Monday, October 13, 2014

How to choose an Animation or VFX school

I found this article on CG Masters page. I have no experience with this institution, but I found their advice to be pretty good:  

How to Choose your School – 10 Important Safety Tips

  You want to find the best animation school or the best visual effects school; the one that fits your budget and your training philosophy, not some giant cookie-cutter monster corporate training institute, and not some low-end, theoretical, public school program either. Digital Media training is a big and important investment. It should come from digital media experts, not corporate educators or academia. It’s about job skills, not tests or grades. If you are seeking a career in the industry there is no better way to get in than solid training, provided you find the right school for you. No matter where you choose to study you are looking at a significant expenditure, not only for training but for living expenses during your training time. It is important that you find the school that is right for you and not waste money and time on introductory, inappropriate or incomplete training. CG Masters core principle is student-centric, to help ensure students get the training they pay for, whether at our training centre or elsewhere. Here are some tips that might help you make up your mind:

1. Be skeptical! Don’t believe what a professional recruiter tells you. Be deliberate about searching for reasons an animation or vfx school is NOT for you. Most people fall in love with the hype and marketing from a school then search for reasons to support the emotional decision they have already made. Unfortunately this often blinds candidates from the reality that most digital media programs can not provide the skills needed to get a job. They may provide grades and a diploma, but that is not the same as job skills. You are investing a huge amount of money. Make sure you will get real training, not just software classes. Make them prove it to you.

2. Don’t pay attention to advertising including this document. It’s all propaganda. Do your own research, it’s important! Every school is going to show you what they think will impress you. When you go to their website there might be some inspiring words or pictures or videos. Here’s a safety tip: If their advertising evokes a strong emotional response from anything other than the quality of their student’s work, it is a red flag. They’re tricking you into making an emotional decision when you should be making a rational decision based on the actual quality of training. The only way to discover the real quality of the school is to find out what their real professional job placement numbers are and to view the work from ALL of their students. Schools that only show selected student work are not giving you the whole story. When they give you official placement numbers, ask how many of those are now their own teaching assistants or other (janitorial, security) employees at their school. Many schools hire their own graduates to improve their placement numbers, which is pretty cheeky, we think.

3. Don’t listen to claims of “Best Animation School In The World” or “School of the Year”. In order for a school to legitimately make this claim, they will have had to compete against every other school in the world and been judged by an impartial, professional judging panel. Claims like this actually come from small competitions against a handful of other schools/students which means the results are valid only within the context of competition with those specific schools/students, not relative to all the other schools in the world. One of the bigger private schools in Vancouver constantly claims to be best school in the world, even though they competed against only 0.2% of the other schools in the world. The claim may sound impressive, but it really isn’t. In fact, they know they are bending the truth into a pretzel to attract you. What expectations do you have of a school that begins a training relationship in this way?

4. Just because it’s a fancy University doesn’t mean it provides better (or even good) training. In fact, most universities provide some of the least useful animation and vfx training on the planet due to their academic process of tests and grades. Very few degree holders find employment. As industry professionals, we have found that academic education, while great for exploring ideas, concepts, philosophy and the past, is a very poor method for delivering professional job skills. Universities are so buried in academic process and bureaucracy that they have difficulty seeing the needs of the world beyond the ivory towers. Universities are all about the credential, not skills. The simple, obvious fact is that a potential employer couldn’t care less if you have a Ph.D. if you can’t do the job.


 5. See if you can speak directly to a current student or recent graduate to hear first-hand what the training is like. 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. If the school will not voluntarily permit you to speak with students and grads or attend a class, it is reason to become cautious.

6. Be wary if the animation / vfx school says things like “You only get out of your training what you put in.” This implies that all the responsibility for your success is on your shoulders. It attempts to absolve the school of responsibility for any failures. In fact, schools that say this nearly always have a very high failure rate and/or a very low placement rate. At the other end of the scale, a student-centric school is deeply committed to ensuring students are properly trained and prepared for life in the industry. After all, if you pay a school to train you, they should train you, not let you fail, right?

7. Find out if their trainers are real industry veterans or if they are professional teachers who worked in the industry 10 years ago for a while (or never). The minimum requirement for a post secondary teacher in a private school in B.C. is two years industry experience. This can include two years as a T.A. at the school they graduated from, which is not really professional experience at all. Many schools get their instructors this way rather than going to the trouble and expense of finding genuine masters to teach their programs. The real magic happens in a professional training centre when an industry master walks in after a hard day of work and tells a story about a current production problem or solution on a blockbuster film. These experiences provide invaluable, real-world context for the training and can not be delivered by non-professionals or T.A.s who do not have significant front-line industry experience.

 8. Have a realistic look at tuition rates. Universities often say they have much lower tuition than private schools but this is misleading. If you look at a typical 2-year (4 term) university program in digital media, you’ll see a cost of roughly $10,000 to $15,000 per term depending on whether you are a domestic or international student. When you compare this with tuition at private schools, many of which are equivalent to 3 university terms, university is not much different and is, in fact, more expensive in many cases. Additionally, Universities split your focus by making you take a ton of unrelated courses you don’t need to get a job in the industry.

9. Speak directly to instructors. 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. Most schools don’t have industry professionals reviewing portfolios, just professional recruiters who are deciding whether or not they can make you take an extra “foundation” program. Furthermore, they use the portfolio as an estimate of the candidates ability to be successful. This is complete nonsense. The only thing a portfolio indicates is the candidates CURRENT skill set, not their potential for success. That is determined by other factors.

10. Did we mention to be skeptical? If you find a school that will admit you without portfolio or interview, that is a sign that they don’t care who you are as long as you have money. You can expect from that kind of school…..well….exactly what you’d expect from someone who doesn’t care who you are. 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. This is a serious investment and deserves your serious research. It’s their job to prove they’re good enough for you, not the other way around. Remember, you have many choices. There’s a big VFX skills shortage right now despite thousands of grads, which says something about the training students are getting at most colleges and universities. According to, 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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post, Victor. You once gave me great advice way back when I was starting out. It was regarding how you got such great camera moves in a scene flying through an asteroid field. "keep it simple" was your advice. "Only have the camera do what it has to do and nothing more". This principle carried through...well...everything in my 18 year VFX career, not just camera. Thank you for that. Now I teach it and attribute the principle to you.

    Nick Boughen
    Co-Founder - CG Masters