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The things they WON"T teach you in Animation School...

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The things they WON"T teach you in Animation School...

Here's some random thoughts--use as needed:

--Respect the rituals of the process. I've seen students that wanted to forgo things like doing design, layouts, storyboards--all because they were lazy. They wanted to just jump in and animate their final film. I never saw any of those student graduate.
I use the term "rituals" because that is what they essentially are--actions repeated the same way over and over again--with an assured result because of the rituals.
Animation is full of such steps.

--Don't be lazy. Lazy kills good animation and animation careers.

--Designs exist for a reason. You'll do designs for your final film--think about how they can work for you--they are not just a pointless hoop to jump through. The idea of designs is not just to establish what a character looks like, but how to solve problems with the character. If the former was all that was required, a lot of us could just draw the characters from memory. The reason a design pack is often requested as part of a final film curriculum is to establish HOW the student thinks.
Rather than handing in designs with a useless set of happy/sad/mad expressions--tailor the designs of your character to the poses and expressions that character will have in your final film. That's the point of doing it. To solve the problems of how to make that character appealing and work within the context of the story and business you want to tell. If your character never smiles, then don't draw him smiling in the design pack--it serves no purpose. If you plan on having a tough-to-pull-off extreme down-angle shot of a character ( looking straight down at the top of their head, for example) then figure how to make that look appealing in the DESIGN stage, rather than attempt it come the animation stage. There's a reason why we've NEVER seen a shot looking straight down on the top of Mickey Mouse's head, for example--because the very best of the Disney Artists have never been able to make that angle work--and so they never stage a shot of Mickey that way.

--Storyboards exist for a reason too. This step cannot be shirked beause a LOT of problems can be nixed at the storyboard stage. Its not just about fielding a professional looking 'board ( that's great for a portfolio) but a USEFUL storyboard. A lot of students think they can draw just one panel of a given scene and that will suffice, and they short-change the opportunity a 'board represents. Think of the storyboard as being akin to the layout step.

--If it sucks--don't kid yourself. Do it over again.

--IDIOTPROOF the process at every step. Yea, the term "idiot" applies here. Assume in all capacities of animation (professional and otherwise) that anyone following up after you is a near-total moron, so make sure that all the material you prepare can be understood by ANYONE. That is not to say they ARE morons, just to say that, in professional venues, you cannot always count on someone in a later stage being as professional/competent as you are. So by being VERY specific with the material--leaving nothing to chance- you reduce ( hopefully eliminate) the potential of mistakes being made.
I used to joke with students that if they abide by this particular ritual, then its okay if they got hit by a bus--because their classmates could then finish that belated student's film to honour them. Said student failing to idiot-proof their work means the rest of us will get it wrong, and we'd be haunted by said student until the end of time. Nobody really wants thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.

--The only easy drawing was the LAST drawing you did.

--Add LOTS of poses to the storyboard . Make expressions CLEAR. Show where things start, how they proceed and where they stop. If a character is to frown, then brighten, show them first with a neutral expression--to show where the frown comes from in the thinking process. Then go from the frown to the brightened smile, etc.
Showing a punch thrown? Start with a wind-up pose, then the punch and then the victim flying from the impact.
Label camera moves, cuts, transitions. Slug the 'board--in fact, treat the 'board like you are doing sheet timing. Work out timing for actions ( like hand/arm gestures) on the 'board--alongside the scene timing.

--You don't have to draw an incredibly lush, detail storyboard, but likewise a stick figure board will do squat for you in problem solving. Storyboards are meant to be changed after all.
Use your head--figure out what you want to do, communicate that on paper and use the pages to solve how those shots, actions and expressions will work. But be ready to be a bit bored after.
Alfred Hitchcock is quoted as saying that he was bored on the set of a lot of his movies ( hence his penchant for cameos) because he'd "seen it already in the storyboard".
Hey, it happens--but respect the rituals of the process.

--If you plan on colouring your film, think about storyboarding in colour. Features do this for a reason: colour values affect compositions. Light and dark shades can throw off a background or character when the two interact. You can create very striking images with little or no animation in them by pre-thinking.
Again, this is all part of the PLANNING process of PRE-production--which is why storyboards exist.

--PRE-think, PRE-plan, and you'll save sleep-time later on down the road.

--Shoot a animatic. Want to turn the "lightbulb on in your head" for the whole animation process? A properly shot animatic can give you a huge sense of where your film is going. Don't skip this step if you can help it.
If your course doesn't do this, or minimizes it, beat the staff/administrators bloody with a stick--they are ripping you off. The more effort you put into working out how your film works before you start filming or animating, the better control you will have over the final product. That is why all those poses help--it creates a better sense of what the animation is going to be. Bear in mind that really complete inbetweens/breakdowns are not really needed in this step, but if you add them, they can be really loose sketchy drawings (like 30 sec doodles)--just intended to fill out action. Precision isn't a 100% requisite at this stage.

--Yep, you guessed it, Layouts exist for a reason too! Not to appease instructors and give them lots and lots of juicy marking to do, but to further clarify the steps and business of the animation you are about to do. Add in breakdown for poses and gestures. Pack the drawings with timing charts for secondary actions and expressions as you need them. Make sure camera moves are clearly shown, and field guide are there.
A secret: later on, as you complete animation, you might need help in some respects. The usual assistance can be getting someone ( another student) to shoot your finished animation--taking their instructions off your dope sheets and camera keys. If you've idiotproofed this step, anyone with rudimentary camera experience can shoot your scenes and save you tons of time and stress as you close in on compeleting your film.
Again, that is why such rituals exist.

--As you animate, you'll encounter problems. Many a time I've seen students off on a Friday--all set to work on their animation over the weekend. Come Monday, there's always a few that are bone-weary, frustrated, even close to tears because they had this ONE ( or two) drawing that held up ALL their animation over the weekend.
Of course, their brain explodes/jaw drops to the floor when the instructor sits down and solves the problem inside of 30 seconds. (Its why they pay us the big bucks--natch!)
Look, think about how this is approached on the job--a animator cannot waste 2-3 days of time fussing over ONE image--holding up their scenes because of one obstacle.
The rule of thumb on the job is if a drawing takes you longer than 5-15 minutes to figure out, then seek help from some more senior (a more skilled student, or instructor). Don't fret or waste your time/energy wrestling with a drawing longer than that.
If you've hit a roadblock, leave it (or do a shitty drawing just to get it done). Go to the next step, the next part of the scene and proceed from there--work on what you CAN manage. If you have a deadline, keep that work flowing thru the production pipeline. Once the problem is solved, filling in the gaps will take far less time than animating from the interrupted point to completion.

Ken Davis's picture

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

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

Best of luck to you ML. Let us know what happens with you. I know I for one will worry about you. Got two young cousins over there in Afghanastan right now. One is due home in a couple of weeks, the other just got shipped back after being wounded in December.

Pat Hacker, Visit Scooter's World.

That may be apparent to the group that did that study, but the freelance work I've been applying for indicates that the new entrepeneurs view it as a fun hobby sort of thing. They have no concept of how much work goes into what they consider a simple 30 second thing, and they expect you to whip it out for 200.00 or less.

But then lumping secretaries in with waitresses is a little like that too. Where did they put plumbers? Did they have shades of blue?

Heh, the nitwits that think this is just a "fun hobby" have been around for decades, my friend.

The key to enlightening them is to quote high and be prepared to breakdown/justify every dollar you ask for.
If they balk, they are not serious anyway and you'd be better off passing on the job.

Remember, EVERYONE who goes thru a western educational system, more than likely has some association to drawing via their schooling--or pre-schooling.
Drawing in that capacity is fun and carefree, but its not professional calibre.
Because of that shared association, a lot of ignorant people think that drawing in a professional capacity remains much like what they remember--just a bit "more involved". Of course they are wrong, and their eyes are untrained to know the difference. That is why you'll see them hire their 14 yr old nephew Timmy to whip out a drawing for $25 and think they've gotten good product--when its something that looks..........awful.
I see stuff like that everywhere I go.

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

Are you ready to serve time in Iraq, or possibly Somalia or Iran?

I'll go where ever they send me.

Software: TVPaint Pro, Harmony Standalone, Storyboard Pro, Maya, Modo, Arnold, V-Ray, Maxwell, NukeX, Hiero, Mari, RealFlow, Avid, Adobe CS6
Hardware: (2) HP Z820 Workstations + 144-core Linux Render Farm + Cintiq 24HD Touch

More....

--Deadlines suck, don't they? All-nighters suck worse. Budget your time to avoid all-nighters, its not the staying up all night that's hard, its getting to sleep and recovering that's harder. Avoid heavy meals on a all-night session--digestion take the most energy of any human activity. Eat light, but eat as often as is comfortable.
Remember to breathe. A good breathing pattern helps maintain energy and alertness more than ANY other ingestible substance.
I'd avoid caffiene because though it might keep you awake, it also remains in one's system once the job is done and when your sleep-time arrives. The younger you are, the easier all-nighters are, but the older you get, the greater the toll an all-nighter takes.
Respect your body. There is NOTHING in any of this worth getting sick over--remember that.
And if you do drugs, you are a moron--end of statement.

--Drama happens. Happens all the time in school. Animation students tend to be young adults, and young adults are social animals. Relationships can form in school and that's part of the retinue. Unfortunately, such things can distract a student from their goals. This is something that each and every person needs to figure out on their own.
Do you want to have a few rolls in the hay with the opposite sex, or do you want to lay the foundations of your career? The former is not always conducive to focus on the latter. Probably the "worst" ( re: dangerous) thing that can happen is getting romantically involved with an instructor or administrator. Use your head and keep your wits about you. When in doubt, supress the urge and don't--you will never regret it.

Also keep in mind that life often just intervenes. Family members get sick, friends can fall on hard times, pets can run away and join the circus. Shit happens. For some, it can take them out of school. For others, it can make school a living hell. Consider it a dry-run for the real-world.

-- I've had students that have been lawyers, MENSA candidates, military people, professional folks from all walks--and they've all said that making an animated film was by far the most difficult thing they have ever done. Do not underestimate the complexity of the task ahead. Its not impossible, its more likely bound to be just difficult.

--Remember that animation studios and schools are akin to offices. Offices have office-politics. Office politics often are dirty pool/ petty head-games. If you want to play in that arena, be prepared for ugliness.

--Learn how to fill out a invoice for work-for-hire. Learn how to create copies of invoices for yourself--supply specifics of the job, your tasks, your contact info and the amount of money paid.
I'm amazed that schools don't cover stuff like this.

-- Ask the school to bring in a lawyer to guest-lecture on contracts. It could be the most valuable hours you ever spend in ANY class.

--Approach your time in class like it was time on the job. If you are young and have never worked on a actual job, this will likely be a shock to the system. You have a specific time-limit for being in school--if you fart away a lot of it socializing then its time very much wasted. Fellowship is part of the social structure of a school and in career building, but too much fellowship breaks down your efforts in building your career. Quite a few of us have been there (myself included)--where its more fun "playing" than it is working. Gotta fight the temptations.
If you can get into class and work a solid, intense standard 8-9 hr day, then head home and rest-recover you'll have a heads-up over other students that try to go it 24/7.

Anecdotes from instructors can be gold. Technical information can be had from a book for the most part, and is relatively easy to find, but personal impressions and opinions are rare and valuable--even if they are negative/jaded/bitter. The greatest portion of a education is not the outcome, but the journey to the outcome.
And always remember that an education is NEVER given, its taken.
That's why its vital to TAKE NOTES and ASK QUESTIONS, bunky!

If you don't take notes, or do not know how...........I'm telling you right now, you are screwed. Never trust your memory, because no-one else can either.

--You NEED down-time--empty hours to just process all the info and actions you've undergone. That is NOT sleep-time--its conscious waking hours where your mind will digest the education and activate your problem-solving porcesses. This can be a day on a weekend, time to walk in a park, or playing with friends or family.
Be sensible about this. If down-time to you is drunk-time, then your just wasting energy and life. There's better escapes out there, take advantage of them.

--Remember, you don't need a good memory. I don't have one. In this day and age, a more valuable skill is knowing WHERE the answer is, or where you left something than remembering the details of a thing. If you can always refresh your thinking by retrieving something ( a book, an image or notes), then you can pretty much forget about that thing and use your mind for other things......like creativity. They say that if you expose yourself to something 10 times over, you'll remember it automatically anyway.
Being smart really means knowing how to FIND the answer, not just KNOWING the answer.

-If smarts fail, resort to being clever. Clever never fails. That's why Batman will ALWAYS beat Superman. Superman is smart, but Batman is clever.

--Think about what you are asking someone. A global question like "why is that drawing like that?" is much harder to answer than " Is there a connection to how the thick and thin lines on that drawing proceed? Is their a pattern to it?" Ask a better question and you will get a better answer. Write down questions ( and the answers) so you don't forget them.

Be a geek. Geek.........is good. Geek = passion. In animation school, you are in a environment of intense geekiness--embrace it. Live geek, breathe geek, poop geek. If you cannot stomach being a geek, its okay to be a nerd.
After you graduate, you can go back to being humanoid again.

--Private schools of all stripes are businesses (some public schools are pretty much the same). They just want your money. You are a CUSTOMER first though, not a commodity.
If you have a grievance with the school, NEVER relent. I know of some schools that have a "policy" that unless someone complains THREE times in succession, they just ignore the person--thinking they will just go away in frustration. After all, they have your money, right? This is to make THEIR jobs easier, but so what? Their job is to serve your needs while you are in school--tough beans if they have a hard couple of days. Don't feel guilty, make 'em sweat.
Not all schools are out to screw students or make life difficult--but when it comes to money issues--they often do just that. Play hardball ( with a loving smile) from day one.
Trust......but verify, always. Get it in writing. Make them sweat--because that's their job. If you've paid for it, demand it if its not supplied. Have a recourse of your own to fall back on if things go badly. Don't be a asshole about it, be civil, but firm. Give no ground, because once you become complacent then that is where they'll strike( if they are going to). If an instructor fails to show, insist on a recap session. If an instructor chronically misses class, demand a partial refund.

ANY greivances should be recorded. Take nothing as word-of-mouth. Write it down yourself with a date and time, and log witnessess if present. That can add weight to your case if needed.

READ, and keep, your student handbook too! It contains all kinds of info you can throw in the face of administration is things go wrong. Rest assured they will use on you if it comes to it. You can even request that you get a copy of the student handbook BEFORE you arrive on the first day--no harm in asking.

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

Still more....

--If a school starts to fail--take EVERYTHING home. Don't chance getting locked out. Keep only what you need on a day to day basis at the school--from day one. A small school can fold inside of a day--the circumstances forming in the background unknown to you for weeks or months--and you could be denied access to your property for weeks of months......or permanently. You'll probably never know until it happens, and asking about it will either get you a lie, or a stone-cold stare.
Heck, if you are spending a lot of money, say........more than $10,000, or have to take out loans or mortgages on property--then run a background check on a small school before you give them ANYTHING. Any complaints, any BBB (Better Business Bureau) issues, or notorious things ( a school I moved across country to work at hadn't paid their taxes for a couple of years--guess what happened?) and you have red flags to consider. Most business can have a couple of complaints of some kind against them, but issues that make it to the news, or to the BBB are warning klaxons telling you to stay the hell away.
The cost of a thourough background check might be a couple hundred bucks, but if you are laying down $20,000-$30,000 or more, then a couple hundred bucks is chicken feed and money well spent.

--When budgeting tutition and expense--factor in another $1000-$2000 for outside materials. Schools never seem to supply enough papers, pencils and such. Be prepared to buy supplies for your own use. Factor in things like other art-books, video and like materials. Yea, its expensive--nobody said it wasn't.

--Guard your own supplies with a vengeance (again, with a loving smile). Label/mark your property. Avoid sharing anything out of line-of-sight.
This might make others think you are a dick-but its your property and it doesn't grow on trees.
Theft happens--internally and from outside. If you leave for lunch, lock up your desk, take your IPOD with you or put it somewhere secured. Thieves can, and sometimes do, walk in off the street and grab whatever they can find. Chance nothing.
Developing a discipline like closing doors after you might seem like over-kill, but something as anal as that can stem problems for everyone. Sure its hard to do, but its also life-skills like that that will serve you throughout life.
And if you encounter a thief--hurt them. Thieves are the lowest of the scum-sucking low.

--Understand that if you move to a new area to attend school that homesickness is a reality you will likely face. The younger you are, the more prone with will be to suffer from it. Plan ahead. During holiday times, try to make sure you have money budgeted to travel home for a visit--or have family or friends visit you. Explore the new city, make friends, start or continue a hobby. Live a little.

--An aside to the above about "office politics"; its obvious that school have a social culture. You bring yourself and your own culture into a foreign communal culture. Sometimes theirs clashes. Your values are not always common values. A person might make a off-handed comment on something and no harm is intended, but offense can be taken. Be mindful of this happening. Respect is a two-way thing.....offer it first and you'll almost always get it back. Demanding respect blindly tends to create situations of resentment and animosity. Understand that people make mistakes in their interactions with others and that there's really no such thing as a common social ground, except for the most rigid of social groupings (like the military).
Bullying can happen--even in adult-age college situations--likewise gender/racial harrassments. There's many ways of resolving these kinds of things, but the golden rule is to NOT let it slide. Be open and honest if something or someone offends you. Give the injuring party a short amount of time to correct their mistake/behaviour.
If they do not, or refuse to..........then whack the buggers something nasty.
You are paying big money to attend, so get your monies worth from the experience--if someone is spoiling that experience make it known to the administration.
Adminstration should not only deal with the matter very quickly, they should also follow up afterwards with you--if they don't go to them, and get the whole matter recorded in writing.
If the administration will not help, then seek legal assistance, and dump a crapload of pain down on the administration.

--Be nice, until someone tries to hurt you..........then just forget about nice--switch to nasty.

--There's no other way to say this: in a group of people number 15-20 or more, there's bound to be a dummy. Or a joker. Or someone that's just going to disrupt the class in some manner. Painful truth, but its pretty much always the case. This person may have genuine learning issues, or may just be immature. Handling this requires some finesse.
If the student is just plain disruptive, speak to administration about it. Insist on oversight placed upon this problem student. If its learning issue, you may be stuck with the person, as they have paid to be there much the same as you.
Harsh as it sounds, be prepared to distance yourself from such a person if need be. Its the instructor's job to assist students with learning difficulties, not the classmates.
Some groups can use empathy(and patience) to help such people overcome challenges, but not every group is equipped with the temperment for that.
If the person is just a dickleshit, then try the best to ignore them. You are entitled to a calm, learning environment, and anyone not cooperating should get a boot to their bollocks.
If all else fails, roll the pest up in a mattress and swack the begeezus out of them (leaves no bruises!)! (Just kidding)

--Language. As a former instructor, the language issues of foreign students remained a heartbreaking problem from my first day of teaching to my last.
This is an extremely difficult matter to overcome in class, because animation involves a LOT of coined-terms, jargon, buzz-words and industry specific language as well as often different and unfamilliar cultural examples.
For someone learning the craft AND still learning the language they face a hard time--and grades do suffer because of it. Because of the language gap, comprehension issues exist, and where those exist there is bound to be academic deficiencies with the students performance.

--The best advice/solution possible is for a foreign student to have as complete mastery of the language of instruction as possible. Unless the instructor is muti-lingual and the course structured to accomodate dual languages, foreign students are at a pronounced disadvantage.
Add a bewildering new culture and people and it can become a disaster. Unless a, instructor, or the school itself, dedicates a sizeable amount of time addressing the needs of foreign-language students ( most schools do not), such students are usually left to their own devices.
That..........is a bloody shame.

To paraphrase Jean-Luc Picard: " Study art, music, history, philosophy and someday, all THIS (nodding to the Universe) will mean something".

To quote Yoda-esteemed, revered Jedi Master: " Try? Try not, DO! Or do not. There is no try."

To quote Mr. T: "I pity th' fool......!" Do NOT piss off Mr. T.

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

Agreed!

I agree with you!

As Don Bluth says, "If you fail to plan - you plan to fail!"

One of my daughters, now an adult and married, loves her art. She is VERY meticulous about her art - she loves the journey - so to speak. The best part for her is the slow planning and concentration she puts into her work. She still has a very spontaneous nature but like I said- she loves the journey. No, she is not an animator - though she would be wonderful.
[B]
Everyone works differently! [/B]The key is finding out how you work best and applying that to your work so you can be more productive.

If you are in school, some of the skills you are developing include: meeting due dates with work that approaches professional levels. If you are not planning to work- then you don't need these skills.

When I went to school at Art Center, they told us- we would NEVER have any professional project that was harder than what we would experience at Art Center - they were right! For this, I am truly grateful!

Thanks.

Even if your don't become a professional animator meeting estimated deadlines will always be important to accomplishing any project. You can't spend forever even on a personal work or it becomes so open ended you never finish it.

Pat Hacker, Visit Scooter's World.

Great stuff, Ken! (Though it does sound like you've encountered harsher realities than i have - or than anyone should.)

Any thoughts as to the structures of grading?
I've seen some school administraions be hideously irresponsible with the tasks
they assign students. As I studied in a very rigid, but transparent design curriculum myself I thought this would be the solution. In the meantime I'm experiencing that a less rigid curriculum can also work very successfully - assuming the students are mature enough to deal with it.

My dear friend, you are a genius. This is a print-out-and-keep-'er.
I think you ought to write a book. Many animation books out there but none that deal with education afaik.

I will be sharing with a CG class today some of the first things you said about preproduction. Although, heaven knows, students of 2D are no different, seeing preproduction as a hinderance to getting their animation done.

Great stuff, Ken! (Though it does sound like you've encountered harsher realities than i have - or than anyone should.)

Any thoughts as to the structures of grading?
I've seen some school administraions be hideously irresponsible with the tasks
they assign students. As I studied in a very rigid, but transparent design curriculum myself I thought this would be the solution. In the meantime I'm experiencing that a less rigid curriculum can also work very successfully - assuming the students are mature enough to deal with it.

Dobermunk--thanks!

My harsh reality is that I never went to art college or animation school as a student--I taught at them instead. Some of my cautions might be viewed as snipping at a hand that once fed me, but its still info that a student, or prospective student should know.

On grading: Good question. Grades, IMO, are useless, meaningless, pointless.
A student can complete the assignment to the academic standards of said assignment, hand it in on time, get a "A" grade ( or what-have-you) but skill not demonstrate the artistic skill to gain work in the industry.
This is because most assignments ( in my experience) tend to be structured in a technical fashion, rather than a aesthetic fashion. You complete the layout, label it, draw all the requisite images and turn in UGLY( or just weak) drawings--you've still completed that assignment to the requests of the instructor.
Likewise, a student can, not hand a thing in, fail the course, and six months later--entirely on their own, take stock of what they have been "taught" and go on to demonstrate skills that land them work and a career.

Besides, I don't think , in the history of professional animation, has there ever been a occasion on the job where a animator has gotten a "A", "B", "F" grading on their scenes--on the job.
You either get the scene back to do over again until it meets standards, get a pay cheque or are fired.

Those grades in school mean NOTHING on the job--if the talent isn't there.
Grades are not "real-world" in that sense.

Now, I know of some instructors that placate the system by offering letter/number/percentage grades AND a industry grade--with usually a percentage value of how close the student came to what the instructor percieves as the industry standards. This is probably a more honest/accurate/useful assessment of the students, but for the bureacracy of schooling--with student loans and such--its meaningless.

My own take on this.............my own quiet preference...is a simple/blunt/pass or fail standard. The student either has it, or they don't.
That is how talent get's viewed on the job anyway. Its back to your desk or out the door--in the simplest of terms.

THAT standard, however, places ENORMOUS stress on thre students. It
would piss off the Mommies and Daddies that pay big dollars for lil' Timmy and Suzy to go to cartoon college, only to have some "jackass" instructor decide the kid's fate on what seems to be a whim.
It'd bankrupt schools all over the place, because all those "hopeless" aspirants/fodder that schools need to dump cash into their coffers would stay away--the process would be just too hard to succeed in for most.

...and, again in my opinion, it probably result in some major hard-core talent coming out of what few schools there were, to the lasting benefit of the industry.

But that doesn't happen because, as businesses, schools are just savvy enough to know that if you piss off your clientele--they stay away. So they lure them in with the facade of an education like other schooling, where "A's" and "B's" rule the day.
The sad fact is that schools have to maintain a stedy influx of paying bodies--whether they can help those bodies is irrelevant. They pays their money and they take their chances, and if they are found wanting...........oh well, too bad.
I know of schools with multi-year programs that had/have policies of telling weaker students NOT to return in following years. Might seem heartless to some, but its merciful in the light of the students performances and the demands that will be placed on them.

Lastly, I agree about the potential irresponsible tasks that can be handed students. My own constant fear was that I was doing just that, because I was often the author of my own curriculum--and usually with VERY little oversight. That's a scary situation in itself.
My own shortcomings would end up becoming the student's shortcomings.
For example: as a storyboard instructor, I never showed how to slug a 'board. I was never called upon to do it professionally, so I never learned how. There were other instructors in the system that DID do such jobs and thus took up that slack, but it was still a deficiency in MY arena.

I know this remains an issue elsewhere. I know of a sizable number of students that are poorly served by instructors that simply do not know their jobs( or are not as experienced), yet those instructors are hired because those that DO know the material are assigned to other classes in that time block. The classic example I've seen is students looking at you funny when you start going on about "dope sheets"--they NEVER been introduced to them before ( in 3D classes) and they could wel encounter them on the job.
In one case their instructor was some schmuck hired because they knew the software--taught animation--but had never been paid to animate a scene in their life.
That is point-blank criminal.
But its reality too.

How the hell can a student know the difference if they are a near tabula-rasa when it comes to animation?
With a public school, there's usually state/provincial/national standards as to the material covered--students all reading from the same set of text books for example.
With animation or cartooning..........it might be the material found in Preston Blair's Walter Foster art books...........or something by Chris Hart. More than likely the material is something authored by the instructors themselves.
Those are nowhere near common standards.

If someone is looking to develop aesthetic (commerical) appeal to their work, but the instructor only has experience doing experimental work, then you've got a dichotomy happening.
Heck, my one attempt at art college schooling ( in my early 20's)was a interesting look at this. I was in the application interview, showing my work--which was all superhero stuff (its what I was interested in) and the two guys looking at it were seriously turning their noses up at my stuff. They were "artists", I was.........something else. I was applying to end up in the animation program at this school--but what I wanted was 6 months of course, in the 3rd year of the program. Yoiks.
I wasn't accepted, and I thank my plucky stars at that.

I would have been serious black sheep in that environment--and it would have likely killed my career--forcing me to abandon the whole thing.

That was 20+ years ago though, and the calenders changed, but the nincompoops might not have.
In my case, I developed my sense of appeal in my work by relentlessly studying the very kinds of work I wanted to do professionally--and did it on my own. That and on-the-job training brought me to where I am.

There's really nothing that beats hands-on guidance and mentorships--but THAT is a rant for another day. I've gone on far too long here.

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

GREAT post. Thanks for not sugar coating anything. Honesty is always appreciated. :)

I've taught design and learned design - the whole bauhaus thing is very established. I tend therefore to want to tell the students: this is the task, this is the goal of the task. Who will evaluate it, how it will be presented (I favor student presentation sessions for the communication and "salesmanship skills it supports)and how much what criteria weigh in on the final grade: down to the percentages...

You can imagine my shock when I encountered a 3D school where the students had no creative accompaniment and no clearly set golas. When it finally came round to getting grades, one student who had whipped out some PaintFX flower fields in Maya and animated a camera around them was celebrated, while another student who took an the very challenging task of motion-tracking and image-lighting and crowd simulation received a nearly failing grade because "the figures were just made out of blocks". I wanted to strangle the school director.
In the end, all these grades are unimportant as you say - but if a school grades... well, that just shocked me to bits.

I'm now at a school which is - as you say, pass or fail. The students get a broad knowledge of all film-making disciplines, then concentrate on various aspects of animation, as they choose to pursue. It is less rigid and students have already provena basis knowledge, but there are always black holes here or there. People who have never done storyboards, or dopesheets, etc. Its a government-funded school, so no "clients" to please other than the reputation of its alumni. Its a fantastic experience helping students follow their very divergent paths, filling in as many of those holes as possible.

Never knew you were in the military. If I might ask which branch did you serve in?

As always Ken great insight for those of us going to school right now for animation. I had to copy and paste these to a word file for later viewing. Thanks for the valuable information.

Software: TVPaint Pro, Harmony Standalone, Storyboard Pro, Maya, Modo, Arnold, V-Ray, Maxwell, NukeX, Hiero, Mari, RealFlow, Avid, Adobe CS6
Hardware: (2) HP Z820 Workstations + 144-core Linux Render Farm + Cintiq 24HD Touch

Never knew you were in the military. If I might ask which branch did you serve in?

As always Ken great insight for those of us going to school right now for animation. I had to copy and paste these to a word file for later viewing. Thanks for the valuable information.

My military "service" wasn't anything great or extensive--I spent some time in the Cdn Forces Naval Reserves, and several years with the Air Cadets.
Cadets is kind of like a junior league miltary thing, and not even military per se, but has the same kind of structure to it.
The Reserves thing was for a summer, many moons ago--in some respects similar to the Cadets, but intended for adults.
I did my advancement within both, enjoyed it for what it was, but it became clear to me that regular forces service wasn't in the cards for me. I have the certificates and what-not still........somewhere.
Nothing really beats the discipline one can get in service, and the cameraderie is a plus too--even though I didn't do a regular forces tour.

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

Thats cool. I'm in the process of getting out the Air Force Reserves and into the Army National Guard.

Software: TVPaint Pro, Harmony Standalone, Storyboard Pro, Maya, Modo, Arnold, V-Ray, Maxwell, NukeX, Hiero, Mari, RealFlow, Avid, Adobe CS6
Hardware: (2) HP Z820 Workstations + 144-core Linux Render Farm + Cintiq 24HD Touch

Grades

Let's not forget those grade!

Can't tell you how students think grades are a given. We had one teacher who gave 113 "A's" out of 115 students.

Fact of the matter is there are NO grades in the pros. There are no "A's".

It's either done right- done over or your done with the job and the company.

I was the hardest grader- because I tried to gage where the students were in their development towards being professionals.

The one thing I did was....if the project was handed in on time...I allowed as many redos as possible to up their grade (nothing was guarranteed). If they invested time in getting better and improved - I gave them a better grade.

Not all schools are out to screw students or make life difficult--but when it comes to money issues--they often do just that. Play hardball ( with a loving smile) from day one.
Trust......but verify, always. Get it in writing. Make them sweat--because that's their job. If you've paid for it, demand it if its not supplied. Have a recourse of your own to fall back on if things go badly. Don't be a asshole about it, be civil, but firm. Give no ground, because once you become complacent then that is where they'll strike( if they are going to).

ever considerd a career in the army? ;) :D

no, but you'r absolutly 100% correct,
last year there was somebody in my class who could animate like hell, but he was a partyanimal so he didn't make it :(

This is a great conversation. I hope it's not just for teachers only. It's the best read I've had in a while here at AWN.

--IDIOTPROOF the process at every step. Yea, the term "idiot" applies here. Assume in all capacities of animation ( \professional and otherwise) that anyone following up after you is a near-total moron, so make sure that all the material you prepare can be understood by ANYONE. That is not to say they ARE morons, just to say that, in professional venues, you cannot always count on someone in a later stage being as professional/competent as you are. So by being VERY specific with the material--leaving nothing to chance- you reduce ( hopefully eliminate) the potential of mistakes being made.
I used to joke with students that if they abide by this particular ritual, then its okay if they got hit by a bus--because their classmates could then finish that belated student's film to honour them. Said student failing to idiot-proof their work means the rest of us will get it wrong, and we'd be haunted by said student until the end of time. Nobody really wants thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.

Haven't worked in professional animation but I have run acrossed the mindset in other fields where the attitude was if you made it look to easy you were considered out of a job or expendable. So there was always an underlying current to make your job seem like it was way more complicated than it actually was. Isn't this an issue?

Hope I haven't interrupted a personal conversation.

Pat Hacker, Visit Scooter's World.

Thats cool. I'm in the process of getting out the Air Force Reserves and into the Army National Guard.

Are you ready to serve time in Iraq, or possibly Somalia or Iran?

Pat Hacker, Visit Scooter's World.

ever considerd a career in the army? ;) :D

no, but you'r absolutly 100% correct,
last year there was somebody in my class who could animate like hell, but he was a partyanimal so he didn't make it :(

Done my military time, thank you. Was fun for what it was, but hindsight shows me it was never meant to be my thing--though I still admire the discipline a soldier has.
Cartooning, there's no life like it ( you might have to be Canadian to get the in-joke in that sentence...)

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

This is a great conversation. I hope it's not just for teachers only. It's the best read I've had in a while here at AWN.

Haven't worked in professional animation but I have run acrossed the mindset in other fields where the attitude was if you made it look to easy you were considered out of a job or expendable. So there was always an underlying current to make your job seem like it was way more complicated than it actually was. Isn't this an issue?

Hope I haven't interrupted a personal conversation.

Nope, this thread was for the STUDENTS........I was thinking I should have posted it in the Cafe instead....

On the "making it look easy" matter......I say it has to be done.
From my perspective--having done storyboards for the past 17 years now--that the more pains taken to explain things, the better. The person that gets let go is the one that leaves too many things to chance.
Animation is a complicated process--at every stage. Period.
There's lots of potential mistakes that can happen at every step in the production--and they DO happen--the idea is to have your step have the least mistakes.
That means being meticulous, being through, and taking the time to not only get it right, but get it so that its useable.

I've a confession: I blow deadlines. Usually by a day or so, sometimes by a bit more--not all the time mind you, but it happens from time to time. I blow them not because I'm lazy, or because I waste my time posting here :rolleyes: , but because the THINKING part of my job is the longest and most involved. The pay-off in this is that my storyboards routinely have less than 10% revisions called for. That's less than 10 pages out of 100--on average. The usual expected average is closer to 40-50%--or more.
I've done boards where they signed off on the thing with zero changes--it went to layout as is--not because it was late, but because it was completely to their liking.
I'm not the best draughstman, nor are my board's loaded with the lushest, most dramatic bits of business. I strive to put some good ideas in the thing, and to put something of myself in the work too--my own swing on things.
My stuff is serviceable and, most important ( I guess) usable for the needs of the production. I'm not doing it to win awards, but to keep more boards coming and put bread on the table.

Boards are expected to be changed, that's the whole idea--but if the intution is there with the board artist, and they can read the "signs and verities" as it were, then no changes should be necessary. Understanding how the show will play on screen and then boarding that, is the aim.

To that end, one has to really think hard about the whole show, all the business happening on screen, voice tracks, the timing and pacing in one's head, staging......expressions........ad-libbed bits--the whole ball of wax.
Pre-thinking, means wasting less effort in drawing and correcting later on.
It means less hassle with the director or 'board super trying to figure out what's been screwed up and how to fix it.

So, yes, its making it seem more involved than it might appear to the layman.
If ANYONE, especially someone that's not familliar with 'boards, can understand the work you've done, then it was done right. That's the goal.

To my mind, you'd have to be working for a total imbeclic ass to have someone think you made your work look too easy. Its not the case in animation, not to my experience.

Here's an tangetal aside that related to this:
Its a anecdote I like to pass on to students because it really places us animator/cartoonist types into a real-world context.
I read a Readers Digest article several years back about how they had classfied various occupations as coloured-collar jobs.
You've heard the term before: White-collar, blue collar and such, referring to clerical or labourer jobs.

Well, the short list they has went from Platinum-collar to pink collar jobs.
It went like this:

Platinum-collar
Gold-collar
Silver-collar
White-collar
Blue-collar
Pink-collar

Pink-collar jobs are secretarial, or things like waiting tables.
Platinum-collar jobs are people that make more money than God. Bill Gates, Micheal Jackson, Donald Trump etc--the top of the pile kind of income.
Gold-collar were CEO of moderate to large companies, prominent entertainers, rockstars etc.

And Silver-collar jobs were airline pilots, doctors, astronauts.........and animators.

Quite a educated/skilled group we were lumped into. The article made SPECIFIC mention of animators in that grouping--which is really what caught my eye.
Thinking about it, it makes complete sense, as the intutive and technical training we need is as extensive as a doctor or astronaut. We probably take it mostly for granted because its far more intuitve than those other occupations.
I think its a good thing to remind ourselves ( and occasionally others) when the assumption arises that animation isn't "all that involved".

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

the hardest thing about assessing a large class of students is the lack of flexibility in the timeline. i appreciate that they are expected to meet dealines, but everyone has their own pace and this pace is something that should be embraced during those early phases of learning. something i have observed is quite often the driving force behind someone losing faith/interest in animation is their assumption that because they work slower(and fail or lose marks because of it) that they are somehow a worse artist.

planning and reflection are a students greatest tool to combat these problems.

if you dont plan, you cant expect to hit a deadline, and if you dont reflect, you cant expect to improve your time management the following assignment.

www.EvilAsSin.com
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the fastest polygon in the west!

YEEEEEHHHHAAAAA!

And Silver-collar jobs were airline pilots, doctors, astronauts.........and animators.

Quite a educated/skilled group we were lumped into. The article made SPECIFIC mention of animators in that grouping--which is really what caught my eye.
Thinking about it, it makes complete sense, as the intutive and technical training we need is as extensive as a doctor or astronaut. We probably take it mostly for granted because its far more intuitve than those other occupations.
I think its a good thing to remind ourselves ( and occasionally others) when the assumption arises that animation isn't "all that involved".

That may be apparent to the group that did that study, but the freelance work I've been applying for indicates that the new entrepeneurs view it as a fun hobby sort of thing. They have no concept of how much work goes into what they consider a simple 30 second thing, and they expect you to whip it out for 200.00 or less.

But then lumping secretaries in with waitresses is a little like that too. Where did they put plumbers? Did they have shades of blue?

Pat Hacker, Visit Scooter's World.