Over on the Society for Animation Studies blog, Lauren Carr writes about what she perceives as a crisis in animation studies stemming mainly from a desire by students to simply learn the software tools rather than the technique and theory behind animation. If that’s true, then we are heading for an impending apocalypse in the field from which it will be very difficult to recover.
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The majority of students truly believe that it’s a matter of learning Maya, and they want it spoon-fed to them.
Carr’s statement may not be entirely true, but it isn’t exactly entirely false either. While animation as an industry has grown tremendously over the past 25 years or so, the technique itself has grown far less, and could even have stagnated to an extent.
Consider 3-D CGI, a truly groundbreaking development that has been the main driver of growth in the industry thanks to Pixar et al. Since it became established though, developments have focused mostly on the technical aspects of the technology; making things more detailed, improving lighting and shading, giving character the ability to look and move more realistically.
Yet the actual animation itself has not improved at the same pace and part of the blame can be laid squarely at the pool of talent being produced. Today there are a ton of institutions that will teach animation in a variety of different ways, but they are not all created equal. Some will impart the theory of animation in addition to the tools, but as Carr points out, plenty will simply emphasise the tools and little more.
Graduates of such institutions then head out into the workforce, where they either receive a rude awakening, have to quickly learn the skills on the job, or fail to find meaningful employment at all. It is the worry, that as such students gradually climb the career ladder that they place less of a definition on animation and more on simply getting the product done and out the door.
There’s ample evidence out there to suggest that is already happening. We’ve all seen the mockbusters that are out there that have what can barely pass as animation masquerading as exactly that. You can mock the lack of skills on the artist’s part all you want, but they are almost all CGI which suggests that they have at least a knowledge of the complicated software used to create it in a way that’s no different from the artists working at a successful studio like DreamWorks.
The quandary again raises my idea that animation education should take the form of an apprenticeship program. The advantages are obvious in that they take in raw students and rather than cram them with theory over the course of three or four years, give them a blend of theory and practise that helps their skills evolve in a more organic way. A credential awarded at the end is merely the icing on the cake. Students would not only have the necessary skills, but also the work experience and a better knowledge of whether to continue their studies or not.
It’s just a shame that such an idea does not gain a lot of traction in the current environment when the emphasis is on speed and cost. Add into the mix an oversupply of ‘acceptable’ artists saddled with student debt and you can see where studios see many advantages to keeping the current regime in place despite it being in the worst interests of all concerned.
This isn’t to say that animation should become an elite club of sorts, but rather to echo Carr’s concern that there is not enough of the ‘weeding out’ nowadays that colleges and universities traditionally did when it came to students.
In any case, the next 8-10 years should prove to be very interesting from this standpoint and how it affects the industry as a whole.