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'VFXWorld’s' F/X & 3D Animation School Survey — Part 1

Bill Desowitz presented six questions to a host of schools and has compiled the first collection of some of the answers.

VFXWorld recently queried a wide range of education and training institutions around the world about their individual programs and approaches in preparing students for careers in the rapidly changing 3D animation and visual effects industries. Here is a survey of their informative responses to the following topics/questions:

Please describe your core philosophy of balancing education and training and what distinguishes your program.

Enter the Montgomery Lab at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design.

The Savannah College of Art and Design is possibly the only college offering BFA, MA and MFA degrees in Visual Effects. With more than 6,000 students we are the largest art school in America with the most extensive facilities. There are 1,900 students in Film and Digital Media alone. The school is committed to teaching general education, art foundation skills, and courses specific to visual effects. While other programs may emphasize technical skills only, our program emphasizes the value of a well-rounded education, artistic, technical and conceptual skills. Vfx is tightly integrated with the other departments: Animation, Broadcast Design & Motion Graphic and Interactive Design and Game Development. Savannah College of Art and DesignSavannah, Georgia

At Expression College for Digital Arts, having a hands-on curriculum with special emphasis in a laboratory environment makes us a unique entity. Students are prepared for their careers using real-world scenarios in a deadline driven philosophy. In addition to basic general education courses, classroom time focuses on lecture driven presentations of course material.

This is reinforced in the lab where students are given the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge gained in the classroom. As one employer put it: Expression students come running out of the box. Expressions education makes sure students have the right attitude and work ethics.Expression College for Digital ArtsEmeryville, California

Our core philosophy is commercial training. We are concentrating almost entirely on character and creature animation. Therefore, we are not looking at developing skills for our students for any other purpose than to work in the business as CG artists. Obviously beginning level students who do our course will be far from industry ready upon completion; however, we replicate commercial environment and application of the software from the outset.Intense Animation StudioSingapore, Singapore

Our core philosophies involve an emphasis upon the development of strong fundamental artistic and creative skills as they apply to animation. We balance our education by addressing other topics that are not necessarily within our animation oriented curriculum, but which we feel help to round out our students. Topics such as world history, discussions on current events, science, the environment as well as business and intellectual property issues and trends in the animation industry.

Our program is distinguished by our emphasis upon fundamental strength in ones basic artistic skills, in developing traditional skills as they would apply to digital animation, in encouraging our students to find unique creative personal expressions, and in taking advantage of new and emerging technologies in media and marketing to promote themselves and realize successful creative careers outside the boundaries of the studio system.The Animation AcademyBurbank, California

At the Holmesglen Institute in Australia, students are exposed to cutting edge technology. Courtesy of Holmesglen Institute.

At Holmesglen Institute, we have a strong emphasis on traditional art and design skills supported by in depth training in technology. Our two-year Advanced Diploma of Animation includes classes in drawing, life drawing, animation appreciation, sculpture, design principles, etc. We also teach traditional 2D and stop-motion animation; however, the majority of animation class time is devoted to digital 3D. At the beginning of the first year, students spend only a few hours a week on digital 3D, the rest of the time being given to ensuring a well rounded education in all areas of pre-production and related skills such as video production, etc. By the beginning of the second year, digital 3D accounts for at least two thirds of scheduled classes or approximately 16 hours each week and during the final semester students work almost exclusively on their major film projects, usually 3D.Design, Multimedia & ArtHolmesglen Institute of TAFEGlen Waverley, Victoria, Australia

What recent changes have you implemented in your coursework and faculty to emphasize creative or technical trends and advancements?

We have merged previously autonomous departments and disciplines in order to facilitate programs that match the industrys trend of convergence. Film, Visual Effects, Computer Animation, Storytelling and Information Technologies (programming, networking and systems design) are all foundation elements to our program. We have re-designed our curriculum completely. We re-focused on one of the main goals of our students: What does it take to get a job in an ever-changing industry? To us, the answer is simple: Strong foundations in technical skills accompanied by a confidence and wit to create and convey their ideas. We have revised all our professional studies curriculum to clearly relate to the career that it applies most. We felt that many schools had unclear structures and unfriendly subject matter that made it difficult to understand the benefit to the student of taking the course. We have also reacted to the needs of an emerging audience - the younger students who are in high school or have just finished. Degree programs have not been for everyone, especially those interested in the arts, technology and music. We have responded to that and created curriculum with new structure to allow people to have more freedom and access to tools that they wouldnt have unless they were at school or at work.We have also created some preparatory college courses for those who are in high school and interested in getting an introduction to a subject before they declare a major. People are starting younger and younger, and we want to support that trend.School of Continuing and Professional Studies

New York UniversityNew York, New York

Exterior shot of the Montgomery Lab at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Courtesy of Savannah College of Art and Design.

The Visual Effects program offers courses specific to compositing, technical direction, matte painting and programming. The visual effects industry needs specialists and we provide specialty courses to meet the needs of industry and students. The program integrates digital methods with traditional methods of visual effects. We have new animatronics and motion control studios. Our plans include a miniature shop and the expansion of digital set extension programs. As well, students take a number of classes where they work in teams as they would the real world.Savannah College of Art and Design

We changed our core 3D software from SoftImage to Maya. Introduced acting classes for all students. Introduced a longer final project for students to explore issues of particular interest to them. Engaged a specialist life drawing tutor who specializes in lifedrawing for animators. She has just received three-year research funding to be based here. Introduced a live project for students - idents for Cartoon Network.London Animation StudioLondon, England

True to its vanguard and visionary nature, Carnegie Mellon University is the only university in the country to offer a Masters of Entertainment Technology degree (MET). This is not a Master of Science nor a Master of Arts or Fine Arts degree-rather a unique, specialized degree program in the interdisciplinary field of entertainment technology The MET is considered a professional, terminal degree. It is the academic pinnacle of studies in this field, thus having greater significance than the M.A. or M.S., and the equivalent academic weight of the M.F.A. and/or M.B.A. degree.Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Students at work at Carnegie Mellon University. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University.

Studio Arts has undergone tremendous changes in just the last two years. We have re-worked our core curriculum and individual courses to reflect the huge changes in display media, storage capacity, speed of delivery and greater bandwidth that affect film, television and Internet capability. One example would be our use of HD... HDTV, its 16:9 format and its eventual incorporation into games and film, is becoming a prevalent standard and thus a logical format from which Studio Arts has begun to provide program delivery.Studio ArtsGlendale, California

At Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, most teachers are guest teachers, professionals working in the industry, who come to Filmakademie for a seminar or workshop. Thus, the curriculum can permanently be adjusted to the actual needs of students and industry, and the course schedules stay flexible. Furthermore, the Institute of Animation tries to pick up creative and technical trends in animation and visual effects by contacts to various companies and studios. One example was the implementation of a new two-year program in 2002 for training to become a technical director.Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Post-ProductionGermany

The most significant change weve made recently is to incorporate a wider set of software skills into our introductory courses. The skills needed to produce quality work always span a variety of packages rather than just one. This was something our courses factored in from the beginning, but weve recently expanded the software portfolio of each course to give students a deeper understanding of the discipline. For example, an introductory 3D program that predominantly uses Maya will also include the effective use of packages such as Photoshop, combustion, Premier, mental ray, as well as DVD encoding software and network render management utilities, etc.Escape StudiosLondon, England

We are working now digital. Capturing each frame with a program.Artemia FilmsSantiago, Chile

Who do you perceive as your market and how are you addressing the ever-changing industry needs of your region?

We have upgraded our digital cinema labs and animation facilities. In addition, we are looking at the possibility of requiring students to buy laptop computers and digital editing/fx/animation software for some of the advanced courses. Computer companies (Apple, Dell, etc.) are willing to offer substantial discounts to students and make financing possible for hardware/software. There is also financial aid available through the university.San Francisco State UniversitySan Francisco, California

The present market is the growing 3D & 2D animation houses struggling to meet the requirements of the booming entertainment industry. By keeping the talent sharpening intact, the emerging new software, hardware technologies are introduced to the students to keep them abreast of the new production techniques.Toonz AnimationIndia

Our graduates split down the middle-half are teaching in colleges and half are animators in game or film companies. We are exploring adding a gaming track.Center for Electronic CommunicationFlorida Atlantic UniversityFt. Lauderdale, Florida

An example of the vfx work being down at the Victorian College of the Arts. © Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, Australia, 2004.

With a national and international student cohort (New Zealand, U.K., U.S., Spain, France, Canada, China, etc.) we are a school that attracts those applicants who wish to develop comprehensive film-making skills in an environment where the story is the most important part of the process. The tools used to develop those skills are always chosen to reflect current industry practice at a practical level.

Our course development is ongoing and reflects feedback from our (industry-based) course advisory committee, current student and graduate surveys and changing methodology and technology. Current changes reflect the move to 16:9 aspect ratio for electronic post-production and the changing nature of film production (digital intermediate, etc.).Victorian College of the ArtsSouthbank, Australia

Our market is primarily either current professionals who want to upgrade their skills (or go digital) or artistically skilled individuals who want to pursue careers in high-end computer graphics in the entertainment industries. Through our very active Advisory Board, the working professionals who teach our courses and the other FOGs (friends of Gnomon) who are extremely vocal about what the CG industries need, we get lots of input regarding what we should be teaching. We work extremely hard to steer our curriculum in the needed direction.The Gnomon School of Visual EffectsLos Angeles, California

We are creating a co-op with Cameron University to train 3D modelers and animators to get students into an internship at Fort Sill creating models and animations for the Army Base to use as fight simulators and training assistants.Northern Oklahoma CollegeMMDC Advanced Animation LabTonkawa, Oklahoma

Please describe recent initiatives with hardware/software companies aimed at making new technology more accessible to students.

Recent emphasis on motion capture for animation resulted in the procurement of a motion capture system and its inclusion in Expressions curriculum. The expansion of ProTools towards a High Definition platform will certainly govern our efforts for inclusion in the future.Expression College for Digital Arts

Price is on the top list if were talking about students. Previously, around six months ago, Discreet helped a small students community to generate a short movie by providing them more than they expected. We were just persons who were standing between Discreet and the students, to make sure that their communication bridged well.Sentra Grafika Kompumedia, PTJakarta, Indonesia

Kalamazoo Valley Community Colleges partnership with the Kalamazoo Animation Festival brings top software companies to campus. Courtesy of Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

We have developed the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International to help Midwestern students gain insights into the professional world. Software companies like Adobe, Alias, Discreet and Newtek have partnered with us to present seminars.Kalamazoo Valley Community CollegeKalamazoo, Michigan

Weve had a long-standing agreement with Alias (through several different parent companies). We moved from SGI to Windows in one lab, but most of our other labs are Apple platform. We developed at RIT software called Frame Thief, which is now marketed in the industry. We serve as a beta test site for lots of various software companies.Rochester Institute of TechnologySchool of Film and AnimationRochester, New York

What do you think about industry concerns that schools need to stress more technique than technology?

We think it is great. There are too many gearheads out there with no foundation skills in the arts.Middle Tennessee State UniversityMurfreesboro, Tennessee

Marc Barr is happy to teach technique to gearheads. Courtesy of Middle Tennessee State University.

Well, they are parts of one whole. While technology constantly changes so does the approach to how things get solved. Students must have general knowledge of production -- that is the foremost reason to enroll in a program.

They should also have access to technology; if not, they are in the wrong school! Both parts are [equally] as important.Fiction Lab Animation SchoolMexico

The School is redesigning course studies away from technology ... and even technique, to content development dressed as case problems and real-world goals. Students act in combination on story development to work with the filmmaking and audio departments. The goal is working toward high impact mini productions ... with greater attention to sound and live photography. Learning every step of the standard software package is no longer a consideration.School of Communication ArtsRaleigh, North Carolina

We believe good artists are the foundation of this field and this has been reinforced by our contacts in the industry. Our workshops focus on both technical expertise and aesthetics.Florida Atlantic UniversityFort Lauderdale, Florida

Please describe recent outreach training programs with industries inside or outside your country.

Weve worked in a production capacity with some area studios, with a group from Israel, with some private individuals and we maintain an excellent relationship with a video game developer in New York state.The Animation Academy

Please helpin eliminating the term training from the conversation on educating people that must operate in a world of color, composition, timing, choreography, making beautiful or fantastically horrifying visual magic come to life before our eyes.CalArtsSanta Clarita, California

SKILLSET is trying to develop more collaboration between industry and education in the U.K. For example, providing work experience for both students and lecturers (who may have been out of industry for a while), getting practitioners to donate lectures and organizing mentors. Our own course liases with industry in the following ways:

All staff are part-time and do freelance work in the industry, all students are allocated a mentor who is a practicing animator, our external examiner is an animation director with Aardman and keeps an eye on us, we run a live project with Cartoon Network, we go out and meet people from industry and talk to them about current developments, we send out a weekly e-newsletter to graduates about jobs, competitionsand employers often contact us when they are looking for staff.London Animation Studio

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.