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Elizabeth McMahill @elizmcmahill
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Advice for animation students! (Ringling or otherwise)
You don't have to go to any 1 school to make it. Hell, you don't even have to go to college (unless you want to teach)! You can teach yourself everything, animation is not some secret. But college helps/can expedite things! Anyways, lots of other people have written more on that!
If you are not financially well off MAKE SURE that you are ready for art school. Make sure you have good fundamental drawing skills above what you need to be accepted, teach yourself digital programs like Photoshop and Maya ahead of time if you can.
If that means taking a gap year to stay w/ parents to do self study and attend figure drawing and experiment with programs still consider it. Art schools like Ringling have you hit the ground running hard and you don't want to be hung up on basic drawing or learning dumb software
Get that stuff out of the way, at least to a comfortable degree, so you wont be expending as much effort stumbling over it instead of focusing of the artistic goals of a lesson while your tuition money burns. And yes, Maya too even though they tell you not to.
I saw too many students crash and burn by not getting over the Maya hurdle in time. You can not count on your instructors to help you get over this massive learning curve. The program is labyrinthine. Anything you can do to familiarize yourself with it and prep will help.
If you are not financially well off MAKE SURE that you can financially make it happen. Maybe you can get a loan/pay for your first year, but make sure you can get loans/pay for years 2, 3, 4, and maybe an emergency 5th year too!!!!
I saw too many students dropping out because they couldn't get approved for more loans / were going it alone and didn't have cosigners who were salaried and their debt to income ratio blew up. Be careful! Do the math!!!
Would your total debt after 4 years be more than 100k??? Maybe reconsider or do some more math. I graduated with roughly 100k total debt. It sucks, but I have been able to pay it! BUT I had half my costs covered through scholarships and started attending with 2008 prices!
College will get more expensive over the course of your attendance. My tuition went up over 1k each year. Look up fee schedules from past years. Do the math.
For paying it off... look up The Animation Guild (TAG) wage surveys. Can you pay your bills+rent+projected loan payment on HALF the median wage for an entry level position? Can you still do it if you only work 2/3 of a calendar year? If not, reconsider!!! That's a good-case start
OK, enough about boring money! How about some fun advice!
LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN!!!!
Take classes outside of your major, read texts, watch movies, do studies, go to visiting artist talks whenever you can, go to gallery shows for other majors. See! Learn! Do!
Everything can be brought back to inform your art, be it through content or form! Everything from plein air painting to religious studies can bring value to your work and can help you make more informed and interesting decisions.
Identify your weakness and work hard to patch them up! Attain competency at everything in your field. If you still have energy and resources left then push for improvement in the areas THAT INTEREST YOU.
There's a lot of dogma around popular styles and students fitting in to certain job roles (and dogma/expectations of what those people and their work "should" look like). Ignore that and focus on the PURSUIT of art and making work that is interesting to you and others respond to.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PARTICIPATE IN CRITIQUES!!! It will help you learn and formulate ideas, it will help give your peers feedback, it will help you all be more prepared for a work environment where you will have to respectfully give and take critique and problem solve your work.
Also, if you are in a class or situation where the faculty is not giving helpful feedback peer critique is the first line of defense! Also, healthy thoughtful peer critique in so helpful to push you outside of class and post college. Get good at critique, build a healthy culture.
Don't be afraid of asking questions! Especially if you legit don't understand something, are struggling to grasp a particular concept, or are curious about other scenarios/examples. That tuition money is burning too quick for you to be shy! It's also paying your teachers :V
Play by the rules but be respectfully and earnestly rebellious where you feel there is genuine cause or reason. But be responsible about it too, don't get yourself failed. Where the walls are rigid pick your battles and play smart if you try to push them.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! Which is so hard to do when getting in 30 extra minutes on an assignment can make or break your passing. Take care of yourself wherever you can. Eat decent, get outside sometimes, maintain some tiny hobby, don't let your self worth get tied up in art.
And don't let your art get tied up in assignments and expectations. It's a marathon. Always get some sleep. Find the number that you can coast on for a week and still be mostly ok, for me that was 4-6 hours a night. Anything less than 4 dragged me down FAST.
Don't let the program get you down, it's just a school. Be with your friends. If you feel you need counseling GO AND GET IT. I was too afraid to go when I needed it in school and wish I had. When I needed it after graduation I went and IT HELPED.
WORK SMART. Do your hardest work during the times of day where you're at your best. Save the stuff where you don't need to think as much for other times. Find habits that help you stay on task. Build up something total that you can hand in before you plus it, make lots of backups
Your peers are one of your greatest assets in school. Connect with them, discuss art with them, ask them questions, help them out, support each other! The program is good at teaching u technical/artistic competency but friends that care about art can help you see so much further!
Do your own work outside of your projects wherever you can! Make it about what excites and interests you! Art outside the program helps SET YOU APART and get you NOTICED. It helps you develop your voice and opens opportunities in the direction you want to go. Keeps you sane too!
Example: I did a tiny one afternoon paper cut out stop-mo animation for fun/experimentation in a stop motion club meeting. That was on my reel junior year when I got an internship at JibJab. It was just enough for them to give me a stop mo ecard, building my experience, etc, etc
Example: @aalong64 made his own short cartoons in flash in highschool and college. His PERSONAL college shorts got him noticed, got him freelance, got him hired (FROM Canada to Los Angeles mind you). Now he's directing on a TV show (and still making his own stuff!).
Your school/work stuff may be some of the most important stuff in building a career, but personal work gives that extra leverage and helps direct your path where you want it to go. It will also be some of the most interesting work you do and resonate the most with fellow artists.
Again, get outside the major!!! With your classes, with your friend circles. There are so many great people near & far from you doing interesting and thoughtful work & who have different perspectives, knowledge, and experiences. And everyone is there because they care about art!
Connect, discuss, grow, explore, and soak it up while you can. Campus life doesn't last and it's maybe what I miss most about college, creatively and socially. It's so hard to replicate.
If you've got strong opinions about stuff that's cool, share the positives! If you're really into certain things don't just fan out, find what is artistically resonant in it for you and share that! If you don't like something, find the reasons and share that, but don't be a jerk!
Being open, genuine, supportive, thoughtful, constructively critical, taking criticism in stride are also all big bonuses to your career once you're working. You are networking at work, but you are also networking at college! Be someone your peers want to work with!
Back to $'s for a bit... If you can hold down a job while in school that's awesome! Of course in college your time and efforts are more valuable than wages while that tuition money is burning, so if you can't do a job, that's OK, maybe even for the best.
But if you have to hold down a job to be able to attend that's OK too. It's going to be harder, but you do what you have to. Buckle up, be smart, and get ready for that marathon. People have done it before, it's possible. Good luck!!!
After school having a second job can be really great! The first couple years out of school can be the hardest and most chaotic to navigate while you gain traction in your experience and network. A second job can buffer that and help you play it safe. There is no shame in it!!!
If you can, make a career start savings!!! I was very fortunate to be selected as Trustee Scholar for my senior class and was awarded $3k. That $3k was just enough to fly me out to LA, cover security deposit & first month of my rent, and sustain me until I got my first paycheck.
And know the ins and outs of your loans. Know your deferment options and repayment plans before you even sign up for the loan. Most private loans only give one 6-mo deferment after the graduation grace period. Hold onto that card until you absolutely need to play it.
Pay attention to the interest rates, the prime rate, and it's forecast. If you're stable a few years out and it makes sense to refinance your private loans and you qualify, DO IT. Keep a savings for inbetween jobs and work droughts and pay extra on the loans whenever you can.
When you are looking for work be enthusiastic and genuine. Pay attention to what portfolio pieces people react to. While working, work hard, be nice, learn your worth, and don't get taken advantage of. If you have to take sub-par work to get by that's ok, don't let it get u down.
Nothing in animation is the end of the world, there's always a next, and work is just work - it will never replace your own art. Besides, there is so much more to life than movies or pictures. Good luck out there! :)
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