Dig deep into the past and try remembering when family households were able to function without the Internet. Society had more patience before affordable technology was possible. Remember sending a letter to grandma and waiting weeks for a response? Or calling a friend and letting it ring until you finally came to accept that the person wasn’t home? Most college students today did not experience that reality.
When 3D animation software became available, it required large unaffordable equipment and limited universities offered it. Students pursuing 3D animation complied with the college art department’s curriculum, derived before computer animation software programs. It weeded out slackers and taught students perseverance and work ethic. Computer animation was a brand new way of creating animation yet much like traditional animation, it was an exclusive art form.
When I attended grad school the computer lab consisted of eight SGI machines serving fifty students. Lab hours went through the night, mine were from 3:00am – 6:00am. Students have the software at home now, free of charge. Many people are choosing to avoid college, utilizing online 3D animation schools or YouTube tutorials, bypassing the hideous critiques and public insults by their professors. They want to get to the point and learn the software.
I can understand, I really can, however the distressing critiques and nightmare projects were what taught me to develop a thick skin, work hard and listen to criticism. The long hours of painting classes, dipping a fountain pen in ink for typography classes, sculpting, carving and of course drawing built a foundation before I approached 3D animation. The foundation classes begin the development process of creating an “eye” for layout, color, texture, form and expression.
I have seen student work from some of the most prestigious art schools showing exceptional technical skills and a complete lack of aesthetic. When there’s no eye or sense of right and wrong, minor details poorly executed or completely ignored are blatant to studios reviewing incoming reels. This dilemma is not fully the student’s responsibility. It is essential for professors to have an eye for animation so they can confidently guide and direct students. Professors teaching 3D animation continuously run into the situation of the students wanting to see magic tricks from the software and they aren’t interested in animation principles. Colleges, students and professors need to believe in extensive foundation classes as well as acting, theater and traditional animation as prerequisites for 3D character animation classes. Students need professors who have worked in the animation industry, experienced dailies and showing shots to directors over and over until they were approved.
3D animation software is a tool as is a text editor. The computer is not an idea machine. If someone has Microsoft Word on their computer it doesn’t mean they become a poet after learning the software. The majority of students truly believe that it’s a matter of learning Maya, and they want it spoon-fed to them. The thought of sweating through learning the tool,on their own,is absurd. Slackers are no longer weeded out of computer animation just like the children on the playground all win trophies even if they were on the losing team. Professors need to start preparing students early in their college career through appropriate assignments, valuable critiques, and tough love. We need to stay true to the practice even at the risk of low enrollment.
Lauren Carr is an Assistant Professor in the BFA Animation / Illustration Department at Montclair State University. She lives with her husband Mark and their daughter Dakota Rose in the Hudson Valley Region of New York. Lauren worked in feature animation as a character technical director for 14 years prior to her position at Montclair State University.