Do you ever feel like it’s getting harder and harder to stand out in today’s crowded entertainment arts landscape? How do you get the attention of full time employers and freelance clients when there are scores of artists with similar skillsets competing for each position? 

I believe the answer is to build a personal brand. 

Branding is what differentiates you from your competitors in the minds of your audience. When done correctly it’s derived from your personal biography, skillset, point of view and how you are perceived by others. Basically, it answers this question, “Who are you and what are you known for?” The following are three techniques I’ve found useful in distinguishing yourself from the crowd.

1. Specialize
A great way to brand yourself is to pick your favorite discipline or genre and becoming an expert at it. Your strategy can be to establish yourself as the master of a genre like science fiction (Hugo Martin of Pacific Rim fame), becoming the preeminent voice for a specific discipline like creature design (Neville Page) or be known for something as foundational as drawing (Peter Han). The names of successful artists are all synonymous with something iconic, what do you want your name to be synonymous with? In short, what do you want people to say about you when you’re not in the room?

When I first started Magnus Rex we focused primarily on storyboards and animatics, then we expanded to all aspects of visual development. The move was initially lucrative but ultimately diluted our focus, so over the last year we’ve refocused on creating primarily storyboards and keyframe art. This strategy has helped immensely in identifying and communicating our core competency to prospective creative partners. 

2. A Unique Take
Another great way to stand out is to put your own unique twist on something that already exists. For example, the superhero genre has dominated pop culture in recent memory but even within this specific category, there is room for different voices.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe occupies the same space the original Star Wars movies used to, they portray archetypal heroes fighting evil on an epic scale with wit and humor. To differentiate themselves DC’s shared universe has adopted a darker and grittier approach, taking its cues from Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” series and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”. Meanwhile, Mark Millar’s properties such as “Kickass”, “Kingsman” and “Wanted” have chosen to go the rated R route with more sex, violence and irreverent humor. All three universes occupy a different segment within the superhero firmament and have managed to carve out sizeable audiences.

Now let’s apply this to a discipline we all know like Character Design. Character Design is about as crowded as it gets so the key is to be as specific as possible about what it is you’re doing. Is your focus photorealistic characters for feature film or stylized characters for 3D animation? Maybe your thing is simplified 2D characters for a show like “Adventure Time”. All of these examples exist within the umbrella of character design but have key characteristics that make them unique. Even within the space of realistic character and costume design there are different niches for an artist to occupy. Your specialty can be anything from elaborate costumes for historical and period pieces to hard surface armor and props for sci-fi productions.

3. Your Personal Biography
What are your specific tastes in music, literature, art and design? What culture did you grow up in? What unique life experiences can you put into your work? I grew up watching Taiwanese puppets on TV and have developed a deep love for the artform ever since, so when it came time to develop an original project for Magnus Rex I chose to create a puppet based project called Mythika. This project has subsequently become a signature calling card for the studio and has helped us win numerous contracts including ”Vikings” for History Channel. Your biography is your most important asset because it’s 100% unique to you, if used correctly it can be the crucial differentiator in setting you apart.

Final Thoughts
In my experience I’ve found the most important skill an artist can have is understanding their value and how to communicate that value to the right audience. The three techniques above all help an artist distill what’s best about themselves into a focused message to carve out a niche in today’s marketplace. Hopefully you can use them to start separating yourself from the pack in 2016!

Derick Tsai is the Creative Director of Magnus Rex, a creative agency with clients such as Nike, Crystal Dynamics, Disney and The History Channel. He will be teaching a new course on personal branding and the business of being an artist at CGMA this Winter. If these topics
interest you, check it out !