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Help with Career Advice

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Help with Career Advice

Hello everyone:
I am 31 years old and am seriously focused on developing training in computer animation. Growing up I was told that art was a nice hobby but not a career. Thus, I double majored in Chemistry (BA) and Biology (BS) and graduated from Veterinary school in 2000. I have finally decided that it is time to start living for MYSELF and pursuing my dreams. A financially successful career is not enough for me, as I really want to go to work and feel like it isn't so much 'work' and something that is enjoyable and rewarding. My dilemma is how to pursue the best education for my situation. I know that I learn most effectively in a classroom setting so I am not sure the 'online' route is for me (although Animation Mentor looks like a great experience). I want to develop a broad range of fundamental skills that would applicable in an entry level position in character animation, yet allow me to understand the broad knowledge of members of a production team working on other pieces of the project. I have been looking at the Art Institute in Atlanta and Washington but am also looking at the Savanna College of Art and Design as well as Full Sail. I am very willing to relocate to any part of the country. Can anyone who is currently active in the 3D animation field suggest any schools or programs that I should consider? I am looking to start a program sometime this year (am available to start as early as May but am willing to wait for the best opportunity). My interest is not in developing/programming software so much as the actual creation of the 3D characters/sets/etc. I see computers as a great tool that I could exploit to get out all of my ideas and visions (or those of the project I would be working on). Of course my ultimate dream job would be at Pixar, Disney, ILM etc but I also realize that I would have to work up to that level and don't have illusions of starting off working in that type of situation right out of an educational program. I do want the program I learn from to be well respected in the field and prepare me for the challenges I would face in the workplace and familiarize me with a strong and broad range of skills. I appreciate anyone willing to respond to a 'newbie.' I am more than happy to speak to anyone 'offline' who may be willing to discuss the field with me or their own experiences. I have been lurking on the boards for a while and finally was brave enough to register for a name and post this with the hope that my inquiry will be met with kindess and a helpful attitude. Thanks everyone!!!

You want to become a professional at this? Here's some professional advice (from a professional, no less!):
Look at this as both professional training and ARTISTIC training.

Are you an artist??
Forget for a second the "computer" part of animation.
Its distinction is bullshit anyway......its still animation and the need for artistry in CGI is as necessary as it is in traditional 2D animation.

Do you draw? More specificially, do you draw well??
Drawing skills are UNDENIABLE assets.
You sound like you have some life-experience already--and at age 31, yea, you should LOL!--so you probably have a good idea what consitutes the demands of professionalism.

Drawing skills are one of those things that a LOT of entering students in CGI animation programs balk at. And its the attribute (or lack of it) that almost always causes them to suuceed or fail at the goal.
There are people out there working in the CGI industry that lack sound drawing skills--but they are few and far between. I'd guessitmate they'd be 1 in 50 in terms of how many they are.

Now, that all said--take stock of your skills and disciplines.
Your background speaks of a technical and disciplined education--this is an asset.
Character animation requires these things, but we also need to return to that drawing arguement again, because artistic expression and study are also keey traits here. The disciplines are similar, so do not lose heart.

So, do you draw?
Paint? Cartoon? Write stories? Build models? Sculpt? Colour? Make films? Act?
Do you do Puppetry even?
All of these skills involve both the technical and the intuitive--and my questions are leaning more towards the intuitive side of things here.

You are an older student--and they are more common than you think--and that can help you. But it can also frustrate you as well, because the youngin's are so ahead of the game so early in life ( for some of us anyway) and you will feel that you have to catch up.

The art skills I'm talk about are Disney-calibre. I will not guide you to any lesser standard--and Disney fields (and always has) the best in its field.
This intimidates a lot of folks, but its likely a necessary intimidation.
If you can begin to create art (or expressive characters) that approach that standard, then I'd say that this pursuit is worthwhile.

As both a long time pro in the animatin biz, and a ( now-former) teacher of the same, I'm cautious in advicing people in getting into the biz.
Animation is a "sexy" field, in part due to advertising from schools--making it seem like just another trade--albeit a trade with a indelible mystique about it.
I won;t mince words here: there's more than a few people that sign up for this ( young and older) that approach this as a affectation. they have little idea of what the whole craft entails and they blindly just want to "do it"--with zero regard for how much effort is required. And when they find out.......we'll I've seen a lot of unfocused dreams crushed.

Now, again, your background is an asset--because you certainly would have needed some focus to major in Chemistry and Biology.
You familliarity with animals can be tremendously,and indeed--- if you can draw the critters--- INFINITELY useful in this business.

My advice on schools is that I would steer away from franchise schools and stick with standalone ones that have a sound reputation. Some of those you listed have that, from what I have read/heard.
Art schools and animation programs CANNOT teach you artistry--they just do not have the time. They can teach you techniques, procedures and software, but the intuitive esthetics need to come from you......and that sense can take years to develop properly. After all, how do you train someone as to what is "funny"???

So, are you drawing? Have you been all along? How developed are those skills?
That would be the best gauge as to whether this is a viable undertaking for you.

"We all grow older, we do not have to grow up"--Archie Goodwin ( 1937-1998)

Better at drawing what I see


Thank you for your reply. It has certainly given me a lot to consider. In regards to my drawing ability... I have always been much better at seeing something and drawing it rather than simply creating something in my mind and getting it on paper. Growing up I would draw (mainly cartoon type animals) for fun but over the years I have found myself lacking in time to continue to draw on a regular basis. It is something I anticipate doing a lot during a degree program and is something I do enjoy. Artistic talent is definitely a concern of mine. I look at some very talented artists and think that I could never do that level of drawing, painting, etc. I often wonder if these things can 'be learned' or are natural gifts. Having only had a high school art class in my background I have never had any formal instruction. Over the years I purchased the 'how to draw' Disney characters series and feel as though I can reproduce what is in these basic books - something most people could probably do.
Going through vet school and participating in rigorous classes on anatomy of a diverse range of animal species I think I would have a good foundation of knowledge to improve my artistic skills. Do you know of any non-paid internship programs for someone like me (no real experience) to become immersed in this field (something that is short such as 3-6 months) to get a better idea of the possibilities and apptitudes that may be necessary to be successful? I can't find any that are available for someone not currently enrolled in a degree program.
I definitely have the desire and motivation and feel as though when I put my mind to something I can achieve and be successful in that area. However, I have always felt that way about more 'concrete' disciplines such as math, science, etc and I am not sure it can be extrapolated to an artistic field.
I enjoy charcoal drawing and have also done some acrylic painting. I am the type of person who enjoys making home movies and putting them together with software that allows for special effects and music. I can get started on something and be sitting at a computer for 12 hours and not realize how quickly time has gone by while putting something together like a home movie.
Having recently quit my job I will have a lot of free time and will pick up a sketch book and start to really work on drawing a lot more while exploring my options. I live in the Washington DC area but would be happy to relocate to any area of the country if you do know of any internship type opportunities available to experience the industry.
Again, I greatly appreciate your comments.


me too

hello Mr. mike
i read your post and well, i was rather surprised. see, i too have a similar story to yours.i am 22 years old
i have a bachelor's degree in microbiology. and now i am finishing a master's degree in anthropology.but all along i always always wanted to do animation.
so i too have started to apply to colleges which offer structured class room teaching.basically, i mean there s something about being in a class thats more charming than an online school.
and i also agree to yout choice of going for a longer program, beacuse this is the time i think we ll require to get the feel of the field and plan for the future.
might i reccomend these schools :
1) usc- usa - mfa 3 years animation
2) rmit- australia- mfa 1.5 years animation and interactive media
3)capilano-canada- 3 years diploma in animation
4) algonquin- canada- 3 year diploma in animation
5) gatech- usa.

this last course may be of more interest to you. it offer a master's degree in two years, in integrated digital technology. please have a look at it.

best of luck to you sir
yours sincerely

Animation is simple: All you need is a series of pictures that are slightly different so when you display them in order fast enough, they look like they're moving. That's the whole secret!

I beg to differ here. All of my mentors, including ones from Disney, Pixar and ILM have stated, "Animation is hard." To do character animation right, one needs to learn and apply the principles of animation, good storytelling, entertainment, and a bunch of other stuff too numerous to mention.

Animation is an art that can take a lifetime to master. Sure, a person can try learning character animation on their own--some have done so successfully. This requires good self-discipline and access to the right educational materials and examples of good animation. I do think this route can take much longer though.

I've learned that being mentored and receiving corrective feedback is an essential part to developing into a character animator.

- Tom ;)

----- Graduate -----
"Learning to animate anywhere in the
world from the world's best animators."
Pixar, ILM, Disney, Dreamworks & more.

Great discussions

Thanks for everyone's comments and different view points. I am hopeful that a degree from a 3-4 year program may prepare me for things outside of strictly character animation if I found I do not in fact posess the talent to create realistic images to the caliber that I would expect from myself and that the industry would expect from me. Hopefully if I learned the principles, fundamentals of art - such as color theory, etc then I could use my skills in such areas as animating for communication - such as at a museum, in product literature, through corporate materials, etc. It is not the most comfortable feeling being on the outside looking in and just feeling a little clueless - however, with anything, we all start somewhere and with hard work and dedication we can probably accomplish some amazing things! Searching through the net it seems as a lot of people in the field are not very happy with the job market and it can be extremely competitive. I think that is something that can be found in a lot of career areas so am not completely discourage yet ... just a little timid.
Thanks Again!

I'm afraid the field is oversaturated.

Where have you heard this? My mentors at Disney, PIXAR, Sony and other people I know at some of the same studios have said that there is a real lack of animators out there to hire. Let me rephrase that, there is a real lack of good animators out there. Yes the market is over saturated by people claiming to be "animators" when all they know how to do is push buttons. Animation is not just making something move across the screen. It's breating life into something that has no life. Giving it emotions and feelings to a character and having those feeling translate to an audience. That is what animators do, and there aren't many of them around.

Like Thomas said, animation is HARD. It's hours and hours spent toiling away just to get half a second of animation to look right.

Mike, I applaud you for wanting to switch carrers after going through so much schooling to have a sucsessful carrer. I aways wanted to be a Vet or an animator. But this will not happen over night. Be prepared to take another 4 to 6 years of school. Like Ken said you're going to need to take lots of drawing classes. Learn to see and observe people and things around you. See how things move, and act and re-act. You'll need film classes, art and design classes to help you learn how to stage your scenes on screen. Then all the animation classes.

I'm not trying to discourage you. I love animating and it's been very rewarding to me so far. BUT. It's been a lot of hard work. A lot of working at frame stores, retail stores, collecting unemployment just to make ends meet. Just be aware of what all this takes before you make this big of a dissision.

If you are willing to relocate anywhere, check out some good art schools such as Cal Arts, Sheridan in Canada, and Goeblins in France. These schools have some of the most well known art/animation programs around.

As for Animation Mentor. It's an amazing animation school. All they teach is animation. So if you are just starting out, you're going to need a lot of your art education first. It's really good. They teach you acting and how breath life into your characters. All that good stuff. As for not being accredited, that doesn't matter. This is art. When you apply for an animation job, they don't ask to see your diploma. If your demo reel and portfolio kick ass, they'll hire you even if you never went to school.

Once again, I'm not trying to discourage you, but trying to give you all the facts as this is a big dissision. Just think realisticly, you'll most likely be 35 by the time you graduate, and if you're good, get a job at a studio. I've been animating professionally for the past six years and I'm still trying to get into Disney, or PIXAR or ILM and thats after four years at an art school. It could be that I suck, and should've been a Vet instead :D

Anyway, good luck Mike in what ever path you choose.

the Ape

...we must all face a choice, between what is right... and what is easy."

Other types of animation

How versatile is an education in animation through most structured programs (for example Art Institute)? Although I would try and pursue character animation, because of my educational background I could really enjoy doing medical type animations. Specifically, the most enjoyable aspect of my career to this point has been surgery and I can envision doing animations of surgical procedures for both educational tools as well as public awareness. Can you imagine being able to 'fly' through a dog neuter or spay so that you could fully understand the procedure being done? Just curious about the market for this type of thing and if anyone knows of the current 'big players' or companies doing this type of thing? It would be nice to be able to merge my past education with my passion for 3D animation/graphics! Thanks for the great replies everyone!

Studying Animation

Mike -

My advice will differ from some of the other posts here.

In computer animation, often the team working on a project is comprised of only a few animators and lots of folks in many other positions (modelers, riggers, lighters, texture artists, programmers, etc.). Not all of these positions require really strong drawing skills. Unless you are absolutely certain that you want to be among the 5-10% or so of the team that is actually responsible for animating, you may want to consider a school that has a somewhat more general education in the field. Your background in the medical area may make you better at modeling or rigging than someone else who doesn't have your knowledge of muscles, bones, skin, etc.

Your suggestion that you might be interested in creating animation for medical/veterinary purposes is interesting. We, for example, have a medical illustration program which requires that students learn 3D computer animation. The faculty in that program indicate that the industry is requiring that of many medical illustrators today. I'm sure other medical illustration programs have similar offerings.

I recommend an accredited school because that leaves more options open for the future. For example if you get the degree, work as an animator for a while and then decide you want to teach, it's important to have a degree from an accredited school in order to get into graduate school. While the movie industry may not care if you have a degree from an accredited school there are other positions (like in the medical field) where it will be important.

While the movie industry is in need of good animators, there is no lack of people applying for those positions who have graduated from all kinds of programs. Many of these folks end up in some other position on the animation team. You might want to think about these other options and not just focus on 'being an animator'.

- Marla Schweppe
please check the above link. the course may be congruent with your interests.
the deadline for this year is over though. but even then its seems to be too good to consider

I definitely have the desire and motivation and feel as though when I put my mind to something I can achieve and be successful in that area. However, I have always felt that way about more 'concrete' disciplines such as math, science, etc and I am not sure it can be extrapolated to an artistic field.

Are you really going to be happy working on someone else's vision, just moving one or two characters around? Not being your own boss? Even with education you are not going to "spring from Zeus's head full blown".

Perhaps you should take some courses build your skills and work independently on projects of your own, not look at it as a career goal.

Pat Hacker, Visit Scooter's World.

He was asking specifically about computer animation.

I've got my doubts about this. I can imagine that there may be a lack of people who fit their criteria exactly. Maybe the problem is their criteria. I'm not overly impressed by these companies or their products. I don't even bother to go see Pixar or Disney films when they come out. I'm not their target audience. I certainly wouldn't want to spoil them for anyone else, though.

That sounds good, but I don't think animation always has to be this way. Can't there be some other kinds, sometimes?

I addressed the issue of hardness, and my ill-advised choice of words, in my response to Thomas' post. Maybe it's necessary sometimes to toil away for hours and hours to get 12 pictures or so right. If I had to do it all the time, I'd ask myself whether I was going about it the right way. I'm not disputing your main point, though. I've got plenty of respect for the art of the animator.

PIXAR, Sony and Disney all do 3D animation, and all my mentors are 3D character animators at those studios.

Granted most of us on these forums are not the target audiences for Disney, PIXAR and Dreamworks movies, what studios are doing better quality 3D character animation? Ok, Weta and ILM are also up there too, but many of the Animation Mentors are from those studios as well.

As for other types of animation, of course there is. There are FX animation, like water, explosions, and cars and planes crashing. I'm a character animator, and when people say they want to be an animator, that's imediately what I think. And usually when people say their dream job is at PIXAR or Disney, they want to be a character animator. Even ILM, most people think characters and creatures. So if he wants to learn that, he's going to have to learn how to make his characters act and think. If he wants to do effects, then not so much.

Toiling away for hours and days to animate a few seconds is neccisary. This is why people have to love animation to be an animator, and not just get into this feild because they think its fun, or cool.

the Ape

...we must all face a choice, between what is right... and what is easy."

"I don't know what Animation Mentors offers, but a "degree" or a certificate from an unaccredited school is worth _nothing_. Maybe the teaching there is great, I don't know. It seems expensive to me. "

When will people understand, if you want to go into animation, school accreditation means nothing. This isn't bussiness or law. You turn in your demo reel or portfolio, and if you can do the work, you're hired. The only time accreditation matters is if you transfering to a masters program or going into teaching.

"What is this with Animation Mentors? Who cares?"

I think Mike cares since he is asking how to get into animation and wants to know about schools and training.

"You said half a second. If someone is doing this all the time, he or she isn't going to be producing enough footage. Professional animators have to crank it out. "

Sometimes it's half a second, depending on how difficult the scene is. I am a professional animator, and believe me, I know all about "cranking it out."

the Ape

...we must all face a choice, between what is right... and what is easy."

Intensive program?

With my quest to investigate animation and a formal education, I thought I would ask the board if anyone has participated in any short intensive programs such as those offered at Vancouver Arts ( I have been thinking it would be a good idea to take their level 1 2D animation course this summer to see how I enjoy and succeed (or fail) at it. I think this may give me a better idea of what may be in my future if I were to enroll in a 3-4 year art program and beyond that into my career. Any thoughts??? Are there other courses like this available through a good school or company?
Thanks for your replies!

That could be a good choice Mike. I haven't done it or anything similar but this might be a good choice to see if this is what you really want to do. It does seem a little on the expensive side, but you'll save money in the long run if you deside this isn't for you.

the Ape

...we must all face a choice, between what is right... and what is easy."

Hi Mike,

The only thing I would add is, no matter which school or program you decide on, the key question is whether or not you enjoy animating. Since mastery takes a lot of time, it's important not to become discouraged if you think you didn't get very far with it in one class. But if you really enjoy working on the assignments, that's what'll help you to become an animator in the long run.

- Tom ;)

----- Graduate -----
"Learning to animate anywhere in the
world from the world's best animators."
Pixar, ILM, Disney, Dreamworks & more.

With my quest to investigate animation and a formal education, I thought I would ask the board if anyone has participated in any short intensive programs such as those offered at Vancouver Arts ( I have been thinking it would be a good idea to take their level 1 2D animation course this summer to see how I enjoy and succeed (or fail) at it. I think this may give me a better idea of what may be in my future if I were to enroll in a 3-4 year art program and beyond that into my career. Any thoughts??? Are there other courses like this available through a good school or company?
Thanks for your replies!

The thing about such programs is that, by their nature, they are purely introductory and cover usually only the basics. The time-line of 2-3 months is only enough to barely get your feet wet, there's little mental processing time in that kind of schedule and you might get only a vague sense of whether or not you enjoy it.
Still, like anything, it depends entirely on what you bring to the effort.
Nothing ventured..........

"We all grow older, we do not have to grow up"--Archie Goodwin ( 1937-1998)

Eggsoticdoc..........and L Finston...

L Finston Now i understand why do you say that "I'm afraid the field is oversaturated." i visited your site...and i saw your drawings...i´m sorry but i think that they are a bit...poor..;)

Go ahead eggsoticdoc!!!! I really believe that we have to follow our dreams and do what we like more in life..because it is so short...we really have to be happy!! what i´ve seen we really have to be very good in what we do..because if not..we could get frustrated..(as everything in life)
I´m just 17...and i live in portugal...i´m attending a sciences and technologies secondary course because my parents wanted me to be a scientist, doctor or an engineer....but since i was a little i felt that i really have to have an animation career...(i have nice grades on this course..but i fell that i don´t belong there) so...i´m looking forward to going to France study animation:) i´ve got a very long cv on arts since i was a little and i´ve won several and i also participated on an adult competition..with only 7 years (they made an exception) and i´ve won...ahahah (when i went to receive the prize all the artists looked at me like i was an alien... ahahah) So eggsoticdoc..just for you to see that life show us many surprises...heheh so eggsoticdoc work harder if you don´t usually draw...and BE HAPPY :) that´s what we all want to be..isnt it? :p *

Oh and be happy you all!

Hey I love your comment! Its

Hey I love your comment! Its no exaggeration when you say "I've been taught by the best" thank you I will work!

Old maybe too Old to restart?

Hey man!

I totally feel you. Although I've never entered what is considered the professional work force, as I mostly worked retail, and some entry level customer service jobs.  I did go to multiple colleges, never graduating until 1998, when I graduated with a degree in applied electronics and communications.  Still, I didn't get jobs related to that career. In 1999 I started working in the entertainment biz as a scenic carpenter and spfx makeup.  

FInally in 2005, I moved to LA, from Ohio, to pursue other biz careers, but nothing really was solid.  In 2011 at the ripe age of 41 I made the decision while being mostly unemployed, to attend an online school to learn computer animation.  I didn't have an idea of all the disciplines involved.  In 2014, I graduated with my worthless piece of paper and a realization that I had spent 3 years and 70K on nothing.  Sadly, this could have been avoided if I'd know not to go to any for profit schools, or at least not ones that give degrees LOL.  UCLA, USC and schools like that might be better, but FS not a good idea at all.  papermills are a horrible choice, as I could have learned more doing digital tutors!

Now at 46, and almost 2 years since I graduated, I am working at a non biz job, an office job paying $1800/mo.  Obviously, I couldn't afford to live on my own as most rents are more than that here in Los Angeles.  So now, I have to decide what to do next.  Pursuing a career in animation, vfx rigging, etc, seems impossible now.  I'm not a spring chicken(20 something), that has much more life span to work with, so I may have to give it up and find something else or just be stuck at my current level, sadly.

I think it's great you wish to pursue it.  Go for it!  Just really, really, really investigate the schools if you decide to go that route.  Don't rely on reports.  Trust your gut and don't be "sold" by flashy adds or their recruitment tactics that are rivalled only by Scientology.  Gnomon has some great programs, but currently they aren't credentialled to take FAFSA.  If you're rich, you've got part of the problem.  Just don't be wasteful if you really want to learn.

Good luck in your pursuits!


No your not old! I've seen

No your not old! I've seen older men starting to animation. Recently I was actually in a meet up for a school orientation, with new animators and I was the youngest guy there! I felt so left out because they were all old enough to be my parents lol... Bad news is that I might have to meet them again if I decide to join the school