I currently attend the Art institute of Portland, and recently decided to transfer out to pursue puppet/set fab (with whatever animation is necessary for a kickass portfolio). I have been accepted to the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in NYC, and they seem to have decent stop-mo/ fabrication resources. Alternatively, Staffordshire University in the UK has a proper fabrication program. However, the more I read about current professionals, the more I realize that stop-mo degrees were seldom involved. I already have strong crafting background, I just need to learn technique, and improve story/ character design.
What are your thoughts: is college worth it, connections in mind? If so, will any stop-mo structured degree do, or is it better to go to a full-on program, even if it's in a sleepier city?
This dilemma has been eating me the past couple weeks, really looking forward to your thoughts!!
I think if you ask twenty people for their opinions on this, you'll get 20 different answers. For what it's worth, I'd advise you to combine 2 or 3 things in your college years. For example, I sometimes wish I'd gone to an art school in Berlin in the 60's, which is when I was college age (yes, I really am that old). I would have got an art education, a political education and a language education all at the same time!
Look at it as several opportunities rolled into one -- in later life, it becomes harder to do these kind of things. That's my two pennies, anyway.
What field do you want to focus on in particular? Model making, animating, puppet fabrication, costuming, etc?
If you go to LAIKA's website and look at the career opportunities, they tell you exactly what qualifications they're looking for. Of course, the job you're looking into may not be listed at the moment. That might be of some help in your decision making.
It also depends on your personality. If you are highly motivated and good at teaching yourself from books, you might be better off doing that intensively. Some of the Animation courses don't go into stop motion much, probably because most students want to do CGI, which is less messy and doesn't need a workshop. So if you go the college route, pick carefully, ask them what resources they have, and be sure it will give you what you need.
If your strengths are in fabrication, then perhaps a course with more focus on other aspects would suit. The truth is that most courses, in all subjects, are good at some areas and weak at others. You need to get them to admit which! Good luck.
There's probably no one sure path to a career in stop motion. I had never heard of a stop motion course back when I went to university. I studied graphic design, worked as a props maker and scenic artist at the Australian ABC TV network, and started doing little animations in my own time. Surprisingly, it led to doing some stop motion inserts for a comedy program where I was already working as an assistant designer, and then to making an animated doco for the Natural History Unit. I stayed to do more animations. It couldn't happen now - all the departments I worked in are closed down, and they only make low-cost talking head type programs now - and it was largely a fluke that it happened then. Others will have different, but often just as unlikely, ways into it. I did come from the making side of it though, with the animation coming later.
If you are looking for employment at a major studio like Laika, they require excellence in one particular area. (They don't care if an animator can make puppets or sets, but they need to be a really good animator.) But if you are thinking of making your own films, you need to be able to do almost everything yourself, even some things you aren't brilliant at, because hiring others costs money you probably won't have. And that's how I worked, because my budgets didn't cover more than one part-time assistant for 4 weeks out of every 6 months.
The best training for that approach is probably to make a film - either on your own, or as part of a course - where you will go through all the stages of a production, and have a chance to see what parts of it appeal to you most. You can learn this stuff without attending an institution, but there is an advantage in working with others, making contacts, and getting the feedback from lecturers and fellow students. The piece of paper not so much, it's what you have to show that matters when applying for jobs. I don't regret my years at art school (way back in the 70s), even if I never had much luck finding jobs in graphic design.
I agree with Nick. You should start trying your hand ad doing a small animation from start to finish. In this way you will learn about all the phases of production from inception and idea up to the final cut. In terms of learning...it depends very much on what you want to do. If you want to be an animator you should try to get some classes in acting so you can learn about how you can express and transmit feelings and moods and atmosphere. You should try to study the artists and the movies from the pre-sound times when the communication was in gestures,positions,and try to absorb that information. Then...try to animate the most common objects you can find...a matchbox, a pen,etc. My first character was a sack of flour which i tried to animate to show sadness, joy,etc without having any sound attached.
If you want to make puppets then metalworking casting and drawing need to be studied. Metalworking you should learn about of simple welding and soldering,how to use a lathe, a router, files, different metal strengths, etc. There are a few on-line and distance learning courses for casting,VFX and animatronics, ones like Stan Winston school where you learn how to use Silicon to create masks and appliances. These are for human size models but the principles of creating the moulds and painting the appliances applies also to puppets. Drawing will help you learn proportions and perspective, see what can be stretched, exaggerated,softened,curved and will help you create your own characters. A lot of sewing will be involved too, if you want to do that. You need to learn how to use a sewing machine...yuck...
Sets...this is a different ballgame. I think there are schools for this stuff like set dresser and designers and stuff like that because they are still heavily used in current film industry and all of the principles apply.
But in any situation, in any position from above, you need to watch a lot of movies . Not the crappy and kitsch ones, even if they can provide some knowledge too, but great movies, made by more or less known artists. Watch the movie several times and learn from it. See why the camera moves that way, why the light casts the shadows that way, how the props were constructed and how they could work. You will receive a lot of information through the training and courses but, believe me, that will be only the bootcamp. The bare basics. The rest, you have to teach yourself.
And on that note, @Nick, any studios in Australia doing StopMo at this time and in need of an apprentice? I noticed you said that most of the shops are closed down and there is little activity on this filed here...
I know Michael Cusack (of Animfex in Adelaide) has just finished a short film and has started a new one. But I suspect that might indicate that commercial work is not coming in as much as it used to, otherwise he would not have much time for artistic pursuits. I think he works mostly solo on the short films. Don't know of any productions going in Melbourne at the moment. Sydney I wouldn't know about anyway. If I went by the situation here I would say, don't bother trying to get into the stop motion industry, there isn't one on any permanent basis. But Aardman in Bristol, and Laika in Portland, do have continuous production going on, and films do get up and assemble a crew for the duration of the production, in other places.
we will just have to stick to our "shorts" until we can find some new work
While stumbling around the net I saw this:
The whole course seems to be available for around $60. I know nothing about the course itself, just seemed to be another option you could consider -- or preparation for college perhaps. Anyhow, good luck!