Re: Frightening parallels between CalArts and Sheridan

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Posted by Dave Brewster on May 19, 1999 at 00:49:01:

In Reply to: Frightening parallels between CalArts and Sheridan posted by Lost Soul on May 16, 1999 at 14:09:20:

I know Charles will be upset by this but I have to clear a few things up. Sheridan is in Ontario. Ontario Canada is ruled by a tyrant named Harris (the Ontario Prime Minister took a shot in the head , literally just the other day from one of his unhappy voters) and this conservative fool has gutted the medical, teaching and social services that Canadians once enjoyed. Yes, when you hear stories of the social medical system making people wait years for simple operations they are speaking of the gutted system, not the original. The teacher you are talking about is a good friend and indeed a wonderful animator named Charlie. He is a devoted artist who loved teaching and spent as long as he could teaching at Sheridan until the incredibly poor money forced him to leave. And just to clear one thing up, in my years there back in 79 there was an 80 % attrition rate. Not that there is any justification for it but in the third year, had I gone on to it, there were 30 from 150.

Yes, long hours are a part of it but as an animator with 20 years going at it I fear there is one thing they donít teach at Sheridan or Cal Arts. How to treat yourself like a human being. How to demand your employer treatr you like a human being. The most important thing being your treatment of yourself. Ask yourself if you feel you produce your best work when you are exhausted ? Of course not. Rule one. No coffee. It is a false drug that accelerates your awareness but burns out your nervous system over a long period. Rule 2. No alcohol. It is not a replacement for a real life. Animators are far more likely to dive into booze to numb that damage taken over hell deadlines and personal deprivation. Rule 3. No smoking. It is just like caffine in that it is a stimulant and accelerates burn out. The short term benifits pale beside the destruction over time. I know. I am addicted and so are some of the best animators I know. Rule 4. Sleep. Stop work at least three hours before you intend to go to bed. The intense concentration it takes to animate is drug like itself. You are accelerated when you finish despite the feel of exhaustion. Many of you will note that you have fitfull nights of sleep and actually dream about the work. As you note, the long term effects are major health problems.

And last, your sense of competition. Let it go. You will not be a better animator by competing. You will rush your work, subvert your learning process and lose the love of this work. It is very hard for people to sit back and watch others around them succeed in the eyes of the management while you are killing yourself. What you donít understand is that they mean nothing. Their opinion means nothing. The challenge is between you and yourself. If your motivation becomes proving to your momentary employer that you can turn out huge amounts of great work in brutally short and false time periods you will be expected to do it constantly and you will fail eventually. The truth is no one really cares how long you took to do great work. Even if they are red face screaming at you during production they change their tune when the work hits the screen. No one remembers the guy who scrambled working all night to get that scene in. No one. No matter what they tell you. They will only remember if you delivered a great scene. If someone asks you to produce beyond your human endurance it is because they are fuckups and didnít plan properly, not you. Just because they tell you it has to be done doesnít make it your lifes mission.

You havenít lost your love of animation. You have just misplaced it. You let others goals overtake yours. You have to go back to the start and close off all the outside noise. What was it you were thinking when you fell in love with the art. At times when the high priced money makes me want to become a production machine I step back and try and see myself at that doorway looking into a world I thought was magic. It still is. The only problem is that you have to learn self discipline in setting your limits. No job is worth killing yourself over and employers tend to be more than happy to let you kill yourself. They dont live with you. See you torn apart after depriving yourself of human contact and proper rest. They dont feel your family missing you or the things you could have done together. In other words, they donít pay a damn dime for your suffering. All they pay for is the work, that is all they want. They are not your freinds, they do not love you. This above all you must learn.

All that bullshit about animators being paid too much ? Producers set the price, not animators. It is totally their fault if it is true at all. If an employer blames you for being paid to much the ask him what kind of an idiot he is for hiring you at that price. Let him squirm his way out by saying he had to. Iron Giant is the first step in proving that without interference that distorts the budget you can make a good film . You cannot have a film that works without proper planning and reasonable expectation. This is a wonderful business when the stars are aligned correctly and I can safely say the bit of trouble you experience getting to your moment in time is worth gritting your teeth and not doing something when you know it is set up for failure. Be kind to yourself. Be fair to yourself. Donít lose your direction because you got suckered into a bad deal. Let it go and forgive yourself for chosing to live a normal life. Hang in there and get some sleep. Dave.

: 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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