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It Takes Three To Tango: Educators

Through a series of pointed questions we take a look at the relationship between educators, industry representatives and students. See what Educators have to say.

A computer-generated frame created by a student at DHIMA. Image courtesy of DHIMA.

Joe Cloninger, Director, DH Institute of Media Arts, Santa Monica, U.S.A.

Before anyone starts here we make sure the expectations are sensible and they know the great rewards as well as the harsh realities of being in this industry. We point out weaknesses and strengths that an individual may have so they are on solid ground to build a true career path. Once they get into the program we expose them to people in the industry through a lecture series and encourage them to get out and explore the industry themselves through SIGGRAPH meetings, events, conferences, user groups, etc. We also organize studio tours. Standard career development skills are also taught with an emphasis on the entertainment industry.

As always, the most important career tools will be the demo reel and a traditional portfolio. This is the constant career preparation throughout the 1 year of day and evening programs.

Our training program stresses the importance of art with technology to create animation. Not only do students learn the software, but also traditional art, the production process, and storytelling. We don't want students to make just great eye candy. We want them to be life-long students of animation and film history with a trained eye. Team and solo projects are created to challenge and gauge student progress.

Very quickly a student learns that their love and enjoyment of animation must be tempered with hard work (and/or obsessiveness), a little insanity, and patience. To keep perspective it's good to be a student of life and explore other interests. We encourage this and feel this sort of balance helps the work in the end.

Don Perro, Department Head, Commercial Animation Program, Capilano College, North Vancouver, Canada

The two-year, non-profit, Commercial Animation Program began in 1995. Its sole objective is to build the local animation industry by providing highly skilled and specialized, commercial animators and animation designers (as opposed to independent filmmakers). Faculty continue to work in the industry and the local studios serve as an advisory committee. Tuition is kept low ($1,400 per year for Canadian residents) in order to attract the strongest applicants.

In first year, we emphasize key animation, timing and principles, animation design and life drawing. Animation history, layout design, story and film principles are also taught but the real focus of first year is character animation. The workload is intense and structured, since two years is not a lot of time to get to the level where a job is guaranteed (at least in the Canadian industry).

In second year, students continue to improve their skills, producing a demo tape of key animation (a "rough" sequence, designed to demonstrate ability rather than serve a story or put over a gag) and a portfolio of layouts, life drawing, design packages, and storyboards. Computer animation (3D Studio MAX and Character Studio) is introduced in second year but plays a minor role. In the final four months, students choose one "career" to specialize in: Character Animation, Special Effects Animation, Layout Design/Posing, Character Design/Storyboards. This allows students to concentrate their efforts in areas they are most proficient at in order to improve their chances for success. Before graduation, students are placed in local studios for a two week practicum. With only two graduating classes to date, we have been very successful. Graduates currently work at Disney Canada, Studio B, Natterjack, Bardel, Cinar, Funbag and a.k.a. Studios and have assisted on features including Space Jam, Anastasia and Prince of Egypt.

Robert Stephenson, The School of Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia

The School of Film and Television at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne conducts Australia's leading course in animation. It has an excellent reputation world wide and in 1997 there was a retrospective screening at the International Animation Festival in Annecy. Productions from last year's students have screened this year at St. Kilda, Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals, as well as at many international festivals. Student works have also taken out major awards at the AFI, Sydney Film Festival and the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

The course has produced successful film industry practitioners including Dennis Tupicoff, Sabrina Schmidt, Peter Viska ( Mickey Duck Animation), Maree Woolley, John Skibinski, Adam Elliot, Anthony Lucas (3D Films), and Steve French ( Animation Works) to name a few.

The graduate diploma involves one year of full-time intensive study and is comprised of classes in screen writing for animation, directing and movement and is supported by instruction in camera operation, computer animation, sound recording and sound and picture editing. Students can experience a broad range of techniques in traditional and experimental styles including under camera, stop-motion, 2-D & 3-D computer animation and cel animation. Through classes and self learning the students will gain a good understanding of what is required to create an animated film from start to finish.

At the end of the year, each student will have completed a major animated production of up to six minutes which they will have written, animated and directed. They will also have other first semester exercises as part of their portfolio.

The course is made up of two 16 week semesters starting in February and is a demanding experience which requires students to commit daytime Monday to Friday as well as many evenings and weekends to be able to complete the projects. The school is well equipped with 16mm rostrum cameras, a 3-D stop motion studio, computers for PEGS (a 2D animation system), Softimage, and AVID editing equipment.

Professor John Canemaker, Animation Area Head, New York University Tisch School Of The Arts Animation Program, New York, U.S.A.

New York University Tisch School of the Arts Animation Program has one of the country's most varied animation curriculums. Courses include: Intro to Animation Techniques, Advanced Animation, Storyboarding, Stop-Motion/Puppet Animation, Action Analysis I & II, History of Animation, Animation Camera Technology I & II, Character Animation in a Working Studio, Life Drawing, Intro and Intermediate 2-D Computer Animation and Intro, Intermediate, and Advanced 3-D Computer Animation.

The emphasis in the classroom is on essential principles of animation (i.e., stretch & squash, anticipation, follow-through, staging, arcs, exaggeration, etc.) and communication through classic film "language." The development of each student's skill in storytelling and characterization is stressed, whether they choose to concentrate on traditional drawn animation or computer-generated imagery. A strong set of prerequisite craft courses (such as Action Analysis, Life Drawing, and Storyboarding) guide students toward the advanced courses, in which they are encouraged to use their communicative skills to make a personal statement in a completed film/video with sync sound.

Each year, special guests enrich the curriculum. In recent years NYU TSOA Animation has benefited from the wit and wisdom of visiting artists, such as Chuck Jones, Marc Davis, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Faith and Emily Hubley, Nick Park, Joe Ranft, and Pete Docter, among many others. Talent recruiters from major studios also visit annually, including DreamWorks, Disney, Warners, Blue Sky|VIFX, MTV, among others.

In additional to Professor Canemaker, who teaches Action Analysis, Storyboarding, and Advanced Animation, the other full-time presence is Peter Weishar, who supervises the computer animation courses and teaches Intro, Intermediate and Advanced 3-D Computer Animation. The adjunct instructors are working professionals in the field, and include John Culhane (History of Animation), Michael Sporn (Character Animation), Eugene Salandra (Life Drawing), John La Sala (Intermediate 2-D Computer Animation), Laura Margulies (Intro to Animation Techniques), Dean Lennert (Stop Motion/Puppet), and Keith Purdy (Animation Camera Tech).

Joan Ashworth, Course Director, Animation, The Royal College of Art, London, U.K.

The Royal College of Art is the only exclusively post-graduate university of art and design in the world, with the authority to confer Masters and Doctoral degrees. We are the most concentrated community of young artists and designers to be found anywhere. No matter where you are you will probably find that a graduate of the Royal College of Art has contributed to the visual culture which surrounds you.

The Animation Course at the Royal College of Art seeks to develop and extend existing skills and to produce innovative practitioners in animation. The course offers the opportunity to combine new and traditional forms to create exciting and original methods of image making. Sound is given particular emphasis with workshops and specialist seminars developing an aural awareness enabling new skill levels to be developed. The two-year course culminates in the award of an MA (RCA). Research degrees in animation may be studied to MPhil or Ph.D. Approximately 11 students are selected each year.

Students are encouraged to make industry contacts during their course through placements, freelance work and sponsorship. Representatives from industry regularly present work to the students to give a realistic picture of job prospects.

Students learn to budget and schedule their projects as an introduction to basic business studies.

Also, the course staff act as informal agents for graduates making sure that inquiries about the students are connected with the appropriate graduates. As the College retains copyright of the students films the course is responsible for distribution and license sales.

Our graduates are expected to be capable of tackling personal and commissioned work with original and innovative skill.

Vibeke Sorensen, Professor and Chair, The University of Southern California, School of Cinema-Television Division of Animation and Digital Arts, Los Angeles, U.S.A.

The USC School of Cinema-Television's Division of Animation and Digital Arts prepares students for leadership positions at the cutting edge of animation and new media by encouraging them to explore what is still to be imagined and produce work that expands the frontiers of the art of animation, and thus the industry that is quicklygrowing around them.

The division emphasizes an integrated approach to animation and digital arts. From hand drawn character animation and optical printing to state of the art interactive computer graphics, students learn a broad range of concepts and techniques in a hands-on environment, grounded in a live-action film program. Taught by internationally acclaimed artists and animators, the rigorous course work includes history and theory of animation, writing, life drawing, film and video production, traditional character animation, as well as experimental and computer animation. Electives and workshops range from acting for animators, layout and design, to lighting for digital cinematography and specialized software tutorials. Advanced students often do innovative research in interactive technologies such as virtual reality and the World Wide Web. The MFA degree program culminates with a Thesis project, wherein the student demonstrates mastery of the art form through the creation of an ambitious, original work. While embracing a broad, firm foundation, the program encourages innovation and experimentation, and emphasizes imagination, creativity, and critical thinking.

Traditional facilities include individual workspaces with drawing desks, two Oxberry animation stands, pencil test machines, as well as an optical printer, among other pieces of equipment. Computer facilities are extensive, with approximately one machine per student. Hardware includes Silicon Graphics O2s, Macintosh, Sun and Intel workstations, an Abekas Diskus, a Solitaire Cine II film recorder, as well as video and film editing systems. Software includes Alias/Wavefront Maya, Softimage, Pixibox, Animo, and many other packages. The School recently became the first university in the world to host a Quantel Domino workstation for 35mm film digital compositing and special effects. These facilities, when combined with the school's extensive departments of film, television and sound production provide an extremely broad range of capabilities for professional quality artistic exploration.

Upon graduation, our students possess both depth and breadth, thus positioning them perfectly for leadership roles in the field. Such positions usually require vision, scope, creative problem-solving skills, adaptability to new concepts and working methodologies, as well as excellent "people" skills. We expect our students to be ambassadors for the field to the field. Graduates of our program have gone on to Disney Feature Animation, Microsoft Graphics Research Group, Fox, Warner Bros., Digital Domain, Pixar, DreamWorks SKG, Pacific Data Images, Industrial Light and Magic, among others. We are delighted that Nickelodeon has become a new sponsor of our program.

The School of Cinema-Television, in downtown Los Angeles, is also in close proximity to many of the leading studios and major art museums in Southern California that provide students with opportunities for exposure to the industry and contemporary fine arts, including internships and employment.

We offer an MFA in Film, Video and Computer Animation and an Undergraduate Minor in Film, Video and Computer Animation.

Barry J.C. Purves, Course Instructor of Puppet Animation For Cosgrove Hall Films, Manchester, U.K.

As a result of an available animators shortage, I was asked by Cosgrove Hall Films to run two courses with the specific purpose of training up a total of six animators who would then be able to go straight into production.

Obviously the priority was to teach them not only how to animate sophisticated characters, but also how to produce the required daily footage of a high standard, and how to work in a studio situation. Most film schools, I fear, are a bit indulgent and naive with their students, and don't really prepare them for the pressures of a working studio. From our very first day, I made it clear that I expected the students to work quickly and precisely. I don't have much time for animators who dither and dither over certain moves. The best animators, for me, have an instinctive feel for performance. The worst are those who do it mechanically, measuring every move. To encourage these instincts, I rationed the availability of any video assists and sometimes, the animators shot lengthy and complicated scenes `blind' without any technical help. The results were very encouraging. I'm quite a believer in just getting on with it, and doing what feels right.

We started with the most basic of exercises, then slowly built up to complex actions with several characters in the same shot. I so enjoyed watching the animators rise to the challenges.

I tried to get the students to watch movement as a thing in itself, whether it was a ballet dancer, a mime artist, an animal or just someone in the street, and to see why it works. What was it that gave that movement that character?

I was also keen that each animator should plan each shot (and stick to it) and be aware of the rhythm of that shot and how it fits in with previous and subsequent sequences. Basically, I was keen that the animators should always be aware of the film as a whole, and not just the frame they were animating. I tried to stress just how important planning and preparation was in making filming go smoothly.

Sadly, we had little time to study the history of animation (though we did talk about theory and the psychology of seeing), but I did try to get each animator to criticize constructively their work or others, as well as having a certain eloquence when discussing a shot with the director. Communication is often a skill lacking in many animators, but it is so necessary when working as part of a team.

I'm pleased that each of the six animators is now in the middle of a 12-month contract at Cosgrove Hall, and everyone is delighted with their work.

All schools participating in this survey can be contacted through Animation World Magazine by e-mailing