Advice for anyone looking at animation courses

Choosing the right way in….

I got an email today from someone asking if university was the only route into the animation industry.  We get these every now and then and reply whenever we can, usually with the same advice.

As the deadline for applying for university courses is coming up, I thought I’d repackage the email and post it up here to help anyone else in the same position.

Please pass this advice on to anyone you know who might be thinking about a career in animation or a related field, and send an apology from me in advance if the last bit crushes their soul…..

 

The Enquiry

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.

 

My Reply

It sounds like you’re in a similar position to me ten years ago.  I had a degree in Computing and no arts background but knew I wanted to get into this industry.  I was going to start again as an undergraduate, but someone wisely pointed out that once you have an undergraduate degree, you can apply for Master’s level courses.  It’s a higher level qualification and it only takes a year.

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, Google those and I’m sure other ones will come up as well.

There are pros and cons to the online and uni routes.  At uni you get to meet a lot of people and so you’re 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 be higher level people such as current, working Disney animators.  My course 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, huge bonus.

That point nudges us slowly 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, they were sort of fun at the time but 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.  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 if you want to be more of a generalist, 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 now she has finally, finally landed her first job.  A lot of other people I know took two to three years after graduation to find proper work.  I do know one or two who had something going on within a year but they were exceptionally talented.

So, if you are serious about it and you are prepared for a very long haul, I wish you all the luck in the world.

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