Thursday, January 24, 2013

Animation A Team - the Best Place to Study Creature Animation?

Rob Hemmings is an excellent animator with a creature reel second to none. Several years ago he set up Animation A Team - the first online animation school dedicated exclusively to teaching animal and creature animation. FLIP asked him a few questions about what makes his school unique.

FLIP: Several years ago you set up Animation A Team to train animators in creature animation. What made you want to set up your own school?

Rob: In my work as an animation supervisor in Soho it was part of my duties to help find animation talent when crewing up for a film. This of course meant viewing many animation reels, and it always proved a problem trying to identify candidates who demonstrated a competant grasp of realistic creature/character animation, the kind of work that our projects required.

Of course, every applicant had character work in abundance, but only a few of these would touch upon a realistic style of animation. Looking for juniors was especially difficult as graduates rarely produced work of this kind.

This problem was often discussed around the office, and I decided that one day I would try and address it. I get a buzz out of teaching and the time was right to go for it.
FLIP: Most of your teaching is done online - how does that work?

Rob: It really is very simple. The student sends me a movie of their latest work and I make a critique via email. This is a completely bespoke process, with sometimes up to 5 crits a week, the student gets my complete attention for duration of the course. I supply movies of me animating a sequence real-time, during all the stages, but these are merely as backup to the regular bespoke emails. The course is designed in this way so that it can be completed by students who may be in full-time work or study, the students work in their own time and are not given deadlines.

FLIP: You get great results from your students - what is the secret to doing great creature animation?

Rob: Firstly the student must have great dedication, must not give up. I won't pretend it is an easy thing to do; it is a difficult skill to learn. There is no secret, it comes from practicing good techniques. The 6 month course allows time to practice. The course has no frills, it is an intensive learning experience for the student. The detail of the feedback is the real key to success.
FLIP: Do you miss working on production?

Rob: Well, not really, because I still work on commercial projects. I need to keep in touch with my industry contacts and keep up with the news, so the odd period of professional work is essential for both me and my students.

FLIP: What advice would you give to a student hoping to break into the industry?

Rob: It is harder now that it ever was, because there are more candidates with high quality reels. Whether this is because more students have been taking online courses or have acquired this work professionally, it doesn't really matter. Some people argue that the schools are turning out too many students and that there aren't enough jobs. But, like any industry, it just means that competition for jobs in animation is very tough.

So it is more important now than it ever was to have some quality work on your reel, even if you are looking for a junior position. The best way to achieve this is to work with an experienced professional on a daily basis for as long as possible.  So, actually, the need for online courses such as is even greater than in the past.

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