We got an email today from somebody asking if university was the only route into the animation industry. We get letters like these every now and then, and reply whenever we can, and usually with the same advice.
As the deadline for applying to university courses is coming up, we thought we’d reframe the email and discuss the subject in this blog post instead.
I was wondering if you’d be able to provide me with some advice.
I am a fairly recent graduate in a degree that to be honest has nothing to do with animation. However, I’ve always been interested in following it as a career path. Having dabbled a little bit into blender etc. (Not really getting far/self-teaching.)
I was curious of what your opinion is for somebody considering to go into animation with no particular background. Is the only option university? Or is there another route, that may be plausible – due to my weariness of completing a second degree?
Any information would be greatly appreciated.
“Whichever route you take, please be aware that this industry is stupidly hard to get into.”
It sounds like you are in a similar position to me, ten years ago. I had a degree in Computing and no arts background, but I knew I wanted to get into this industry. I was going to start again as an undergraduate, but somebody wisely pointed out that once you have an undergraduate degree, you can apply for Masters courses. This higher qualification, of course, takes just one year to complete.
That’s the route I took, but it’s certainly not the only route. There are quite a few online schools that are taught by leading industry experts that focus purely on a certain area, character animation for example. Dave School, Pearson College, iAnimate, for example – google away for any others, and plenty will come up, I’m sure.
The pros about the university way in most certainly include the fact that you get to meet a lot of people and so you are investing in your future industry connections just by being there. Plus, the university may have facilities that you really want to use, like a motion capture suite or a render farm.
Online courses (from what I’ve seen) tend to be taught to by high-level people such as current Disney animators etc. The course I did was mostly taught by academics who had no hands-on animation experience at all. They were great at what they did, which was to teach the academic side of the course, but they were little help when it came to the nitty-gritty of animating. There were one or two that did have impressive industry experience and that was a huge bonus in the very least.
That point nudges me slightly towards another possible advantage of online courses. University courses have to have a certain amount of academic study. I had a module – Issues in Digital Media Design and Issues in Digital Media Design 2 – that were sort of fun at the time, but longer-term, I didn’t learn a thing about how to ply my trade.
In the end, I think the decision comes down to personal taste and courses that are available in your area and price range. Pick one that feels right for you. If you are really lucky, you already know what part of the animation industry you want to go into. Maybe you want to be a character animator. Maybe you want to be a texture and render artist. Or maybe you really fancy yourself as a technical person who sets up effects and simulations. If you do know, then that helps and you’ll find an online course that will push you specifically in that direction. If you’re not sure whether you want to be more of a generalist or not, maybe university would be a good place to explore a wider range of skills.
Whichever route you take, please be aware that this industry is stupidly hard to get into. I have a friend who was one of the stronger students in her year when she graduated 6 years ago. Since then she has continued to develop her skills in animation and only now has she finally landed her first job. A lot of other people I know took two or three years after graduation to find proper animation work. But I do know one or two who had something going on within a year but they were exceptionally talented.