The one question we get asked most often at Animation Arena is the "which animation school should I go to?" question. That's still a tricky question to answer but the good news is with the rise of Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks and other animation studios becoming a professional animator is actually a viable career path. Some of our top grossing movies are animated features so the demand for good animators has definitely increased and with the increase in demand more schools and universities are offering animation degrees.
The key is to choose the right animation school for you. How do you determine if a school is right for you? You should develop a checklist of the things you want to get out of school and don't just say I want a job when I graduate, going to any animation or art school is about more than just getting a job, it's about learning and understanding the craft of animation on a deeper level, it's about the industry connections you'll make through your fellow classmates and instructors, that's probably the biggest advantage animation school grads have over self-taught artists, ask any animator working in the industry today and most will tell you they found their first jobs through former classmates or instructors.
The things you should look for in an animation school are:
- Does the program teach all aspects of the art of animation
- How much experience does the instructors have in the animation industry
- Where is the animation school located
- Does the school have a good alumni network
Does the program teach all aspects of the art of animation?
There are a lot of animation programs out there that get you in the classroom and put you on software right away they teach a few classes of Maya, 3-D studio Max or another software package have you make a couple of models or make a couple of 15 second clips and at the end of the program call you a animator. This example is a little extreme but trust these schools do exist, a school with a legitimate animation program should start with a foundation in drawing. I know drawing scares a lot of people but if you want to become an animator in the true sense of the word there's no getting around drawing, every animator at Pixar or DreamWorks started off drawing.
If you can't draw there's still hope a lot of people don't realize this but you can be taught to draw it's hard as hell but it can be done I've seen this at the Academy of Art in San Francisco I'll tell you a little bit about my experience at the Academy first of all you don't touch a computer for the first year of your animation program all of your classes consist of still life drawing,figure drawing, perspective drawing, thumb nailing, sketching,story boarding, color theory and other art fundamentals.
I've seen people start off in figure drawing class drawing stick figures, I'm serious I mean literally stick figures and by the end of the semester they were drawing some pretty damn good pieces of art, but in order to get to that level by the end of the semester they had to spend a lot of time in the afterschool drawing labs and workshops, with this type of hard work and dedication even if you can't draw you can be taught to draw and still live out your dream as an animator. As one of my classmates once told me you'd be surprised at what you can draw when you stare at something for 3 hours (That was the typical length of one of our figure drawing classes). If drawing isn't your thing then you may want to consider going into visual effects or rigging because there's less drawing involved in those crafts but all great animators have to draw there's no way to get around it. So look for an animation school that teaches foundation classes like figure drawing, perspective drawing, thumb nailing, sketching, color theory, art history, storyboarding, character design, rotoscoping, script writing and so on.
How much experience do the instructors have in the animation industry?
How much experience do the instructors have any industry this is an important aspect in choosing an animation school because instructors who are currently working in the animation industry know what animation studios are looking for when they're looking to hire a new animator and there up on the latest techniques used in the industry. If your instructor is currently employed in the industry then it gives you peace of mind knowing that the lessons he's teaching you have helped him land a job himself.
There are a lot of schools out there who hire recent graduates as instructors in their animation classes while these instructors can teach you animation 101 or any lessons that you can learn out of The Animator's Survival Kit they lacked the real world experience to give you those little insider tips that only someone with years of experience in the industry would know. So when you speak to the admissions advisor of whichever animation school you're interested in be sure to ask if the instructors are currently working in the industry or if they had prior animation industry experience.
Where is the animation school located?
Where the school is located is important for a number of reasons you might want to stay close to home or you can't stand hot or humid weather but I'll give you this piece of advice when it comes to where a school is located you want to go to a school that's close to the industry you want to work in. The majority of the top animation studios, video game studios and special effects houses are located in California, New York, there are a couple of videogame companies in Chicago, lets see cartoon networks in Atlanta but for the most part the West Coast is where you'll find most of the heavy hitters in the animation industry.
Pixar, DreamWorks, Disney, Industrial light and Magic and not to mention all the Hollywood studios are located in California. The advantage of attending an animation school that's located near the studios is there is a great chance that those animation studios recruit their talent from those local schools, there's also a chance that one of your instructors may work at one of these big-name studios, if he or she does that may be the inside track you need to landing an internship or job at your dream studio. Now I'm not saying your only options are west coast schools or New York schools because Florida has a couple of great animation schools and some schools like the Art Institutes have multiple locations across the US.
If you aren't able to attend an animation school that's close to a major animation studio there are many schools that offer classes online schools like the Art Institute, Full sail University, the Academy of Art University these are some of the more well-known schools that offer online animation courses but after you finish one of these online animation programs we highly suggest you consider moving to one of the major animation hotspots. Like any other specialized industry sometimes you have to move to where the jobs are. Take fashion design for instance if you're going to fashion school in South Dakota the chances of you being discovered or getting a job in the industry is a lot less likely than someone going to fashion school in New York where all the fashion connections are located same goes for the animation industry go where the jobs are.
Does the school have a good alumni network?
Attending a animation school with a good alumni network can be very important, like I stated earlier one of the most important parts of attending an animation school or art school are the connections that you make while you're in school and the alumni network are part of those connections. When speaking to an admissions advisor be sure to ask her about the school's alumni network. Ask where graduates of the animation program in up working. Also ask to see prior students work. A good alumni network can be your ticket to landing a job after you graduate.
In closing let me say this no matter which animation school you choose to attend just remember it all comes down to what you put into it, what you put into it is what you'll get out of it. If you don't apply yourself you're not going to get very far, this is not an easy industry all those men and women that are working for Pixar and DreamWorks it took a lot of hard work and dedication to get where they are if you don't have that same drive and dedication you won't make it. You have to live, eat and sleep animation. If you have that type of passion and dedication there's no question you'll make it.
Hope we haven't scared you too much, if after reading this you still have the passion to follow your dream and become an animator check out a list of the animation schools we have to help you get started.