The Business

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Posted by Charles on May 21, 1999 at 23:35:11:

I'd like to contribute in the spirit of what Dave Brewster, Brian Mitchell, Sam Fleming and others have posted. After bringing up the subject of the problems in a couple of the major animation schools in North America, I found the advice that these artists were giving to be very sound. Here's a bit of my own.

Animation is big business. Animation fuels children's entertainment. It plays a huge role in licensing and merchandising. It's the bedrock of at least one enormous entertainment and real estate conglomerate and it affects the lives of millions of people worldwide. The business of animation has had tremendous growth. As with any industrial boom, it attracts newcomers.

The business of animation begins with the schools. The boom in production has also meant a boom in the business of animation education in recent years. If you're going to an animation school or an art school to study traditional character animation and you're unhappy with the services that are being provided for your education, especially if you are paying the same tuition that a law or medical student would pay, you are paying way too much. Having access to sound recording facilities, editing facilities and obsolete camera equipment is not what your education should be primarily about. First and foremost, it's about learning to draw and learning to think. It's about developing strong artistic skills. If you're not getting a foundation in fundamentals right off the bat, then you will struggle with your medium until you do.

In Los Angeles, there's an art education system that has existed for many years that is independent of the major schools. It's something of a network of smaller schools and workshops that are tied together by word of mouth and by the students who are making the rounds. The system includes several figure drawing and painting workshops, schools that specialize in fine art, some computer animation schools, some traditional animation schools, etc. This system can be a highly effective one when it comes to training artists. They focus on developing fundamental, academic skills. The instructors tend to be independent educators or working professionals whom the large schools would love to have on staff, but their administrative problems, ineptitude, indifference to their students' concerns and their good ol' fashioned lust for fat bank accounts keep them from getting these instructors on board. These independent instructors are many times, far and away better suited to train animation artists than just about anyone these large institutions have on staff, and the fees they charge are very reasonable.

Many prominent animation artists working in the industry today went this route. Some of them had a remarkable path that didn't involve any formal art or animation training whatsoever. One of the art directors of "The Prince of Egypt" had no formal training other than the local L.A. art schools I've mentioned. One of the major production designers of "Tarzan" graduated from Harvard as a political science major. He drew cartoons on the side for the school paper. He got his start by getting a job as a storyboard cleanup artist for a non-Disney tv series and took off from there. The producer and designer of Warner's "Batman" and "Superman" series has no formal training at all. All three of these individuals I've mentioned are awesome talents and there are many more working in animation. The thing they all have in common is a thorough understanding of artistic fundamentals and the discipline to work towards incorporating those fundamentals into their art.

Going to a big, expensive, supposedly elite school isn't the only way. I know someone who learned to animate by simply reading "The Illusion of Life" and Preston Blair's "Animation". He was kicking the tar out of most of his formally educated contemporaries.

Many of you are going to school to get a degree in this field. The fact of the matter is, a degree in the business of animation doesn't mean much unless you're aspiring to work on a corporate managerial level. Even then, a degree doesn't do anything for these people other than providing them with a false sense of professionalism.

Animation is unique in this respect. In this business, your degree is your portfolio and/or your reel. That's the thing that ultimately matters if you want to get in. Your skills, your talent and your presentation. Not a piece of paper paid for with $60,000 in student loans. And you get that outstanding reel or portfolio by focusing on the art and on the fundamentals of the art.

If there's a problem in your town or your part of the country with art or animation education, one of the remedies may be for a few of your more devoted and motivated instructors to look for ways to set up shop and start teaching on the side. That's how the alternative L.A. system got going many years ago. Start out small and slowly build it out. Before you know it, you'll be competing with the big boys and your students will be getting jobs sooner.

I know several people who have started their own schools over the years. In my opinion, it's a very viable alternative. In the meantime, don't be afraid to storm the president's office if you're not getting your money's worth and don't let up until these people get the message that they will not have peace until they provide.

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