Animation is a complex craft and it takes a long time to master. The only exception to this rule - the only animator I can think of who seems to have emerged into the industry fully formed - is James Baxter, whose first animation test I still vividly remember seeing on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". It was a short test of Thumper the rabbit shaking his head and looking up at the camera - and it was so good that it immediately earned James a spot on the animation team. It also made me think I would never, ever have the skill to become anywhere near as good as that.
Twenty years later not much has changed, except that these days I do a lot of teaching - especially at the excellent Escape Studios in London - and I spend a good deal of time trying to figure out what should go into a really good animation course. How does a school get its students completely up to speed - ie to a professional level of skill - within the shortest possible period of time? Many students seem to emerge from 3 years of animation study at prestigious schools with only basic skills, which most likely says more about the quality of training they received than it does about them.
At Escape the animation courses are just 3 months long, which is a very short space of time to cram in as much as we possibly can to make the course as effective as possible, to get the best possible results. This means we can't spend long on any individual exercise - no more than a day or two. One week max for the final acting exercise. In a way it's a good thing - everyone works like crazy and we don't waste any time. Every hour of every day is precious and the challenge is to figure out the fastest and most efficient way to get the best work done. Here's a link to the latest student reel - most of the students here had absolutely no knowledge of Maya before they began the course.
Editor's Note: In September 2012 Alex launched a new online animation school - Animation Apprentice, incorporating many of the lessons learned at Escape Studios and elsewhere, with a view to bringing high quality animation training to students all over the world.