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The best animation schools will set you up to WIN...
...though you'll most likely go to the wrong school and be setup to FAIL.
Most aspiring animators never get to hear the cold hard unspoken truth:
These are the truths that the"Top 50 best animation school" articles conveniently leave out.
These are the truths that traditional colleges don't want you to know.
They're only looking to earn a profit while students like you - earn debt.
I know because I went to the wrong school, and it almost ended my career - before it even began.
I still remember the exact moment I knew I was setup to FAIL.
It was 2007...
The slow dripping cold sweat was shivering down my spine.
And the shameful truth was a boulder my throat couldn’t swallow.
I knew I made a HUGE mistake...
“I’ve…. gone to the wrong school…”
Huddled around a laptop with classmates watching the newly released 2007 Animation Mentor Showcase - anxious envy was my only response.
“Man...I should have gone there...”
“How did I miss this and waste so much?!”
Already a year into our $70,000 degrees, with ONLY 1 animation class under our belt - we were completely outgunned.
Yet, despite this gut-wrenching truth, my classmates seemed to laugh it off carefree.
They drooled at the masterful animations on display, cackled at the creative characters, and made self-deprecating jokes about how powerless we’d be to try and outshine this competition.
“How could this not freak them out?!”
“Was I the only one seeing the irreversible damage?!”
Or maybe they were just trying to conceal their fear - like me.
That's why I decided to play along with fake smiles and chuckles...
“Haha, yea...we’re tuition martyrs...great...”
But past the facade, I knew I was screwed.
The class structure, the quality of work by each student, and the alumni track record just didn’t hold a candle.
In these few fleeting minutes, I was like a silent witness to the murder of my own dream.
Paralyzed - unable to stop it.
Perhaps out of denial, shame, or blind faith that I would become the single miracle prodigy student - I just put my head down and finished my degree.
I went nowhere.
At least at first.
A massive slew of mistakes were made before I put the pieces together, or better yet, had the courage to face the truth.
After sacrificing a lot of time, money, and especially confidence, I eventually reached my dream job four years later.
Looking back I would have killed for someone to spell it all out for me.
Pay for this, not that.
Learn this way, not that way.
It would have saved years of suffering.
What I’m about to share with you may leave me ostracized.
Colleges, Teachers, or Former Alumni may demand I be burned at the stake...for telling the cold hard truth.
But I believe you have a right to know the dangers of choosing the wrong school and that you deserve a clear path to reaching your dream job.
I’m going to spell it out clearly - in plain English.
Ok. Here we go...
"Whaaat?!, Blasphemy! Grab your pitchforks! Slay the heretic!”
You may be opposed to this mindset.
You may completely agree.
Or you may be on the fence.
Either way - stay tuned.
I’m going to show you exactly why and how.
This guide is the end all be all when it comes to the Best Animation Schools and below you’ll discover exact steps to:
But this guide won’t stop there.
It will also help you to learn:
Are you excited yet?!
Great! Let's dig in.
This guide is 7, 500+ words long so if you're short on time use these links below to jump to what interests you the most:
But what if you don't have time to read it now but want to save it for later?
I got you covered there too.
Download it so you can take it with you for the car, bus, train, coffee shop or even the gym:
There’s no faster way to cripple, maim, or murder your dream career before it’s even begun – than choosing the wrong school.
Traditional Animation Colleges are outdated, expensive, and ineffective.
Anyone attending one right now, that’s not planning on learning anywhere else, shouldn’t have a lot of faith in getting paid to animate – ever.
Sure, traditional college can work but it’s going to be far more challenging to succeed.
It’s like competing against Michael Phelps in the 200m Olympic freestyle, but you owe the mafia $100k. And right before you go to the diving board they take a baseball bat to your legs and shackled a 20lb cannonball to your right foot.
Yea, you could win…but there’s like a .000005% chance. You’re far more likely to just drown.
Drowning in this case, could mean any 1 or all of these:
Yep, that's what you’re risking.
Well, what is your goal? Is it to get a job?
Traditional animation colleges sure used to be the golden ticket.
20 years ago the technology was so new you could break into Pixar by just being able to move around a 3D program.
Most colleges didn’t even have 3D classes. So, if you could find one or learn the tools on your own, it gave you a leg up on all the other applicants.
That's how Victor Navone ( a Pixar Supervising Animator) got into Pixar – he didn’t walk in a superstar animator. He showcased a 3d animation called Alien Song in a forum and started on Monsters Inc. Then his art skills really skyrocketed on the job.
Granted, Alien Song’s animation was pretty high quality for 3d back then, but the movement mechanics wouldn’t hold up now.
For example, here's a recent highlight reel of his:
Can you see the different between the two?
If you can’t see the difference yet, you need to go to one of the best animation schools.
BUT What about before 3D?
Even going back to the 70's – 80's there were only a handful of colleges that taught 2D animation. The art was that young.
Andreas Deja (Supervising Animator - Scar, Jafar, Gaston, Roger Rabbit) for example, was able to start animating at Disney under the late great Nine Old Men by just being able to draw well. He didn’t have in-depth animations classes for years on end.
In fact, he studied Graphic Design in Germany.
Andreas was actually able to write in and get 1 on 1 advice from the Disney animation master Eric Larson. Eric said he should build up his drawing ability, and so he did, until Eric told him “I think you’ve got what it takes”
Today that’s all changed.
You can’t just know the software.
You can’t just draw great
Today, technology has made Animation more in demand than ever.
Look at all the kinds of Games, VR, Commercials, and Movies that have all kinds of animation.
This is great, as it means more jobs for all of us.
But it’s also has made it far more challenging.
More people have become aware, fallen in love with the art, and are after a paycheck to make it every day – just like you.
So the amount of competition has increased.
And plenty of colleges have popped up to meet this desire to learn. There are more than enough schools out there now that will easily teach you the software, and give you more in-depth animation classes than Victor Navone or Andrea’s Deja ever had.
Needless to say, the bar to reach Pixar and Disney is much higher because of all this.
Clearly, the times have changed.
This is exactly where Traditional Animations Colleges have stayed old school.
They aren’t changing with the times.
Sure, their offering software and animation classes now, but so does everybody else.
They assume this will get their graduates hired because it used to.
They assume their graduates have strong enough animation skills instead of finding out and drastically changing their curriculum.
And their graduates assume this too because “everyone goes to college” and then finds work (more on this soon)
What results is cookie cutter copy alumni that wonder why they can't find work, what they did wrong, and start believing the starving artists myths their parents told them as they were pushed to be doctors or lawyers instead.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on the traditional colleges, they mean well, they're just using an old system that is all but extinct.
They need to adapt or they’ll disappear.
And anyone caught in the wake risks fading into no man's land as well.
If this happens to you, you’ll have nobody else to blame but yourself if you don't do your research on what school will give you the highest chance at becoming an animator.
Otherwise, you’re opening yourself up to a world of hurt. Like Russian Roulette with only 1 missing round in a .44 magnum.
Do you feel lucky?!
Soon you’ll see the numbers on the cost involved - money, tuition, stress - but first I think it’s important to shed light on another crippling assumption.
The best animation schools know degrees don't matter.
And the best animation companies know it too.
But we're all taught to think otherwise from day 1.
Kindergarten is where the error starts.
“You have to make it to 1st grade!”
“Ok good, now prepare for 2nd grade!”
On and on the wheel goes to middle school….to high school...to college.
As time passes by you keep thinking “Yes! The dream life is coming!”
“Oh, the big prize is almost here!"
“Finally….College! Just graduate and it’s all mine!”
What a bold assumption.
I sure didn’t.
I nosed dived in $100,000+ debt because “hey, everyone else goes to college.”
And everyone even said, "if you want to be good, you got to go to the best animation schools"
Actually, I was even arrogant, thinking I had a leg up because my university was expensive and demanded extreme hours.
Like the education system taught me from day 1, just get my degree and the dream jobs will simply fall into my lap.
Oh...if only I could only reach back in time and slap myself with a roll of quarters…
In the 50’s, not as many people went to college, we’re talking as little as 5% of the U.S. population. A 100,000 people vs millions today.
So naturally getting a degree pretty much guaranteed a job.
Like knowing the software, or basic animation skills - it doesn’t differentiate you.
Not only that but these traditional degree’s cost far more than they ever used to.
In fact, look at Life Hackers articles on Art Degrees for more detail.
Studios don’t care about how many degrees you have, or what your grades are.
As we touched on earlier, Studios hire you to animate with speed and quality.
Checking your spelling or punctuation on your resume is the last thing you should worry about.
When I interviewed to work in Montreal on X-men – the Animation Supervisor was only concerned with my demo reel, questions on my animation workflow, and how I used video reference.
He was able to judge my experience for the job off my demo reel and that's all that mattered.
There is one caveat though.
Degrees have 1 benefit I’ve experienced first hand.
They help you get work visas if you’re planning to work in foreign countries.
Governments, like the education system, haven’t caught up with the times either so they use this as weeding out system to figure out who’s qualified.
In my case, even as an American, my first animation gig was in Singapore. The degree made it much less costly for my employer to pay for a work visa from the government for me.
Someone who is part of the traditional education system is probably saying “AH HAH! I have you now!”
This isn’t always a deal-breaker.
Remember, my friend Joseph Holmark in our 1st Podcast? He too went to Singapore when I did and he didn’t have a degree. The studio wanted him there so much they paid the extra costs to make it happen on a special visa.
This is especially more common for bigger studios that have the budget to hire the best no matter where they are.
Since Singapore, Joseph has also worked at Blue Sky in the US and Sony in Vancouver, Canada. All without a degree.
And having an animation degree is only really helpful your first few years as an animator. After you’ve had a few years of experience you usually qualify with foreign governments as if you had a degree.
Typically they have a clause that says something like “Must have a Bachelors of Arts or equivalent or 4 years experience.”
And then there’s a last resort.
If degrees are really the only option for you, you can also choose to go to as cheap of a school as possible (community colleges might work), only to get the baseline degree you need.
Obviously, this isn’t ideal but it certainly beats paying $100k+ at an expensive college.
What kind of animation degree should you aim for you say?
It all depends on the country you're planning to go to. This isn’t always easy to guess up front but it will give you some requirements to aim at before you go chasing degrees.
The U.K., and Canada are huge animation hubs right now and a bachelor’s degree of any kind will open most doors. But sometimes any kind of post-secondary (after high school) diploma or certificate does the trick.
For example, Animation Mentor might have you covered in these cases as they provide a certificate in Character Animation upon completing their full program.
As 3D was once rare and then became a massive industry, VR (virtual reality) and Virtual Studios will do the same.
Imagine getting out of bed in the morning, putting on some glasses, and BAM you're in Animation dalies with all your coworkers, leads and supervisors. They are all there in front of you virtually like a 3D version of a skype call.
Aside from how awesome it would be to stay in pajamas until noon, how amazing would it be to always work from home no matter what studio you worked for?
It would be win-win for everyone.
As appealing as this is to everyone involved, I have a hard time not seeing this be the future approach.
Artella has already started down this path, providing a platform for artist’s to run their own virtual studios and they’ve already had great success.
Artists using Artella have made or are in the middle of making, rigs, short films, video game projects, and more.
This may very easily be a way for you to get your first job, add high-quality pieces to your demo reel, or create your own studio - if not now - soon.
If you want to hear more about it, I recently podcasted with Bobby Beck about Artella here: LINK
But back to the topic at hand.
Now that it's obvious animation degrees aren’t all that amazing for you, let's look at the numbers and discover just how much heartache you're saving yourself by not getting one.
Could the Best Animation schools also cost the least?
Nah, there’s no way there can be a win-win right?
Maybe it’s also our education that makes us believe there can’t ever be a Win-Win.
Maybe we’ve been taught to believe if you’re learning from the best it also has to be extremely expensive, take several years, and carry a prestigious name that’s been around for centuries.
Something brag-worthy like “I studied law at…HARVARD”
But when you put the Old School system up against new revolutionary Online Animation Schools, you see there’s not much of a contest.
Typical universities just can’t keep up.
They are playing checkers instead of chess.
We’re going to take a look at 6 categories and see just how they stack up:
Animation degree tuition at the best traditional university’s can cost upwards of $100K+ USD.
The Best Online Animation Schools full programs max around $15k US and you don’t even have to take it all to once.
Since it’s online you can attend from the comfort of your own home, and in most cases take one class at a time if you so choose.
To make it more obvious - take a look at the difference here:
Aside from thinking of the tuition alone, there’s also the cost of living to consider.
Most people forget to figure this in.
Typical universities need to you relocate where it is, move into an apartment or on campus and usually do so for 4 years.
Obviously, the cost of living can vary quite a bit but lets say rent is $1,200 / month:
$1,200/month X 12 months X 4 years = $57,600
And we should also try a rough estimate for Food + Gas + Electric + Internet + Clothes + Dental per month.
Let’s be generous and say it’s only $500 per month for all of that.
$500 X 12 months X 4 years = $24,000
So your actual cost of attendance looks more like this…
Yea, you gotta add that to the pile for you or your parents to pay off.
If you’re going to an online school though you don’t have to move, you can stay with family to save more, and it will finish far faster than 4 years time.
At max, a complete online animation program takes 21 months or less.
You might be thinking:
“OH please NO don’t make me live with my parents for college! I’m supposed to find myself, party, and enjoy life!”
If that’s the case, and maybe even your parents desperately crave the independence from you, I suggest you just get an apartment or a place nearby them. You’ll find yourself just fine when you live on your own no matter where it is. And you’ll have more time for all that independence has to offer after you’ve become a working professional.
Besides wouldn’t you rather be working at Pixar in a year anyway?
A lot of people can’t aord the massive cost of paying traditional college tuition upfront. They have to take on loans. The problem is interest means you’re paying more than the base price – or the price of paying upfront.
So the cost of tuition can balloon into something that becomes almost impossible to pay off why you’re still trying to buy milk too.
$100,000 = $138,000 in 10 years with average loan interest. That’s 120 monthly payments of $1,150/month. (For one example of estimates check FinAid)
Imagine how stressful this can be if you don’t find work after graduation.
Do you want to be paying loans as a Walmart greeter or Starbucks barista until you’re 40? How about while you’re getting married, getting a house, and raising a family?
Yea, good talk.
In most cases, taking a loan for a lot less money even with more interest, like you would with a online school, will be far more doable – nancially and emotionally.
Let’s say you want to learn to play the guitar in 4 years and get paid millions in a rock band…
Would it be faster to first spend a month on piano, then a month on drums, and then a month on guitar – repeating that schedule for 4 years?
Or would you learn faster only playing the guitar every day for 4 years?
The choice is obvious.
Going the other route is a recipe for self-inicted mental abuse about how untalented and pathetic you are.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what traditional universities do.
Quickly skim the curriculum and all will be revealed.
You’ll be bouncing all around throughout your degree, doing modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering, rigging – maybe even throw in some math and science classes to really have you racing faster than you can handle.
Some may defiantly argue - “but this makes you a more well-rounded artist!”
Go back to the rock guitarist analogy above.
One route makes you familiar but mediocre.
The other makes you talented.
The best online animation courses realized this.
They focus solely on learning animation to become an animator.
Online courses even let you get more specific in some cases like - Game Animation or Creature Animation.
And naturally, if you’re interested in learning some rigging, lighting, or other disciplines there are workshops out there that let your focus on them as well.
I don't want to seem like I’m condemning generalists, though.
Generalists are great. In studios, they are the heroes in a crisis that create impromptu rigs in a flash or write quick scripts to help the modeling department out.
But to get to this multiple hat juggling level - they had to develop 1 skill at a time. This is not exclusive to just 3D artists but every person out there.
Humans just can't learn 3 skills at once.
If you're set on being an animator, learn animation first. Then 2 years later, if you so choose - dive into something else like rigging or FX. You'll still end up learning faster and more effectively than if you took on a 4-year degree.
Given the option, would you rather learn acting from Al Pacino or a random college drama teacher?
Online Animation Schools have instructors that are current animation professionals at your favorite studios
Yes, places like Pixar, DreamWorks, Disney, ILM, Blizzard.
Universities and Colleges may have former professionals but that's typically as good as it gets.
This makes sense, as a full-time animator at DreamWorks would have to be superhuman to finish at 6pm and then go teach at a college for another 5 hours.
Unfortunately, these teachers sometimes haven’t even been professionals before. Sometimes they graduated that university and are just trying to pay off loans while still getting paid for the art they love to make.
This doesn’t help current students that much as they don’t know how to reach the high artistic levels that are demanded these days.
Working professionals are typically at the top of their game because they are honing their craft around the best every single day.
They also know all the latest technological changes that come with tools like Mocap or whatever the new tech may be.
And technology changes so fast it's tough to keep up.
Remember how much the iPhone has changed in the last few years? iPhone vs. iPhone 7?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Your Network is more important than your demo reel.
Friends - are the reason I’ve been hired for half of my studio gig’s and most of them have originated from online schools.
15-minute conversations here and there, that opened doors I never could have anticipated years later.
These friends help you bypass red tape like HR gatekeepers, cover letters, and even experience concerns by vouching for you.
You end up fast forwarding right to the point where supervisors ask “when can you start?”
So if you're going to a school, ask yourself - will this school surround me with the right kind of students. Students that will be working as animators after graduation?
Let me put this another way.
Would you rather be surrounded by students learning all kinds of different subjects? Like rigging, compositing, rendering, lighting, etc.
Or would you rather be surrounded by students studying exactly what you're studying, going through exactly what you're up against?
Which is easier to relate to, have discussions on, share solutions?
Yea, its kinda hard to talk about jungle book smear frames or spine overlap with a fx guy who makes fire and smoke.
More importantly, which group of students would be most likely to get hired after graduation and open doors for you too in the process?
Making friends with your teachers who are professionals at Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, ILM, Blizzard, may also be slightly helpful too right?
A lot of learning and real education is being done Online now because of this, it's not just animation. All kinds of people are picking up new skills or getting dream jobs without the need for official degrees or insane costs.
So where should you learn?
Learn from my mistakes.
If I had to do it all over again here are the schools and classes I would attend to become a professional in record time:
These are all end to end online animation schools. All the options in this section have programs that take you from the fundamentals to feature quality dialogues and beyond. Some let you pick and choose the classes you want, while others may let you skip ahead in the curriculum if you have experience.
They all also have:
Click on the tabs below discover the best full online animation schools:
This is the school that changed it all.
Created in 2005 by Pixar and ILM Animators Bobby Beck, Shawn Kelly, and Carlos Baena - Animation Mentor was the 1st to revolutionize animation education by bringing it online.
They delivered an unprecedented learning environment by letting students learn from current working professionals at the biggest studios for 1/8th the cost of college in 1/2 the time.
The results speak for themselves. It’s hard to find a studio without an animator that’s never attended AM. They raised the bar for the talent expected among graduates. And because of AM’s existence, all kinds of new schools have sprung up to provide aspiring animators with - new options.
What makes AM Unique:
Still, one of the best animation schools to attend today, especially for feature level acting. This is where I attended and would gladly do so again - it changed not only my career but my life.
Character Animation Program Details: LINK
Tuition and Start Dates: LINK
In 2010, Jason Ryan a 15-year veteran animator of Disney and Dreamworks founded iAnimate
As the 2nd school of its kind, it presented aspiring animators with another outstanding option to choose from with live critiques, versatile rigs, and diverse courses.
What makes iAnimate Unique:
If iAnimate were a soda it would be either Coke or Pepsi. One of the top contenders offering a high quality animation education with a name that’s synonymous with success.
Program options and Start Dates: LINK
Also, founded in 2010 - David Gallagher created Animschool as a former animator, rigger, and character development supervisor at Blue Sky Studios.
What makes Animschool Unique:
A solid option that will raise your skills far higher than typical colleges. It definitely ranks as one of the best animation schools today. And as a nice bonus, it also has one of the best rigging programs around.
Program Details: LINK
Officially CG Tarian was founded in 2010 by Vadim Besedin, though only to russian speaking communities. In 2012 they branched out to English with Jalil Sadool’s help. As a Weta / Dreamworks lead animator, Jalil was also able to invite his friends as instructors with distinct strengths.
What makes CGTarian Unique:
CGTarian definitely is offering uniquely tailored classes with instructors that have distinct talents. As they are relatively new, they seem underestimated or unknown and they shouldn’t be.
Program Details: LINK
Founded in 2013 by Marlon Nowe, Animsquad popped up delivering Disney level animation instruction only from current Disney animators. Naturally, they excel at teaching high polish feature animations that are believable and memorable.
What makes Animsquad Unique:
If you’ve been dreaming about nothing but Disney as your life calling - what better way than to connect and learn from the source. Without a doubt one of the best animation schools around.
Program Details: LINK
Most of the Best Animation Schools are online. However, there are a couple of exceptions that are more than worth considering if you willing to relocate or you're lucky enough to live nearby.
When it comes to learning animation face to face, a few options stand above the rest. Animation Collaborative delivers unparalleled teaching from Pixar artists directly across the street from Pixar itself.
Yea, every day as you enter class, you’ll be teased by Pixar’s front gate. Talk about daily reminders about what you're after eh?
But I should point out that you don't only learn from Pixar animators. There's also opportunity to learn from artists in many other studios like Sony, ILM, or Tippet on various skills like character design or storyboarding.
And they also have a once in a lifetime masterclass that has popped up in various cities all over north America. The vastly popular Michael Makarewicz Masterclass.
If Pixar ignited your animation spirit, or you have the ability to move to, or you live around San Francisco - attend. You’ll be taught by some of the best - in person - across the street from Pixar itself. There is career altering wisdom here you won't find anywhere else.
When it comes to physical schools - this is one of the best animation schools.
Program Details: LINK
Full on schools aren’t the only ways to learn from scratch or raise your animation game to the next level. There are some fantastic options at your fingertips.
Some are online classes, others are individually attentive critiquing sessions - but they all let you zero in on the skill you're after with minimal hassle. And most are available 24/7 - convenient to when you want to learn.
Aaron Blaise was an animator and a supervising animator at Walt Disney for 21 years on fantastic films like ‘The Lion King’ or ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
From texturing animal drawings in Photoshop to the fundamentals of animation - the tutorials and lessons on Aaron’s site peel back decades of artistic practice - giving you the inside scoop on mastery.
If you’ve always wanted to be a 2D animator, switch mediums, or expand your skill set - why wouldn’t you learn from a 21 year Disney veteran?
Program Details: LINK
Samantha Youssef founded Studio Technique to train professional and amateur artists in traditional drawing skill.
She offers a full set of 2D animation classes and figure drawing aimed to benefit animators directly.
To make this specialized training possible, she pulls from her extensive background as a character animator (Disney/Ubisoft), short film creator, award winner, and master class instructor
Obviously, this is the site your on right now.
Rusty Animator has a few high-end courses that are available only a few times a year:
Both of these courses have not only helped several students and professionals get hired. But its also helped them level up their skills massively in as little as 8 weeks.
As you can see in the Courses section though - soon we'll also be releasing NEW courses on Animation Fundamentals, how to use Maya, and much more.
Reserve your spot for a course and check out more details here: LINK
ILM Senior Lead Animator Jean-Denis Haas graciously opened his door to apprentices with Spungella workshops. No matter your level of animation skill you can jump in and get professional critiques for 16 weeks.
Meaning, naturally, when he’s not animating Star Wars space battles or Captain America showdowns, Jean-Denis has got your back.
If you're focused on VFX, updating your demo reel, or just need extra incentive to sidestep procrastination on your animation - jump in.
Program Details: LINK
If you need to brush up on your art skills, get a handle on a new craft, or test the waters - this is a stress free path worth walking.
Program Details: LINK
What does it mean to get hired before graduation?
In my case, it meant 2 sunrises from the air with a 30-hour flight to Singapore.
Never having traveled beyond North America before –it's lacking to say that - this was an adventure.
At this point, I had finished all my classes at Animation Mentor, but graduation hadn’t happened yet.
I got to become an animator while most of my classmates from AM were still waiting patiently and probably anxiously - chewing fingernails off waiting for interview emails.
This turned my graduation day into a huge victory celebration with close friends instead of a
“Ummm I hope this was worth it - where’s my first job!?”
If you want a victory celebration instead of uncertainty when you graduate - or even a job after the dust settles - you can make it happen by going beyond just picking a great school.
At this point, it’s clear to you that the best animation schools are Online courses and workshops.
What you don’t want to hear is that a lot of this is still ON YOU.
Yes, you’ve still got to hustle to make the most of your learning.
Well, there are still a lot of other students who have already caught onto the revolution in animation education.
Just as you differentiate yourself by picking the right place to learn, with the right teaching, you’ve got to keep differentiating yourself among all the students by learning the right way.
Rarely is this ever about working harder than everyone else.
Often it’s about working smarter.
And there are several ways to pull this off. The first of which will probably seem counter-intuitive.
It's by banding together with the other students around you.
The most successful people in anything will admit they didn’t achieve greatness alone - that they had support because..
You’re far more likely to succeed at anything when others have your back.
Like saving the world with the Avengers, or surviving the apocalypse in Zombieland:
Teaming up with a group of dedicated classmate’s helps you overcome adversities you never could flying solo.
Back when I attended Animation Mentor, I teamed up with a handful of aspiring animators hell bent on making our careers a reality.
We jokingly referred to ourselves as the Wolfpack since Hangover just came out.
Everyday, we met online through Ventrilo (a voice chat program). And often Skype’d or used Google hangout throughout the week for in-depth critiques.
And when I say ‘everyday’ - I mean literally everyday.
Yea, I know it's not super sexy, but if you want extraordinary results you can’t be ordinary.
This routine kept us all honest, supremely focused, see what our own eyes were missing, and learn to work together.
Much like you do at a studio.
And guess what? We all got hired when school was over.
It’s easy for you to do the same with any online class.
Write a post in the community for your school, whether that's FB groups, forums, or a website asking people in your class to join you on zoom/skype/hangout/vent.
Aim for a group of at least 5 consistently hungry aspiring animators.
It’s essential that you meet at least once a week and you hold each other accountable to show up at least once a week – on time. Or get kicked out.
You can get as specific as you want with schedule critique days, animating times, discussions after lectures and so on.
Whatever you decide on – make sure it helps you all grow and stick to it.
“Hey guys, how bad do you want to get hired after graduation?
I’m looking to team up with 5 classmates at least once a week for critiques / talking shop on skype/hangout - to make our animations way better.
If your game just fb msg me back and we can talk it over.”
It’s also best to surround yourself with people who are better than you. Find the prodigy’s and get them on your side. You’ll rise through the ranks together achieving what no one else does.
In the business world, this is not a new concept. It came about 75 years ago. These groups or wolf packs are typically called masterminds and they have been used by some of the greatest minds of our time - whether they knew it or not.
Thomas Edison often retreated from society with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone to keep their minds on track and spark the genius they needed to invent light bulbs and cars.
Disney’s Nine Old Men were much the same - whether they knew it or not. They took the art of animation from humble beginnings to masterful illusions of life. They did this together. Not separate.
Even though they all became fantastic artists in their own right, the sum was far greater than the parts.
Will you be naive enough to believe you can lone wolf into artistic greatness?
Or will you form a strong pack that leans each other to higher standards and friends for life?
Giving helpful feedback without asking is the secret weapon of the successful animator.
Aside from completing your animations every week during a class, you should help your classmates.
It’s an incredibly easy, natural way for others to like you, befriend you, and then have them help you in return.
This means you’ll get critiques; answers to questions, and attention whenever you post your work.
Best of all it may even pay off down the road with job options because a friend paved the way.
But remember you can’t go into this expecting favors.
Adopt the mindset that you're there to help and the rest will follow naturally.
This is networking at its finest.
Back at Animation Mentor, I gave at least 10 critiques a week, to students outside of the Wolfpack.
As a result, to this day, I still have friends all over the world, and some have been there to help immensely.
When you dive into an animation class or school then, setting aside time for at least 5 critiques a week to classmates. Block off a time for it like you plan to do when you animate.
But what if a classmate never returns the favor for all the time you put in?
You still benefit.
Your eye as an animator will improve massively and so will your understanding of the art.
You can’t measure how much this will help you.
Your own animations will improve, you can critique others work faster – more beneficially, you can help your teachers or future supervisors spot issues or areas for improvement – on and on.
In short – give, give, give, and others will remember you.
It’s easier to have jobs fall in your lap if studios know you even exist.
Don’t you agree?
Most students at graduation just post their demo reels to Vimeo or YouTube and start praying to 398 deities that someone will notice – instead of promoting themselves.
Nobody ever talks about this.
Maybe people feel like it's braggy, sleazy, or lame.
But if your work is promoted openly online and talked about, offers will come your way that you’d never dream of.
Blue Sky Supervising Animator and Instructor Nick Bruno talks about promoting himself to get his big break in this amazing podcast created by On Animation.
To get your market yourself effectively you’ll need to:
#1 Make good art.
#2 Reach Out Directly to Key People
Use email, facebook messages, forum posts, or even twitter to let them know about your animation.
Of course, you should be respectful and not waste their time.
To not be invasive, consider who they are, and how your animation might help them.
Look for their contact info like CGMeetup has and send a short simple message where appropriate:
“Hi CGMeetup Forum Members,
As a long time follower of the site, I’ve been inspired by many reels. I wanted to share my animation reel in hopes that it does the same for you.
Schools want to promote star student work so other aspiring animators are eager to take a class. Usually, all it takes is submitting at the end of a term to some kind of showcase, or posting in their private facebook group.
For veteran animators, many, have become instructors, podcasters, or speakers at conferences.They’ve spent so many years in the field honing their skills they are at the stage where they want to give back.
And what matters to them the most is that they’ve had an impact. That what they have done has helped you - that you’ve gotten life changing results because of them.
So reach out to your heroes or instructors and tell them how much your life has changed because of them. Let them know the results you’ve gotten by following their steps on a, b, c. and thank them.
You’ll instantly stand out from everyone who just asks for favors straight up or asks questions but never takes action.
You have no idea how this will pay off for you down the road:
So it's best to reach out to these veterans and heroes early on - long before you ever need help or ‘favors’
Now, can you see how giving free feedback, and having a wolfpack might open more doors? How it all works together?
Pixar’s success is based on 1 principle: Story is king
They’ve stated it over and over again.
And Toy Story 1 supports this perfectly.
The animation quality is nowhere near what it’s like in Wall-E or Up. Instead of moving fluidly the characters pop and wall smack all over the place. But nobody cared when it was released, and nobody cares now because fluid movement is not what matters most.
The audience didn’t get hooked on body mechanics.
The audience got hooked on the emotional journey of the characters.
What they were feeling, what they were heading towards, and what was in their way.
The story was unique, the characters were extremely relate-able and each scene was carefully planned to make every moment work.
This is the approach you must take with your class assignments.
You can’t just animate a back-flip or a dialogue with random arm moves. You’ve got to go the extra mile.
Go beyond just moving a character around.
Give it soul, a story, a journey. Hook the audience in even the simplest actions – like getting up from a chair or opening a door.
For example, which is more entertaining?
A man opens a door. (That’s it. Done.)
Or a 70 yr. old hermit angrily opens a door, until he sees the extremely adorable golden retriever puppy excitedly waiting on the other side with the name tag of his late wife..
One of these is really boring. The other is captivating.
I’ll let you guess which 1.
Most students miss this.
They rush into the assignments throwing something together on the fly as their animating – instead of taking the time plan or be creative.
What results is the same old - same old that 1,000s of other student animators have done before.
However, as you start your animation education – it’s smart to keep it extremely simple while you learn the basics like a bouncing ball or pendulum.
Don't expect to create shock and awe demo reel pieces at this stage.
Focus on understanding the fundamentals first. Then add hilarious, sad, or jaw-dropping stories as you go beyond a normal character walk.
Strolling down this road - unleashing your creativity, being emotionally captivating, and keeping it simple - is challenging.
Perhaps it’s the toughest part of animating.
If you want to conquer these skills and make your animations unforgettable - there's one solution:
I could lie and say everything always works out.
I could also say everyone who ever attends the best animation schools gets hired
But that wouldn’t be very helpful to you - or accurate.
And the last thing I’d want you to do is assume everything is going to be amazingly 100% perfect because you picked one of the best animation schools.
There are no unicorns or magic pills. Sorry.
Sometimes all doesn’t go according to plan.
Sometimes exactly what you’ve feared comes to pass.
But do these fears really mean the end of your dream career?
Of course not.
Another upside to picking the right school is that it also protects you from the downside.
Because you took the more cost effective route with Online Schooling / Workshops, the damage is much less severe all around.
In fact, it may be so cost effective that you can easily sign up to 2 or even 3 more animation programs.
Or it may take you simply spreading out your classes a bit more.
Maybe take 1 class at a time, with months off in-between, as frequent as income allows.
When you’re learning the skills that matter, the right way, there’s definitely no harm in taking longer than usual to see it through.
Remember, 4 years at Average Animation University is far less effective than 1 year at an Amazing Online Animation School.
They are not equal.
The scales are tipped - heavily.
Overall, if this happens to you - you’ve probably gained far more than you’ve lost.
It’s easy to criticize yourself when you fall short of your expectations.
It’s easy to beat yourself up.
But you’ve only just begun your journey as an animation artist.
Give yourself room for error.
These art skills need time to develop.
Do you think Glen Keane (animator of Beast / Tarzan) wakes up every day and pours out the best animation ever seen without any effort?
As I’ve seen him animate live, the fanboy in me could argue this, but I know, in reality, he’s struggled to make great art.
Like every artistic master, he’s simply got more time behind the wheel than you.
Sometimes by the end of your first school, your skills aren’t there.
Whatever the reason - it takes time to become a great artist.
You don't expect to go the gym and deadlift 850lbs on the first day do you?
If you do, this is your first mistake. Have an ambulance standing by.
You can't be afraid to hustle from the ground up.
To be an uncommon success you've got to be willing to do what the common amateurs won't.
Let all the masses get super excited and parade in the clouds at the idea they'll get hired by Pixar right as school ends.
Let all the masses wish they could stroll into a class day 1 and be a judo black belt animation prodigy.
Skip the fantasy, quietly face the music, and you'll be happy with the results - even when others seem to be doing better.
A few months after finishing Animation Mentor, I was one of the first to get hired out of my class.
Truth be told I was panicked the months before being hired - mortified at the thought of AM being a waste just like university.
“Would it all be in vain?!”
Several super talented friends were probably panicked they wouldn’t find work either, and even more so after a few of us got hired.
These talented friends waited months longer than us.
But then they went to the stratosphere, landing more big name gigs than I could've of imagined.
Like my friend Jane Stewart who actually got into Pixar straight from school, where she’s still at today, and who's also now an AM Mentor.
Or Michael Amos who made it to Dreamworks after graduation and half of a year of waiting.
The point is, put the work in and it pays off - eventually. And when it pays off you may skyrocket straight to the top.
So if you’ve struggled after animation school to get your first job, don’t take it personally. That will change nothing.
Take massive action instead.
For exact steps on moving forward go to pg.29 'Your Backup plan' in this guide:
As an Aspiring Animator – you’re goal is usually just to get your first job.
But after you’ve become a professional your desires and needs alter.
Dreams can change.
New goals can crop up.
Whether it's about satisfying creative needs, salary, security for family life, or relocation – the fastest way to get what you're after, besides working, is to take online classes.
The results allow you to make massive leaps in your career.
At a Studio, it’s pretty common to get in a comfortable rut doing the same kind of animation over and over.
For instance, if you’ve been in VFX for a few years like me, I doubt you’ve had many opportunities to animate emotional dialogues.
You’ve probably spent most of your time moving heavy powerful creatures or punching robots – lots of physical action oriented shots.
Online classes push past all those limitations giving you the opportunity to take your animation skills beyond or refresh what you’ve haven’t done for years.
Sure, you could just do this all on your own, with side projects after work, but you’ll make much more progress with a class.
Flying solo is tough.
It’s far too easy to skip the hustle and just watch a movie or play a game instead.
You know this from working in a studio. And online classes provide the same environment.
The ideal way to take a class is in between work contracts.
You’re not depleted from working all day; you’re more focused, and you can take the time to do more complicated animation that stretches your limits.
But that's not always possible.
Sometimes work is too consistent or you’d rather not skip paychecks.
The big question then is - how do you stay productive and juggle work / classes?
It's a great question.
On pg. 18 in this guide I detailed special hacks for work/class productivity:
And if you're not sure what kind of class to take I’ve got you covered there too.
If your planning on being a successful artist anyway, shouldn't you always be learning, growing, and stretching for that next level?
Perhaps this is why great artists - Michelangelo, Picasso, Milt Kahl – go to their graves with paintbrush in hand.
You’re animation dream job is dangling in front of you.
Will you snatch it into the palm of your hand?
While all the other aspiring animators out there are nose-diving into massive debt, counter productive learning, and letting assumptions set themselves up for unbearable heartache - you know better.
Now use what you know.
Get started today.
Take the first step.
Choose the animation schooling or class that will most help you get hired, or move your career forward.
If you don’t you’ll wake up months or even years later wishing you did something about your dream - beyond just thinking about it.
To make sure that doesn’t happen and that you know exactly what steps to take - I've prepared a free guide exclusively for you:
Inside you discover:
Then you’ll be in the trenches becoming the animator you always wanted to be.
Or you could just sit still.
Let it all fly by.
Afterall, being idle is the fastest way to get….nowhere.
Nothing will bring you more success than taking action, making mistakes, and course correcting.
Family, friends, even strangers may confuse, or try to dissuade you into the wrong decisions.
But this is your life – your dream.
Stick to your guns, trust yourself, and you’ll make it all happen.
So, what’s it gonna be?
Did you go to the wrong school and not make the most of your animation education?
Leave a comment below and tell me about what your going through. I'd love to hear your story.
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