FLIP interviews FLIP again! This time it's Alex's turn to talk. His on-line animation school Animation Apprentice is completing its fist year, and Alex agreed to be put on the FLIP hot seat for this interview....
Alex: It is true that schools like Animation Mentor do a great job, and get excellent results. But I wanted to create something that was a lot cheaper and would also help students get great results much faster. The course at Animation apprentice is only 30 weeks, and costs £3,000 ($4,500). Not everyone wants to spend $18,000 and commit to 18 months of study.
The main reason for setting up my school was that I’ve been teaching animation in various ways and at various schools since 1996 and, after fifteen years, I felt like I had finally figured out how to do it right. The course was pretty much formed in my head – it just needed some time spent on actually making it. So I spent six months on my own, thinking, recording videos, preparing exercises - and I built the online course.
The course is delivered with pre-recorded videos, which makes it much more efficient than classroom teaching. Those efficiencies are savings I can pass on to students. But the best part of the course is the video feedback. I don’t give general comments – “do this, do that, why don’t you try this”. Instead, I open up the student’s shot and fix it in real time, recording the screen so that the student can play back the video and watch the fixes. It’s like taking your car to a mechanic and having them repair it, while at the same time recording a video showing you how to fix it yourself next time.
FLIP: Do you grade? Should a student expect to the able to go out and get a job after taking this course?
Alex: I don’t grade, mainly because I don’t find it helpful. The important thing is trying, making mistakes, correcting them, then getting better, and better, and better until the student reaches a professional level. It might take 6 months, or a year, or even longer but with persistence and the right instruction they’ll get there in the end. And then, yes, my job is to help them get a job. The goal of the course is to train students to be job ready. I can’t guarantee jobs but I do my level best to help the students get work and even place them myself in internships and jobs myself if I can. I’m also starting to pick up small freelance projects, which give students a chance to practice their skills and build a demo reel.
FLIP: Have you found there to be limitations to teaching on-line as opposed to being in a classroom?
Alex: I much prefer teaching online, and I also prefer studying online. I like learning at home, at my own pace, and if a course is well structured then learning online beats a classroom hands down. Online study is much more flexible. Most of the students at Animation Apprentice either have a job, or they are studying at a University (which is generally not delivering the goods). So a course of classroom study with fixed attendance would be difficult or impossible, even if they were in London - which most of them aren’t.
We also have a Facebook classroom where students post tests, ask questions, and discuss problems. It’s an excellent teaching resource because someone is always awake, somewhere in the world, to answer queries. So there are teaching resources available even when I am asleep!
FLIP: Have your students been newbies or professionals looking to make the digital leap?
Alex: A mixture of the two. The course has only been running a year and most of my early starters are just finishing now. That sounds like a problem – but it really isn’t. I don’t mind if students want to take a bit longer than 30 weeks to finish. One of the best things about online study is its flexibility – no-one is tied down to an institutional timetable.
FLIP: Are there samples of your students work that you can show us?
Alex: Sure. Check out this link: http://www.animationapprentice.org/student-reels.html
There is a demo reel by Giuseppe Candido, one of my early students, and Benn Garnish. Both have produced great reels. Also here’s one from Marc Godfrey, who was a total newbie when he began, and Greg Gordon, also an animation newbie. Both are just completing the course now. They’ve done great - I’d hire both of them.
FLIP: Do you get any input from Pops about teaching?
Alex: Definitely. And I always encourage the students to buy Dad’s book The Animator’s Survival Kit. If each student could only buy one book – that would be the one to get. Dad looked at some of the reels I was helping students to develop when I was teaching at Escape Studios in London - and he really liked them. This was a big encouragement in terms of setting up Animation Apprentice.
FLIP: If I, as an old time, drawing on pegged paper animator, were to take your course, could I handle it with no prior CG experience?
Alex: Definitely, yes! The course is designed to work for absolute beginners. After all, ten years ago that was me, trying to learn Maya from nothing, with over ten years of 2D animation under my belt, hating computers. I loathed learning Maya; I found it really difficult and confusing. And I remember that feeling really well, which is why the course is designed to teach things in a really simple way. Tech courses have a tendency to teach too much, too quickly. My course drip-feeds information to make it manageable. The important thing at the end of every week is that the student has a feeling of success, pride in what they have done. Otherwise they would simply give up. And no-one has yet dropped out – I am very proud of that! The course is, very simply, how I would like to have been taught to animate, had this been available 25 years ago.