Saturday, March 08, 2008

Question: What do I need to learn to be a Web Designer or Animator?

Question for the Emperor: I've got a son in high school who wants to be a Web designer or animator. What does he need to do?

He's actually starting a little bit late. I didn't start thinking about it until college, though, so he's got me beat. =^)

Of course, I didn't have access to the Internet until college.

So, the cool thing with design and animation is that the portfolio is much more important than the degree. The degree helps (moreso in design than animation), but the true value is in the skillset. Whereas most other professions are defined by the resume (which shows degree and job experience), design and animation are defined by the portfolio and merely validated by the resume (most design jobs require the degree, but it's still more possible to get by without one than a technical job).

First of all, DON'T GO TO DEVRY OR ANY ART INSTITUTE!!!! And also, don't take Information Management or Computer Science degrees! The two disciplines we mentioned are entirely art-based. Inofrmation Management and Computer Science are entirely math, logic, and science. They are technical disciplines. They are polar opposites from artistic (user experience) positions.

First thing about design: don't do Web design!!! Web designers are a dime a dozen. If you build a portfolio that is entirely Web design, you'll be lucky if you get a job, and it won't pay well. If you go the design route, you'll want to get a degree in graphic design (user experience design), you'll want to explore some industrial design (where you design objects for the purpose of them being physically made), some print design, some Web design, and then concentrate on software UI design. There are interface designers and interaction designers; both are good positions to have in the software industry. This will help push you to those two jobs, but I'll give more details on that when we think more about design.

Okay. Animation...

Here's some basic information about animation from the Pixar guru, John Lasseter:

If you go get a degree, you want a university that does well in animation and has awesome animation projects coming through. There are also schools that specialize in animation (Ringling in Florida, DigiPen where I graduated from in WA, Vancouver Film School, etc.).

Animation Mentor

Another place to learn animation is online through Animation Mentor:

Many of their mentors are current animators at Pixar (and all the major animation studios).

The animators that graduate from this online school are doing very well and getting jobs in the related industies (videogames, animated films, effects for movies, etc.) even though the school is not accredited.

The founder and CEO, Bobby Beck, commented on this blog post below and explained why they aren't accredited. First, he reiterates what I said that a degree is not very valuable, especially in comparison to the skills. Having an Animation Mentor degree will help get someone to look at your work (so that's valuable), but it really comes down to what your portfolio looks like.

Second, he said, "If we went for accreditation we would have to extend our course offering to add things such as math, english, so forth and so on which is the opposite of what we are doing. We want to cut the "fluff" and deliver the core of what animators need to know and deliver it in a way that no one else does."

Similarly, when DigiPen moved to accreditation (after I left), the animators on that track seemed to be moving much, much slower. What they had after their first year was exactly what I was doing in my first semester. So they had to take twice as long to get through the modeling and animation lessons.

The Animator's Test - Blender

Now, here's the test to see if your son wants to be an animator.

Go to and download the free 3D program. It's very powerful, and it's free. The downside is that it's a little difficult to learn (which is one of the reasons why its free). Have him download that and follow the tutorials on the Website. If he gets through all of it, loves doing it, makes progress very quickly, and learns the interface fairly well, then he's an animator. If he has trouble motivating himself, he's not an animator, and then keep looking.

That's animation. You have to teach yourself new software and be passionate about it enough to overcome the difficulty of learning the software. It's the most important skill in animation. If you can't do it, you can't be an animator (it's still possible, but it just means you'll be struggling to teach yourself that skill for the next 10 years, or maybe you'll be able to teach yourself that skill in 4 years at a university).

If you can do it on your own with difficult software like Blender, then you're born to be an animator.

That's it. Let me know how it works!

Here's one of our 3D animations, Fruits VS Bugs - Part 1:

The sequel, Fruits VS Bugs - Part 2:

- The Emperor


  1. Great to read this blog. This looks like a great resource you are putting together. I am the CEO of Animation Mentor and wanted to point out that we are NOT nor do we intend to go for accreditation. There are two big reasons for this which I will explain:

    1. The industry does not feel it is necessary for someone to have a degree under their belt to be a professional animator. If you have the paper that says "I have a degree" but your portfolio does not show the proper skills then they will pass. If your portfolio shows that you have the skills, then they bring you in for an interview and if they like YOU as a person then the chances for you getting the job are quite good.
    2. The second and possibly biggest reason is that Animation Mentor is a school build by professional animators. If we went for accreditation we would have to extend our course offering to add things such as math, english, so forth and so on which is the opposite of what we are doing. We want to cut the "fluff" and deliver the core of what animators need to know and deliver it in a way that no one else does.

    I hope this makes sense. For more info on my work please check out Enjoy.

  2. Thanks Bobby.

    We updated the post. We heard that you were looking into getting accredited from an animator at Microsoft. Looks like it was just a rumor or that somebody there was talking about it or looking into it. Regardless, it seems that you've decided against it for great reasons.

    Thanks again!

    - The Emperor

  3. The first thing to do to become an animator is to take an animation course.


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