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The old, tired question of college or no college...

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The old, tired question of college or no college...

I realize this question has been beat to death but I wanted an honest account of how big of a deal an animation degree is. The reason I say honest is that every animation job I have seen says they require either a degree or relevant work experience.

For not needing a degree, these applications sure are making it sound like you need one...

Also, I realize that many people have had jobs without a degree, but does that still hold water today? Maybe that was true at one point, but it is harder and harder these days to make it with just a high school education. Too many applicants, employers want to thin the herd.

My husband-to-be's father had a 100k a year tech job in the 80s with a high school education and when the company went under in the late 90s early 00s he has been forced to work at home depot now well past retirement age. No one anywhere wants to touch him without a degree. So a man intelligent enough to work high tech at 100k a year, now is only seen as good enough to be a warehouse guy. Makes me nervous.

But what also makes me nervous is that I know people who DID GRADUATE an animation school. None have a job. 80k in debt. No job. Also I am 28 and am wanting to settle down already... I recently went back to community college and my painting teacher says I need to go to CalArts because she thinks my work is of that level and that if I am "going to waste a lot of money like my friend I should go get the real deal".

My problem is the timetable. 2 years of community college then calarts is another 4 if I am even accepted? I'd be 35 before I even start my career..... if anything starts after 200k in debt LOL. (That's what I would be looking at with current tuition). At that point, what animation job realistically even could pay those loans??? None. That's what. Lol....

So what should my game plan be if I jump in the water now rather than later? Yes my work needs to be professional. I'm very aware of that (sad how many people actually need to be told that............) but should I just make a reel and jump in? Should I make my own short film and go to some film festivals and try to win some awards? Would that cover the requirement of "relevant work experience"? Is there something I can do that fulfills that relevant work experience requirement without actually having a paying gig to get my foot in the door?

I think there is far too much

I think there is far too much "importance" placed on degrees in animation, both from prospective talent, and from studio recruiters.

I've been in the biz since 1985, I'm self-taught, and I have no degree. I could not name a single colleague with a degree either.

My stance, for better or worse, is that a degree is bullshit.  It is, ultimately, meaningless.

Calling for a degree is a lazy way for recruiters to "cookie-cutter"-screen prospective talent applying, but it is brainless. It says NOTHING about the talent of the prospect.

And that is really what this boils down to: talent.

A student can take a animation degree-programme at a college or university, complete the programme to the academic requirements to graduate and STILL lack the talent to get work after graduation. The paper pedigree is meaningless.  

If the grad cannot create work to the level that the studios demand, they simply will not be hired.  If their art is weak, but they understand the techniques and procedures, no demonstration of their work is going to land them a job.

And recruiters just don't grasp that.

Having a body of work that is "professional", that is appealing, and being able to demonstrate an understanding of the processes and procedures involved in a animation production isn't dependant on training in a degree-programme.   It MIGHT help in some ways, but it is not just schooling.

Heck, since there is NO accepted common standard to animation curriculum, schooling can be very hit-and-miss in terms of what it covers.  You might get trained for gaming animation at an Art Institute, which is what the local studios seek in grads, or you can get classic 2D training at Cal Arts........but if no-one is hiring 2D animators, what's the point, right??

This falls back to something I have preached for years the alumni at any school you are interested in.   Finding out how it went for them, finding out who is working in the industry and who is STILL in the biz.  Schools aren't going to give you an honest answer on this, they just want to put paying butts in seats.  The alumni are how you screen a school that is worth your time and money.

There's a few books out there that pretty much cover all the lessons taught in any animation programme worth the time.  Animator's Workbook, Animator's Survival Kit, the Preston Blair Walter Foster art books.......those are the principles.  There's good life-drawing books and tutorials out there, and the yardstick to measure development by --the pro's work-- is all over the internet.   Tools and methods can be easily gleaned, hardware doesn't have to be fancy.  You can be taught how to use a camera stand on the job, in about 5-10 minutes---developing the skills that make the drawing said camera shoots pictures of takes a lot longer.

But ALL of this pales if you cannot demonstrate that you can do the work.  Become an exceptional artist.  Learn the methods/techniques--produce a body of work that shows you can do the tasks you want to be hired for.  DO NOT ask your family or friends if you are any good.  Seek out pros, ask them.

Make a reel. 30 seconds, no longer. Think about what you need to showcase.  Characters, appealing look, backgrounds, action/acting, technical know-how ( camera moves).
It DOESN'T have to have a story--it can be a short vignette, but the sequence should have some continuity.  If you've mastered other things, show them; effects animation can be another reel.  Facial expressions and acting on a third.  No-one gives a shit if you can animate a flag-wave or a 2/4/6- legged walk.  You'll do those in the "serious" reel examples. Show you UNDERSTAND cinema ( hint: less is more)
If you want to do layout, show proper layouts.  Make a beautiful drawing.   Want to be a storyboard artist?  Do a properly drawn and labelled 30-ish page storyboard. Doesn't have to be a complete story, but needs to show continuity and all the notes and marks of a pro board.
Want to be a appealing designs.  It's hard work, but it's no rocket science.

They cannot argue with your level of talent if you can demonstrate that you can do the work at the level they demand.  A degree means NOTHING at that point.
Put pro work under the nose of a director looking to hire to fill a slot and no recruiter asking for a degree is EVER going to win.
And if they still want the paper-pedigree, they have their heads up their asses.  Don't work for them.

Let's go back to the teacher that gave you advise:  yeah, maybe CalArts is a place to head to.......but take what they say about your level of talent with a grain of salt.  If they are not a pro animator, they probably do not fully get what is called for.  You MIGHT be talented at this point, but you might also be carrying a lot of bad drawing habits.
The BIGGEST and MOST VALUABLE skill you will EVER learn will not be taught in ANY school.  You can develop this skill on your own over the next couple of months.
What is it?

The skill is the ability to gauge your own work compared to that of the professional work you admire, and to spot your own weaknessess.

Gain this ability and it will serve you far, far longer than ANY class or technique taught to you in school, or anywhere else.  If there is ANY short-cut to becoming a professional animator, this is probably it.

So there's an old, tired answer to your question....

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

A tired old question

Hi Kendra,

I'd agree with Ken on this. But i would immediately ask what area you want to work in. If it's 2d/2.5d animations for marketing. Then you basically have a very good shot of not having to go through any school. I've worked as a prdoucer on marketing animations and videos for 6 years, and before that on feature films ( albeit in a lesser role). I can tell you straight that i don't give two hoots what Cv someone has, i care about what skills they have and what the standard of their work is.  Some fo the best 2d designers and animators i know are self taught. But they get there by being dedicated to learning and mastering one area first. i.e - they have a consistent style to their work, which not only looks good, but it is commercial too. That way, it's easy for people to come to them and say ' i want a film like that, but with our message and branding' . Take a look on behance and dribble for 2d animators, and see what others are doing. 

If i can help in any other way, then contact me directly from my blog's contact page :






I think every student decides

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