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Study Shows Bay Area Animation Grads Thrive in Non-Traditional Roles

Contrary to the high profile jobs at Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, PDI/DreamWorks and other prestigious studios, the real growth area for Bay Area animation jobs is coming from other industries looking for people trained in computer graphics, 3D environments, simulation and other animation-related skills.

According to a recent study of animation graduates from The Art Institute of California -- San Francisco (, students are increasingly being recruited or finding jobs in non-traditional areas of animation. Industries using this type of animation include medical forensics, litigation animation (e.g., accident reenactments), architectural modeling and home design, life sciences and biotech animation, defense, post-production and the video game industry.

"Industries are using computer animation in unique new ways, so we've seen growing interest from companies looking for graduates with 3D skills," says Sydnee Hartwig, who works with students and local employers as a graduate advisor at The Art Institute of California San Francisco.

Recent graduates of the school have landed jobs at California firms such as Visual Forensics in San Ramon, Semi Logic in Sacramento, Inhance in San Jose, Topcon Laser Systems in Pleasanton, as well as for game developer Double Fine in San Francisco and virtual environment company There Inc. in Menlo Park. Graduates have worked on projects involving medial forensics, CD-ROM production, 3D technical illustration and animation for web environments and video games.

The school's Media Arts & Animation program is one of the largest animation programs in the Bay Area. The bachelor of science degree combines art and design fundamentals with courses in computer graphics, characterization, compositing, sculpture, storyboarding, motion graphics, 3D modeling and a variety of other 2D and 3D animation techniques. In order to develop a well-rounded knowledge base useful in any career, students take general education courses in mathematics, social sciences, psychology, art history, philosophy and the humanities.

"Animation is very much an art, and yet work in non-traditional animation careers involves such important professional skills as critical thinking and research abilities," notes Michael Edmonds, education manager for Discreet, a division of San Rafael-based Autodesk.

"While we have had graduates employed by traditional animation firms such as PDI/DreamWorks, I think these other opportunities in animation are exciting," adds Mary Clarke-Miller, academic director for the school's animation programs and former 3D directing animator at Fox Animation Studios. "The new type of animator is learning skills that can translate into other areas, which is broadening the definition of what it is to be an animator. We live in a highly visual society with access to tremendous computing power, so these niches of computer animation keep cropping up all around us -- from our cell phones to TV and even in courtrooms."

For students interested in traditional careers in animation, the school also provides resources for internships and prepares students for entry-level jobs at local animation and visual effects companies. The school's career services department has hosted speakers from ILM, Pixar, Tippett Studio, Electronic Arts, Film Roman and other companies to discuss career paths and job search techniques.

The Bay Area has many opportunities for budding animators to network with industry. The city has active chapters of SIGGRAPH, ASIFA and the International Game Developers Assn. (IGDA). The Art Institute of California -- San Francisco hosts monthly meetings of the IGDA San Francisco Chapter and the school recently hosted a special Job Jump Start event in May for SIGGRAPH's San Francisco Chapter.

For more information on careers in animation or upcoming events at The Art Institute of California San Francisco, visit or call (888) 493-3261.