Animators by day Animation teachers by night.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Animation Schools

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.


Blogger amelia said...

This is great info, thanks. I'm a senior in high school and I know I want to work in the animation industry, but as what I'm not exactly sure...I really would like to go to the AAU in SF because 1) its close to home and 2)it's close to Pixar... :) Plus (3) you guys work there and that makes it even better!


3:41 PM

Blogger Goro said...

This is indeed a great info. But I should have read this info about 3 years ago^^.
When I was about to finish high school I saw "Alien Song" by Victor Navone. I watched it again and again and the desire for 3D animation grew strong in me. Until then I did only some little flipbooks and stop motion animations. 3D was completely new to me. After highschool I wanted to search for institutes for 3D animation. Since I live in Germany there are only a few universities where you can study animation. But I was also willing to move to another country. Anyways I found The German Film School near Berlin. After reading the program of the University I was sure that this would be the right thing for me. And I have to say I don't regret it that I studied there. The last 3 years were the hardest 3 years in my life. I worked like hell and I never thought I would be able to learn so much in within 3years. At the Film School we had to create a lot of short film projects so there was often no time left for focusing on animation. That was very painful since I wanted to concentrate on animation but I also wanted to create entertaining short films. Anyways we had a very wide range of lectures, not only software training but art history, life drawing, acting etc.
But it would have been a lot better for me if we had also more animation lectures. It is more a University for Generalists cause you have to undergo each step in the filmmaking process many times. But even though I tried to put my focus on animation. Now I sometimes ask myself what would have been better? A animation specialized institute or the German Film School? hmm I actually can't answer that question. I just think I did the right thing cause I followed my feeling and I feel comfortable with what I'm doing.
I hope to be able to meet you guys some day ^^.


4:33 PM

Blogger Dr. Angus said...

I'd like to add that art school is like a microphone. You'll only get out of it what you put into it. Put crap into it- you'll get crap out of it. Work hard and surround yourself with driven like-minded others. Find other students whose work you admire and build a working relationship with them. The group of friends I went to school with are successful because they pushed each other to learn.

Dr. A

4:47 PM

Anonymous Daniel R said...

That's a good rundown of what I've observed over the past year. I'm currently in my second year in the only animation degree course in Ireland and I find it fits some but not all categories. Most of my mentors are still active in the industry, the focus while learning principles is on critiquing peoples' work and there are classes on design, story, etc, even some broader academics like Film History. (To be honest, I'm a sucker for academics, so I almost wish there was more of it.)

However, it's not close to any particular studio, and I actually cannot name a studio in Ireland where I aspire to work. I kind of accepted as an inevitability that I'd have to go abroad after graduating, which isn't so bad for me as I'm already an American ex-pat (Though artists in Ireland are free from most taxes. Pretty sweet.) Also, I don't know were a single allumni is working at the moment.

However, I think the last part is probably the most important, putting in effort. I feel that if I just keep giving it my all, I can have a nice future ahead of me. Sometimes the workload can seem almost soul-crushing, but if I just keep working, someday my pie-in-the-sky dreams may actually be realized, and it's only after begining my studies in animation that it ever seemed possible.

4:50 PM

Anonymous bill(y) said...

this is awesome. i'm asked the same question from alot of people about which school is best. now i can just send them the link to this post.

excellent, simple insight.


5:08 PM

Blogger Atsushi said...

I'm totally agree with what Dr.Angus said.

I think one of the main reason to go to school is to meet in person. I met a lot of good friends who can drop me honest critique, sometimes it hurts, but it's good pain. And I'm really glad to be able to see Dr.Angus' funny acting in class :)

I learned a lot from teachers of course, but I learned 2 times more from my friends.

5:13 PM

Blogger Young said...

I really appreciate what you have posted here Dr.Stephen G.
Even though I'm still far away from what I want to achieve
I'm quiet happy thesedays, for I am really having fun animating.
I know it won't come that easy but advise like this always gives me
motivation to keep it going.
thx for the cure.
Please Rock on Doctors ;)

5:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great info on schools. Something for me to ponder over. I love this blog keep it up guys. I love Pixar!!!

6:21 PM

Blogger Dr. Stephen G. said...

Along with Dr. Angus I also belive that school is an important place to learn from other students. Most of my learning in school was from my fellow students, and my friends I've met there are now spread out all over the animation biz. In fact I work with many of them right here at pixar, eight just in animation.

6:25 PM

Blogger mrianda said...

This is very good advice. Advice that I also wish I got a few years ago. It's amazingly difficult to get any real information on specialty schools like animation schools. They're not ranked in the same books that rank the regular schools. As a high schooler you are just on your own, and any real advice like this is probably invaluable to someone who is thinking about schools. The analogy of the microphone is very fitting. It's funny how stuff like that should be so obvious, but many people go to costly art schools and don't even put anything into it, which is basically like buying a brand new Ferrari and driving it into a tree. Anyway, I was wondering if you guys know anything about the current state of CalArts. Does Pixar have a lot of CalArts grads? Did any of you guys go there? Just curious.

1:01 AM

Blogger Dr. Stephen G. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:01 AM

Blogger Dr. Stephen G. said...

I went to Cal-Arts form 93-96. Many of my classmates work here with me at PIXAR as well as other studios throughout the industry. I'm not 100% sure about it's current state, they have been going through many changes over the last couple of years. With this said the school has a great history, respect for the art of animation, and resources. As with any school it's only as good as what you put into it.

8:02 AM

Blogger Adam Strick said...

Yeah Stephen! Great comments! I think the biggest part of this is the education is only worth what you put into it! You should be going to school to learn what you want to learn rather than to just get a degree. Hey Stephen, I was wondering if you got my last email? I sent it to your Spline Doctors email address.

10:52 AM

Blogger Sandra Khoo said...

U've hit it right on the button! I only wish the arts edu system here in Malaysia would've read this first b4 starting up any animation programmes. >.< But some are trying....

8:42 PM

Blogger Charles Looker said...

Great info Doctors...

I first applied to do a cg uni course, but because i sucked at math I picked a different one, luckily i got taught traditional animation, from a great tutor. Ive had the chance to work in tv, commercials and games, pretty much from the skills learnt at uni. All i can say is get a grounding in the traditional techniques too - it gives you knowledge you cant get anywhere else and always take a notebook with you for inspiration.

Eek in chilly Canada.

10:03 PM

Blogger SMacLeod said...

I'm currently at CalArts and I thought your comments were great. I totally agree that the harder you work the better you'll become. Graduating from this school doesn't guarantee any job, nor can any diploma from any school. Just work hard and develop your skills any way you can. I've noticed that wherever artists start to gather, there's always at least one gem in the group that stands out and excells as an example, so with many colleges offering animation, there will be many gems.

The biggest thing I get from CalArts though is still, like they've said already, the energy from the other students. Making a film every year is also a great learning experience. The tuition stinks, but it makes you think, "those who are paying this insane tuition are going to take their schooling serious and work hard to get a job." No more fooling around, especially with so much on the line. (I wish the were the case w/ 100% of the students, but it's not, of course). I had a teacher say one time, "You know, you could easily buy all of you DVD's and equipment you need and live in Hawaii for the tuition you pay here, but you may find it difficult to be self-motivated." I hate paying tuition, but I love the visiting artists, and the energy here.

12:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was accepted into CalArts, RISD, SCAD, Ringling, Museum School, U of Michigan art dept. Still waiting to hear from Brown/RISD dual degree,Tufts portion of dual degree, Yale, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon. With these choices where would you go if you want to study animation (2D)and are strong acedemically? I'm thinking Brown/RISD if I get into the dual degree and CalArts if I don't. Thanks for any help with the decision making process.

8:20 AM

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11:12 PM


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