Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Degrees of Talent

On occasion, I get e-mails from young adults looking for entry positions in animation.  They see my company listed somewhere and, unaware that my studio is just me and my wife, they send resumes and links to their reels.  But I'm not hiring.  I don't plan to expand.  So if you're an art student or recent graduate - don't write.  I have no job for you.  

When I get these e-mails, I check them out as long as they don't seem like spam. Sometimes, their work is good.  Sometimes it is just dreadful.  I got one such e-mail just this week, from a young woman who wrote, "I am a recently graduated Animation major from the Maryland Institute Collage of the Arts".

Stop right there.  You may be an art major, but you really should know how to spell "college" by the time you graduate such.

She attached a resume with a list of computer programs in which she was versed, and a link to an on-line reel of animation that demonstrated a complete lack of drawing skills,  or understanding of composition, design, timing, and color.  But this young woman has one up on me - she has a degree in animation and I don't.  Maryland Institute College - which is it now, and institute or a college?  Make up your mind!  Whatever they are, they're no animation school.  She really should demand her money back.  

I decided I would write back and be perfectly honest with her without being a complete jerk.  So I wrote, "There are a lot of colleges that throw around animation degrees, but if you leave without a professional quality reel, what good is it?  You can't learn a few computer programs and expect industry doors to open.  You must develop your artistic skills. There's no way around it....... You need to develop your drawing skills. You also need to find a good animation school.  Ringling in Florida is good.  CCAD in Ohio is good, the director of Monsters U came from there.  LCAD in Laguna, California is good. Sheridan in Canada. And of course, CalArts.  If you really want to be part of the animation industry, you are going to have to aim much higher in your own artistic growth."

Marc Davis  gave me one such boot in the ass when I was a student.  I am now paying it forward.  Chuck Jones once shared with my CalArts class something his teacher said: "You have a million bad drawing in you.  The faster you get them out of you, the sooner you'll become a good draftsman."  

In his book Brain Storm, Don Hahn writes about how, to be great at anything, you have to put in the time.  He writes about the layman who wants to pitch his film idea to a studio.  Don tells the layman he must first go to school to learn how to write, then spent many years writing crap before he gets good at it, then try to get hired by a studio in traffic and work your way into development, all while writing on his own time....and then... THEN you can pitch your brilliant idea.  Not the answer people want to hear.  
An animation degree is not a validation of talent, unfortunately. It just means you paid your tuition and passed the classes.  

Read about how Marc Davis kicked me in the ass here.


  1. Although, to be honest, I have one of these useless Animation degrees and, no I have no job and my drawing skills aren't as good as they should be (I try my hardest with what I'm given)
    I'm from the UK. Let's be honest here, the universities that give out these decent degrees are all big name, very expensive and American - which is seriously debilitating to those of us not extensively rich and American.
    Which is a shame...to be honest. Me and the rest of my fellow graduates aren't in any Animation jobs at all, half of them didn't even graduate, they cancelled life drawing half way through the first year and the tutors weren't bothered about anyone.
    *Shrug* - Can't do anything about it because I can't afford to rectify my dream career by paying for a named degree from a top American university...
    I just hope that those who aspire to be animators do do their homework and get a decent degree! Thanks for posting this, I hope it works :)

    1. I disagree, Morgan. There are many, many talented English artists with a good careesr in animation. Alex Williams, for one. The animation industry, as I have experienced it the past thirty years, is very much an international brotherhood and sisterhood of artists. I have worked with artists from England, Ireland, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Nw Zealand, China, Korea, Japan, Iran, Denmark.....you name it.

      It all comes down to skill and talent. I have reviewed hundreds of portfolios of job applicants while working at Disney TVA and Hyperion,, and have not once seen anyone hired because of a degree. It really carries no weight. No lie!

      Develop your skills! Don't be complacent with doing the best with what you are given, because no one is GIVEN anything. Put in time, and the intensity. I once heard a trainer at a gym say, "Work out like a chump, look like a chump." The same applies to learning to draw.

      Keep at it!

  2. Great article, Steve. I'm attending CCAD right now, actually. I think a lot of people go into it thinking the college will teach them everything, but as I've learned it's all about what you do on your own, and what you do in the classroom that really counts.

    1. Exactly right! Now quit reading this and get to work!

  3. I really appreciate this article, I went to one of these "Cracker Jack" where you anticipate when you finish you'll end up with a cool decoder ring that exposes the secrets of the industry but you end up with a temporary tattoo. I have probably learned more on my own after making the decision to leave school after realizing one it was becoming too expensive and that they were willing to teach me how to use a hammer but not how to build a house. I probably have learned more about animation from books and DVD/Bluray special features on my own rather than at school, only thing that I'm truly missing is an objective eye for constructive criticism.

  4. There are good schools out there, you just have to be careful where you go! Always make sure you know who is teaching the course and what they have done. No-one can teach what they don't know.