It is true that the bottom line for all animators is having a great reel, or portfolio of their work. Without it, whether you have an education or not is irrelevant, since most companies and clients will hire you based on your work.
This being said, it seems that most experts do recommend getting a degree over being self-taught. There are a variety of reasons for this. First of all, computer animation is a very specialized field, and you need to put in a lot of hours before you get it right. College will force you to do this, while also creating a portfolio of your early work. Meanwhile, you will learn to work within a team and have the opportunity to network with other professionals in your field – an invaluable bonus. College also gives you the chance to make and correct your mistakes, take on internships and volunteer assignments, and research your own personal style.
Of course, you have the option of self-teaching as well. There are plenty of online tutorials, but you will need a strong ethic to put in the hours to get good at animating. Also, don’t forget the investment you will have to make when it comes to software and hardware suitable for practice.
WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A COMPUTER ANIMATOR?
- School of Visual Arts
Blending a creative and technical approach, this NYC-based school offers students a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Computer Art through the department of Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects. The 4-year degree requires students to complete a final project. Full-time tuition here is $16,780 per semester.
- Ringling College of Art and Design
Located in Sarasota, Florida, Ringling College of Art and Design offers students a bachelor level degree in Computer Animation. Their program has been ranked the top Computer Animation program in the US by 3D World over the past two years. Students pay $18,440 per semester in tuition.
- Full Sail University
Another Florida school, located in Winter Park, Full Sail University focuses their Computer Animation program on gradual introduction to a variety of specialized techniques, while also teaching the artistic side of the field. The program is also available online. For those wishing to study on-site, tuition is $14,900 per semester, while online students pay $7,125.
- California Institute of the Arts
The School of Film and Video at CalArts offers two different programs for aspiring animators, one in Character Animation, focused on traditional computer-generated animation; as well as BFA and MFA level studies in Experimental Animation, teaching students to explore animation as an advanced art form. Tuition here is $43,400 per year.
- Pratt Institute
With campuses in New York City and Brooklyn, the Pratt Institute is a highly prestigious school when it comes to the arts. They offer a wide variety of degrees related to animation, on both bachelor and master levels. Specializations include 2-D Animation, 3-D Animation, Digital Arts and Animation, Motion Arts, Computer Animation and Video, Interactive Arts, among others. Average tuition is $42,866 per year.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
Like most creative industries, getting your first gigs as a computer animator will depend on your portfolio, or what is called a Demo Reel. This has to be the collection of your best work in short clips, which you can share with companies, individual clients, and peers. Of course the demo reel will not get you jobs all on its own, but it is the most important first step.
So once you have one, you can start actually looking for work. Look for job postings online, for internships, maybe animate for a non-for-profit to get some professional work on your resume. If you are still in college, take an internship or an apprenticeship and get contacts within the industry. Another good idea is to go to industry conferences and meet people there.
Be prepared for competition and to start from the bottom, but if you are good at what you do, you can really grow within the industry, as well as earn a very respectable income.