Practice makes perfect: How to refine your skills as an animation student

Last checked and updated on November 25, 2020

You learn so much at university, but how do you ensure you’re putting all that knowledge into practice? Bader Badruddin, ‘Lead Sensei’ at AnimDojo, discusses how to bridge the skills gap between studies and success.

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“University, the greatest days of your lives!” “It’s all downhill from here.”

How many times have you heard these platitudes from relatives and family friends about life as a student? We’re willing to bet many. And they’re absolutely right. At no other time in your life will you, a) have access to so much knowledge, b) be surrounded by so many like-minded people, and c) have the opportunity to do so much outside your 9-5 (which, of course, should be studying).

But while this can be an amazing time, it can also be three years filled with the most invigorating pressure you’re ever likely to put on yourself. A compulsion to succeed, to lay the best possible foundations for your career, to make the most of every opportunity these years have to offer.

And this is especially true for animation students. Our team at Blue Zoo Studio have invested a great deal of resources into workshops, lectures and breakdowns, helping ease young artists into the industry. We’ve recently launched an innovative new training program called AnimDojo – an online ‘gym’ designed to prepare hopeful young artists.

The benefits of pushing yourself and your skills every chance you get are great. Time spent learning outside the curriculum will quickly bear fruit. Using your reading list to learn new techniques is just the beginning. Spending time developing them is the thing that will make you a better animator. Practise, after all, makes perfect.

While university will lay some of those foundations for your working life after graduation, the only way to become a great animator is to rehearse. Run-through and perfect what you’ve been taught quickly, iterate, and become comfortable with constructive feedback and learn to self-critique.

Going above and beyond

Speaking with George Bowden, a third year animation student at Manchester Metropolitan University, we discover moreabout the divide between university learning and practical animating:

“The most important thing I’ve learned is the animation process and pipeline. It’s also taught me how to be part of an effective team, much like a link in a chain. Working on projects with other creatives of different practices is an essential understanding.”

However, the aspiring animator recognises that working knowledge of process, pipeline and experience won’t lead to success as part of creative team alone. George is all too aware that he will need to go above and beyond in order to land his dream job.

“It was only when I started to practise what I had learned in the classroom that I saw my skills develop,” said George. “That’s why I enrolled with AnimDojo; they provided the supporting practical knowledge and room to practise skills outside of the classroom.”

Before taking to the mat and warming up in our animation gym, George approached a family friend and animator who, with experience working for prestigious studios like Dreamworks and Framestore, was able to provide some feedback on who he was developing as an animator.

“This was really eye-opening, unlike other sugar-coated criticism – it wasn’t the feedback I expected!” says George. “Despite my dedication I felt nowhere near where I needed to be if I wanted a career in animation.”

George’s industry contact suggested enrolling in an online animation school like Animation Mentor, but being a student meant that was not an option. “I need my kidneys and could not afford the price they were asking,” explains George.

It was pure luck that George caught the Blue Zoo masterclass at last year’s Manchester Animation Festival.

“It was an engaging, eye opening and inspiring experience. After submitting my work for the winter term at university and enjoying a much-needed Christmas holiday, I enrolled at AnimDojo.”

Bridging the gap

Having read books by Richard Williams, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, Tom Bancroft, and others, George struggled to understand why his work didn’t look the way he intended. “With the no-nonsense feedback and practical lessons on how to animate in 3D, AnimDojo has inspired and improved my work tenfold,” says George.

“The most important thing I’ve learned at AnimDojo has been the camera. The camera is key. It’s how the audience sees. Animating to the camera improves your work so much. Only after learning this have I found I can effectively apply what I have read.”

As his degree comes to a close, George believes the straightforward feedback and professional techniques taught by AnimDojo are extremely relevant for any aspiring animator. “Like all things, what you put in is what you’ll get out. AnimDojo will give you a huge boost. Continued practice and extra exercises will set you soaring into a career,” says George.

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