Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Choosing an Animation School

So, you want to be an animator? Are you ready for the endless hours slaving away as an assistant to an assistant’s assistant? Are you ready to spend every waking hour living, breathing, and drawing animation? If you answered “yes” to those questions, then it’s time to start your career and find an animation school or training program. But with so many schools out there, how do you choose one?
The Fundamentals
First of all, you need a solid foundation in drawing — undoubtedly, the most important element of an animator’s education. All the computer skills in the world can’t mask a bad artist, so make sure that you find a program where you’ll spend the long, necessary hours honing your craft. Ideally, you’ll want a program that offer a combination of drawing opportunities — including life drawing, layout animation, and fundamental drawing studies.
In addition to drawing skills, you’ll need a program that covers the requisite animation skills like storytelling, layout, character design, direction, design, editing, acting and visual communication. Animation skills should include not only a knowledge of fundamentals (weight, movements, timing, reversals, motivational forces and thinking time, etc.), but development in posing, breakdowns, in-betweening, clean-up and special effects (wind, rain, shadows, water, explosions, etc.) as well. A general background in visual communication — including design, composition, texture, color theory — is also key.
And don’t forget science! Creating believable animation requires that you understand the properties and effects of gravity, momentum, inertia, friction, fluid dynamics, and so on. Knowledge of mechanical engineering principles and a thorough understanding of physics and mathematics are absolutely necessary. For example, the more you understand about mechanical linkage, sliding and rotational joints, power transmission, and so forth, the more realistic your machines will be. The same holds true for the anatomy and kinesiology of humans and animals.
The Secret about Software
Everywhere you turn, you hear about how computers are revolutionizing the industry. Computer animation — led by films like “Toy Story”, “Monsters, Inc.” and “Shrek” — have dominated Hollywood’s box office the past few summers. So it makes sense that any prospective animator should concentrate on learning the latest animation software packages, right?
Well… not really. The truth is that, while computers have become an increasingly large part of animation education, they’re no substitute for the fundamentals — learning the nuances of drawing, shading, lighting, and storytelling. While you should know enough about computer graphics to know how they work in general, you should avoid just learning packages of software. Today’s packages will be rendered obsolete as quickly as you learn them, and many studios use proprietary software that you can’t learn in school anyway.
Focusing on Film, Multimedia
If you intend to pursue a job animating for television or film, then you should probably look for a program that matches that interest and provides the background the potential employers are looking for. Check for programs that focus on traditional skills like drawing, painting, and sculpture, as well as “film knowledge” such as cinematography and composition. Find out how the school will help you build an effective portfolio of your work: not just a collection of assignments, but a well-developed presentation of your unique point of view, and your technical skills. You should also check to see how well integrated the school’s theatre and film departments are with their 2D and 3D art departments.
Likewise, if you want to focus on producing multimedia animation, you should find a program that covers the constraints and peculiarities of producing animation for the web, CD-ROM, and various other media.
Other Factors
There are numerous other factors to consider — the quality of faculty and facilities, school reputation, access to hardware and software, and, perhaps most importantly, cost (don’t forget: you need to eat too!). But as long as you keep these various factors in mind and remember to ask questions of school representatives, you’ll undoubtedly find a school from which to launch your animation career. Good luck!

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