Lecturing at CTN Expo: "I don't want to see your degree - I want to see what you can do!"

I've been shocked and dismayed at the feedback I've received since my recent workshop presentation at the CTN Expo, entitled "I don't want to see your degree - I want to see what you can do!" It appears that so many students, past and current, are entirely dissatisfied with the education they are receiving... especially in terms of the huge fees they are paying to their schools to give them that education! The main criticism seems to be the fact that some animation teachers do not do, or even know, what they are teaching - and therefore students are being turned out totally unprepared for the industry of today.

I don't so much blame the schools for this entirely but I do find the accreditation requirements they are subject to a problem. The core issue is that many of the top industry professionals who want to teach (and are totally capable of teaching) are prevented from doing so because they don't have a degree. Conversely, a graduate who barely scrapes through a slack degree program and is subsequently totally incapable of getting a job in the industry is embraced as a teacher because they have a piece of paper to their name! I even know of experienced Disney and Pixar level artists/animators who can't teach at most schools because they don't have a degree... because they have never needed one, as progress in the industry is measured by demonstrable skills not pieces of paper.

I began to learn of this issue when I researched my book, "JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS: The Animation Job Coach". However, I had no idea of the scale of the problem until after my talk at CTNX, since when so many students shared their tales of woe with me. I do believe that it is necessary to insist on academic degrees for the sciences, for math, for medicine, for engineering, etc. but it is totally inappropriate to insist on these in a creative, 'other-side-of-the brain' disciplines such as art and animation. In these fields it is what you can practically do that measures you, not what you know intellectually.

Consequently, I jumped at the chance of developing my own 2-year, 'Advanced Degree' program at AIE-Seattle, where I believe it perfectly possible to prepare students well for the industry in that amount of time without the other distractions that longer degree courses are required to offer. I am also currently developing an exciting animation degree program for AIE-Seattle too - but that will be totally focused on preparing students properly for the industry of their choice and not just throwing a number of inessential classes at them to make up the numbers. 

For me the best animation school in the world is Gobelins in France, where they don't have the same degree/accreditation requirements to fulfill - they are essentially funded by the government and the industry itself. Hopefully we can get close to that in Seattle, despite the challenges the US educational system offers the betterment of the animation industry. Luckily, by having the Bad Penguin apprenticeship option to offer my AIE students in the future I can supplement the program with that most difficult qualification any school might ever provide... 'industry experience'!

For the record, here's a recent Gobelins student film... 'Oktapodi'! This example is not alone in the level of competence displayed by their films, as any search on YouTube will reveal. 

Time for us in the USA to fight back I'd say!

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Comment by Greg Payton on May 2, 2012 at 11:55pm

Having come from similar artistic programs for my college degree, I can understand a student's woes, especially in this economy. But I would also say, get that degree; take CHARGE of what you are learning, do your own research and don't expect the name of the school to spoon feed you everything. Technology, art, our perception and reception of art changes everyday, so you must change with it, become viral with it. A school and a professor is there to lay the ground work, teach you professionalism, hopefully a code of conduct and honor, but any artist who tells you they can teach you how to get a job is not only lying, but will also try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. No teaching professional artist can "get you a job". YOU GET YOU A JOB, by your experience, your hard work, your mistakes, your successes and most of all, your tenacity and unwillingness to concede defeat. 

So go "to school" knowing, no matter WHAT you're paying, you're INVESTING in yourself. You better damn well use every "free" lab, meeting, event, resource you can to bone up on more of the future to your craft. The curriculum is already obsolete a year after it's taught and it takes some of the best schools and professors to always be checking themselves and reviving new methods to keep up with industries. Beyond that; Get that degree, because it will validate you in some circles, but GET THAT EXPERIENCE, because it will keep you fed, keep your mind sharp and even if you can't teach in a "standardized" school, I know, if you know your "stuff", students will come to you, and you won't need an accredited institution to "vet" you, your work and experience will and always speak for itself. 

Comment by William P. Smith Jr. on April 28, 2012 at 1:23pm
Indeed! Ha :)
Comment by Jarvis Sheffield - Admin on April 28, 2012 at 12:55pm

Your Black, you better still get that degree.








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