Find the Right School for You

Raymond Palma chats with the mother-son team of Betty and Mickey Paraskevas, whose childrens books are turning into television shows like wildfire.

The proliferation of animation and special/digital effects on television, in movies, computer games and at amusement parks has sparked tremendous interest in all types of animation-related education and training. AWN receives, on average, 50 emails every month, from readers all over the world, asking the same basic question -- "I really want to work in animation. Where should I go to school?" I tell each one the same thing: "An animator's most important trait is his or her ability to be resourceful and self-sufficient. Now, go bother someone else."

While I've never actually responded to any reader like that, I have told many that there is no simple answer to their question and only after considerable effort and fact finding can they arrive at an answer that has any real meaning. The process of finding the right school usually raises many more questions than answers. AWN's Animation School Database and free, downloadable Animation School Directory should help point one in the right direction to get those answers in a timely, organized fashion.

Finding the right school is hard work. Grab your phone, a glass of your favorite beverage, sit down at your computer, roll up your sleeves and consider some of these recommendations:

1. Determine your interests and future goals.

What do you really want to do with yourself? What type of animation are you interested in? What style, what technique? Do you want to work for a large studio, or do you want to develop the next great computer game? Sit down with some people whose opinion you trust and, as best as you can, figure out what you're really interested in and where you want to be five, ten and twenty years down the road.

2. Are you looking for "training" or "an education?"

While this may sound funny at first, the distinction is important. Many excellent schools offer specific training programs in numerous areas, such as 3D animation with Alias|Wavefront's Maya software package, or digital illustration with Adobe Photoshop. Training courses cover specific subjects, teaching students how to do "X,Y,Z." If you want to learn how to do computer compositing or to create Web page animated graphics, you find a training program and go learn how to do it. Training programs are usually much shorter in length, ranging from a few days to many months. However, if you are interested in a more immersive, theoretical, as well as practical, understanding of animation and related fields of study, a longer, more in-depth program is what you are looking for. These programs are usually from one to four years, with a course of study covering a wide range of subjects, including, in the case of many universities, core courses not even associated with your major.

3. Get your hands dirty.

Nothing can take the place of your own hard work in finding the animation school that is best for you. Many schools listed in our Directory have specific animation programs, or animation courses within a fine arts department. Many have computer graphics programs within the computer sciences departments. There are schools that specialize in nothing but comprehensive instruction on specific software packages such as SoftImage, Maya or 3D Studio MAX. Some schools listed are major universities with undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Others are schools that teach programs that range from one week to one year in duration. There are as many educational philosophies as there are schools. You need to dig to find the answers for which you're looking. Important things to do include:

A. Check out AWN's on-line Animation School Database

A visit to AWN's on-line Animation School Database can provide you ever faster access and more detailed information than the Directory. Each participating school edits their own profile on AWN, so the information stays current and accurate. You can easily follow live email and Web links to over 400 schools in 38 countries, providing you a convenient starting point for your on-line research. The on-line database can be found at: http://schools.awn.com

B. Talk to the schools

Call the admissions department. Have them send you a school catalog. Talk to department heads about their programs. Visit Websites. Gather as much factual information about the schools as possible. What are their admission requirements? What equipment do they have? What does tuition cost? Find out everything you can about the schools in which you are interested.

C. Talk to alumni

Seek out people who have gone through the programs you are considering. What is their opinion about the school and the education they received? How much did their education help prepare them for their current career? If they had the decision to make again, would they choose to attend that school again?

Equally important is to talk to the school's Career Placement department. What job recruitment resources are available for students and alumni? How successful is the school at assisting its graduates in finding work?

D. Talk to people in the industry

Seek out the opinions of people in the industry. Post your questions in discussion groups such as the AWN Discussion Forums, and various animation Usenet news groups such as rec.arts.animation. Read as many magazine articles and books as you can find related to your areas of interest. Attend a local animation-related event, such as a film festival and talk to the participants. Our online Calendar of Events has a huge list of events taking place all over the world. Ask questions. Be persistent. Call various production studios and find out what types of educational backgrounds their employees have.

Our hope is that AWN's Animation School Database and Directory will assist you in your efforts to research the animation programs that best meet your needs. While no means complete, the Animation School Directory should provide a springboard for your investigation and assessment of animation schools.

Dan Sarto is co-founder and co-publisher of Animation World Network and an all-around great guy. Everyone says so.

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