Wednesday, 11 June 2014

How useful is an animation degree?

University - worth the price?
How valuable is a degree - what price a piece of paper with the letters BA (Hons) on it? All education is valuable only in so far as you actually learn anything useful. Today, there are around 80 courses in the UK that offer animation for undergraduate students - but how many of these courses actually teach the craft of animation? Today I got an email from animation student about to enter her third year at Uni, where, she says "I still don't really know how to animate as we have not learned any of the basics". So what is a student to do if they find their university is letting them down so badly? Below is a short piece of advice by Steve Moore, who co-authors my blog FLIP - Lifestyles of the Hunched and Goofy. Steve's article generated a lot of interest, and many posts, so I re-print it here.

Degrees of Talent 

On occasion, I get e-mails from young adults looking for entry positions in animation.  They see my company listed somewhere and, unaware that my studio is just me and my wife, they send resumes and links to their reels.  But I'm not hiring.  I don't plan to expand.  So if you're an art student or recent graduate - don't write.  I have no job for you.

When I get these e-mails, I check them out as long as they don't seem like spam. Sometimes, their work is good.  Sometimes it is just dreadful.  I got one such e-mail just this week, from a young woman who wrote, "I am a recently graduated Animation major from the Maryland Institute Collage of the Arts".

Stop right there.  You may be an art major, but you really should know how to spell "college" by the time you graduate such.
She attached a resume with a list of computer programs in which she was versed, and a link to an on-line reel of animation that demonstrated a complete lack of drawing skills,  or understanding of composition, design, timing, and color.  But this young woman has one up on me - she has a degree in animation and I don't.  Maryland Institute College - which is it now, and institute or a college?  Make up your mind!  Whatever they are, they're no animation school.  She really should demand her money back.
I decided I would write back and be perfectly honest with her without being a complete jerk.  So I wrote, "There are a lot of colleges that throw around animation degrees, but if you leave without a professional quality reel, what good is it?  You can't learn a few computer programs and expect industry doors to open.  You must develop your artistic skills. There's no way around it....... You need to develop your drawing skills. You also need to find a good animation school.  Ringling in Florida is good.  CCAD in Ohio is good, the director of Monsters U came from there.  LCAD in Laguna, California is good. Sheridan in Canada. And of course, CalArts.  If you really want to be part of the animation industry, you are going to have to aim much higher in your own artistic growth."
Chuck Jones - the original Looney Tune
Marc Davis  gave me one such boot in the ass when I was a student.  I am now paying it forward. Chuck Jones once shared with my CalArts class something his teacher said: "You have a million bad drawing in you.  The faster you get them out of you, the sooner you'll become a good draftsman."  
In his book Brain Storm, Don Hahn writes about how, to be great at anything, you have to put in the time.  He writes about the layman who wants to pitch his film idea to a studio.  Don tells the layman he must first go to school to learn how to write, then spent many years writing crap before he gets good at it, then try to get hired by a studio in traffic and work your way into development, all while writing on his own time....and then... THEN you can pitch your brilliant idea.  Not the answer people want to hear.  
An animation degree is not a validation of talent, unfortunately. It just means you paid your tuition and passed the classes.  

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