A Big Change Behind The Scenes

Well I'm not sure how much difference it will make to things here on the ARC (more on that later), but behind the scenes there have been some big changes going on. I'm changing jobs. After a four year stint as a teacher I'm jumping back into the industry.

There are a combination of personal and work related issues at play. I don't want to talk specifically about any problems I have had, but I will indulge myself a single general observation.

Government structured tertiary qualifications (whether offered through public or private organisations) seem more focused on offering the actual qualifications rather than education, and no they are not necessarily the same thing. You see a qualification is something that can easily be advertised, measured, signed off upon delivery and charged for, it is something that can be slotted into a generic system that applies across all disciplines. You pay, jump through some hoops, a piece of paper is handed over and everyone is happy. This is happening across all tertiary levels and institutes (University, Tafe and Private Institutions offering government approved quals) and constitutes some very short term thinking, because ultimately it diminishes the value of the qualification being offered (why do you think employers in animation insist on seeing a showreel these days).

An education is something that is much harder to define and manage, it involves assessing an individuals skill set (even personality) and helping them to best manage them so as to get themselves into a position where they can achieve their goals. There is no clear finish line and the journey is different for every single student.

It seems to me that there is no reason why educations and qualifications can't exist in harmony, but for that to happen they would need to meet in the middle and compromise so as to find some common goals. For now it appears the balance is tipped way to far in favour of the qualifiers than the educators, rules and conditions come floating down through the bureaucracy (where the qualifiers live) and are placed upon the educators regardless of their specific circumstances.

On the front line where I have been working is a dedicate and talented team of educators (teachers and administrators), doing there best to fight the good fight under less than ideal circumstances. I am in awe of their patience and dedication. You guys rock. But as I said before a few external circumstances have left me hungry for a break from the situation.

I have absolutely loved teaching. Taken in isolation it is perhaps even more rewarding than animating itself (gasp!). I have also loved working with the two other teachers running our course, Jane and Terry, you guys are amazing and I'll miss you heaps. I also want to send out a big thankyou to all of my students over the past 4 years, especially those of you who were willing to put in that extra bit of effort and challenge yourselves.

I intend to continue involvement with the course in some less official way, I'll be sorting something out with the teachers in the coming months. Maybe permanent teaching will feature in my life again one day, but for now I'm off to explore something new.


In the past I've worked on feature length films, internet products, TV commercials, website animation, and educational software. Leaving one big sector of the business uncharted. I'm off to join Australia's biggest games studio,and am pretty dam excited about it. I think in many ways games is where the real innovations in animation happen these days, I'm coming to it later than many, but I feel its where the smart money is. I'm also looking forward to making games themselves a part my like again.

Industry work takes up a lot more of your time than teaching, so one big unanswered question will be how much time I will have spare for blogging. I suppose we will have to wait and see. I don't start my new job until the 12th of January so I hope to do a few more article like posts between now and then.

In the past I have played with the idea of having more contributors to the ARC with varied success, maybe there are some ex-students or friends out there who would be interested in giving me a hand. You could just post from time to time, let me know about new resources you find, or even have your own page that focused on a particular thing (say a page with news about animated movies or something). Anyway, pop me an email if your interested, many hands make light work.

Another thing I am looking forward to is being a little more opinionated, I think now that this is just my blog and its not going to have official or unofficial links with any organisations I may be a little more inclined to speak my mind. Should be interesting.

Any feedback or ideas are welcome as always :)

So hears to new adventures! More posts (with less text and more pictures) coming soon.


Alonso said...

Wow, big adventures! Good luck, welcome to the game world :)

(you could always sign up to be an Animation Mentor mentor, in all your free time :P )

Ian said...

Hi Alonso

I do think Animation Mentor have a much better balance.

I don't know I would qualify for a teaching spot though.

They do have one draw back, well at least from an Australian perspective. Because AM is outside of the government system they have to pass on all of their expenses to their students. I'm not sure about the US, maybe the government education institutions there pass on their costs too. But here in Australia the technical collages like the one I have been working for are heavily subsidized, making them more affordable and more accessible. I've had the pleasure of teaching some amazing students that could never have afforded AM. The problem is that the government funding is only available if you deliver the qualification. I think (hope) the pendulum has to swing back towards the teachers at some stage. I'll keep my fingers crossed :)

frank said...

Hey Ian

I'll post things as I find them.

Where are you placing the point of the animation pyramid now?

I wonder if learning/teaching animation based on animation principles will still have a place in Queensland.

Or, are we (student and junior animators) all going to become extensions of particular software packages?

I'll find out in 2009, if I don't find a job.

I've contacted one games studio so far and am working at readjusting my reel and working through the list.

frank said...

Just some things about academic qualifications as they are structured these days, since this blog is casting off the shackles of a teaching institution.

Looking from inside the course, it was frustrating as a student to apply oneself with enthusiasm to projects and learn things just to see other students end up with the same qualifications with a standard of work that just met requirements. In this situation the showreel is an essential tool to grade new animators, or any animators, I guess.

Now I made the effort to fire up and challenge my teachers to get an education in animation. I feel that I suceeded in the time I had. And for those students, if that label applies, who were in the course for their own, other self discovery reasons, well, I hope they find their path in life.

The thing that gets on my goat, and it's not a very big goat, is the effect the distractors (the unfocussed students) have on students with the correct intentions but are also easily distracted. The community of enthusiasm for learning is eroded by the unmotivated and distracted students.

This particularly niggled me because I can't just take on the individual attitude to selfishly learn things for my own persomal gain. It's some kind of flaw in my make-up. I recognise I learn best in a group that is motivated toward the same goal = learning and applying as much about animation and social interaction with like-minded people within the short timeframe of the course.

When teachers and classmates are all highly motivated then bolts of energy and inspiration hit you from all angles. A much better environment to learn in.

This ridiculous situation where the course is funded based on the numbers of students who pass makes it hard to sack/fail students who are there pretty much just wasting time and destroying 'the environment' for the ones who are there with a passion to learn.

Damn, stupid beancounters who went to business management school and see the world as pie charts and bar graphs. Grr!

This drags down: the worth of the qualification, the standards of acceptable work, the reputation of the institute and eventually the enthusiasm of the teachers.

The animation craft suffers as a result.

'Back in my day...' (*sigh*,here we go) I attended a university course that was hard to get into and promised good rewards at the end. If you failed you were out and could not re-apply for the course. It was a harsh 'one strike' rule. Basically, the dream of that career path was terminated if you failed one subject. This was a big motivator to work hard but it also caused quite a bit of stress. The qualification and university are highly respected and career doors open when waving that degree at them. There is a sense of pride in that qualification. Unfortunately I went into that course at 17 years old as it looked like an interesting challenge, and once in the belly of the beast I was going to see it throught to the end. It's a few years later and I realised that what I really wanted to do is tell, stories and make films using drawing. That bundled up is a form of animation.

The best of both these education experiences would result in a utopian course where teachers are allowed to fail students for their own good, for educational reasons. Then the students can take some time in the 'room of mirrors' to get a good, close look at themselves. Then, if they did re-apply for the same course, arrive more motivated and clearer in their learning goals.

I wonder if that is the type of opinionated input the ARC might fire up on now?

Ian said...

Wow Frank. You did a good job of hiding your frustration at your less focused class mates during the course, I had no idea. If its any conciliation your class came together more than any other I've seen, and I think you can take a lot of the credit for that.

You have touched on many issues in your comment.

I think part of the reason any animation class is made up of people who don't end up applying themselves is because there is so much misinformation out there about what a career in animation involves. So much of the promotional stuff out there that kids are watching as they grow up makes it all look like working in animation is a big constant party. It is lots of fun, but as you know at its core is a true struggle. A struggle I love, but one that many new students are not expecting.

Your reflections on your first run at tertiary education touch on one of the main reasons qualifications are easier to sell than education. I often explain to students or potential students how things have developed and that it all comes down to the show reel these days, they listen and seem to understand. But the next time I see them something has changed, their priorities don't seem to match the things we talked about. A bit of further discussion usually reveals that a chat with the parents has knocked them back onto their original course. The problem is that it is only in the last 10 to 20 years that the value of qualifications has been ground down by these new priorities. When the kids parents studied, a qualification stood for something, they assume that is still the case, and push their kids in the direction that worked for them 30 or 40 years earlier. Most parents are involved in the decisions about what and where their children will study (as they should be), but it would be great if we could get them to see how things have changed out there in the industry.

I want to add a note. I still think the Southbank Animation course is the best in the state (maybe country), more than any other it focus's on understanding movement and how to apply it to a character. That's what it takes to make a good reel, and it's going to continue on without me.

Kristi said...

Congratulations Ian, and best of luck in your new job.

After all the time you have spent drilling your students that motivation and hard work are what you need to succeed in animation, I hope that you are not too much in shock to (re)discover that not all industry folks have the same drive, or as much skill, as you do!

I do hope that you enjoy working in games. Give Lisa, of the great-skill-and-unstoppable-drive, a hug for me.

Ian said...

Ta Kristi

That is an interesting comment. I'm not going to read too much into it for now, I might come back in a few months and reflect upon it :)

Terry said...

Ian and Frank, thanks so much for those thoughtful comments.

Frank, I agree with Ian that you hid your frustration with the less motivated students well! It's a frustration that I totally understand, even though I am obviously part of the problem, being a part of the system. I felt the same when I was a student.

As you say, a student like yourself who applied himself with such enthusiasm and energy, will get the same Diploma as the student who coasted along and handed in work that met the task criteria, if only barely.

The dilemma of what to do with the less conscientious students has plagued myself (and I daresay every teacher who ever lived!) since I began teaching. Should they be ignored? Embarrassed? Punished? Sat on? Strangled? I generally opt for "ignore" but I promise that you've given me a lot to think about in that regard.

Back to that piece of paper...

It's no secret of the fact that in the "real world" a Diploma (or Certificate, or Bachelor) means little-to-NOTHING. It's the showreel that counts. And your showreel reflects your passion and talent.

Equally... other students' showreels ALSO reflect their passion and talent (make of that what you will!).

Frank, I'm so glad that you'll continue to be a part of the course. And now it looks like I'll be around again in some capacity! (No, sorry, I'm not giving back my farewell pressies!) Looking forward to being challenged, entertained, inspired and incited by you in 2009!

Terry said...

Oh, and I've already told him to his face countless times, but let me put it in print...

Ian, your passion, energy and talent will be sorely missed. Hope that this fantastic opportunity is evertything you expect it to be, and more. Congratulations and thanks so much for sharing your general, all-round awesomeness over the past four years.

Terry said...

Wait! I'm still not finished! (Haven't blogged for an age so I'm making up for lost time...)

Frank, the course will certainly not devolve into a software-heavy, animation-lite program. We're very aware of what sets us apart. We're all about acting. Energy. Imbuing life.

On a personal note, since Ian began teaching, my own classes HAVE been software-heavy classes. That's just a reflection of the units that I was given and the niche I filled in the teaching team. I'm not sure what my involvement with the course will be next year, but I am REARING to do some "real" animation and drawing again!

And luckily, if we do ever lose our focus, we'll have you around to drag us back and keep us honest!

Mitch said...

I read what your saying Ian, and its one of the many speaches that keep me and others who read your blog aware of whats going on behind closed doors. well, slightly ajar doors. Students could wander straight through this course un-aware that their diploma is a mere minimal achievement. And I think alot of us would have still believed that the illusion of movement goes hand in hand with the illusion of an education.

But you spend the time to constantly remind us of whats really happening and I can't thank you enough. I've spent probably the past 4 years of my life passing through by the skin of my teeth. I'm not going to lie, I'm still passing through a little but I'm figuring it all out slowly.

thanx for probably one of the more important years of my life Ian. I'd say thanx to Jane and Terry as well but something tells me I'll probably be seeing them more often than you in the future.

also, I hope you complete your animation experience repetoir with krome. I can only imagine how exciting that can be for you. Good luck Ian.

ps. I'll try and convince the rest of the class to keep using their blogger accounts.