HOW TO PICK A SCHOOL
TEN TIPS TO HELP NAVIGATE VFX and ANIMATION TRAINING PROGRAMS
Visual effects school? Animation school? How do you pick the right school or program? What questions should you be asking prospective schools? We get a lot of these questions. Here are some of our answers to the most common questions.
We expect you to hold us to these same standards while researching your options.
1. BE SKEPTICAL!
Probably the first, best, most general advice we can give is to take a healthy, skeptical approach to all schools. Start from a “Prove it to me” point of view. Like anything, animation and vfx schools can vary in quality. You don’t want to invest your training budget somewhere that is known to have low success. It’s up to you to find out.
Never rely solely on marketing from the school to tell you whether or not they will meet your training needs. Good researchers look for multiple sources of information for corroboration (like reviews from actual graduates and feedback from the industry regarding the quality of the graduates they have hired). That way, by the time the researcher gathers enough evidence to be convinced, she can be pretty confident about her results.
2. LOOK FOR REAL PRODUCTION TRAINING
Learning software tools is relatively straightforward compared to learning the job. Acquiring the right job skills for the creative and intense film and animation industries require a level of expertise that comes only from veteran members of the industry.
According to our Founder Nicholas Boughen, “The only way to learn production is to do production”. This means long-term, team-based projects that are managed and directed by senior animation and visual effects experts who are currently working at major studios. It means working within a real studio pipeline and learning real studio procedures that streamline your personal workflow as well as your team’s. It means a training environment that so accurately simulates real production that by the time you get your first job, everything will feel familiar.
In our opinion, this should be the key focus of your research. After all, a (highly motivated) person can learn much of the software skills they need on YouTube. But there’s only one way to learn production job skills.
3. SPEAK DIRECTLY TO INSTRUCTORS.
Interview them. Ask them direct questions about their professional experience. See if any of them will give you a no-obligation portfolio critique to help you improve your skills. If you can learn something new from a portfolio critique, that’s a good sign.
Look for instructors who are
- Industry veterans (10 or more years of animation or VFX experience)
- Still working every day in the job
This will ensure you acquire
- high quality, current techniques using the latest software
- currently accepted studio production practices
4. SPEAK TO A STUDENT OR RECENT GRADUATE FOR A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT OF TRAINING
Any recruiter should have no problem supporting your research. Ask them to connect you with currently studying students, or better yet, past graduates who have nothing to lose by providing a frank account of their experience. Speak to more than one if possible. Many would be ideal. See if the school will let you sit in on a class where you can observe the training and speak privately with whichever students you wish. There is little research better than the word of experience.
5. LOOK AT STUDENT WORK
One of the easiest ways to find quality schools is to simply look at student work (prior to being edited by a professional editor at the school…that’s another sneaky marketing trick) Just look. Make up your own mind.
6. DON’T PAY ATTENTION TO ADVERTISING INCLUDING THIS DOCUMENT
We all know that advertising is mainly propaganda. Marketing is all about showing you the shiny, pretty bits while downplaying the negatives. It’s really designed to trick you into making a choice. And it’s too easy to be tricked if you don’t do some deeper research. Be a critical thinker.
In fact, the only way for you to know for certain that the information you’re reading right now isn’t just propaganda is to research. Take some time to make a good decision. Get in touch with grads, read legitimate reviews, visit the school. Try not to let the fancy brochures give you an emotional response. Make a rational decision.
See if you can find the school’s official job placement numbers. In other words, the number of graduates (including foreign students) who have found work in an animation or vfx studio making content. FYI: Schools are not required to report whether or not foreign students landed jobs, so a school with 1 local student and 100 foreign students can report 100% placement if the single local student found work…which is weird, don’t you think?
7. BE WARY OF CLAIMS OF “BEST ANIMATION SCHOOL!”
…or “School of the Year” or “Extraordinary School”. This is more marketing shenanigans. In order for a school to legitimately make this claim, they should (but never do) explain that they only competed in a competition against the few other schools that chose to compete, not the many thousands that exist in the world. Instead, they let you assume they mean best school compared to ALL other schools. Naughty…
8. HIGH JOB PLACEMENT
Achieving very high job placement numbers is really, really hard. Most schools will let in anybody who can pay regardless of skills potential or commitment, so placement numbers are not likely to be very high. To get high placement, schools need to be picky about who they let in. If a school is claiming a high placement number, like anything above 60%, make them prove it to you.
As mentioned earlier, schools are not required to report the job success of international students, so if 1 out of 100 students is Canadian, and that one Canadian is the only one to get a job, the school is permitted to claim 100% placement.
We recommend you have a frank discussion about this with any recruiters you speak to.
9. WATCH OUT FOR THE ACADEMIC APPROACH
Most colleges, universities and private schools offer classes in an academic format which is a great way to teach history, mathematics, philosophy and many other important and enlightening subjects. But if you want to get a job in this amazing industry, you don’t need theoretical knowledge. You need a practical, job-skills training approach that, instead of providing grades at the end of term, provides skills assessments, reviews, opportunities to improve and then more reviews, so when the end of term arrives, you have high-quality skills rather than a transcript with some letters on it. We recommend you seek out schools that focus on your job skills, not your test scores.
Industry needs skilled, experienced, creative problem solvers who understand their primary responsibility is to be cost effective. Universities are about the credential, not job skills. There’s nothing wrong with the pursuit of a credential and there are many great reasons to do so, but it won’t get you a job in this industry. The simple, obvious fact is that a potential employer couldn’t care less about your MFA or PhD if you can’t do the job.
10. DID WE MENTION TO BE SKEPTICAL?
As a professional training centre, it’s our job to prove we are good enough for you, not the other way around. Remember, you have many choices. There’s a big VFX labour shortage right now across the globe despite thousands of grads.
Don’t let a recruiter judge you. You should be judging them. You are the client, the customer, the one who keeps them in business.
A school that intends to train you well will, at the very least, take you through an interview / assessment process designed not only to tell them if you are right for the school, but also to tell you if the school is the right place for YOU. A good school will have an industry professional review your portfolio with you to help determine your current skill set and how it relates to your training goals.
SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!
According to broadcastnow.co.uk, Amy Smith, head of recruitment at Framestore says “one of the reasons for the skills shortage is that the current educational model isn’t suited to the needs of the industry because it was designed for jobs that existed 10 years ago. “[Educational institutions are] training students how to use Maya and Nuke, which is fine, but it’s not enough any more.” And this is precisely why CG Masters exists.