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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fall Class Update and a Rant

Hey boys and girls! If anybody out there is considering taking my class in fall, remember that it is THIS ONE. I'm NOT teaching the graduate class 686. That was (unsurprisingly) a mistake by the Academy. For months now I've been telling them that it is the Character Animation Studio class only, and what do I see in the recent course line up? My name attached to two classes... sigh...

I was also mentioning that fewer students would be more beneficial, since there would be more one-on-one time between student and teacher and a good balance between lectures and critique. For this upcoming animation class in fall I don't have fewer students, I have actually MORE... sigh... That's how much they listen (or care?).

So far, there are 19(!) students signed-up. Now, let's look at the "worst case" scenario. If I do a lecture, consisting of theory, a demonstration and clips for reference, it can easily take up one hour. The class is 170 mins long, take away a midpoint break of 10 mins, 160 mins, minus the lecture, 100 mins. That leaves us with 5.2631579 mins per student. Now consider the time it takes going from clip to clip, technical problems ("Hmmm... I thought I used the right codec..."), actual viewing time before you get to the critique, etc. We are left with (hopefully) 4 mins of actual critique time per student. That doesn't leave any room for discussions, critique by fellow students, completely unrelated story telling and ramblings, the occasional spankings and mandatory beating. In short, where's the fun??

Ok, ok, I'm exaggerating. Or am I? Tun tun tun tuuuuuuuuhhhh... cue creepy music and flashlight under your face.

Maybe it's time for an Academy rant. I know, it sounds weird coming from someone that is employed by the AAU, but it's not just negative, there is hope.

I've been a student at the Academy of Art College (which is now a University) from Fall 1999 until Spring 2003, and a first time teacher in Spring 2007, returning to the AAU after 4 years. My first impression was that nothing had changed. It is terribly unorganized and the students are not properly advised by their student... wait for it... advisors... They feed you useless classes and you end up wasting a lot of time and money. They promise you 80 or 90% job approval ratings but don't give you the support needed in order to back up those claims. Granted, I can only speak from an animation major point of view (and not photography or design), but according to friends in the film and fashion department, it's not an isolated case.

What I suggest: the moment you know what you want to do, what major, go find a student that is about to graduate and ask him/her what classes are worth taking. Make a list of all the classes that you really have to take (and pay attention to the pre-requisites) and tell your advisor to sign you up for those (don't have them tell you what to do, otherwise you end up taking "Design Drawing" with an insanely expensive supply list). If you are someone like me who couldn't transfer too many classes from your previous education, then you'll end up taking things like English Writing, US History, etc. Interesting classes maybe, but not very helpful when it comes to learning animation. If you have a choice, swap these with classes that teach you composition, storyboarding, editing, anything that's related to film making. If you don't (like me), then add them to your necessary classes, so that you have 5 classes per semester. Don't stop at 4. I took four classes per semester for the first two years and I still had a lot of free time. During my last semester I took 6 classes. 4 must-haves and two mandatory ones online. I didn't care about the grades, I just wanted to learn animation, because that' s what I came here for. What matters is a degree, not your grades. If you are an American and don't need a VISA, then even a degree is not that essential in getting a job. It helps, but your portfolio will get you the job, not the degree. For foreigners applying for an H1B Visa, a bachelor is a minimum requirement.

But even with all this in mind, you won't get anywhere if you are not willing to work hard. As crappy as the AAU can be, it's mostly when you just sit back and wait for things to happen. If you expect to magically emerge as a super animator once you graduate, then no school will be able to help you.
If you are devoted to animation, self-motivated and pro-active, then the AAU is pure gold. You can build up a great network of friends and industry professionals and for animators the Pixar classes are heaven. After graduation I came back for an additional class (since I didn't get any response from studios after my initial demoreel send-out) and it was a Pixar 2 class. The christmas/spring time is always a good time for getting a job, so that time coupled with a stronger portfolio thanks to the Pixar class got me a job. Pixar also offers an internship during summer, so my suggestion would be to do whatever it takes to get a strong portfolio together in order to get accepted into one of the 3 Pixar classes, because the benefits are immense.

My hope is that I can help you guys out with building said portfolio. I'm tough on the grades because I compare the work to the current quality of animation students and portfolios in the field. You are competing with industry veterans, Animation Mentor graduates and everybody else out there who wants the same job as you do. Before the semester starts I will post examples of what is needed to get an A or B and what will get you a C, D and F.

So, again, the upcoming class will be packed and I hope that if you signed up for it, that you are serious about it. If it is just a filler class (and there are tons of them, I know, I've been there), then either get out of it or let me know at the beginning of the semester. It's not fair to waste your fellow student's time. If you tell me that you have to take this class but don't really care, then at least you're honest and I'll let you browse the web during class (just don't expect anything higher than a "D"). It's your choice (and your money).

Just like with my first class, you'll be able to construct your own syllabus. I'm here to help you out whatever your animation needs are. If you've never done a walk cycle, I'd suggest you do one (they're hard). If you did tons of them, move on (unless you're really bad at them...). Make sure that your portfolio shows variety, so find areas that need improvement and go from there. I'm obviously there for you to tell you what needs improvement in case you are unsure. Bring your current portfolio to class so I can look at it. If you're completely new to animation, then following the AAU syllabus is a good idea. The syllabus covers a lot, but the variety is good.

What is required is an understanding of the basic mechanics. Your first assignment will be a bouncing ball. EVERYBODY will have do this. The only exception are students who can show me their balls (zing!) during the first class. I need to see a heavy, medium and light ball. No character, just pure physics. If you can't sell the weight of a simple ball, I most certainly won't let you do a two character dialogue shot. If you want to really convince me, then have the balls fall from left to right (or right to left, or bouncing of walls, objects, etc. anything that's beyond the simple up and down the Y axis) and add a tail to them. So if you have a squishy rubber ball with a tail, you'll be able to show me believable weight, squash & stretch and overlapping actions with the tail. If that is the case, you can move on, if not, keep practicing until you get it (I'll obviously help you with it).

The other thing I will repeat from the first class is the option to email me your work during the week (or better, have a link to it on your site - you need your own website). So don't waste a week on a 10min ball bounce assignment. Once you're done, let me know and you can move on.

If you have any questions, just shoot me an email.

See you soon!


Erik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik said...

I can't agree with you about those advisors and AAU any more, but i also worry about you. :-P

hope i can take your class again, last class was great!

Jean-Denis Haas said...


I know, it's going downhill with me...

I really want to dedicate time to my students, so taking on another class is a lot of work and a lot of time spent. You have to see that that time means time away from my family and that's hard.

But yeah, last semester was great, you guys were so much fun, it was a great experience!