Choosing a 3D Animation School
In terms of training, few actually get the "right" training. They go to a crash course program like Mesmer f/x (which teaches you about brand X software in 3 short weeks), put together a rather weak demo reel in the same timeframe, and then hit the streets looking for a job. These people, in my opinion, have no training at all because they know nothing of the art of animation, nothing about lighting, nothing about story telling. They just "think" they know the software. The majority of the failures occur amongst these individuals. Sound a little disheartening? It should. You are attempting to break into the film industry. You are just like an actor auditioning for a part. Everyone wants the part, you have to want it more than anyone else, so much so that they couldn't cast anyone else but you for the role.
If you go to a top quality and reputable school (and do _well_), your chances of getting your foot in the door for an interview increase ten-fold. The recruiters know what is taught at these schools and can assume that you are versed in a lot of things that most other candidates are not, but not always though. A person who has been trained in cinematology will stage their animations differently than those who have not. It's called framing a scene. Every scene or shot is framed so that it has the maximum impact on the audience in other woods, it tells a compelling story. Students of crash course programs tend to mimic what they've seen before, whether good or bad, which indicates a lack of creativity on their part. It's like copying the Mona Lisa and saying you did it. Yes, you may be able to technically copy something, but without the original there for you to work from, would you be able to paint it on your own? There are a lot of choices to be made...what canvas to use, what medium, what hues, what pose...a lot of questions. Granted you won't be responsible for every question hat needs to be answered, but you will have to be consciously aware of them. That's the difference between a good education and an adequate one.
There are no guarantees in this business. It's one part talent and two parts part luck. The old axiom "It's not what you know, but who you know" rings true here. Once you get into the biz, you're over the biggest hump. From then on, you're one of the players who move from one studio to the next, looking for a better job opportunity. But you have to survive that first spring cut to do it. Some people find work but can't keep up with the pace. They end up burning out or getting fired. These companies are looking for the best, and you'll have to stay on top if you want to work for the big boys like ILM, Disney, or Pixar.
Animation Schools and Colleges:
School is very expensive. You can expect to spend about 6K for a crash course in animation as well, but I highly advise against attending such programs for the above mentioned reasons. You get what you pay for. Private schools such as Ringling, Sheridan, etc. will cost you a lot more than state run schools (like twice as much or more!). They're a bit more picky about who they accept and pride themselves in producing top quality graduates. They not in the business of making sure "X" number of students graduate each year, they have their reputations to uphold...hence the dramatic increase in the quality of the education. You will most likely be paying out of state tuition at one of these schools, but federal aid is available to you at most accredited institutions, so always look into that before you choose school "A" over school "B". I'm not about to suggest that you can't find the education that you want where you live, the education curriculums change all the time and more and more schools are offering Animation programs. Just be sure that the school you attend is the right one for you, because in all likely-hood, you won't be able to afford another education at another school after that. A lot of information on different schools is now available on the Net. Check 'em out.
Demo Reels and Choosing a School:
Demo reels should be done while in school. That's something you'll want to check out. Some places provide no means for putting student's work to tape! Avoid these places, as digital to video transfer can cost a fortune! It also shows that they aren't as "hip" to the business as they claim to be. Also understand that a good demo reel takes more than a couple days to put together. Good work takes time. Some folks spend years refining their reels.
If you interested in Animation, then don't go to a school that _doesn't_ offer a program in Animation, electives don't count. A lot of schools offer electives in using animation software, and that's not the same thing as being educated in Animation.
Get in contact with schools and ask for a free info packet, they should be more than happy to provide you with one and this will give you a good opporunity to see what they offer and teach. If you can, visit these schools and get in touch with former students. There's nothing like seeing a school first hand and touring the facilities, but if you can't do that, contacting former students will give you a good idea of what the school is like. Just make sure you talk to more than one person...different people have different experiences!