Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Meet Alex Williams, Founder of Animation Apprentice

Alex Williams by Woody Woodman
Alex Williams founded Animation Apprentice in September 2012, having spent twenty five years working in the animation industry, and teaching animation at schools and universities including CalArts, Gnomon, Escape Studios, and The Animation Workshop in Denmark. We asked him to talk about what made him want to make the leap from working on production to setting up an online school.
Some of Alex's film credits
What did you do before founding Animation Apprentice?

Alex: I spent twenty five years working on animated films, from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" to "The Lion King", The Iron Giant", and the last three Harry Potter films. I started off as a 2D animator working on hand-drawn films, and in 2003 made the jump into digital animation. I've worked for most of the major studios: Disney, DreamWorks, Sony, Fox, Warner Bros, and lots of visual effects houses such as Digiscope, Digital Dimension, Cinesite and MPC. So, after so many years and so many productions, I have a pretty good understanding of how the industry works.

Design for Patronus Doe, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

What made you want to set up Animation Apprentice?

Alex: I have been teaching animation part-time since 1996 when I first started to teach at CalArts in Los Angeles. Later I taught at Gnomon in Hollywood, The Animation Workshop in Denmark, and Escape Studios in London. I was always doing my teaching around the edges of my work on production, in fits and starts, so I wanted to see what I could do if I really committed to it full time.

I love to teach and I want to make Animation Apprentice a global centre for animation excellence, so that our graduates have the best possible training, and can go out and have employers competing to hire our best students. That's a big ambition, but I think we can do it if we really focus on the important things.

What's special about Animation Apprentice?

The course at Animation Apprentice is a distillation of everything I have learned both on animated film production and also in the classroom over the years. I don't know many animators who have so much teaching experience; teaching something is not the same as doing it. You need to be able to break it down, create exercises which are both complex and simple at the same time. You have to take complex material and make it achievable for the student.

Animation Aprentice is a 30 week course (plus a free bonus week at the end) which aims to teach animation from the very basics all the way to sophisticated character and creature animation. When I created it, I knew I had to set it up because I had the whole course in my head and I just wanted to get it out there - create it, and start teaching it. It was a bit like writing a novel with the story already in place in my head.

The animation and visual effects industry in the UK has been complaining for years that there are too few schools in Britain which offer a really thorough animation training on the level of, say, CalArts in LA or Gobbelins in France. I wanted to see if we could do something that would aim really high, and train animators to be ready to work in the animation industry. Nowadays you can learn just as easily online as in the classroom - and it's a whole lot cheaper.

Animation Apprentice: www.animationapprentice.org

Are you pleased with how it works?

Alex: Very pleased. The beauty of learning online is this: if you miss a class, or didn't understand something, you get to go to the online videos and catch up. It means that no student should ever fall behind, as long as they put in the hours.

You can see Alex's film credits at the IMDB here, and also see his Wikipedia page here. You can also see an interview with Alex at Skwigly Magazine here, and a Skype interview with BabyBarista author Tim Kevan hereFor more information on finding work and surviving in the animation and visual effects business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we are helping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films.  Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how awn.com can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business.

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