CCA alumnus Patrick Lin never thought he would have a career in animation. Growing up in Hong Kong, he was inspired by Hollywood titans George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and decided he would someday make films.¹ This dream led him to the CCA film program, where, unbeknownst to him, he began laying the groundwork for one of the most coveted Pixar jobs: Director of Photography.
If you had to choose the best Pixar characters ever, which ones would they be? Rolling Stone published its list last summer. Joy, the happiness heroine of Inside Out, was the top pick. Sweet yet determined waste-collecting robot WALL•E, Dory, the blue tang fish with an absurdly short memory, and imperious food critic Anton Ego from Ratatouille were next in line. Joy is #1 because she represents, according to the magazine, “a classic Pixar switcheroo: taking a character that's cute and fun and then letting her lead the audience to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.” Compelling stories stem from the complexity of human behavior: spontaneous, calculated, sorrowful, hard-won. CCA’s Animation Program asks students to consider how motivation influences action. How do characters advance along story arcs? How do they grapple with identity and voice? These questions were at the heart of the Pixar@CCA: Summer Story Intensive, a collaborative program with Pixar Animation Studios that focused on new voices in animation.
By any measure, now is a great time to be an animator. Recent blockbusters like Avatar, Marvel's The Avengers, and Frozen have raked in billions of dollars at the box office, thanks in large part to their dazzling CGI. Meanwhile, the global video game market, an industry that leans heavily on animation, is expected to grow nearly 5% between 2015 and 2020.
There’s never been a better time to become an animator. Animated features continue to do big-time box-office business while CGI effects — a form of animation in its own right — enliven large- and small-screen favorites alike. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, video game studios and mobile app developers are calling in animators and multimedia artists to meet the demand for more immersive graphics to match the advancements in computing power on our phones, computers, and consoles. Jobs for animators are expected to grow at least 6 percent in the next decade. The average salary is $63,970 (according to the BLS) and top animators can earn into the six figures. How can a visually creative person like you break into this booming field? The first step most animators take is art school, where they learn the principles of visual storytelling, hone their creative techniques, and master the latest software and technology for bringing characters to life. Whether you want to make indie stop-motion films or help solve crimes as a forensic animator, there’s a school for you. To help you find it, we’ve compiled a list of some of America’s best colleges for animation students. This list is by no means exhaustive (for that, check out Animation Career Review’s annual list), but it should give you a sense of what’s out there for aspiring animators.
You grew up with the Pixar classics: “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Inside Out,” “Brave,” or “Up.” Or maybe you were a DreamWorks kid, preferring the goofier “Shrek,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” or “Kung Fu Panda.” Whatever animation style painted a grin on your childhood face, now it’s your turn to bring laughter, adventure, and unforgettable characters to the next generation. To work for Pixar or another of the top animation studios is the aspiring animator’s dream. Who wouldn’t want to perfect their art alongside animation legends like John Lasseter and Pete Docter? But the animation job market is, as one art professor puts it, “Insanely competitive.” As you plan for your formal animation education, how can you give yourself an edge in your quest to work for Pixar or another leading studio? Step one is to choose the right art school. No art school can guarantee you’ll get a job at Pixar (and run the other way if any do), but the right art school will help you immensely.
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