Bobby Beck Talks New Directions in Animation Education
This is where the new Animation Mentor came from. We've been working on it for over two years now to get it dialed-in. Carlos, one of our co-founders, left for a year and a half to work on his short film, which is being created fully distributed and remotely with artists from all over the world using the AMP Studio Production Pipeline. We've been working with him to build, integrate and test the pipeline. He has people from every major studio working on this thing. So we've had crazy good input from the best people in the industry who know their stuff. They’re excited about the efficiency. We’ve hired full time industry pipeline engineers to design it and do the coding. They come from major studios, working with us to meet the challenge of how can this type of production be done in a fully distributed way.
There is no central location. Everything is in the cloud. Everyone can be anywhere in the world and put their work into the AMP pipeline. The next artist can access it, can check it out, load it in with just a mouse click. It pulls in all the dependencies and brings that file up for them. It feels like they are literally in the same studio.
We've launched several pieces of our Studio Learning Platform and will be interactively launching the full experience throughout the year. We couldn't be more excited to take this major leap forward. It’s not studio-like, it is real production.
DS: Why are "remote" and "distributed" concepts that studios are talking about and every student should want to learn?
BB: We feel that distributed production using talent in remote locations is the way of the future. I was at FMX two years back and there was a lot of discussion about having brick and mortar sites for companies in places like London, New York, Vancouver, the Bay Area or wherever. During one session, somebody stood up and said, “Have you thought about doing this work fully distributed.” At that time, we had begun working on our production pipeline, trying to figure out this challenge. I didn’t say anything, I just kept listening. It was so cool. It showed me that even though the studios are going to have a really hard time making that kind of shift, things were headed that way.
So part of the reason why the industry is changing is there are too many animators and the pool is too saturated in places like LA, the Bay Area, New York or Vancouver. There are only a limited amount of jobs in those locations, but there is so much work in this industry as a whole. There are so many job fields that you can suck talent into, maybe in a different country or a more remote location. For example, Reel FX has been doing that for years. They have a brick and mortar facility and they also do distributed stuff. I definitely feel that teaching our students to work in a distributed environment, how to handle that successfully, gives them not only real production experience but a leg up on how to be successful in a distributed production environment.
DS: With continuing economic uncertainty and upheaval in the visual effects business, how do changes in the business climate impact what you teach, how you teach and how you prepare your students?
BB: It’s especially tumultuous right now. We’ve been aware of that for the last three or four years. I remember back at SIGGRAPH a few years ago and it was crazy! Whoa, things have literally changed from one year to the next, quite drastically, in terms of studios putting a pause on hiring, freaking out and downsizing.
One of the first things that we did as a result of that changing job landscape, with decreasing salaries and benefits, was we changed our entire career services department. We used to do career services in the final class, to prepare students, get their reel and resume ready, that kind of stuff. When they graduated they had access to our career services talent and job boards. We still do that stuff but career services for us now starts in the very first class. We teach people right away that this is what the industry landscape looks like today. If you think you are going to go and get a job at Pixar or some studio like that, let’s be realistic and set expectations right. Especially if you live in another country. Here is what the industry landscapes are like in these different areas, and here are the types of things that are available to students in those areas. It’s not to say don’t dream and shoot for the stars, absolutely not. We are just trying to paint a realistic picture of what that industry landscape is and how it changes constantly. We have to be honest with our students.
We also chose to reduce our prices because we want to make our program more affordable, to show people that you can be in Mumbai or anywhere in the world and benefit from this education. For example, the Advanced Studies in Character Animation Certificate used to require 18 months of study at nearly $19,000. Now, an Animation Fundamental Certificate requires only 12 months and costs $10,400, a 49% price reduction. A second certificate for those looking for an advanced education in Production Animation is available for $7,600. Some individual classes, like Class 1 in our Animation Fundamentals, VFX Fundamentals, Animal and Creature Production track and Character Story track have been discounted from $3,325 to $1,999, which is a 39% reduction.
There is a ton of work all the over the world, all these opportunities, and we want our students to be as prepared as possible. Our hope is to really show people that you don’t have to spend $80,000-$100,000, or anywhere near that, to get the type of education you need to be super successful in this industry. That’s always been our thing, to figure out how to make this education affordable so our students could pay this back within the first year or two of their professional working career. Be free from debt and able to live their lives. That’s always been really important to us.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.