t always sure what he wanted to do. First, Patrick worked in radio, broadcasting comedy from Albuquerque while he was a student at the University of New Mexico. But he got restless.

“I didn’t feel like it was really adding anything to the dialogue other than social satire,” he said. “I wanted to concentrate on making things that really contributed to the legacy of art history and animation history in an endearing way.”

So, Patrick decided to pursue animation. He got a master’s degree in experimental animation from the California Institute of the Arts in 1997, and soon found choosing from a wide array of commercial work opportunities. This helpful job climate is something Patrick no longer believes exists in the digital age.

“People were dying to give you a job, and I don’t think that’s the case now,” he said. “People starting out now don’t have that luxury that you can waltz in and everyone is vying to hire you.” 

The increase in media content and media creators, and the ease in which all of it can be found, has made it much harder for aspiring artists to get a foot in the door.

“Even if you’re doing a Macaroni commercial, there are so many amazing production and design studios, it’s like an embarrassment of riches,” Patrick said.

This isn’t all bad news for aspiring artists, according to Patrick. People looking for art are no longer waiting for gatekeepers to give them access. Everything is online, which means everything is available. Now, it’s just a matter of getting your work to stand out.

“Nowadays… the students know as much as the professor in some way, they have access to it all,” Patrick said. “And that just shows why it’s so important to get your stuff out there.” Up next: Patrick discusses Citizen Primer.