November 6, 2004

About Me Part II: College

They say that hind site is 20-20. But my experience at CalArts keeps changing every time I look back at it. It was the best and the worst experience of my life. Good or bad, CalArts is where I learned to animate. Before that I had never heard of squash and stretch.

It’s safe to say that upon walking in the door at CalArts I immediately hated it. I went to CalArts with visions of an art school where all the students hung out at coffee shops, smoking and discussing philosophy, art and the craft of animation. Instead what I got was a trade school where all anyone wanted to talk about how good Disney was and how to get into Disney. I hated it, but eventually I learned to understand it. I mean if there’s only one school in America that lets you major in animation, then everyone who wants to get into Disney will go there. But I was beside myself with disappointment I wanted my coffee shop art-school experience damn it.

Over the years I gradually learned that I was wrong to feel this way about CalArts. What I leaned from CalArts was that good animators don’t hang out at coffee shops, they hang out at their desks working on their shots. CalArts taught me that the only way to learn how to be a good animator is to animate and to remain critical of your animation.

While at CalArts I focused on traditional hand drawn animation and my drawing skills. I went to every life drawing class they offered and I stayed late into the night getting the most use out of their pencil test machines as I could. I ignored the computer lab, I had turned into a traditional animation snob, and I believed that computers would never be as good as pencil and paper. Drawing was were it was at man.


Anonymous said...

If only we had drawing classes! I went to another animation trade school, and had to make the decision early on whether or not I wanted to continue my education down the path of classical animation, or really commit to the computer. As no one we knew was finding 2D work amongst our graduates, I made the hard decision to become a lab rat. My friends and I did the equivalent of chaining ourselves to the drawing board: we drank, ate, and slept next to the school's computers.

It worked, we have jobs, but I cannot tell you how much I envy and respect you for your decision to stay with drawing. In the job I currently have, I end up training most of the employees on 3D, and let me tell you, the guys who take to it the fastest and produce the best results are almost always the people with the strong art skills. Knowing anatomy and volume, having an inherent sense of timing, and mastery of the fundamentals of animation help ease the transfer to the computer in immeasureable ways.

I struggle each day with the fact that I feel more like a technician than an artist. I'm betting that it's going to be much easier for you to excel at 3D, than it is for me and my friends to go back and build up our traditional skills.


Ethan said...

Things have changed a lot sense I went to college. Back then, the only thing computers were used for was backgrounds, crowds and special effects (I'm talking animated feature films here). The Carpet in Aladdin was seen as a great character achievement for computers. I appreciate your comment on sticking with drawn animation. But I'm afraid I wasn't that noble. Back then it was seen as more job security to stick with drawing and a risk to go to the computer. Toy Story changed all that.

To be completly honist I ran to the computer when after Toy Story came out. I've never been that good at drawing. CalArts thought me great drafting skills, but I never had that natural drawing skill that most of my peers seemed to have. I had to struggle to get a good drawing out. I think it was Milt Kahl who said that he only saw drawing not as a plesure but as a mens to an end (if it wasn't Milt it was one of the 9 old men who said that). I always took solace in that, if he could animate so well, then I had a chance. But when computers allowed me to animate without drawing I rejoiced.

But I am glad I had my traditional experience before I switched to the computer. It helps me to think of the animation as characters, silhouette and posing. Not as models, keys and curves. I still think it's easer/better to learn with hand drawn animation first then with a computer. Especially if you can't draw. It allows you to focus on timing and spacing. With computers your still dealing with too much technical crap. That said I know a lot great animators who have learned to animate and have never picked up a pencil in their life. So really you should stick with what ever feels the most comfortable to you.

What school are you from? What school is forcing you to choose between the two?

Anonymous said...

I went to one of Art Institues International, the branch here in Chicago. They have a ton of schools across the country, all at varying degrees of competency. I think what they did was buy up tiny trade schools in every major city, and attepmted to graft a universal curriculum to each. I remember one time I went to a premiere of Atlantis, and I met a woman who was one of the top boardmembers of the entire AI college system. When I introduced myself as a student, the first thing she told me was that she hoped that I wasn't enrolled at the Chicago campus. Good to know my school had a reputation!

No one really forced me to choose, but then again, no one really told us anything. We never had graduates in the field come back and talk to us. We never had industry pros give lectures. I remember asking the placement director if we could see a demo reel from someone who graduated from our school, and she gave us the corporate demo from one of the schools in California. I knew a couple guys who got into Big Idea, and one who made it to Midway. And no one was doing anything remotely related to 2D.

I guess at this point, I'm really fortunate. I have a job in the field, and we have an incredible amount of talent to get inspiration from. But I find it so frustrating that my traditional, core skills are so lacking. I never had the chance to study the fundamentals: anatomy, perspective, graphic design. My draftsmanship is really weak. I know that I can get better over time, but it gets quite frustrating. Man, I know I sound like a whiny little kid, but I look in awe at artists who have the real skills. To be honest, I feel like a technician more often than an artist.

I guess I'm trying to say that drawing is still where it's at, no matter what happens to animation. I don't want that to ever change.