Well right now I’m in my senior year of college, as a 26-year old undergrad. For 3 and 1/2 years I couldn’t afford tuition and a new computer, but this year the stars aligned and I’m finishing my degree. So during those 3 and 1/2 years all I was doing was animation, and making money doing it. I really got a feel for the industry, the urgency of a job, and the satisfaction of getting the job done in a professional and timely manner.
So upon returning to school, I’m talking with all these 22/23 year old kids who claim to be “Maya experts” because Professor (insert name here) told them so. But as soon as they start demonstrating their expertise, it amounts to them creating a poly sphere, using the stock sphere UV function and applying a crudely drawing Maya Paint basketball texture, replete with seams, and calling it a job well done. And for some reason the teacher loves it, high-fives all around, and I’m left scratching my head.
Back in 2006 I was attending the same university under a different professor who was guilty of rewarding sometimes crappy work. There was this one student in our class who couldn’t model. Whenever he tried, there would be plenty of double faces, double CVs, weird normals, unmerged edges, and n-gons out the whazoo, but he would turn it in anyway. But there was this sense of “Let’s not get mad. Let’s just pat him on the back, say it was a job well done, tell him we have to clean his model up, and then just start from scratch” from the professor! We were essentially doing this guy’s work for him, and he had no idea.
Fast forward to today. This week I ran into this kid in the computer lab up at the University. He graduated with his BA in Film/Animation in 2007. He immediately gathered up his stuff, threw together a demo reel and flew out to San Francisco, convinced that Pixar was waiting, and the poor guy got so many welcome mat rejections. The studios took one look at his stuff and came short of laughing him out of the interview. But here’s the weird thing… he’s somehow convinced that the sudden “No” responses were less attributed to his portfolio and more to the crappy economy. So he came back to his hometown and started hunting for low level graphic design jobs with a “Screw Pixar” mentality, and got the same response. The guy spent a lot of his savings on the job hunt, still unemployed, and ultimately decided hit up the old teacher for a job or referral. Finally, after years of receiving praise and high-fives from the professor, the professor came clean. He told him that he wasn’t any good, and he should consider another field… something he should have told the kid before he graduated.
So now I ask, why do some of these animation teachers reward mediocrity? Is it because there aren’t enough butts in the seats? Do they get paid more to be nice, than they do to be professional?
Obviously this isn’t reflective of every school with an animation program, but I imagine there are lots of bo-diddly techs out there lauding praise on students who, in a word, suck.