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Animation Education is nothing more than learning what makes great animation, whether 2D (traditional) or 3D (computer). Much has been written on this subject, by some very knowledgeable people, such as Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (The Illusion of Life”), Richard Williams (“The Animator’s Survival Kit”), John Canemaker, Glen Keane (“Art and Fear”), Preston Blair, Peter Lord and Nick Park, to name a few. These greats have learned how to be the best, and passed on their knowledge via books and videos, in addition to their actual contributions in animated cinema. While Walt Disney did not invent animation, he was the first to create sync sound animation, and his team of “nine old men,” literally wrote the rule books that animators follow to this day. The Disney Library has a great series on traditional animation layout, choreography and so on. If you’re into 3D animation, as you’re likely to be if you’re reading this article, you may be asking how 2D animation rules and concepts can possibly apply to you. Fair enough. Let’s find out.
Animation is animation. At the end of the day, if you’re animating anything, whether puppets, drawings or 3D characters, you are subject to the tastes and trends of society, a society which has become attuned to animated content over the last 100 years. Animation, as a concept, existed prior to the creation of the motion picture camera, but we’ll leave the historical aspects of animation to your own research. That period has encompassed some truly wonderful animation experiences, but alas, it has also produced plenty of turkeys—typically more turkeys than golden eggs, sad to say. However, throughout the various eras of animation, we have always seen some form of innovation that has perked us on to move forward, and oh, how we have moved forward!
It has never been easier to create animation in any form than it is today. You have animation apps for your i-tablet, your laptop and your desktop that are affordable and powerful. You can recreate the traditional look of 2D cel animation all the way to cutting edge 3D stereo animation, often within a single application. Digital technologies allow us to easily capture image maps and 3D data (landscapes, objects, and people, via 3D scanning). We can freely showcase the results of our work on websites like YouTube and Vimeo, to name a couple of many. You can see “Annoying Oranges” to “Angry Birds,” online phenomena, to the works of Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Sony and so on. The animation rennaisance started by Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney (now at Dreamworks), may have had a few hiccups along the way until now, but shows no sign of slowing down. When you factor the proliferation of high-speed internet connections across the world, it has never been easier to showcase and collaborate. However, those same conditions mean that competition is fierce. Animation is being outsourced for very cheap rates (and often cheap results), which can make earning a living a challenge in first world countries. And yet, here we are, gluttons for punishment.
In order to compete, you need to know your stuff. If you do not have a good foundation in animated filmmaking (same for TV and and web), it won’t really matter if you know how to make your application jump through hoops. If you’re good, you can get work, though admittedly you’re going to have to be more creative to do so. And that is where your animation education comes in. So, how to educate yourselves?
First, get invested in the authors cited in the opening paragraphs of this article. You can learn a tremendous amount from these volumes. In fact, most of the senior animators at work today are often self-taught. It takes perseverance and dedication, but it is definitely doable.
Second, practice, practice, practice! You need to learn directly through experience. You can have an incredibly understanding of animation and your application of choice, but when the time comes to actually produce, you may find yourselves bewildered. The reality of actually doing something can introduce hiccups that you cannot anticipate; once you have gotten a few works under your belt, things will quickly improve for you.
Third, learn how to work quickly. It’s one thing to achieve a sense of completion and satisfaction with your work, and if it’s a hobby, then you’re likely at a good place. However, if you want to make a living at this, you need to get great results in the shortest period of time. You need to develop an eye for the work, and make your application dance like J-Lo (insert your favorite dance celebrity here).
Fourth, be professional! This is one of the hardest achievements of all. For some reason, animators are suckers—they attract the filth of the production world, who like to cheat you at almost every turn. If you act unprofessionally, you open yourself up to abuse, or worse. However, if you have a professional attitude and method, you can manage to deal with the worst of the worst, while occasionally encountering a true gem of a client. Being professional means being courteous all of the time, regardless of the situation. Be patient—even when you want to blow your top. Don’t panic, even when you think you beyond your capability—keeping your cool can get you out of a lot of jams.
Fifth, know when to walk away. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it. Your “little voice” will often be a clue. Listen to it, it’s there for a reason.
Ok, now that we have all of that out of the way, you may be asking yourselves, “what about these animation schools?” Well, that depends on the school. Most of these schools will cost some serious cash to attend, whether virtual online or at an actual location. It’s possible for those schools to get you quality information quickly, and there are many graduates of quality schools at work in production today. Unfortunately, like anything else, there are also horror stories. Best to do your own research, but keep in mind, the work pool is growing, but the projects are not. And you know what that means… Caveat Emptor, folks.
Don’t choose animation if you don’t enjoy it. That will show in your work. Animation is a passion, not a job. That said, be professional, so that you can prevent yourselves from being taken advantage of, and deliver what you promise, on time, and on budget. Anything less is unacceptable.