One day while on youtube, I stumbled upon an online video that blew my mind. 2 people had animated a short film about Bruce Lee, my idol. After watching it, I began to think that I could actually do something similar. That’s right, Bruce Lee made me want to study 3D.
After checking out a few schools, I decided on VanArts. They were one of the only choices in the market that offered a 1-year diploma program that was fair in tuition as well. At 30, the length and tuition of the program were important factors in my decision. As a Canadian citizen, the tuition was roughly $25,000. It was a heck of an amount of money, but in order to make my dreams come true, it seemed it was my only choice.
I had always loved to draw, but never had an opportunity to pursue it professionally.
Accepted Into The Program
To be accepted into the program, you needed to submit a letter of intent and a portfolio. I had always loved to draw, but never had an opportunity to pursue it professionally. I spent quite a lot of time to put the best of my artwork together, packaged nicely into a portfolio. Looking back now, I would say it was a waste of time.
In only a week, after I had submitted all the necessary documents, I was accepted.
When I applied to the program, I wasn’t offered a tour of the school’s facilities. However, while I was studying there the school began to offer this. I think it’s a good move for the school and it’s beneficial for potential students too. It’s your money, and you should know what you’re getting for $25,000.
The program was a year long, divided into 4 semesters. You could either start in February or September.
The 1st semester is about learning the fundamentals of animation. We did 2D animations for a bouncing ball, jumping sack and tail wave. It’s good that the school insisted we understand these concepts before moving onto 3D. These are very important concepts in animation. After these classical animation exercises, we had to redo all of them in 3D. Then we were taught different walk cycles for humans and animals. This first semester, we had 12 assignments in total, due every Monday. Aside from this, we also had an animation history and life drawing class.
We used both Maya and XSI alternatively. However, since so much focus was directed towards classical animation, not enough time was set aside to introduce us to the software. Many of us struggled in the beginning, but I guess sometimes you learn better the hard way.
The 2nd semester was all about character animation. We did 2 pantomime and 3 lip-syncing animation exercises. We learned the proper production workflow: analysis of character personalities, drawing of thumbnails, breaking down timing with dope sheets, etc. We were also introduced to storyboarding, which was something totally new to me. Surprising, considering I am now a storyboard artist.
Even with several complaints to the school, nothing was done to help the students. It was all very disappointing.
After experiencing 2 good terms at VanArts, things started to get a bit ugly for the 3rd. In this term, we were supposed to learn modeling, texturing, and rigging for our demo reels. To learn these 3 subjects in only 3 months may have sounded impossible, but we were all ready and willing to do what we needed to finish our demo reels. However, the instructor who was responsible for these courses was not up to par. Even with several complaints to the school, nothing was done to help the students. It was all very disappointing.
At the beginning of the 4th semester, we began to work on our demo reels. But with the disaster that was the 3rd term, many of us couldn’t even start animating our demo reels until 3 weeks later. The school did arrange for a more experienced instructor to come in to teach us lighting, but most everyone was busy with their demo reels. It was not an optimal time to have lectures, as we were not able to absorb the valuable information that was taught. In the end, all of us were able to finish our demo reels, but given a more organized and better taught 3rd term, I am sure we would have had much better demo reels.
To be fair to the school, I’ve heard that the modeling instructor was since fired and I hope they can find somebody better to replace him. Even though we are animation students, without learning how to create good rigs, how could one ever expect to produce good animations? The animation program head was understanding and offered us some extra classes like sculpting and acting for animation, free of charge.
Some Other Issues
The common problem like other private schools is application acceptance. The school does not filter out students according to the quality of their portfolios. The bottom line for the school is $25,000 per student is hard to resist. Like I said before, if you can afford the tuition, being accepted is a guarantee. Of course this brought up a lot of problems for our class.
Unlike the class before and after us, the school could not provide dual monitors for ours. We were a crowded class of 14, and the classrooms could not contain the 28 LCDs required. We also received less attention from instructors during class time, and some resorted to helping us out during their breaks.
A Shout-Out To Clint Morris
One last thing that I’d like to mention about VanArts is that they do have a very good life-drawing instructor, Clint Morris. He is friendly, patient, and very knowledgeable instructor. Although quite young, his life drawing skills in different mediums, knowledge of human and animal anatomy, and understanding of perspective is amazing. He is a professional, and I’d like to personally thank him for what he has taught me.
What I’m Up To Now
At the end of the program, the school arranged an Industry Night for all the graduates. The HR departments from various studios in town were invited to come and take a look at our demo reels, hoping that some of us would be able to establish potential working opportunities. There weren’t too many people that came out, and the Industry Night didn’t help us very much.
Because there are so many experienced animators and modelers who are looking for the same type of work, the industry is very competitive.
Unfortunately, the buzz was that we graduated at one of the worst times possible. Studios started to lay off their workers. And because there are so many experienced animators and modelers who are looking for the same type of work, the industry is very competitive.
I was unemployed for almost half a year before I found my first job. I spent that time practicing what I had learned, and focused on some new skills as well. Eventually, the wait and the practice paid off.
I’m proud to say that I’m now a storyboard artist for 3Plains. It’s not character animations, but photo-realistic CG work for trade industries and students. With my life drawing, photo-realistic modeling, and animation skills, it’s been a great fit for me. My employer and co-workers are very talented and I’m learning new things everyday. We’re using 3DSmax here, software I wasn’t too familiar with, but my co-workers have been very willing to help me out. Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute more than storyboards in the future, and possibly help the company with CG work.
If you want to see some of my work, please visit http://jasonyu3danimator.blogspot.com.