Animation courses, like most art-based educational programs, have a stigma about them surrounding the lecturers. It was a cliché but most teachers were ‘accused’ of being down-and-out, unsuccessful artists themselves and at the end of every year it was assumed that the guy who guided you in your portfolio or show reel was probably going to be pitching for the same job that YOU were applying for.
If you have never been to Art College or university I recommend seeing Art School Confidential (2006 – directed by Terry Zwigoff). Whilst there are schools that have much higher principles (no pun intended), it pretty much sums up most post-graduates ‘opinions’ of higher education.
Regardless of whether the rumours are true or not, the fact is that once you get your qualification and step outside the university doors for the first time, the person who led your hand throughout … is gone. The one-time student often can’t help but feel that maybe they don’t know everything they are supposed to. Yes this is paranoia, yes this is very cynical, but I rarely meet anybody who walks out of university who felt they were emotionally equipped for the real world and ready for the animation industry.
It’s not the teacher’s fault though. Deep down we never wanted to feel like just a statistic in a classroom headed by somebody who probably never wanted to be there in the first place. Where was the passion? Daniel had Mr Miyagi (Karate Kid), Luke Skywalker had Yoda (Star Wars V-VI), Connor Mcleod had Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez (Highlander) and Po had Shifu (Kung Fu Panda). To their student, these guys were more than teachers showing them how to do ‘stuff’. They were guiding them, advising them, supporting them and encouraging them. They were mentors.
Then in 2005 three talented guys working in the animation industry were troubled to see that most traditional art schools did not teach the art behind what makes the craft so special. Animators were only gaining generalist skills that weren’t focused on character animation and weren’t learning the important things that studios are looking for when hiring new animators.
They approached the issue with one core question in mind: “If we were to start over again how would we want to learn?” The answer: To build a school from the ground up with a philosophy that the best way to learn is through the time-tested practice of apprenticeship.
To do this they had to create a new vision for how people could learn animation and make it available to people around the world, giving them access to the best talent on the planet. It was then that the idea of Animation Mentor was born.
Animation Mentor was to be a state-of-the-art online animation school focused on teaching character animation skills in a real-world production environment. Designed and taught by top animators working in the industry, the programs would allow students to create their own school environment at home by receiving face-to-face instruction from mentors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students will collaborate, network and grow both personally and professionally with support in a thriving community. Even after graduation, Animation Mentor coaches and helps connect graduates to their dream jobs in animation.
It all sounds perfect, but who could set up something like that?
Oh did I not mention? The three men I mentioned earlier who started this concept were Shawn Kelly (Star Wars Episode III, Transformers, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Carlos Baena (Jurassic Park III, Men in Black II, Wall-E, Toy Story 3) and Bobby Beck (Pixar’s Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars) – Yeah… maybe you’ve heard of them.
Skwigly was happy to be able to talk to co-founder Bobby ‘Boom’ Beck about his revolutionary style of education that has been growing in popularity over the last 6 years.
Why was Animation Mentor set up? How does it differ from typical schooling?
We saw a strong need for education that focused on character animation, one that was really supportive, provided mentoring from amazing professional animators and gave individual attention. Until then, there had been no model for passing on knowledge from top talent back to the people who were destined to be the next superstars of animation. We dreamed big – HUGE! We made our ultimate wish list, reached out to top animators working at some of the industry’s leading studios and created our curriculum.
Our mentors – the masterminds behind the movies and games that our students love – work at leading studios such as Pixar Animation Studios, PDI/DreamWorks and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Our students receive more one-on-one time with their mentors than they would at a traditional brick and mortar school with small classes made up of 10-15 students. Most instructors at universities and art schools teach large classes which means very few opportunities for individual critiques and instruction on assignments. At Animation Mentor, each student gets individual attention and feedback every week.
I’m guessing there’s more to it than getting the world’s most impressive collection of animators.
The piece that ties it all together is the instructional design. The syllabi act as the roadmap, giving our students a very consciously designed step-by-step process to the learning experience. Each class has so much information and it can get overwhelming so the syllabi act as the glue that ties the pieces together. We are extremely proactive in updating the content and design to keep it fresh, and the quarterly feedback from students and mentors shapes this into a pretty incredible learning experience.
How successful do you think Animation Mentor has become over the past six years you’ve been running?
Currently, we have students and alumni from over 86 countries around the world. Our definition of success is when our students fulfill their animation dream. Alumni say that the school has helped them shine as animators, contributing their skills and talents on top feature films, commercials, games and more.
Another piece that excites us more than anything are the extraordinary friendships that our students have developed. It’s incredibly special. You witness this at events like SIGGRAPH, FMX and CTN. Our students have a connection and bond that I’ve never seen before. We’ve also had several love connections made on the online campus – a number have resulted in marriages! Shawn, Carlos and I recently attended the first wedding of two students who met through Animation Mentor. I think that was honestly our proudest day yet!
Do you have any plans to expand the number of courses you currently offer?
We continue to look at what students and the industry want and explore how we can meet those needs. Animation Mentor recently launched a new course for professional animators, Animals & Creatures: Master Class. The course focuses on animating quadrupeds, flying animals and fantasy creatures in a realistic animation style. The course also covers how to effectively integrate animation with live-action footage, introducing new skills and bringing a new dimension to Animation Mentor’s core curriculum.
How do you think you’re students find the programs at Animation Mentor?
Students love the ability to learn from a mentor, someone who is truly passionate about animation and knows what they’ll need in the real world. Even more, they are making great friends along the way and going on to do some amazing stuff. Our family of alums keeps getting bigger each year! They go to a studio and then they hire their friends. It’s an incredible thing to see. It’s happening all over the world now, too.
Looking to the future, what’s the next step for Animation Mentor?
There are so many exciting things that we’re working on. It just keeps getting better and better. It’s too soon to spill the beans, but you’ll be hearing about more awesome learning experiences from us VERY soon.
However, we are very excited to be able to inform you that Animation Mentor have revealed to us that they have just joined forces with 6 new animators, increasing their roster to over 90 industry professional.
Arslan Elver – Senior Character Animator
A native of Istanbul, Arslan Elver is a self-taught animator now working for Framestore in London. His main goal in animation has always been to create believable, fun characters and keep improving his skills. He will encourage his Animation Mentor students to have a similar goal. Elver’s partial list of film credits includes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Clash of the Titans, The Golden Compass, The Chronicles of Narnia: Price Caspian and Underdog.
Matt Strangio - Animator
Pixar Animation Studios
Matt Strangio is an alumnus from Animation Mentor’s first graduating class. Soon after graduation, he went to work for Electronic Arts/Maxis as a character animator for The Sims series. He then moved to Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) as a character animator where his game and film credits include The Force Unleashed, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Transformers. He later animated for The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Golden Compass while working for Tippett Studio. The Los Angeles native is now an animator for Pixar Animation Studios and looks forward to sharing his animation experiences with Animation Mentor students.
Nate Wall - Animator
Nate Wall grew up in Austin, Texas. In addition to live music and good barbecue, he has had a lifelong love affair with all things animation. He previously animated for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Rio at Blue Sky Studios. Today, Wall serves as an animator for DreamWorks Animation in the San Francisco Bay Area. He looks forward to his upcoming mentor role and influencing the next generation of animators.
Peer Lemmers – Character Animator
Animation Mentor alumnus Peer Lemmers started his animation career at Reel FX Creative Studios where he animated for the Transformers videogame. Lemmers continued his videogame animation on Viva Piñata 2 for Rare (a Microsoft company). He then started animating for feature films, including Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five for Reel FX and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore for Tippett Studio. Today, Lemmers is a character animator for DreamWorks Animation, where he has worked on Kung Fu Panda 2, Megamind and Puss in Boots.
Robyne Powell – Animator
A Canadian native and former zoology student, Robyne Powell listened to her mother and tried her hand at art — and loved it. She continued her newfound passion and eventually studied animation in Vancouver … and her work is on display in Ice Age: The Meltdown, Horton Hears a Who!, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Megamind and Rio. Powell currently works as an animator at DreamWorks Animation.
Travis Tohill - Animator
Industrial Light & Magic
Travis Tohill is another Animation Mentor alumnus returning to campus. He has worked as an animator at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Tippett Studio. His partial list of film credits includes Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, New Moon, Iron Man 2 and Rango. He is currently animating Cowboys & Aliens for ILM. As a former Animation Mentor student, Tohill brings a unique perspective to the classroom. He is excited to inform students of how the techniques and workflows he learned at Animation Mentor proved vital on his first day as a studio animator.
Incredibly any one of these superstars of the industry would be a golden opportunity for anyone with a passion for animation to meet. Any of them could easily be considered the Mr Miagi of Motion. The very fact some of them actually animated Yoda and Shifu puts my point into perspective.
Truth is with opportunities like the ones that Animation Mentor provides; it’s a great time to want to be an animator. I can’t help but feel a little envious I wasn’t aware of this 6 years ago.
For more information go to Animation Mentor
For a complete list of mentors, visit http://www.animationmentor.com/mentors/mentor-roster.htm