Do I need a degree to get into the animation industry?

  • I had the wildest dream a few weeks ago that I sneaked into a college that was teaching animation and I pretended to be enrolled. I attended classes, made connections, and was invited to participate in several events like setting up a convention. This dream made me think a lot, as I was not personally obsessing about animation at this time. I remember when I was seven that I realized that I loved cartoons so much that I dreamed of getting into the industry one day and become a showrunner. That is when my art journey began, and I worked everyday to improve my art to the degree that it is today.

    Despite all of that I have a degree in Architecture. I told my father I wanted to become an animation major, but he refused my wish because he didn't believe that I would be able to make a living within that industry. I chose architecture because I have also been good at math, I like visiting big cities, and I wanted to learn more about how they were constructed and designed. I had a very miserable 5-year education, because of all the allnighters, tight deadlines, as well as personal issues at home that made it difficult to get favorable grades, yet I somehow made it through and graduated in 2020.

    Even though I already have a degree, I still feel inadequate because I do not feel like I earned it. I struggled with all my classes because of obstacles put in place from my circumstances. I passed classes with D's and I feel like I did not take full advantage of my education, either because I should have probably spread out the number of units I took each semester, or I should have never worked parttime driven by the fact that my family would not willingly financially support me.

    I have the feeling that dream was a calling? Maybe I should pursue a degree in animation once I am financially set and the pandemic is over? I think I still want to become a showrunner and talent in animation. So far I have not learned how to animate, but I have learned how to illustrate and draw buildings through my degree. What does it take to get to that point in a career? I'm willing to start out as a storyboard artist as I gradually climb a ladder.

    Should I pursue a degree or teach myself and then apply directly for small storyboard positions before becoming an animator then showrunner?

  • My degree is design studies: emphasis on animation/illustration with a minor in film and television. I would say, based on what I saw and heard from industry professionals, while a degree isn't always required (though many times it is), having a degree gives you a big leg up in a VERY competitive field. Going to school for animation always puts you in touch with a lot of people who will later be industry contacts, learn from teachers who actually work in the business and helps you line up things like internships.

    I'll also warn you that a degree in animation is definitely no walk in the park. It requires a lot of the things you talked about making you miserable in your education earlier. That was one of the reasons I changed my major to be design studies with an emphasis on animation/illustration rather than going through the full animation major. I decided I didn't have the stamina to do what needed to be done.

    I hope this helps.

  • @lpetiti Did you ever end up working in animation? Whether as an assistant, storyboard artist, character designer, etc.

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go I have a degree in traditional animation and from my experience, I've never seen a job offer in the field that did not require a degree. It's not like freelance illustration, this is definitely a field where I had a resume to write and was asked my credentials.

    Even if they didn't ask for a degree, I think you'd need one. It's a very technical and very difficult field that requires specific knowledge and education. I still struggle animating (never been my best skill) despite years of study. I cannot imagine anyone being able to do the job convincingly without learning about the principles of animation and practicing it extensively. Even just the terms, like pegs, rigging, layout, underlay and overlay, ease in/out, animating on two's, stretch and squash, etc. Even after earning my degree, I remember sitting on meetings in my first week in a studio and hearing stuff like "We're thinking of adding some parallax in the shoot to blow, but we're just going to have to be careful not to create artifacts and floating pixels so could you make sure to check all your nulls, and reexport the xml?". And I'd be like.. I have no freaking CLUE what they're on about, what is even going on. Not to mention the animation softwares!

    They're very complicated and require constant re-learning. Even with years learning Harmony, in the 5 years since I've graduated the software has been so updated and upgraded I can no longer comfortably use it.

    As Lauren mentioned this is also a very demanding degree. I think back to my college days as my 4 years of hell where I was constantly exhausted, surviving on 2 hours of sleep and prone to bursting into tears at any moment...

  • @Michael-Angelo-Go Hello! I also majored in animation/illustration in college. I disagree with those that said you "need" to have a degree to get a career in animation. What you NEED to have is an incredible portfolio/reel. I have worked as an animator in games before and I can say from experience that the portfolio is all we really care about the resume just helps you get past HR.

    HOWEVER, as said earlier the field is very competitive and requires an incredible amount of technical skills and going to college will also help you make contacts with industry professionals and you can apply for an internship as you are a student. The program I went to was a 4 1/2 year program, so it is NOT a short road, and as Ness said, I barely slept or had much of a life out of my schooling.

    You could technically train yourself independently, but I think you would have to work even harder as there is less structure and you won't have the networking opportunities that a school could give you. And you'll need to do a lot of figure drawing which is easier to access at a college.

    Since you've never animated before, I think it would be great to start learning and practicing that now. It's possible that you'll realize you don't enjoy the process of animation itself, so instead of waiting around and then paying for school, try it out first and make sure you actually enjoy it.

    Also, you wouldn't start in story boarding, that is a different field. I think you might be able to start as a production assistant to get in the door. In the 2D animation days you'd likely start as an inbetweener or a clean up artist not sure about how that works now.

  • Pro

    @carlianne They still need inbetweeners and clean up artists for traditional animation on the computer. But even for that, I've yet to see a position, even at such low level, that doesn't require a degree. You're right that the art director or producer probably doesn't give a damn, but as you said they won't make it past HR. Because out of 200 applicants for 1 open position, the one guy without a degree is the first to go in the "no" pile..

    Anyway @Michael-Angelo-Go this isn't something you should pursue on a whim. Animation is a whole other world. It has more in common with film than it does with drawing. It's about movement, telling stories, and acting. Animators are actors. It all will consume your life and demand every second of your attention + years of learning.

  • @NessIllustration out of curiosity, what made you choose animation as a major?

    I think my end-goal is to become a showrunner like Stephen Hillenburg, Butch Hartman, Rebecca Sugar, Carlos Ramos, Bill Burnett, Rob Renzetti, etc. and pitch a story that will be turned into a children's show on a network.

  • Pro

    @Michael-Angelo-Go I started out studying visual arts and was disappointed by the program. It was very free spirited, with an emphasis on expression. They weren't actually teaching us anything, you'd just show up to class and they'd be like "today, you guys do a painting". About the same time I was getting fed up with this, I heard about the traditional animation program form a school downtown. It had a reputation for being really hard and technical, so I decided to sign up based on that alone.

    I joined because I wanted to draw, so I was pretty shocked when I started to realized the "film animation" program is really about "film". I remember a few weeks into the program, they set us free in the city with cameras to capture some footage for learning to edit later. I picked a pretty spot, set up the tripod, camera, adjusted the lenses, hit record and only then realized... nothing in the shot was actually moving. I had been thinking of art only as still images up until that point. Although it wasn't what I expected, I was learning a lot. So I decided to stay and immerse myself in this new world. I learned about cinema, types of shots, acting, heck we even had a seminar about correct blinking triggers. I kid you not!

    I was never the best animator - I was very slow, so I really struggled to keep up in animation class. Maybe I was always going to end up in illustration in the end. But I'm still glad I did it: I learned about perspective, background design, character design, storyboarding, storytelling, posing. All these things are very useful to me as an illustrator. Thumbnailing a book is a lot like storyboarding. I no longer struggle with backgrounds or dynamic character poses as I used to. Still, that is an incredibly circuitous and difficult route to take just for illustration. I don't recommend it unless someone actually wants to animate.

    Being a showrunner is obviously an extremely competitive and difficult position to reach. Only the top of the top will ever reach that. If I were you I'd look into what these showrunners' education and career paths are to give you an idea of what's required to be one. Just be aware this is a path 100000x more difficult than being a children's book illustrator. You have to be sure, and if you want to pursue this you'll have for sure to focus 100% on it and go full-ahead if you want a snowball's chance, so it would mean putting aside children's books, commissions, architecture, anything you're currently doing to devote yourself completely to this goal. It's as difficult as becoming an astronaut, it's not something you can half-ass.

  • @Michael-Angelo-Go I also have an animation degree, and from my experience getting a degree in animation from a traditional university did not fully prepare me. It is often better to attending a program like animation mentor. However that one is more geared toward someone who wants to be a 3d animator. If your goal is to be a show runner, from my experience show runners often come from the writing side, rather then the animation/art side.

  • @NessIllustration He does have a degree though, it's just not a specific animation degree. I've been involved in the hiring process before, and I stand by what I said from that experience

  • Pro

    @carlianne Huhmm.. you're right, it's possible any degree is enough to get past HR. I've been involved in interviews before too and while people had to have an animation degree to get in the interview room, while in there you're right we never actually asked about that. The interview was mostly to determine if the person was a psycho, and what ultimately made the decision was the animation test.

  • @Michael-Angelo-Go also you store check out I believe they have online classes

  • @carlianne Thanks! I just applied!

  • @Michael-Angelo-Go I worked on a couple of student films, but other than that went right into teaching. Like I said, plans changed for me, I sort of re-prioritized my life.

  • Try looking on the studio websites to see what jobs they have open and what they require. Most want some work experience and portfolio.

  • Maybe you can start out by drawing buildings as background art. Animation has a lot of little specialties in it. None of it is done by one person or one skill. Pixar used to have a lot of behind the scenes info on their site.

  • SVS OG

    Hi! Have you considered being a visual developer instead of being an actual animator. Tho the competition might actually be tougher.

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz Hmm... do you think it would be less exhausting, but more competitive in order for me to create my own kids show?

  • SVS OG

    @Michael-Angelo-Go i can’t really say. I’ve never experienced it for myself. Lolz 😂 But one of the illustrators I follow, Anoosha Syed, does character design for animation while also working as an illustrator. Perhaps you can shoot her a message.

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz OMG! I've been watching Anoosha Syed too recently! I heard that she's been really BUSY because of her workload and how popular she's become, so I haven't thought of messaging her because she's likely overwhelmed by all her fanmail. But sure. I don't recall her being a showrunner or producer, but I will ask her anyways. It's worth a shot.

    Her style inspired me to make this latest piece in my portfolio!


    I made this a couple of weeks ago. I've been trying to find a style that doesn't require you know a whole lot of detail and shading to make it look a lot more simpler, and focusing on using brushes and textures to compensate for detail. It's pretty flat, but I think it looks pretty industry standard, which is what I was going for.

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