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Look Before You Learn (2002) February 21, 2012

Posted by shannonmuir in animation.
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More opportunities than ever seem to be cropping up for non-artists to learn about the animation industry.  A screenwriter’s conference in the Fall of 2002, mainly geared to live-action writers, has several seminars scheduled devoted to animation.  Now in the bookstores, alongside the animation artist-geared books that have been available for years, are books for writing and non-artist aspects of producing animation.  Classes geared specifically to writing animation are available through continuing education, many of them online and available to aspiring writers around the world. With so many choices, and so many people offering advice, how do you sort out the worthwhile stuff from people who don’t really know what in the world they’re talking about?

First off, doubt everything.  Hey, doubt me too, for that matter.  There’s a reason a fair number my columns consist of interviewing others, and that’s because I am well aware that I do not know it all.  That said, there’s also some experience I have that other people at my level are not sharing, and I think — or at least hope, anyway — that insight into the lower ranks of the production ladder really can help someone wanting to break in know what to expect.

A credentials check should be what you do first.  In the instructor biography, on the book’s back cover, look for specific projects people have worked on.  Sometimes they’ll tell you what positions they had on shows or at companies; confirm them.  If all they’ve done is claim they worked for companies but don’t say what they did, the radar should go up.  Be sure to check what that potential instructor or book author did in fact work at that company, and see if those positions at those companies involved animation in any way.  They may have an extensive resume at all the major studios, but if the total experience in animation adds up to very little, you should choose someone with a greater wealth of animation experience.

This industry tends to have a lot of people in it embellishing their resumes.  It also tends to have a lot of people playing up projects that have not been produced; however, this is not necessarily bad.  Not everything that gets developed gets made in animation.  Someone with a lot of developed but unproduced series under his or her belt may very well be good at what they do, and just not been fortunate enough to be with, or find, a company able to make things happen.  Or it could just be that they know enough people to keep getting gigs places but are ultimately replaced on shows because they truly are not capable. On any case, these people still can say they developed such and such a show on their resumes, because it’s true.  They did take a pass at developing the show.  Their version just didn’t get made.  Now if someone says he or she helped create a show, happened to be on staff at the time, and maybe the most they did was gave a suggestion to someone at one point that just happened to be followed — that’s more my definition of fudging your credits.

So do your homework before doing your studies, in other words.

Having said that, experience does not in itself make people good instructors.  I also mean this in the sense of books; someone may write a great creative script but be totally unable to express concepts in nonfiction.  You may be able to glean a lot from that wealth of experience, but if the information is communicated in an ineffective way, much of the impact is lost.  If you have the access to ask other people’s opinions (who have read the book, taken the course, etc.), by all means do so before spending.  It’s your precious money, and you should want to be making an investment, not throwing it away.

As to whether books or classes are more effective, that is up to your own personal learning style.  I do well with either, though I enjoy the ability in a classroom setting (whether online or in person) to interact and the immediacy of asking questions specifically tailored to my current needs.  Others may prefer this road because they hate reading.  Some people, on the other hand, are far too shy to ask questions and feel more at ease being able to learn on their own time.

Essentially, don’t let your eagerness and passion totally blind you into thinking that every class or book geared towards non-artists in animation fits your needs.  Make sure you’re getting your money’s worth and worthwhile experience.

(originally published 2002)

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