In my capacity as Director of Animation Portfolio Workshop, the question I get asked the most by students and parents is, “How do I know if an animation school is good?”
When checking out animation schools, treat the experience as if you are shopping for a very expensive item. Make a list of the qualities you are looking for, do research and ask questions. Expensive items are also known as “investment pieces” – and animation school is an investment in your future.
I give my students a basic checklist with questions to ask when they meet with representatives of schools they are interested in.
Here are a few:
What is the quality of the work produced by recent grads of the animation program?
Most schools post examples of their recent grads’ animation portfolios online. If you feel unqualified to judge the quality of the work, find someone with experience and ask their opinion.
What kind of tech is being used by the school?
Animation is basically about two things: excellent drawing skills and current technology. Since production in the animation industry is so intimately tied to the use of specially-formatted software and hardware, all good schools should train their students using the most current technology so that their grads can compete and perform effectively in any studio job or environment that they choose to enter. Any good animation school will be more than happy to supply you with a list of the technology they are using in their programs. Try contacting an animator at a reputable studio about the types of basic tech required in the current hiring market.
Is there enough tech to go around?
If students are fighting over hardware, animation stations, or feeling rushed to finish assignments because their “time is up” on a particular device, then something is definitely wrong. Good animation schools are expensive, and it follows that the equipment they are offering should not only be current but also plentiful.
The answers to these questions can help you make informed choices when it comes to choosing an animation school.
We’ll focus next on whether the animation school you choose makes a difference to studios when they are hiring.
A lot has happened in the world since February 2019 when I wrote my blog post on the pros and cons of studying observational drawing online.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced students from their classrooms and onto online learning platforms in order to finish up their 2019/20 school year. The same phenomenon has occurred for art and animation students the world over. Unable to gather in groups with a live model to draw from, art students have been forced to finish up the observational life drawing sections of their programs online.
It is also starting to look like those same art students (at least the ones in Canada) may well be studying their entire upcoming school year (2020-21) online, and that the requirements for Canadian animation school entry portfolios may now be asking for renderings of the human figure from photographic sources as part of the life drawing portfolio requirements.
Unlike an academic format of study (book learning) which lends itself fairly easily to having the same amount and basic quality of classroom information disseminated through an online format, observational drawing classes, especially those drawing classes that focus on direct contact with the human figure in a life drawing studio environment have not faired quite as well – so far.
The eventual mastery of a number of observational figure drawing practices really do depend on the student carrying out these practices in real space with a model, and not through the drawing of images of the human figure projected through monocular, mechanistic technology, (ie the computer screen).
Even if the images of the model that are being projected to the student practitioner are live video feeds of real models in real time, they still fundamentally fall far short of delivering the type of rich visual/ perceptual experiences available to a student practitioner able to encounter an actual figure, in real space, sharing that real space with the model as they draw.
The basic reason for this is that ‘seeing’ something in real space in order to draw it is not just a mechanical optical feat of the eyes alone. Our ability to ‘see’ the figure in real space and to depict it also has a lot to do with our ability to physically feel and understand spatial relationships through our sense of touch and therefore to understand the way that forms move in and displace space.
Without getting overly technical here, we human beings come to an understanding of 3-dimensional form, mass and space gradually, over time because we all exist in it, and use more than just our eyes to experience it, understand its complex structure, and learn to function in it comfortably.
We physically move in space, not just think about it in abstract terms or look at it in a purely visual fashion…as I mentioned before, we use our sense of touch to help us move through, experience and interact in real space from the moment we are born. All of this first hand experience really helps to inform our understanding of the things we see, and factors in ultimately when we try to depict them. One can only learn to express these things in graphic terms if one has had real contact with them and is practicing certain exercises that refine and cultivate ones ability to express an experience of real form and space in a convincing graphic fashion.
So where does all this leave us in terms of the efficacy of online observational drawing courses, (especially online figure drawing courses or open life drawing sessions) to really teach us all that we need to know when it comes to being able to draw a figure well?
This is a very interesting question.
I would propose several approaches to provide some semblance of an answer to this.
First of all, it is apparent that the format of the online learning model does allow for a complete transmission of information based learning material; basically what we could simply term as the instructional and data based portion of what is required by the student throughout the learning process.
For example. The step-by-step instructions that a figure drawing practitioner would require in order to learn any specific aspect of the process of drawing the human figure could be effectively communicated to them through verbal instructions (pre recorded video lessons, pdf’s and video conferencing, etc) and through visual examples as well (step by step digital examples of any given exercise(s) drawn by the instructor). No problem here, as long as one has a decent internet connection and a computer screen or phone to look at.
Likewise with one on one instructor feedback for the student.
Through any basic video conferencing platform, coupled with a shared google drive file folder, instructors and students could share and engage in the critiquing process of figure drawings effectively.
Where the online model begins to fall short is in respect to its ability to provide the student practitioner with an experience that is comparable to that which is available to the student actually drawing from a real model in real space.
We can say that this is due to the inherent perceptual handicap imbedded in the technology itself…machines simply cannot see or represent reality in any way that is nearly as sophisticated as the ‘human way’.
Fundamentally, because we are seeing the figure that we are to draw from in an online course, courtesy of a computer screen, we are in effect drawing from a preconditionedimage of the model that has been filtered and produced through the technology itself – a mechanistic monocular technology.
Therefore, in order to try to compensate somewhat for this drawback in the figurative source material that is available to the student via the computer, we must acknowledge that the student of any online figure drawing course must at the very least supplement their time spent drawing in front of a computer screen with an equal amount of time practicing the drawing exercises they are learning online by drawing real objects in real space…since organic objects share some common attributes with the human figure.
In this way at least, the student would be able to get a feel for what it is like to draw an organic form in real space to begin with – an experience that will considerably augment the amount of useable drawing knowledge they have already gained through their online drawing endeavours.
Then, when that blessed day comes, and students can return to the life drawing room once again to take up the study of depicting the human figure in real space, these online learners will have come out ahead of the game by having invested their time and energy wisely through their choice of and participation in an online life drawing program of merit.
I am in the unique position of having taught in the Sheridan College Art Fundamental’s Program for over 10 years, worked on the original committee that developed the Sheridan College VCA Program, taught Life Drawing For Animation in the APW program and am currently the acting Administrative Director of the Animation Portfolio Workshop.
On Friday, September 27th at Hashtag Gallery in Toronto the Animation Portfolio Workshop community was out in full force to celebrate 20 years with a bash and an art show. Drawings and artwork by past and present instructors and TA’s who have taught at APW over the years were on display. APW grads who have moved on to animation and art related careers, APW instructors and TA’s, friends and fellow animation educators all reconnected and caught up. An absolutely fantastic event.
Actually, it never really went anywhere. We know because at Animation Portfolio Workshop drawing is all we do. Artists and animators have never stopped learning and using the immense heft and power of visual language that is revealed in drawing. Ask any animator. Drawing has been the chosen method for developing ideas, building worlds, telling stories, designing and animating characters and creating/investigating visual styles for a long, long long time.
Originally from Monterey Mexico, Dani Elizondo is pursuing her animation dream. At the time of this post, Dani is working toward getting her BAA in animation at Sheridan College. Adding a thorough knowlege of traditional animation to her own love of stop-motion animation, puppet building, characters, stories and comic writing/illustration. Dani’s refreshing and personal sense of design and story stand out against the pervading styles that seem to reappear over and over again in mainstream animation.
“I came to Canada to learn how to draw so I could pursue my dream to get into animation school and become part of the animation industry.”
The entire Animation Portfolio Workshop team is over-the-moon excited for the 2019 Best Animated Feature film Oscar success of APW grad Patrick O’Keefe and his wonderful Art Direction on Sony Pictures Animation’s ground-breaking Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Sony’s take on the Marvel Spider-Man story is creative twist signalling a very clear break from the current 3-d obsession in animation feature film fare. O’Keefe and fellow art director Dean Gordon creatively brought together
In Bertrand Tavenier’s iconic film Round Midnight, (1986) the films main character Dale Turner, played by the great Saxophonist Dexter Gordon, says these very wise words at one point in the film while speaking about the development of a musician:
”You just don’t go out and pick a style off a tree one day -the tree is inside you, growing naturally”.
The same applies to visual artists as well. For now we’re going to let these wise words about style, where it comes from and how it grows, just linger on the page here.
Food for thought that we’ll address in upcoming posts.
Suffice it to say, there’s an awful lot of ‘picking a style off of someone else’s tree’ that goes on when it comes to the making of animation school portfolios these days…and we’ll revisit why we think this is, and what we do at APW to foster the opposite approach to senseless ‘stylistic appropriation’.
With the advent of the Internet and new technologies, (hardware and software) the platforms existing for teaching the language of observational drawing seem to be expanding…. for better or for worse, one can’t quite tell – yet.
By that we mean that the jury is still out on whether the online offerings are doing more to diminishand eclipse the authentic experience of what is really involved in earning (yes we said earning) what it takes to become fluent in the language of observational drawing as we know it. You have to earn fluency in observational drawing language through a great exertion of energy and time…thousands of hours of sweat basically. The suitability of a term like ‘earning’ makes a lot of sense in context of the advice Gerard is often overheard giving during critiques in APW classes. When a weary APW drawing student comes to cry on his shoulder about how long it takes to learn how to draw, or how hard a particular drawing exercise is, Gerard is heard to say; “Drawing is like digging a hole. You get a shovel and dig.