From The Mailbag: Career Prep w/Bonethugsnemily
If I wanted to become an animator or even work with an animation company (*cough* PIXAR *cough*), is majoring in Graphic Design a good idea??
Majoring in graphic design is fine, as long as you’re (generally) aiming toward a job in the art department. That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a different animation job from your college major - far from it! I know classmates who started out studying to be engineers and wound up animators (granted, he did change schools and majors). The more specific you can be about your career goals now, though, the better you’ll be able to prepare for them. I know that’s not easy.
In my case, I knew I wanted to get into animation when I graduated from high school. I felt it would be best (for me) to go to a school that had a structured program where you could major in animation, as opposed to fiddling with an Oxberry camera with no curriculum or supervision. At the time (we’re talking 1984), there weren’t a lot of options, and I didn’t even know Sheridan College existed. So that left me with The California Institute Of The Arts (or CalArts, as it’s often called), or The Kubert School (I was also pondering the option of being a comic book artist).
I made my decision by looking at what the alumni produced after they left school. I preferred what I saw coming out of CalArts, so I went there for four years and got a BFA degree. My parents wanted me to get a degree, and even though it’s not very important for an animation resume, I’m glad I have it. Many, many other jobs have a college degree requirement as one of the the first hurdles in the application process. I think it’s good to have that arrow in your quiver - just in case.
CalArts has always been an expensive school, but there are many more options now than there were twenty-eight years (!) ago. Do as much homework as you can to see which school/program will be the best fit for you. CalArts’ Character Animation program has a great variety of classes that will train you for a wide variety of animation jobs. It has color & design classes plus the Art school has graphic design classes, too. Again, there may be many other schools now that offer similar programs, so be sure to look about thoroughly.
If you’re interested in animation, I’d also like to suggest complimenting your education with live-action film classes. Current animated features are adopting more of the vocabulary of live-action filmmaking, so that’ll make your understanding of cinematic storytelling deeper and stronger. I wasn’t going to get credit toward my degree, so I didn’t do it myself - but I think it’d be valuable for you if you have the energy and interest. Good luck!