UK animation courses - A Warning!


[b]2008: Edit: This is a total zombie thread. But glad to see it back. I’m now 2 years at the NCCA and I’d reccomend it to anyone who wants to go into games or vfx. I also hear Teeside are really pulling out the stops so check those guys out too.

In retrospect my 2006 rant was pretty silly. The updated points however are very useful and I’d recommend reading through the thread. [/b]

*Update 2!*
 Ok this thread is old, but i'm going to summerise some good points people brought up in it.
 Check up on the tutors: Make sure you know where they are from an what they did. Ignore buzzwords on prospectuses "Industry Pros" can mean anything. Even people from webdesign and ict backgrounds, as some universities they have the animation department tagged on to the ict department.
 Industry ties: Many courses claim to have industry ties. Research the companys they are linked to as you'll probably be offered a job there if your good. [b](04/01/08): eg: The NCCA has very good ties. Every week an industry speaker comes down and will give a several hour talk on what they have been up to. An entire set of third year projects are set by film/game/comp/software companies and obviously that means you get true industry guidance. I also went to the pub after a guest talk with a certain software company and will hopefully be working for them this summer. ;)[/b]
 Demoreels: Many courses are based on very acedemic goals. This is problematic as demo reels might not be properly addressed or their importance not emphasised enough. Check that on your course.
 Research and choose your courses: The Ucas system encourages people to just search and click on the course. I did this and ended up going to interviews at several terrible universities. Select 1 or 2 not all six like I did. I felt terribly guilty phoning them up and cancelling interviews.
 Course organisation: With new courses opening all the time you need to make sure that the course will not fall apart due to bad management and green tutors. Don't get sucked in by the brand new workstations or enthusiastic staff.
 Interviews: Expect the interviewer to have no emotional responses to your portfolio and work. Don't start freaking out if they are cold faced when you pull out your best work or tell them how cg is your dream. They are playing games with you, they've probably interviewd another 200 people that day and want you to impress them. Be self critical, dont tell them what you hate about your work, tell them the technical irregularities. Impress them with your attention to details.
 *Update: I deleted the rest of the post as it was overall very negative and slightly biased as I was having a rant.

  . [b](04/01/08): a new point. Don't be a cocky Sh*t: I was pretty big headed a couple years ago, however I wasn't too bad, as I'm pretty modest and amiable too. Some people I ran into at interviews thought they were gods among men, funnily they didn't get through selection. Work on your attitude, you need confidence in yourself without making people around you want to hurt you.     [/b]



This is why i didnt study 3d, i learned 2d, traditional animation, scupture, art, life drawing, film. I took up 3d in my spare time. I made a 3d short for my grad film, setting up my own server at night.

Demo reels

…Are treated as an after thought. Goodluck getting a job with the one you leave uni with!

This is a blatently false statement, i took up work with in 2 weeks of graduating using my grad film at Framestore on TV feature work. Luckily my degree was an HND becoming a BA(hons) i made films every year.

I wouldnt chose a college/uni based on there software choice, most packages have the paradigm of the f-curve theory and subdivisional modeliing, ik, and script - thats it. Most production studios gut these tools and build a whole pipeline over the top. And a hell of a lot of studios use unix shells and linux - so your have to learn them anyway.

You wont get tradional animation teaching anywhere else, arcs, staging, anticipation. Understanding these the is a big hand in the 3d world. And most big studios, will want to see traditional work, to back up your 3d reel.

Why should a tutor be teaching your specifically 3d? unless your going to a finishing school or a highly specific 3d course. They are supposed to give a rounding or your skill set, and not make you a one race horse. If you want learn a package, buy a book, take up a night course learning it.

A year wasted - The assumption of total ignorence.

Be rest assured that anything you have already learnt will be totally ignored.

I can model, and animate, and code and do everything on the first year of the course. I don’t need the “getting to know zpplication x” lessons (probably everything on the last year of the course too). Can I skip a module? No. Reasoning? Because “I will miss the key skills”. Agghhh they wont listen. So be warned if you already have skills, as you may waste a year (and £4000) being taught to suck eggs.

If you already have the skills why take up a course in it?, if you need a degree take an art/film degree. Anything that can support a good solid backbone is far better. Dont become a software junkie.

The hardware

“Wow is that a pentium four?” - 'nuff said

I also noticed several Universities had no wacom tablets for the students. Probably why all the work coming out of the course looks so poorly textured. Or even worse tehy have budget tablets, like the “trust” models. I’ve used them before, I’ve binned them.

I know its hard for unis to keep up with technology, but when I see 15 inch Crts my stomach sinks.

well this is pretty odd:

At my college i was taking up quantel paintbox alongside 2d animation, at the ncca the biggest 3d univercity in the uk, you can learn, maya, max, houdini, mocap, cyber scanning, animation pretty much anything you want. A friend of mines friend went on to work at pixar, working out the caustics for nemo from there.

I would get you facts straight, 3d is still very young, either learn it in your own time and get a good solid traditional grounding or go to a uni with a very strong emphasis in 3d like the NCCA. (national center for computer animation)



Hey EEK.

Thanks for being so detailed in your reply. I know some of my points are genrealised, they don’t apply to all, but I just wanted to share what I had found.

My interview with the NCCA is next week. They are my last hope.

thing is I am not against the Unis, I want to be taught well. I can’t reach the higher levels I want to without guidance.


I wouldnt chose a college/uni based on there software choice, most packages have the paradigm of the f-curve theory and subdivisional modeliing, ik, and script - thats it. Most production studios gut these tools and build a whole pipeline over the top. And a hell of a lot of studios use unix shells and linux - so your have to learn them anyway.

Yeah your totally right. My point, was more the fact that they fight against their students being flexible or openminded. I mean if you can be flexible with maya and max for instance, it shows your ability to adapt to change. Making you much more attractive to studios using their own custom environments.


Hey Simon

Why don’t you repackage what you have found as a positive guide for what people should look for and ask when checking out CG unis?

Your post sounds quite thorough so could be helpful for people who have less confidence or knowledge on how to quiz unis over their CG courses.

Might even fit on your handy website.


The National Carpet Cleaners Association?!? Oh…

You won’t be dissapointed. A few years ago, when I still had pretensions of 3D artistry, I phoned around some of the bigger studios to ask advice and most of them were really nice and didn’t just fob me off to HR :slight_smile:

Anyway, I don’t believe the Teeside course was around just yet and the only place anyone would recommend was Bournemouth Uni so unless their standards have slipped severely in, ooh, I think it’s the last 3-5 years it should all be good.

I don’t know, sometimes I think us programmers have it easy, nice 19" monitors, our own exclusive lab… :stuck_out_tongue:


Hehe yeah I’ll do that tommorrow. I’m too moody today, I think it came through too much on the thread. It started as a rant… :smiley:

odubtaig: Programming is so brain mashing though, it drives people insane. You need a seperate lab to protect the 3d guys. Hehehe.

Is that an ultimate showdown avatar? :eek:


The only 3D guys we had at Hallam were us programmers, it’s to keep the networks guys out, bloody weirdos :stuck_out_tongue:

Hell yes! :buttrock:


My knowlegde on UNIs is a bit green when it coems to what i should look for, since i’ve only been exposed to one UNI whereby ART has been disregarded and animation abandoned. I’ve only had personal support from their head of engineering, which i was lucky enough to meet while being interviewed in college, he was amazed that there was actually another person in his radius that new what he was talking about, lol, his eyes just lit up, so to say i left with quite a confident eir and considered a definite pass for my project, even though i now know that it looks like crap, but he didn’t get to see it so why should i tempt him.?. fpr something that happened two yers ago.

Anyway got any brief tips for what should i look fro at CG Unis?
i’m looking for one thats not just there to teach you software, as all of us agree software is easlily self thought, a UNI’s artistic side needs to shine to, I’m lucky enough to have a good background in mathematics & art(Literature major) and basic programming skills(as applied by TurboPascal)?
Simon you sound like you know what ur talkn about, any hints? A friend of mine recomended to find a City Based school liek Kingston in london, but i doubt that he has a clue on what hes talkn about, if you could mention some unis round leeds as well that would be a great plus., thankz.


One thing you might want to concider is that there are Software companies out there that will not support you if you let competive softwares on your campus and in the same building…
(want to know why so many universities are so Max bias… ?)
that is the reason why …

Now think about it…
That teacher knows that they can’t request something like Lightwave or XSI or Z-brush because they purchased into a software support system that carries with it an Monopolistic hold over the University…
If they get caught pushing other Softwares… they lose their support…

Now no doubt that some of the facultity are Software bias…
and their fav Software is the only software they ever want to know anything about…
and the only Software they want you to know about…
but make no mistake…
Theres plenty of dirty tricks going on that have nothing to do with what the teachers want…
Most Education is Governed by the Political Forces that do the funding of that School not the Teachers…

And… think about this…
why would anybody want to go work at any place that only pays a 1/4 of what a full fledged job in the industry pays… yet that is exactly what everyone expects out of ‘Teachers’ …

First a pay cut…
Then the constant complaints that go along with the job…

I talked to a freind of mine who is a teacher just last week…
who said that they been threatened with 3 law suits last sememster…
He’s a good Department Head with good teaching staff…
(I know cause I have taken some of their classes)
I can’t imagine someone fileing a lawsuit…

Can you really blame anybody for not wanting to be a teacher?

No pay …
No appreacheation…
Law Suit once a week…

Take that into consideration when you do your evaluations of these schools…

I understand too that there are plenty of scam schools out there too … no doubt…

but Generally speaking …
Schooling has to be behind a little bit…
How can you expect them to be ahead?
What ends up happening when someone in a school comes up with an inovative idea?.. They go into business for them selves…
They make money off of it…
They don’t start showing everyone else their idea (teaching classes) on it…
They get a patent, Trademark, and or Copyrights …
and then after a period of time the schools catch up to the technology…

That’s just how it works… no school will ever be on the cutting edge… ever…

You might have schools that have Research facilities that do ‘Cutting Edge work’…
This is true…
But lets say you want to work for that University that is doing that work… What are they going to require of you first?..

That’s right you have to finish your schooling…
And are they going to teach you the latest greatest cutting edge stuff during your schooling… ?


Same deal with companies…

One of the main things a school does if validate you…

That is to say they are the “someone” else in your resume’ that says… “yes this guy has what it takes to do the job…”

A company needs to have someone of authority to validate what you claim in your resume’… if they can’t call up ILM or Pixar or whomever… to ask them about you … then your going to have to have some one else to act as your authority…
a University is that someone…
So in a lot of ways it almost doesn’t matter what you learned in school…
what matters is you made it ‘through’ school…

That tells a business what they want to know…

Okay… choice between 2 Animators… both have work that looks top notch… both have little work experience… both have good looking Demo Reels and Portfolio’s… aaaa but this one has no schooling… this one made it through school…

guess which one gets the job?



If these two people interviewed at the larger London facilities then the key decider would be the way they present themselves at interview and their attitude to the job on offer. The fact that the non-schooled person had pulled their reel together without the support of the educational infrastructure would actually count for something.

The main reason for not allowing people to use non-approved software would be that of the “level playing field”. In other words being able to assess the students against eachother from the same starting conditions. There’s also the tech support consideration - adding support for other packages is a non-trivial undertaking.

btw: I don’t know of any university or college that has been “paid off” to take one software package over another. What does happen is that a software vendor may go in an make an offer that just can’t be refused - like free systems and software and no support fees for five years. That can make all the difference to a college with tight controls on the budget - the difference between an additional full time lecturer or another five students in the class. The finances of many of the colleges and unis in the UK are in tatters right now - you can’t really blame them for taking a deal that helps make ends meet.


jubba, the key is what type of schooling. And being self motivated. If you can study, get a degree but also push yourself and learn on your own back. Goes a long way - it means your self motivated and have a strong passion for this industry. Even if you studied all at home its the quality of work in the end, all im say its get some kinda ground. Be it sculpture or whatever it just helps.

Big thing to remember is, i basically taught myself the tool i liked! its the tool you like in the end. True a lot of studios use totally different packages, but most a will to teach if they know your self motivated and have a passion. So it all goes back to being driven.

Why dont you apply to the finishing school? or Escape? there very specific. If i remeber correctly i ws looking at the finishing school because you can be taught and have a certificate in discreet flame. The course was around 4000 pounds. But for 4 months training its well worth it. They also do maya, max and tons of other things.

Degrees are important for overseas work too, basically with Bioware i had to have a degree, worked in the industry for a while etc etc.

In real terms the best learning is being thrown in at the deep end, It why i was looking at R&H’s internships way back(one of my favorite places), if you can get yourself into a top studio. You basically have the best of both worlds, your learning on the job, and you know what stuff to stick in your head and what stuff not to. All the best!




The fact that the non-schooled person had pulled their reel together without the support of the educational infrastructure would actually count for something.

Exactly. It requires iron will to learn on your own.


but only if there reel stands up to to being preverlant at the time, i.e you cant be your own judge. The nice thing with schools is you can bounce ideas around, and get help from good tutors who have been in this industry for 20 years! At home, you have to be very critical, and even if you do post to a forum the reply may not be the best critisim. With good school, your’ll know where your bad areas and good areas are - and learn where to improve. The only other place this happens is working, but then it becomes a doubling up of working and trying to resolve your problem areas, so you dont give yourself enough time. Freedom to learn, in the company of peers is highly important. Because where else do you get this oppotunity?



For me Uni was great, After a HND and degree I went and did the MA Digital Special Effects at NCCA Bournemouth. I found that as long as i applied myself i learnt alot from both the staff and students around me. THe equipment was excellent and the software was industry standard.

I went straight into a job and been working ever since on some great projects. Many of my freinds from the NCCA went on to also get work. Bournmouth alumni are working in all the top facilities worldwide and most HR depts take note when they see yuo went to bournemouth. It does not automatically get you a job as you still need to prove your skills but many companies find the training and course structure at bournmoth gives you the knowledge to begin working in industry.

Yes there are many poor courses out there but there are also many Uni’s that provide great 3d training and i am aware of several UK schools that have a great reputation fot traing great artists.

On the software side i would just like to note it is far better to understand the theory behind visual effects/image processing/comp than it is to learn several software packages and just be able to push buttons. If you do not understand what you are doing behind the software you will not get far in industry.


When I applied to do my MA at Herts, they made it clear to me that they used PCs and ran 3DS Max. Here was me coming from a LightWave background and not even owning a PC at home (I use Macintosh computers). However, the staff couldn’t have been less bothered about what I used to make my animations - they were interested in my ideas and my final product; the tools I used were irrelevant, and that’s how it should be. They did say that they would probably be unable to answer any LightWave specific questions - coming from a Max background - but that was only to be expected; after all I was the one going against the grain.

I know it’s different at BA level, but I just thought I’d share my experience.


Sorry to hear you had to do plenty driving to find that out Simon.

And yes many of the points you raise are totally true, I myself wasted a year at a useless University on one of those money making courses (for the uni not me :stuck_out_tongue: ). Heck even the biggest bestest poshest Universities are into tricking you out of your LEA money.

Rest assured there are some courses out there with excelent tutors, im probaly one of the lucky ones, I know i definately count myself lucky. Every tutor I have has been serious about there work. They have worked and have plenty contacts, even to the point were if they havent time they even recomend you for work away from University (paid/freelancin).

Albeit im on a joint degree of Graphics Design and Illustration with Animation.
Just keep hunting Simon, my University is a shit hole, im not joking, it only recently got NAMED a university, before that it was an institute :stuck_out_tongue:


My first university was an institute and was named a university when I was in my second year there. Believe me, it had a far better reputation for arts as an institute than it has ever had as a university!


I thought that finishing school place folded? Theres no mention of it on the ntfs site anymore, though it looks like they are running some short term diplomas and such these days.


Well i went to teesside uni and the tutors who were the best were the industry ones,

Paul docherty, a certified 3ds max tutor and industry vet worked at a few studios ending with acclaim in teesside as a lead artist on shadowman i think (maybe art director it was a while ago when i spoke to him about it)

he 's in charge of the games course’s and that really helps cause he’s actually damn good, so even if the other tutors are less experienced its his course and he made or approved the modules. His lectures were the only ones i think i had near 100% attendance.

As for other people as far as i know all the tutors had at least 3 years industry experience in their fields a few of the later tutors added when people left unexpectedly etc were masters students who worked to a set sylabus written by doc in most places so were still quite good.

Im not saying teesside was perfect because there were a few modules that shouldnt have been on the games course even as options, but the good modules were relatively well taught and had good assessments (bar a few which p*ssed me off a little cause i felt i was marked down overall by the irrellevant modules that have no place in games development)