Frightening parallels between CalArts and Sheridan

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Posted by Lost Soul on May 16, 1999 at 14:09:20:

I've been reading the material on this site for the past few months, and, after seeing the section on CalArts, I couldn't help but shudder at how similar the situation there is to what was once Canada's top animation school--Sheridan College.

While our tuition is much cheaper than CalArts ($5000 Canadian) it's still considered very high for a Canadian school. And our students are facing the exact same problems as those from CalArts: first year students have to share desks (4-1 ratio), and all the years have to buy their own animation disks. We're also working on shoddy, obsolete, ancient equipment (30+ year-old Bolexes and Oxberrys) that break down all the time and deliver terrible picture quality. To make matters worse, brilliant administrators at the school decided to expand the program a few years ago, letting in far too many students for the program's limited resources to handle. As a result, students would wait in line overnight for as long as 12 hours just to book camera time (i.e. 8 cameras for over 250 students).

The low salaries that Canadian colleges pay their instructors have also had a terrible impact on the
school. For example, we used to have an excellent animator as a professor who left for greener pastures
at Disney. He was replaced by someone whose background is directing live-action commercials--he knows _nothing_ about the mechanics of creating animation and even lacks fundamental drawing skills. On the few occasions where I bothered to ask him for assistance with an assignment, the feedback he gave me was either meaningless or outright wrong. 90-95% of all his students consider him unqualified to teach the course, and we wind up learning more from each other than from him.

On the bright side, there are several instructors who are excellent at doing their jobs--but (wouldn't
you know it) they wield no power over curriculum or how the program is run. As it is in the "real world,"
the least respected, least competent instructors and administrators are the ones who wield the most
power over the students' lives. How this came about I don't know, but if nothing is done, these people will run our course and its once-proud reputation into the ground. The only thing working in the school's favour are the students themselves--we kill ourselves by working 14-20 hr days, and with each other's help, are still able to produce high-quality work. But in spite of how competitive the admission process is (e.g. in my year, only 130 people were selected out of 1300 portfolio submissions), our attrition rate due to failure, burn-out and voluntary withdrawal ranges from one-third to over 50%. The graduating class from this year started out with 150 students, and only 60 or so finished the program successfully.

While I'm doing what I can to improve the situation at our school (e.g. talking to those administrators who actually do seem receptive to student concerns and have the power to act on them), I don't know if my efforts will have a significant effect. Indeed, my experience at this school has made me question my entire future in the industry--if 80-hr weeks are the norm and I'm at the mercy of incompetent executives who make the artists' lives miserable, is it even worth it anymore? I suffered many health problems as a result of constant overwork and sleep deprivation at a result of its negative atmosphere and relentless pressure, the joy I once got from animation and drawing has been almost completely destroyed.

If anyone has any insights on how I should handle this, I would deeply appreciate any feedback you can provide (either in this forum or privately--my email address is

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