We Doctors get asked all the time what school should I send my kid to or where should I go to learn animation? That’s a tricky question. Many schools offer animation as a subject or degree not many of them know what they are teaching. Too often schools think that teaching animation is just a few classes in learning maya. I’m not going to get into which schools I recommend or which to avoid, to be quite frank I don’t know every schools program, I was just going to give an overview of what I think you should look for in choosing your school of choice. This might have a feature animation slant to it since that is where I currently work and the perspective we currently teach from.
First off I would look at location. Schools that you would have the most success at are going to be located near the industry your interested in. These schools being located near feature animation studios, or game companies most likely have teachers that may be currently working in that industry. Teachers that are currently employed in the industry are key to your success as a student. Currently employed teachers are up to date on the current production needs, pipeline, process, and emerging techniques used today. Plus they are working where you want to be working, whom else would you want to learn from.
Second look at the schools alumni. Where do students who graduate from this school or program eventually work? Ask yourself if these are places you would like to work? Let’s say many of the schools graduates wind up being employed at EA or other game studios but rarely has a graduate that works in feature animation. Does this fit your ultimate goal? If you want to work in video games this school would be the right choice, but if feature animation is your goal there might be better options. It also works the other way around if video games are your goal than a school focused of feature animation might not be the right fit. The other advantage of good alumni is networking; it really can make a difference.
Third look for a school or program that is well rounded in all aspects in the Art of Animation. Animation is not just a technical application. Animation is an art form and going to a school that respects animation as an art is generally better than a school that focuses on technical demos. Drawing classes, story classes, design classes are more important than any maya class. Maya is a tool that can be learned on your own but drawing, design, and story are things that are best learned through a knowledgeable teacher/mentor. A school that teaches story, design, and drawing as part of your animation education is one of the keys to finding a decent animation school. We all know there are plenty of people who can run maya and move things around, but there are fewer animators who are capable and knowledgeable in design, drawing, and story. Finding a school that is more concerned about the art of animation and continuing its legacy is a hard thing to do but in the end you’ll be better off for doing it.
Fourth sometimes you may not know what it is you want to do in animation, but you know you want to work in the animation industry. Animation is a very broad term, which can include disciplines such as lighting, modeling, rigging, texturing, layout, and animation. Some people may think they want to do animation but really want to rig or model characters. If you’re unsure what you want to do going to a school with a year of good foundation but then specializes in your area of interest might be the best way to go. That way in the first year you can sample everything to see what your really interested in and then you can focus on what that is later in your degree path.
Fifth if you can go and visit the school and sit in on classes, this will also help you get a better understanding of who the faculty is, and how the students like going there. Sit in on a class and see what they are teaching. Animation deals with critical critique more than lectures. Learning animation is about application, getting notes and then re-doing and re-doing. This is why teachers that are currently working are so important. Teachers coming into class from a full days work at an animation studio have animation soaked into their brains.
Online vs. Brick and Mortar? I think the previous list still applies to this question, except location.
I don’t know if this helps but it might to some of you. Education is all about what you put into it, you get out of it. Even if you’re being taught by Frank and Ollie and your not applying yourself your not gonna get very far. So even if your at a lack luster school it doesn’t mean you cannot have success, it’s all about you the student and how bad you want to learn animation and want it. Animation can only be taught so far before the student has to become engaged and want to learn. It’s about hard work and discipline. The only reason I got to PIXAR is through following the process I talked about above and then working my butt off. I wasn’t the best student, but I worked hard and I wanted all my life to be an animator. By hard work I don’t mean I did all the assignments, I lived it. I lived at school animating, and learning, which I still do ten years later, just now I’m getting paid to do it.
Dr. Stephen G.