The Significance of ‘The University of DIC’

Over at Animation Magazine, Michael Mallory has a rather informative post about what he refers to as the ‘University of DIC’. As you should be aware of, DIC was an animation studio responsible for such shows as Inspector Gadget, the various Sonic the Hedgehog series’ and a whole host of other, primarily low budget animated shows. Despite being bought up a few years ago, the company’s influence continues to live on.


What the ‘University’ Was

Mallory puts it best:

The thing is, DIC would hire young, eager, talented people and put them through a crash course of cartoon making that resulted in more of its “graduates” going on into the industry than the AFI could ever imagine. In that regard, DIC CEO Andy Heyward was sometimes regarded as “the Roger Corman of animation.”

What’s interesting about such a scenario is that it’s quite hard to imagine it today. Contemporary studios seem more concerned with young artists having degrees before they can even get their foot in the door; making them ever more disposable as a result.

Instead of a studio having a vested interest in helping them learn the ropes, artists come in with the requisite basic skills and proceed to use them for the duration of the production. With relatively little effort on the part of the studio, they can be let go fairly easily and cheaply.

The Benefits of an Animation ‘University’

The DIC model is far from unique in industry. Plenty of companies exist whose reputation as tough training houses precedes them. The early days of Disney is one example, but the benefits go far beyond having a famous name on your resume.

As Mallory points out, numerous ‘graduates’ went on to other studios and sectors of the industry. While DIC was undoubtedly a tough and unforgiving place to work, it did function as a sort of clearing house for talent. That is, the people who made it through were clearly skilled, those that did not were perhaps lacking certain abilities.

In other words, those that could hack it, made it. Those that could not were weeded out. In effect, the DIC ‘Unviersity’ helped sift through and determine the capabilities of each artist. The upshot is that as the graduates dispersed throughout the industry, they brought with them not only their skills, but a respect for others who went through the same system.

Much the same as the rites of passage in many organisations, the tacit knowledge that someone has gone through something gruelling lends an unexpected sheen to their skills. Much the same as real alumni, there are numerous implicit advantages to having worked in certain places. DIC apparently is one of them.

Studios should be training grounds?

This all comes back around to the idea of whether or not studios should take a greater role in training animators and artists. This blogger never passes up an opportunity to promote the idea of apprenticeships for animators, but that isn’t entirely practical for many studios.

Instead, studios need to focus on their talent. Instead of simply renting their time and skills for a project, they should quote/unquote “invest” in them too. This is particularly true for young artists who need extra guidance and teaching as they start their careers.

Ideally, a studio would have a division or production team comprised primarily of green talent and use them for various low-budget projects. That would afford them the opportunity to gain experience and would help weed out those who are unwilling to make the necessary effort. In that respect, the studio would have its own ‘University’ that would pay dividends the way the DIC one has.

4 thoughts on “The Significance of ‘The University of DIC’”

  1. Very interesting – I’d be interested to know the turnover of students at DIC University.

    If a studio cannot afford to keep staff on payroll or pick up enough projects to sustain a scheme in house, but still wanted to invest in potential talent, they could look into collaborating with university animation courses and provide opt-in, non-commercial projects that can be credited towards a student degree. This could provide early professional guidance and experience for students interested in working on studio style projects, and courses will be informed of latest trends and software in professional use.

    We had visiting professionals and day long workshops on my animation course, but do any studios or universities already have longer schemes such as this?

    1. That’s a great idea Michael, but the real concern is that it could be abused as a way to get cheap or even free labour. Digital Domain tried it before they went bankrupt and unpaid internships (even for college credit) remain a very real problem throughout the industry.

      Studio still provide support to their artists, but there’s nothing nearly as structured as what went on back in the Golden Era.

      1. Thanks for your thoughts Charles!

        Perhaps if participants in such a scheme were answerable to ASIFA, Skillset or local unions like The Animation Guild, and if collaborating studios were only allowed to brief students to create original, non-commercial shorts, this could minimise the system being abused for free labour on commercial projects.

        I’ve seen the recent non-commercial shorts like ‘Le Dauphin dauphin’ and ‘The Night We Were Kings’ going viral and raising awareness of the collaborating institutions, such as Ankama and Cube Creative and Gobelins. While these are produced in house with interns what’s stopping more studios from doing similar collaborations directly at the universities within their animation courses?

        The studio needs only to invest their time in working with the students and devising a project, and then they can benefit from spotting and developing talent at an early stage. The publicity from finished films may eventually bring in more commercial work to eventually support a scheme in house.

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