Animation Training Choices – Self Taught Versus School Taught

With all of the how-to programs, software and recording devices it seems as if you really don’t need to go to enroll in an animation school to produce things creative. The immediate gratification of creating a segment and uploading it to a distribution network, whether it is a personal site or a community site, is certainly tempting and the focus of many aspiring artists, animators and filmmakers.

When you look at animation and creative works in general you can spot the difference in the styles and quality of the piece generated by a person who has learned everything on their own as opposed to someone who has gone through a training or school system.

The differences between the two creative paths have to do with the age old argument of commercial versus noncommercial. Animation is no different and if anything even more contentious. If you do want to get into an animation or visual arts school you usually need to have been through some other arts classes or submit a portfolio. Hence there is already the element of being self taught. How else would you know if you really enjoyed the medium without trying it out?

A self-taught animator may express fears of getting corrupted by the system or selling out their creativity after having worked with an arts group and having had some personal creative success. Sometimes this attitude is a response to the stigma that the works are not taken as seriously thus being considered a mere “hobby”. There is validity to being on your own journey of discovery however it may take a much longer time to access and understand the knowledge and equipment.

Generally if an animator is self taught, there is a tendency to be imitative in terms of character design, scene structure and color palette, usually derived from a favorite comic book or animation genre. It is understood you have to start somewhere and although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it can hold you back from developing a personal creative style. The other setback is that the lack of networking may reduce your ability to reach the audience you had hoped. More often than not, truly dedicated animators will outgrow these early stages, overcome these obstacles and create something truly phenomenal and develop a grass roots and festival following.

A school taught animator usually displays more solid character design, character movement, scene composition and structure as well as strong and appropriate color palette choices. A well run animation or visual arts school can provide a time limited framework for the creative process that encompasses scheduling, budgeting time and creative and post-production resources. Usually you have the opportunity to learn and work with professional equipment. Curricular exposure to other disciplines within the animation field allows you to find your creative niche within the production, collaborative and commercial system.

Another important feature of attending an animation or visual arts school is the sense of community and the mentorship of teachers who usually are animators who actually worked on various animation projects from personal to commercial to feature length. It offers the opportunity to get to know peers and be able to exchange ideas and techniques. Exposure to and embracing other techniques and styles helps with getting actual jobs in animation, since a client or studio may want their particular style of character to be animated. Getting paid to help on another project can mean funding for your personal project in the future. These are all foundations for future creative and career opportunities that a self taught animator might not have the focused opportunity to participate in.

Going to an animation or visual arts school does not mean giving up your creative soul. What is important is to acquire the tools to actually create the animated vision you have in your head. The time should be used to open yourself up to trying new skills, making career connections and really develop your own creative identity. More skills mean having more tools to break through creative challenges and allowing you the ability to become a valued and sought after member who can contribute to other collaborative projects.

One important tip to remember is that even if you attend an animation or visual arts school, it does not guarantee a position in an animation studio. What could get you in the door could be that demo reel which ironically may have been the piece you used to get into the animation school in the first place. The best thing about going to a school is that it is a great opportunity to create a professional looking demo reel and portfolio to use to get the job or that funding to produce your “next big thing”. Decision makers don’t want to be told about your talent, they need to see your talent.

In summary, being self taught allows you to learn on your own schedule and on your own terms. The negatives are that you could miss out on getting those helpful pointers that give your animation style that extra crispness, visual improvement and you may be isolated from valuable networking opportunities for your craft. The problems with attending an animation or visual arts school include the cost, bowing to scheduling and time constraints and the big ego challenge of having someone criticize your animation which you thought was perfect. It is important to keep the big picture in mind. Whatever the goal, whatever the path; be open to learning and exploring your style. It is crucial to stay in touch with the creative community and most of all to enjoy making and sharing your animated film talents with others.

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