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A Closer Look: Are Schools Selling Out?

Two weeks ago, AtomFilms announced that it has locked the first-ever,

exclusive, on-line distribution deal with the University of Southern

California (USC) School of Cinema-Television to broadcast student

films from the illustrious film school's catalog, giving USC students

a worldwide public venue for showcasing their work. As part of the

deal, for the next 18 months, USC will provide AtomFilms with

exclusive on-line distribution rights to 100 student titles which

includes shorts from famed alumnus George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis.

AtomFilms will showcase the shorts in their entirety. This deal marks

one step forward in the development of industry-education

partnerships. These deals have become essential for schools trying to

stay on top of animation technologies and to ensure job placement for

graduates -- schools tout their successes with the number of people

they places in the industry. On the other side, animation and digital

effects studios, desperate for fresh ideas and qualified talent, are

investing money and resources into schools, to forge relationships

with students before they enter the industry playing field. For

instance, Nickelodeon collaborates with animation programs at USC and

Cal Arts by providing resources and donations in exchange for access

to students' original ideas and projects. In fall 1998, USC launched

a course called "Nickelodeon Experimental Animation," in which

Nickelodeon staffers guest teach and lecture. In exchange,

Nickelodeon has a "first look deal" for student projects produced in

the class, and the option to develop and acquire projects for

commercial distribution.

Many schools offer excellent training in their specific domains.

Former students from CalArts' Character Animation department,

Sheridan College and CFT Gobelins, to name just a few, are holding

influential positions at most of the major studios. But at the same

time, schools are accused of being merely a breeding ground for a

generation of factory workers, to the detriment of creativity. "These

[student] shorts, one to ten minutes long, are almost always

one-offs," noted Marv Newland of International Rocketship in an

article about Canadian animation published in Animation World

Magazine in June 1998. "The students make one picture and then go

into a career as an animator of TV commercials, or as storyboard

artists for bulk animation producers like Nelvana or DIC. There is no

second film, no development or growth, no risk, no pain, no

exploration." In the same article, Frédéric Back said, "Schools

should teach arts and culture in an academic way first, in order to

prepare autonomous individuals able to make choices of the kind of

art of communication in which they want to evolve. Or able to adapt

to the kind of work they may find, and transform a 'job' into

'creativity!'" Back continued, "Too many continuities are made

without art, beauty, poetry, or inspiring qualities of ideas...If,

for [some] reason, the animation industry collapses, all these young

people who have been taught a certain way to work in animation will

be jobless, without another way to find a living. Too many times we

see the results of such short-viewed politics which lead to big scale

disasters (e.g. Korea's recent collapse)."

A significant number of animation schools do promote themselves as

'Art' schools first. To prevent restrictive specialization, students

are encouraged to take a wide range of courses, as well as to develop

personal exploration, in order to continue to grow as artists and be

able to use animation as a fine, applied or commercial art. The

reality of the industry is that most graduates start out as

in-betweeners or doing clean-up animation. The hope is that once

animators gain the technical experience in their work, their creative

style will naturally follow the animation process and allow them to

move to a more creative job. Students are now offered alternative

ways to work and express their creativity utilizing the Internet as

well. In the end however, it is up to each individual student to

decide his/her own path -- be that independent or studio-based -- to

reach their goals.

Suggested reading: "

Schools, Schools and More Schools!" Before jumping into a program,

it is best to know what they are offering and what you want. Pamela

Kleibrink Thompson explains in the January 1999 issue of Animation

World Magazine.

"It

Takes Three to Tango." Through a series of pointed questions we

take a look at the relationship between educators, industry

representatives and students. School profiles are included.

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