Animation course 2

Review of my year in animation school

Animation course 2

It’s quite incredible, reading this post again that I wrote when I was just accepted to go back to school and study animation (at Pulse College in Dublin). Now, 9 months later, I just handed in my final assignment and I want to take a moment to reflect. Review what I’ve learned, what work came out of it and what follows next.

I started my studies because I wasn’t feeling fulfilled at work and wanted to find out whether I would be happier in a creative career. The 2 concrete questions I had going into my studies were
– Would I enjoy a creative career if I have to do it 8h a day?
– If yes, would I want that career to be in animation?

I was able to answer both questions (read on!), which made it all worth it. On top of that I learnt a lot of other things.

The value of school is in its teachers and students

We had 8 different classes and 7 different teachers. Some of these teachers were the best I’ve had. For instance my 2D-teacher. A first time teacher, probably about my age. His deep love for the animation industry and goal of pushing the quality bar up for animators was noticeable in every class. On top of that he had a lot of high expectations of us and the work we had to do outside of class. And boy, a lot of homework we had. Yes, even in adult education. In 12 weeks we were able to go from no 2D knowledge to understanding the principles of animation in practice, learning to use Animate/Flash… which all came together in this final assignment. A lipsync of 5at least seconds. All the other elements were up to us to decide. I created Vincent Van Gogh on the audio of the Critic’s review in Ratatouille, which is one of the best copywriting pieces in animation history. It’s an homage to new, often underestimated talent.

Throughout my time at Pulse College, I learnt that the value of any course or school is in the quality of teachers, which is defined by
1) actual practical knowledge of the subject
2) a drive to make others as passionate about the subject
3) the ability to set high expectations and a high bar for the students, while still motivating them and lifting them up

Besides teachers, I was fortunate to be surrounded by a group of dedicated adults of all ages that made a commitment to study and give it all. This course was especially designed for people who have or had jobs prior. This resulted in adults from different backgrounds, a variety of ages, with totally different ambitions and different skillsets all coming together, which led to an amazing support group. We helped each other over countless Whatsapp conversations. We encouraged each other. We critiqued work. One of the moments I won’t forget is a discussion over lunch on whether I should submit my sexually graphic cartoons for a contest judged by Marvel cartoonists. The answer was wholeheartedly “yes” after which we all gathered around my phone to go over my actual drawings on Instagram. Right there and then, I felt at home.

I have always been a believer of adult education and truly think we should reform the educational system to provide more support for adults to go back to school instead of focussing on 18y olds that don’t have a clue what they want to do with their life (yes, I was one of those). This course has only strengthened my beliefs.

Your brain is more malleable than you know

I still can’t believe that 24 weeks ago I didn’t know anything about animation, 2D/3D, animation productions and programs like Maya.

It seems like yesterday we opened Maya, complex 3D-software used in the animation industry, for the very first time and everything our teacher was explaining, sounded like alien language. But we were forced to dive in head first. “Model this phone” he asked in the first week and so I did. It took me several hours and I felt like a loser afterwards.

Phone modelled upside down.. Because I didn’t know any better at the time.

I then went on to design, model, rig and create this cartoon character for my final first term assignment.

And finally in the second term we created an even more detailed character.

People underestimate how malleable the brain is. I absolutely love pushing mine to its limits. Trying to grasp things I don’t yet. Learn things I know nothing about. Recently someone asked me whether I believe whether we’re born with intelligence. And depending on how you define intelligence, I don’t believe this. Go out, learn something new, you’ll be surprised what one can do with the contents of that upper chamber of yours.


My drawing skills evolved

The work I submitted for my portfolio was all copied from pics and references. That was what I did. Throughout the year I tried different drawing techniques. I learnt all the reasons behind why figure drawing is so important. And the line of action. Puzzle pieces fell into place. I went back to basics and tried understanding anatomy & the human figure.

During October, I experimented with drawing cartoons for the first time.

I soon realized that drawing digitally would exponentially improve my skills and work better for cartoon-work . So in December, after busting my ass off at work to wrap up H2 projects and managing to deliver all my assignments for my studies on time, I gifted myself an iPad and Procreate. And so my digital work was born.

If nothing comes our of my studies, seeing my drawing skills evolve has been magnificent.

Different dynamics in adult education

When you study as an adult, the dynamics change drastically. Contrary to studying as a kid or youngster, ad an adult you don’t have to be in class. You don’t have to finish your homework. And you don’t have to finish the year. Everything is voluntary. Because you want to be there. And because you want to learn.

Very often I had to remind myself that my work didn’t have to be perfect. That I could speak up against teachers. That there was literally nothing to lose. It was fabulous and not having that outside pressure, made it more easy to enjoy what I was learning.

The animation industry isn’t for me

As mentioned before, I didn’t know anything about the animation industry or craft before going into this. It was a complete surprise to learn how Disney is just a moneymaking machine trying to sell as much merchandise as possible, even if that means telling kids sexist stories and showing them unrealistic characters.

I was intrigued to learn more about this phenomenon and wrote a paper on it (you can read it here)

While writing this paper and learning more about the industry in general, that has very few women in it, I started debating whether this is what I want to contribute my creative skills to. I am fascinated by storytelling for kids, but my integrity struggles with this kind of way.

My creative passion is visualizing my own voice

Throughout the 9 months, I started honing in on what exactly I enjoyed in the creative process and what I didn’t see myself doing 8h a day. I noticed I enjoyed checking other people’s work and having an eye for how to make it more believable. Which makes me wonder whether I should become a teacher at one point.

Very much in line with my strong values around freedom of speech and transparency, I enjoyed being able to create whatever I wanted. Work on topics I truly care and have a story to tell about. Including sexually loaded and humorous work. Being able to own the narrative and design is truly important to me. I can’t and don’t want to create work I cannot put my own stamp on. That doesn’t mean there can’t be boundaries and requirements. I actually enjoy having to work within a set of rules. But within those I want to do my thing.

All of this leads to a fascination for illustration. And more particularly, I’m very interested in book, tattoo and logo design. Mail art. Along with cartoons. All directions I am keen on exploring.

Never underestimate yourself, even if others do

There was for sure skepticism from others whether I’d be able to balance work and school. But I never doubted myself. Nor did I let it stop me. As a matter of fact it fueled me to -once again- prove every doubter wrong. And so I did. Not only did I manage to get promoted at work, I also finished my animation course with a note from one of the teachers “pursuing a career in this is a real option for you”. Adults have funny ways of keeping others small and it takes quite the mental effort to battle it. But to rise above, there’s only one person that needs to believe in you and that’s yourself.

So, what’s next?

This is just the beginning of exploring in which direction I want to push my creative skills. After handing in my final assignment, I immediately signed up for a fundamental drawing skills course and ordered 3 art books to study. Mastering the fundamentals of drawings are crucial to become a skilled artist so I’ve noticed in class. This diagram of the brilliant book “understanding comics” explains why (click to zoom in):

Because I truly care about the freedom to create whatever work I want to, it makes most sense to keep my creative side separate from generating an income. I want to keep exploring and creating art because I want to create it, not because I have to. Additionally, I enjoy doing a variety of things and why not doing 2 different things and getting good at both?

This all means…

I stay full-time in the technology industry (currently at Stripe), but on Monday I will be switching roles to leverage my skills in building processes and products in a scaleable way. I’m super excited as I will be transitioning into a role where I will be able to use my visualization skills in an entirely different way.

When I am not working, you will still find me at my drawing table, either on paper or on tablet. I will keep training my drawing and especially illustration skills and see where that takes me later on, while I keep chewing on some business ideas.

End note

I went back to school to answer whether I wanted a more creative career and if so whether that would be in animation, and I was able to fully answer them. I learnt so much and am so grateful for the opportunity, both from my employer allowing me to switch my work schedule, as well as from the Irish government giving me a grant. I’m incredibly proud that I was able to work full time and finish school in the mean time. Delivering results in both and proving to a lot of people that one can balance. But I am mostly proud on myself. How I dared to ask critical questions about my current career and wander outside of it. In the process I discovered more what drives me (curiosity) what my values are (freedom of expression) and I found more of my own voice. And all that, regardless of anything else I learned, made the many weekends I was working all worth it.

Other animation work created throughout my time at school

Dog walk cycle
Secondary action (the string)


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