Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Best Animation Course in the World?

Blue Zoo Animation
What would the Best Animation Course in the world look like?

The question was recently asked by Tom Box, co-founder of Blue Zoo Animation Studio. Tom surveyed the artists and animators at Blue Zoo to find out what is right - and wrong - with university animation courses.

It's an important question, and one that colleges and universities need to keep asking, in order to make sure we're offering our students the right skills. So what is the answer?  How can universities design better courses that actually meet the needs of the industry?

Blue Zoo's Tom Box
The Problem
The problem, as Tom Box put it, is this: "In the industry there is an oversupply of graduates, but still an undersupply of quality graduates needed to go straight into employment. At Blue Zoo, of the applicants we receive, only about 10% are fit for consideration". 

The solution
Blue Zoo aren't just complaining - they are trying to help solve the problem.  Recently they asked the artists and animators in their studio what they would change if they were put in charge of their own degree, disregarding all academic criteria - only with practical employment skills in mind. This is the question employees were asked:

“Given the knowledge you now have since when you were at Uni, how would you make the best course in the world at teaching Animation & VFX so they are best prepared for employment?” 

Over 30 artists replied, from ages from 21-45. Below are the top 12 results:

In addition, I've tried to show how we at Escape Studios are implementing these results in our own undergraduate courses.

1. Art Skills - "hands down" the most important thing
Here at Escape we make sure all our students do a six month mini foundation course in art and design skills before tackling the software. Skills taught include composition, drawing, creative writing, photography, acting - all the essential skills for a career in creative media.

2. Less Written Work. No essays or dissertations or stupid "personal development" b*ll*cks
We couldn't agree more. Unlike most university courses, our courses use written work for students to think about their practical work. We concentrate heavily on the vital practical skills needed for a successful career and, while communication skills are really important, we get students to write about what's good and bad in their work, and how they can improve it. We don't make them write essays.

3. Basic finance or economics for people that would want to freelance
This is super important. Finance and economics are all well covered in the third and fourth years of our BA/MArt. The nuts and bolts of freelancing, taxes, invoicing and employment law are all vital parts of our industry. 

3. Emphasis on shorter quick-fire projects to develop specific skills and allow experimentation without the pressure of everything riding on one big final project

Agreed. At Escape Studios we do lots of small exercises, building up to bigger and more complex ones. We agree with the principle that fewer, quicker projects are better than one long project which may or may not go according to plan.

4. I always felt like my uni projects were waaaay too long. It doesn't set you up for a industry project where you have to smash out an entire episode's props in 1 week 
Agreed. Tight deadlines are the key to learning how industry actually works.

5. Teach Maya
Agreed. We teach Maya as our primary 3D tool. Plenty of universities still teach 3DS Max even though it is much less widely used in industry.

6. Learn how to listen and not take criticism personally
Agreed. Regular public feedback is vital to helping our students appreciate that feedback and critique are an essential part of the industry. Students must learn both to give and receive critique on their work.

7. Be in touch with animation studios to help students get internships and work experience.
Agreed. We help students to find freelance work, internships and work placements. This is very high on our list of priorities. We even have some first year undergraduates doing internships.

8. Collaboration across the different courses working towards one or two final films rather than everybody doing their own individually.
Agreed. Group projects can be hard to manage but we do them anyway, throughout the three years of study. They are important because this is what industry is looking for; team players who can work in groups. The animation industry is not a solo sport.

9. Most University courses are not taught by industry, and cost an arm and a leg for outdated information
We agree with this - which is why at Escape Studios we designed our new undergraduate courses with extensive consultation with industry.  And we continue to do so - through our advisory board, drawn from industry, which meets regularly to help guide us towards the latest skills shortages and industry needs.

10. students should do a really small project from the beginning (concept) to the end (comp/post) so to have a good understanding of the workflow and what it's needed in each part of the process 
Agreed. We're planning a project along these lines for our second year undergraduates, beginning with a conect and pitch, and going all the way through to final comp.

11. Guest lecturers and speakers from a range of different companies and types of work so students can get a good idea of different styles/workflows/working cultures.
Agreed. At Escape Studios, we do this all the time. But we're lucky - we're just down the road from Soho and the VFX industry so it isn't hard for us to pull in guest speakers.

12. Help to organize students' schedules. Many students get very very tired and then ineffective at working. 
Agreed. We make sure that we teach scheduling as part of all group project work. Students have to decide on their roles and create a spreadsheet with realistic deadlines, so they understand what a schedule really means, and what it's for. And we check in with them regularly to make sure everything and everyone is on track.

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our new BA/MArt starting in September 2017, follow this link.  To apply for our evening storyboarding class, starting on March 21st, follow this link.

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