When you ask people whether it is necessary to get a formal animation education in order to break into the industry, responses can be somewhat muddled. “It takes an education from a top school”, “anyone with artistic talent and software skills has a chance,” to “it takes no formal education necessarily”.
To get to the bottom of things once and for all we asked top animation studio owners, executives, successful freelancers and other animation 'fossils' (as one interview subject put it) what their educational background is. After all, they have reached the top of the game. Here are the responses we got about how top animation industry professionals got to the top of their field, what formal and informal education got them there and additional online learning opportunities:
I have an MA in Digital Motion Imaging, Art Institute and two [other execs at ADi] were self-taught.
Kai Bovaird, AD/M
From an art school. When seeking a school do your research on who will be instructing the classes.
Arthur Kautz, Aniben
My background is as a hand illustrator, with a degree in Business Administration, and several years of management experience with large corporations before striking out on my own.
Matthew Teevan, ARC Productions
I was self-taught so it’s hard to comment about education. When I got into the business it was the 1980s, in England. Unemployment was at an all time high – or should that be all time low - and the British Film Industry was all but dormant, virtually no films were being made and what was being done was heavily unionized. I was pretty unaware of any animation or film schools. I had done Art at school and I did a 1-year government-sponsored training program right out of school – I ran the projection room running 35 mm prints of ‘Citizen Kane’ for students, loaded cameras and handled a lot of the A/V equipment, chroma-key and the like. But I was basically self-taught and was making movies on my dining room table in Super8 and 16mm. I read a lot of books on film-making, watched a lot of movies and did a lot of experimental stuff.
I was told repeatedly to look for a different career. But I just pounded the streets, managed to visit the visual effects guys up at Pinewood and naively wrote letters (no e-mail back then) to people in the industry that I really admired and asked them how they got their start and showed samples of my work. Eventually small bits and pieces of all this paid off.
Glenn Barnes, Big Sandwich Games
I studied Fine Art and Digital Art & Design at Thompson Rivers University. The industry is full of people with degrees, as well as people with no post-secondary education at all.
Tom Stathes, The Bray Animation Project
Self-education. I read books on animation history as a child and as I grew a bit older, I began to make connections with other individuals in the field. Nearly all of what I know and apply to my work was learned through first-person experience and networking. One can learn animation in a school and film preservation in select few universities, but nothing beats going headlong into the field and making connections without academia under one's belt. It is certainly possible to be fully self-taught in this realm of the arts.
Gary Thomas, CRUSH
I am a Sheridan College grad, but my real education came when I took my first job in this business as a Paintbox artist at Centro Digital Pictures, in Hong Kong. My life started the day I landed there.
Anik Rosenblum, Dancing Line Productions
Art/drawing classes, an unfinished film degree and a two-year program in traditional animation. Also, I believe some general culture and life experiences always help.
Jon Gallo, VP and Director of Motion Design for DraftFCB
I studied fine arts at the University of Iowa and completed my degree at Columbia College, Chicago, majoring in film.