Don’t Go To Animation School

Those of you who know me know that I don’t recommend film school. It had its uses back when cameras were rare and film was expensive and sound was young, but these days the best artists and technicians are largely self-taught. Most film schools, like most colleges and universities, are filled with obsolete equipment and professors who lack the skills to work in the real world.

A video has been making the rounds on the internet featuring the work of Colin Sanders, a new addition to the ranks of computer animators. I call Colin an animator because of the potential that he has, not because of his training. His demo reel features incredibly primitive animation and a “Thanks for nothing” message to his professor.

In a recent interview conducted by, Colin explained the background of this video, his final assignment for course INFR 3310U at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology:

The course is called Animation Arts. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to assume that this course would then be about the art of animating; I was wrong. The professor spent most of our time talking about modelling and it wasn’t until the last four weeks that he even mentioned animation. Did he even know what course he was supposed to be teaching? Animation Arts is a mandatory third year course at my school for all those in my program, Game Development and Entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately for the 55 of us in the class, our professor did not have an understanding (or at least he didn’t demonstrate an understanding) greater than an above average student.

Admittedly, this is only one class for one semester, but in that amount of time there’s a lot you can learn about animation. It’s amazing to me that the teacher didn’t know more, or wasn’t able to impart more, and I have no doubt that his lessons held students back from learning things they could have picked up faster on their own.

And even though this video (which recieved an A) is short and crude, I still think Colin has potential. Even though the bear is badly modeled, the character itself has good proportions and great appeal. Even though the skeletal rig is basic, the limited animation is snappy and fun. The character moves to the music and hits some strong poses, and there’s no aimless linear drift, which is common on most student projects.

For those of you who think I’m picking on the University of Ontario specifically, understand that I’ve sat though a lot of animation school projects and student demo reels, and the faults of this video, while especially pronounced in some areas, are by no means rare. I’ve worked with a lot of animators from all over the world, and the best were, to a man, the autodidacts with no credentials.

Of course, this isn’t to say that all instruction is bad, just that formal institutional instructors will always be inferior to real animators who have better things to do than seek tenure. There are lots of reasons to attend animation seminars, enroll in independent training programs, or purchase professional DVD tutorials.

I believe this is true for many, many reasons, and for many, many fields, not just professional effects and animation. However, for those that want to break into 3D graphics, remember that workstations are cheap, Maya PLE is free, and instruction can be found all over the web. Don’t limit yourself to obsolete gear or obsolete teachers, and don’t waste time studying what you shouldn’t.

  1. Truely said, most of the artists we hire are not from the schools but from they have learnt from their own efforts. If one stays at home for 1-2 years totally dedicating himself to tutorials available today, he is more focused and value material for the studios as his vision is enlarged than a copybook student from a commercial school.
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    Entries can be sent.

    - Priya

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