Is There an Impending Apocalypse in Animation Studies?

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.



7 thoughts on “Is There an Impending Apocalypse in Animation Studies?”

  1. The problem with the apprenticeship idea as far as the studios perspective goes is they don’t have the time (i.e. $) for the most part to bring in someone who can’t hit the ground running. Producers won’t hire storyboard artists with years of experience if they don’t have work from shows similar to theirs in their portfolio. Oh, you’re an action adventure guy… sorry this is pre-school show (or vice versa).

  2. I see another problem to this conundrum. There is a factory of copy cat animators being produced from said institutions. Many of these graduates are a carbon copy of their professors and of what is accepted as “good animation”. If you were to watch a demo reel from schools like Ringling, CalArts, Animation Mentor, or Ianimate and other like them, the animation all look like they were created by the same person. Which in itself is not a terrible thing. But it lacks originality and individualism. When you watch older animated films, you can tell who animated what. You can see when it was a Glen Keane scene or an Eric Goldberg shot. You know when Marc Davis is animating or when is was Ward Kimball. There are no more star animators anymore. There are only cloned animators. The future of animation need a revival of the individual animator. The big studios don’t want or care about this. It’s cheaper for them to do what they are doing now. They hire replacement parts, excuse me I meant to say they hire recent graduates.

    I believe that for future animators to be something special, then they need an apprenticeship type of study. That doesn’t mean that they should go to a studio. They can find an animator and study privately on their own.

    1. Absolutely – I see a change for this as Animated Film Distribution becomes independent. Change the way the business is setup then you can make way for smaller studios dedicated to the art and keeping their artists until they become superstars.

      Pixar and Bluesky certainly have modern day animation rockstars but we need more.

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  4. Mariano Rodríguez

    Same happens with direction and scriptwriting. Students get fed a lot of cadaveric structures (one actually, the 3-act, 20 something beats, Hero´s journey) and not once are taught how to think for themselves.

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