View Full Version : What to ask a potential animation school?

03 March 2009, 05:53 PM
Hi everyone, for the first time in years I get to do some variation of work or study.

Anyway, I want to do a course. The bad thing is that I live in New Zealand, I took a look around and have either found courses that don't suit me or their demoreels have a low quality of work (is this anything to go by? I assume they select their best).

I'd like some help with a checklist of questions to ask the people working at the animation schools that would assess the quality and most importantly if it will get me into a steady paid job at the end.

So far the animation school that looks best (and by best over here, I mean not good but must take what I can get) is : - take a look at the demoreel, I don't think that's how bad I want my work to be!! I could already do just as good without any education!

Thanks guys, any information is welcome. I can only do a course provided that at the end of it I can get a steady paid job.

Edit: I hope this doesn't count as a what to do with my life thread. If so I apologize :(

03 March 2009, 05:56 PM
and most importantly if it will get me into a steady paid job at the end.

No school is going to guarantee you a job at the end of it, steady paid or otherwise. That's up to you and your own portfolio of work. A school is there to train you in software and techniques, but that's it. The rest is up to you.

I am moving this thread to our new education forums.

03 March 2009, 06:02 PM
Thanks for moving it to the proper area :) Sorry I missed it.

I get what you're saying, I know there was a school here that worked closely with weta studios and guaranteed jobs to students who were above a certain standard.

What I'm trying to say is I need to know if the school can get me to a standard where I will get a job at the end of it without too much hassle, I mean, what's the point if I go through all 18 months of this course to find their teaching was inadequate, and now I need to go do another long course?

Not much :( I will continue to teach myself and make up for any shortcomings along the way as I always have done though, so it should not be a big problem... I'd still like to know what sort of questions are appropriate to ask them.

03 March 2009, 07:06 PM
Virtualistic, I have read over these forums, and others, very carefully, Here are some insights that I have gleaned from others as to questions that you should ask and check out:

1. Look at student art work. Do you like it or do you find it....underwhelming? If you can, not only check out the posted work on the web ( which tends to be the best of the best) ,but check out the average student work. You may need to visit the schools to do this.
2. Check out their employment statistics with major studios and NOT just the claims of employment. To some of these schools , making donuts is considered employment.
3. Check out the faculty. What experiences do they have? Where did they go to school? What is their background. In fact, going to and check out the animation school professors might be a good idea.
4. Check out the rankings of the schools? You can find this in various spots. I have posted a list in alphabetical order of some of the more well-known programs in North America. This is NOT a complete list..
5. Check out what other students say about the school. You can find this in ( and ( in the discussion area for visual arts.
6.Check out the curriculum. From what I can ascertain, not all animation programs are equal or have the same emphasis. For example, some schools are VERY 3D oriented or special effects oriented ( Gnomon) while some of very traditional oriented such as Max the Mutt et. al. while some focus on pure character animation ( et al. Really read over the curriculum and the emphasis that the school places on all areas of animation.
7. Check out the tuition and especially the fees. I have seen costs skyrock due to hidden fees. Ringling is one of those with decent tuition ( although still too high) ,but really high fees that exceed $1,700 per semester PLUS any health insurance costs of $700!
8. Once you narrow down your schools of choice, visit the schools. Check out the dorms? Check out the animation labs? Are there enough computers for each student to use?How often do they update software and hardware?Check out the facilities, such as gyms, cafeteria, etc. In fact, eat in the cafeteria or schoo'ls restaurants. Check out the surrounding area. Big spiked or barbed wire topped fences around the campus should give you a clue about the area, such as what is found at Pratt. Meet with students and ask their opinion.
9. Go to Career services and ask "which firms send recruiters there?"

Much of this I got from reading posts by people here. I think it should give you a good start.


Here is a brief list of the many art and animation schools in alphabetical order. This is NOT a complete list nor is it an endorsement of quality,which vary among each institution. However, it generally does comprise many ot the better known programs:

Academy of Art University
San Francisco, CA USA (

The Animation Academy
Burbank, CA USA (
Berkeley, CA USA (

The Art Institutes International
Minneapolis MN, USA (
-other branches
Atlanta, GA USA
Boston, MA USA
San Bernardino, CA USA
Santa Monica, CA USA
Santa Ana, CA USA
San Diego, CA USA
San Francisco, CA USA
Las Vegas, NV USA
Philadelphia, PA USA
Pittsburgh, PA USA
Portland, OR USA
Seattle, WA USA
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Vancouver, BC Canada

Bristol School of Animation
Bristol, UK (

Brooks College
Long Beach, CA USA (

California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts)
Valencia, CA USA (

California State University Fullerton
Fullerton, CA USA (

Carnegie Melon, graduate program only in entertainment arts (

The Dave School
Orlando, FL USA (

Digipen ( game design) (

Ecole Des Metiers Du Cinema D’Animation
Angouleme, France (

Edinburgh College of Art
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (

Ex’pression College for Digital Arts
Emeryville, CA USA (

Full Sail Real World Education
Winter Park, FL USA (

The German Film school of Digital Production GmnH
Wustermak/Elstal, Germany (

Gnomon School of Visual Effects
Hollywood, CA USA (

Gobelins, l’ecole de l’image
Paris, France (

Humber College in Toronto

The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago
Chicago, IL (

La Poudriere Animation Film-Directin School
Valence, France

Laguna College of Art and Design

Learn 3D Autodesk Media & Entertainment Training Centre
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa

Loyola Marymount University
Los Angeles, CA USA (

Max the Mutt Animation School
Toronto, Ontario, Canada (

Media Design School
Auckland, New Zealand (

New York Film Academy
New York, NY USA (

North Carolina State University, College of Design
Raleigh, NC USA (

Platt College
San Diego, CA USA (

Rhode Island School of Design (

Ringling School of Art & Design
Sarasota, FL USA (

Rochester Institute of Technology (

Savannah College of Art & Design
Savannah, GA USA (

San Francisco State University
San Francisco, CA USA (

School of Visual Arts in NY

Sheriden College Institute of Technology

San Jose State University (

USC (Animation and Digital Arts)
Los Angeles, CA USA ( (

Vancouver Film School
Vancouver, BC Canada (

Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts)
Vancouver, BC Canada (

Woodbury University
Burbank, CA USA (

03 March 2009, 06:51 AM
Ok man, so I had a gander at the demo reel, and a couple thoughts popped in. A) These types of reels from schools are why schools like Animation Mentor have flourished. To me, they are just trying to do way too much having 1 guy: model, texture, light, and then character animate that production in school. In my opinion, this just isn't reality. Sure, a very small pool of people knock out a huge amazing production, but that's after usually years of professional experience like Shane Ackers had (9). Most of these students end up being mediocre in everything after doing something like this, and that frankly is killer for getting hired. In my opinion, YOU should be strong at the fundamentals from your intro 3D courses, but after that you really need to find a niche that you rock the casbah in, whether that's lighting, texturing, modeling, animation, or compositing. In other words, if you feel you have to complete a short story, then get in a team, and focus on one component of 3D for each member. The best bet is to emulate the professional world as much as possible. It took them years to figure out what works best, so why not follow it?

Saying all that, take one demo reel with a grain of salt, as many of these schools don't update these sites for years. You'd also be surprised how quickly a school can actually change in quality in a very short amount of time (to the positive or negative). We hired a Disney animator to teach our traditional courses and it was like night and day. What should you do then (if you feel you just have to stay local)? March yourself right down to that school and ask to see the CG instructor. Ask him where students have been hired, ask politely to see some of last semester's work, hell ask him what he's working on. Many of these schools quality is wrapped in the excellence of their current instructors. Get up close and personal and it will give you a better idea of their current focus. Being pro active is always the best approach.

Lastly, Leigh is right. Any school that promises a quick path to the industry is more than likely lying through their teeth. AM probably has the highest percentage and even they don't get everybody in. A school's job is to train you in some of the traditional arts (or you should be training yourself by drawing daily or taking some cheap art classes), and most of all to speed up your understanding of the packages. I am actually self taught, and it took me years to learn how to polygonally model with correct edge looping and topo, but I can teach all my techniques and skills to students in a semester. That's what a good instructor should be able to do. If you honestly walk away from your meeting from the instructor and say this, "I can do this alone", then either do it alone or find another school.

03 March 2009, 07:21 AM
4. Check out the rankings of the schools? You can find this in various spots. I have posted a list in alphabetical order of some of the more well-known programs in North America. This is NOT a complete list..

I really like all your ideas except this one, as I explained above. The academic field of digital graphics is so amorphous. I'm kind of weird in that I work at an accredited academic institution for IU as a CG instructor, but I also teach full summers at the The Art Institute which is much more training based. Every time I go over there at the end of the year, it's a brand new staff, sometimes amazing, other times horrendous. Why? Because at these training schools, many of these instructors are a) not getting paid enough to just be a teacher and b) many can't decide what even they want to do. At the large, usually expensive schools like Gnomon, AM, Van Arts, they update their demo reel every semester, they have top quality instructors, even if it is a revolving door. But for the lesser known schools, especially training schools like the Art Institute, you almost never know what you are going to get. This is where the degree school (I mean accredited state schools like IU-yes many teach CG and many are very good) has a slight edge, as most of the instructors stay for years and you get a better overall view of what you'll receive in education (good or bad). Therefore, when you go to that rankings site, know that many great schools have just popped up, or are just too unknown, and may not even be on the list. And secondly, that those scores may not be the current state of things for better or worse. If you want to stay local, nothing beats going to the school and finding out for yourself in my opinion.

03 March 2009, 08:26 AM
Great posts MrPositive, thanks the information is invaluable... well I requested an info pack from media design school and the work on their DVD was great! So there goes that misconception about their work. Well at least most of it, they had good and bad - but at the end of the day it's up to me, not them, to make my work good and not bad.

I will definitely be talking to them about the demoreel, but to be honest, I feel like if I had that 18 months of training I could excel enough in all areas to blow all the ones on that site out of the water... doesn't mean I'm going to, naturally. If I know people who are considerably better than me in certain areas and I'm better than them in others, I'll say hey, lets work together on a clip for our demo reels - put that in with a couple of solely our own work and both us and the school should be happy.

I also read up on the FAQ about the school, and they replicate a professional work environment - require 95% attendance compulsary, working to deadlines, and stuff like that.

I'm really looking foward to this. Even if they can't teach me adequately, I'll teach myself on the side (I'm putting in at least 90 hours per week minimum... that's about 55-60 of my own time - I can put this time into the area I want to specialize in) and use them to help me with my own goals.

I talked to a student who goes there and he said they were very professional and all employees have industry experience and are extremely helpful and social with the students, they introduce you to employers and have them discuss your work together which helps you improve and it shows them what you can do, so when you graduate you can go back to that person and, if they liked you, they'll be interested to see what you can do now.

Seems like a good thing is happening :D

03 March 2009, 08:40 AM
Sounds like your hard work, research, and pro activeness has built up the right attitude. Good luck!

03 March 2009, 11:01 AM
One thing to add to the great posts by taxguy and Mrpositive:

Define what it is that you want from an education...
this is crucial in being able to assess the various programs. And if you don't do this in advance, your inner compass will likely start reeling in various directions by the many options you will encounter. Do you want to specialize (charactor animation, effects animation, shading artist, etc.) do you want to be a generalist, supervisor, artist, management, long-term / short term?

This will help you in your next task, which is to define your expectations from the school. How will you define if your time at the school was a success? Even though this will change during the course of your studies, its important to set some at least vaguely defined personal landmarks in advance.

In advance to visitinig the schools, I recommend visiting companies that you admire. Even better, if possible, intern somewhere that feel is producing decent work. 3 months sniffing out the realities (even from the other side of the aisle) will do wonders in helping you feel out what is right for you.

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