Go To School Or Learn CG At
By Neil Blevins
Created On: Feb 19th 2014
This topic came up the
other day, and I figured I'd expand upon it here. With so many training
DVDs and online resources (like Gnomon, CDW, Digital Tutors, etc), is
there still a reason to go to a brick and mortar school if you want to
be a professional CG artist? Or can you learn enough on your own at
First, full disclosure, I didn't go to school for 3D. 3D computer graphics was still a
pretty new field at the time and there weren't many schools teaching it
as a degree. So I got a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Design, mostly
Photoshop, illustrator, drawing, painting, art history, color theory,
that sort of stuff. I learned all of my 3D stuff at home through
experimenting with the software and through online forums on CompuServe
and later the web. So I'm sorta school and self taught.
Now back to the main question. In my opinion, I think of it a little
like the Kahn Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/
One of the main principals it was founded on was this: We're doing
education backwards. We have students in the class for lectures, and
then we give them homework. The way we should be doing it is recording
the lectures and have the kids watch them at home, and then homework is
done in class where the teachers can answer questions. And that's how I
feel about learning CG. The lecture portion of learning in general can
be covered using stuff like Gnomon DVDs, but the interactive portion,
the lab time, the questions, the critique, that's something that's
still best taught in a class environment.
Here's a few specific advantages that going to an actual school gives...
1) Building Your Mental Visual
Library: On facebook, if you like
something, you hit the like button. As you like more things, facebook
starts to only show you things similar to what you've liked. Which is
great in one respect, you get more of what you're interested in. But
the danger is that you end up having a very narrow focus of knowledge,
experience and visual reference. Art history classes are good for
getting a very broad understanding of a lot of different types of art.
Which is important, so if you need to make something outside of your
current focus, you've at least got some idea where to start. Art
directors also are always referencing art movements and artists, good
to know who these artists and movements are are ahead of time so you
can communicate more effectively with the person in charge. And also,
some topic may not be that interesting to you by themselves, but by
taking small elements from this and that (say Cubism) and incorporating
it into the stuff you love (say Scifi robots), it adds variety and
possibly a brand new style that differentiates you from the other
people who have a more narrow focus. While it's possible to force
yourself to have a broad focus online, many online sites are doing
their best to narrow your focus, so if you go to an actual art history
class, you're forcing yourself to broaden that focus.
2) Motivation: Humans are pack
animals, they generally want to interact and impress
others in the pack, so when you're in a class with a bunch of other
like minded people, there's motivation to actually work hard on your
art. This is the computer lab experience, a whole bunch of people in a
computer lab together at 2am that gives you motivation to get stuff
done. That motivation may be more difficult to come by sitting at home.
You can get some of this by posting your artwork in forums and such,
but it's not as immediate as putting that piece of work up on the
classroom wall and getting immediate feedback.
3) Answering Questions: In a
school, the teacher is a professional artist whose JOB it is to
answer your questions, as opposed to a professional online who may not
have the time to answer your questions. Things like animation mentor
can help replace this.
4) Critiques: While you can
get your work critiqued online, you never
know for sure who's critiquing you. Are these critiques coming from
someone who is a professional? Or someone who may not know as much? The
signal to noise ratio is different on the internet than it is in a
school. Also, in the professional world, a lot of critiques happen face
to face, so if you're only used to critiques online, you may not react
as well when you are critiqued in person. A big chunk of doing well in
this industry is how you react when someone tells you to your face that
your work sucks and changes need to be made. And the only way to get
used to that is to be critiqued in person and see how other
professionals take critique in person.
Work In A Team: This may not
apply to you as much if your
plan is to be a concept artist working freelance from home, but if
you're planning on working at a company with more than a couple of
employees, you need to be able to work as part of a team. Many life
lessons there, including how to sometimes do the non-sexy work because
it needs to get done, how to ask things of other people, how to manage
people and schedules, these are all important and very difficult to
simulate unless you're a part of an actual team. In school projects can
help simulate that environment. This is something you can also learn in
other places than school, but learn it you must.
6) Equipment: Not everyone has
tons of money, and for many having good equipment
and access to software is expensive. Even if you have a great computer
at home, do you have your own renderfarm? If not, a school probably
does and going to a school gives you access to this.
You meet other people who themselves will get jobs, and
may recommend you for a job if they liked you and your work at school.
You don't necessarily need a real school for this, my first job I got
because people saw my work online and offered me a job, but the more
people out there you network with, the better a chance you have of
8) Work Visa: If you plan on
getting work in a country other than your own, many
work visas are easier to get if you have a degree in your field.
Whether this is fair or not isn't the issue, it's the reality of the
situation so having a degree from a real live school can be helpful.
Some companies like you having a degree as well, but the vast majority
don't care, they just want to see your portfolio.
Anyways, a few thoughts, hopefully this didn't come across too much
like a "stay in school" PSA. You can succeed and not go to school (I
have a few good friends who are very successful in this field and
barely passed High School), but it's important to know the things you
give up if you choose to make that decision.
Thanks to Kat and Roderick for some extra
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