Sheridan College – My Animated Experience at Sheridan College

BY STACEY C. WHO GRADUATED IN 2009.

I had first heard about the prestigious Sheridan College in my early teens, living in Winnipeg, Canada. I had always loved to draw, and I dreamed of becoming an animator. However, living in Winnipeg, I wasn’t exactly close to the Disney Animation Studios. In high school, I gravitated towards designing on computers, which came easily to me. So naturally, after high school I decided to go to college for graphic & multimedia design. I had always assumed somehow I would be able to end up in the animation field.

I worked in graphic/web design for about 5 years, and I really loved it. But there was always this nagging voice inside, asking me if I could really ever pursue my childhood ambition of becoming an animator. I had just gotten laid off from my current position due to the company’s financial hardship, and it was then that I thought, life is short, I am going to look into really pursuing animation.

Later I learned that each year about 2500 students apply to the degree, and they accept about 120.

Why I chose Sheridan College…

Once I began doing research online for animation schools, Sheridan came up immediately, and I had remembered the name from my early teens. Sheridan is in the top 5 schools for Animation studios to recruit from, and it’s the only top one in Canada. I figured, being Canadian, I would try my best to get into their Bachelor of Animation Degree. I heard it wasn’t easy….there was even a website entitled “Why Didn’t I get into Sheridan Animation…?” which didn’t exactly uplift my spirits! Later I learned that each year about 2500 students apply to the degree, and they accept about 120.

However, I worked hard on the initial portfolio to submit, and a few months later I got the letter that I had just made it into the program by the skin of my teeth! I was overwhelmed. I had just turned 25, and I was pretty much starting my life over and moving to Oakville, Ontario where I knew not a single soul. Little did I know I was embarking on one of the hugest adventures of my life ☺

My Education Pre-Sheridan…

I had my high school diploma, as well as a diploma in Multimedia Design & Communication. I had 5 years of working in art departments doing design, and I had built up a substantial client base for freelance. However, not many, if hardly any, had anything really to do with animation specifically. So this made me quite intimidated when it came time to try and even do the portfolio to apply to Sheridan.

When I first read the guidelines, I had no idea what layouts were, character poses, storyboards… these were all things I had heard about on DVD extras, but never had I created them myself.

As I said earlier, I had always drawn as a kid growing up, but I had never taken any real drawing lessons. I was extremely comfortable on the computer, but put a blank piece of paper in front of me and I started to panic a bit. It all felt rather foreign…. But I just gave it my best and sent it in.

I would suggest anyone who is thinking of applying to Sheridan… take as many life drawing classes as possible.

Life Drawing?…

Leading up to submitting the portfolio, I did take a few life drawing classes at our local art gallery. I had always heard how important life drawing was to animation artists, so that was one thing I could begin to open myself up to before submitting the Sheridan portfolio. Luckily I had gotten a few classes in so I could feel comfortable creating art with a piece of nupastel rather than a mouse. That helped me a HUGE amount, and I would suggest anyone who is thinking of applying to Sheridan, or any animation program, to take as many life drawing classes as possible. Work on light, shadow, shapes, structure, but most of all quick gestures and posing. That is most important, especially for animation.

Feeling Intimidated….

Needless to say, first week at Sheridan brought about so many feelings I can barely express. I had just moved to Ontario a week previous, exchanging my corporate clothes and respected status for a casual student number. It was a very humbling experience! I felt like I knew nothing again, I was back to square one.

I, like most everyone, questioned rather I was good enough to be there. Here I am, sitting in a character design class at Sheridan College, wondering how to draw a hand properly, and feeling like I will never be able to get on paper what I see in my head. But I really believe that anyone can draw, if they put enough effort and practice into it…and especially if they have the passion to stick with it.

Was Sheridan Worth It?…

My expectations of Sheridan were high. I mean, every year, studios like Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks..they all scout the animation grads because the school has such a history for putting out quality animators. I expected a lot from the school, the classes, the instructors….and also myself to be able to live up to it all!

After having graduated in April of 2009, I can safely say the school definitely lived up to my expectations. But I do feel that is due partially to the fact that I took advantage of this rare opportunity and worked my butt off. I saw many of my colleagues around me just doing the minimum, going off to party, not taking advantage of what they could while they were there. I suppose being 25 and not 19 was in my favor – I was paying and sacrificing a lot to be there, and I wasn’t going to waste a single moment!

Advice to other animation students….

If I can offer any sort of advice to people, especially those wanting to get into Sheridan, I would say to WORK HARD. Not just because they are giving you assignments and deadlines, but because you are the only person who can benefit from it. You will only get as much out of it as you put in. I was never late for a class, I tried to miss only when I was sick, and I tried to talk to the instructors as much as I could, for help, advice, or even just for their experiences working in the industry. A few times I had profs who had worked for Disney and Pixar, so of course I tried to develop a relationship with them and get as much feedback as possible! It all helped to fuel me to work harder on my own work and get better.

I would say the course content, coupled with the experience and knowledge of the instructors was what made it the best for me at Sheridan.

Favorite Thing About Sheridan…

Sheridan, in my opinion, has really developed a strong program for the Animation degree. They cover all the classes that are imperative to the animation industry. Life drawing, animation, character design, story structure, story boarding, animation history, music for animation, film history, editing…. It was like taking a degree in film, except we had to draw all of our actors! I would say the course content, coupled with the experience and knowledge of the instructors was what made it the best for me at Sheridan. I looked forward to every class there, even when I was completely exhausted.

You also have constant access to their computer labs and equipment, which is obviously a necessity. I had my own computer going in, and I don’t know how people completed the course without their own computer. We had animation desks at school, but lots of the time, especially during the last year working on my thesis film, I worked at home so I could concentrate. The staff is also always there to help, and they are available for appointments outside of class by email as well. I never had a problem getting help when I needed it.

Least Favorite Thing About Sheridan…

Perhaps that’s a good segway into my least favorite part about Sheridan, which is not really the school’s fault. As I said earlier, you should work HARD, and if you want to graduate, you will have no choice. They cram SO much into those 4 years, I basically put my entire life on hold until graduation. There are constant animation projects in every class, not to mention you have unrelated breadth courses because it is a BA, and they don’t care about your other projects, so you have papers and essays and tests in those as well. Each week I would have an average of about 5-8 projects to complete. It definitely puts your will to the test, but it is an amazing feeling when you do succeed in something like this.

Am I Ready For Work Now?…

I would say that, definitely, the school prepared me for a career in animation. In my first year, I thought I would never be able to grasp the concept of the bouncing ball, but now, I have completed my own animated short film in my 4th and final year, which has been accepted into 24 film festivals around North America. I would have never thought that possible, and I owe it all to Sheridan. I feel that I am ready to jump into a full-time career in the animation industry with what knowledge and experience Sheridan has left me with.

Paying The Big Bucks…

The cost is high-ish. It’s tough really to know what to compare it with. Compared to any school in the US, it is peanuts. But it isn’t pocket change either. There is the cost of the course itself each year, plus the necessary books which are quite expensive, and all the art supplies in the world. Which, shouldn’t come as a surprise, are rather expensive over 4 years! However, what school tuition + books is cheap? But again, it was definitely worth it. I thought, if I am going to do this once, I want to do it right. And I am so glad I chose Sheridan.

Internship…

One other thing that did help me a lot, was the fact that Sheridan also requires an internship in the animation industry in the summer between years 3 and 4. I was fortunate enough to work at Fisher-Price’s head office near Buffalo, New York, designing and animating for their toys! I would have never had that opportunity outside of Sheridan, and now I have a lot more connections through that internship that will help me in my future career. I know many of my fellow students have gotten permanent jobs from their internships as well.

I am so happy I stayed in Canada and chose Sheridan, and I know years down the road I will feel the same way.

In A Nutshell…

I would definitely recommend the program to anyone wanting to break into the Animation industry. It will equip you with the skills and confidence necessary to do so. I am currently freelancing in the animation industry and traveling with my short film from Sheridan to various film festivals. I am completely utilizing the skills I acquired at Sheridan. I will be applying for full-time positions in the New Year. I don’t think I would have done anything differently, looking back. My only other top choice for a school was Cal-Arts in California, but that would involve getting my student VISA and the cost is sooooo much more. I am so happy I stayed in Canada and chose Sheridan, and I know years down the road I will feel the same way.