by Isaiah Saxon

You can teach yourself just about anything on the internet. But, speaking as someone who still hasn’t mastered French braids after hours of YouTube sessions, it’s not just about access to information—it takes a hell of a lot of drive and concentration to actually spend time learning when your classroom (a.k.a. your laptop) is connected to the procrastination machine that is social media. There are, however, some corners of the web that are specifically designed to bring people together who may not be able to afford or access quality education in the arts but have the motivation to learn, and can disconnect from their feed long enough to absorb an undergrad’s-worth of information.

One of the less conventional learning communities to spring up is Holdframe, a new animation marketplace that allows animators to buy or acquire examples of high quality animation in order to take them apart and learn how they were made. “Customers can view and explore the files solely for their personal development and growth in a purely non-commercial or outward-facing way,” says Joe Donaldson, Holdframe’s founder. “The idea is simply to offer a glimpse into how real professionals work on real projects. To me, the thought that you can watch and appreciate a successful film and now have the ability to see exactly how it was made and support the creator in the process is really exciting.”

It’s that last bit that Donaldson, who is also the editor of design and animation site, Motionographer, is perhaps most excited about. “From a financial perspective, the artists involved get the largest percentage of each and every transaction while retaining all ownership of their work.”

With art school fees at their highest ever, there’s often talk as to whether the many MOOC platforms or marketplaces like Holdframe will eventually take over the traditional art school format. There are pros and cons to both, but it made us wonder how comprehensive an education and how much career prep can even the most diligent online student can absorb.

I’ve learned a lot of C4D tips and tricks from teens doing Minecraft tutorials.

Can you actually learn how to be an animator just by using the internet? We asked five of our favorite animators for their thoughts on whether or not their time spent at art school was imperative to the career they have now, or whether they could quite easily have acquired the same skills online.

Steph Davidson, art director, illustrator, and animator

“I took an intro animation course for Maya [Autodesk] and I found that tutorials on subscription sites like Digital Tutors, Gnomon, or Lynda were really current and more modular, so for me they were more fun to learn. There’s also a ton of free stuff on YouTube,  like Lester Banks, or Greyscale Gorilla, and I’ve learned a lot of C4D tips and tricks from teens doing Minecraft tutorials.

“The one-year Maya program was more traditional and linear. They teach you the principles of animation first, then software basics, renderer basics, and so on. So I think it’s both a matter of preference and knowing what you want to do. If you wanted to create traditional animation, the work coming out of Gobelins School of Visual Arts in Paris is consistently incredible, so they must be doing something special. On the other hand, there are so many exceptional experimental animators who are self-taught. My two cents is there is a huge amount of very current material online, check it out before dropping all your savings on a school program, unless they offer something unique or you want to work for a big studio.”

by Steph Davidson

Sophie Koko Gate, animator and illustrator

“I studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins (CSM) for my Bachelors, and then animation at the Royal College of Art (RCA). I got a couple weeks of training in Flash animation at RCA and an introduction to After Effects at CSM, but that was it. I animate predominantly in Photoshop and After Effects, and learnt the basics from Lynda.com, but the pro tips I got were from the people around me at RCA and my mates who were all figuring it out as well.

“Photoshop animation was relatively fresh to the industry back then, and our year group was the first to benefit from CS6 (extended)’s video timeline feature. One really nerdy friend hacked it so that it worked similar to Flash, and to this day I still use his gnarly set of actions! In the RCA animation course, it was expected that you would teach yourself the software in your own time. I don’t think degrees are meant for learning software; RCA was about meeting other animation freaks, and having that support system there to help you make your graduation film.”

I don’t think degrees are meant for learning software.

Qieer Wang, animator and illustrator

“After making my first short three years ago, I started messing around with techniques used online or by my studio mates. A tutorial called How to Animate in Photoshop contained all the information I’ve needed for the last two years! I also recently read a principles of animation book that I bought seven years ago.

“Useful information and techniques are always around us; it really depends on the learner’s direction and desire. Timing can be everything sometimes. But then, after three years of exploring animation just by myself, it feels right to get back to academia for little a bit. I’m already considering getting into a course or applying to be part of a residency program next year.”

Isaiah Saxon, co-founder of Encyclopedia Pictura and DIY.org

“I think the question of whether an artist needs college is not specific to animation. Nearly all disciplines can be learned effectively in an auto-didactic way on the internet, but that requires a particularly self-directed person. The only reason to be in college for any artistic discipline is to be in a structure of immersion with a group of peers that becomes a self-feeding loop of excitement and support to rapidly improve. If you’re able to create this environment at a young age outside of school, perhaps with an online cohort, then it’s fantastic. But it’s really rare and special that these young groups find the conditions to thrive outside of college because of the intense demands of capitalism and the steep cost of housing in cities today.

“College at least gives you a framework to live in a fake world, shielded from those realities as you accrue debt that you will be paying off for 20 years. The most important skill there is, which cannot be taught, but only nurtured, is the ability to geek out and follow your passion. School structures often work to separate you from that inner fire, so in some sense it stifles the only important thing. But if you can find a school environment that lets you follow your nose to learn just what excites you, it can be worth it.”

Andy Baker, illustrator and animator

“More than anything else, the people who I got to study with at university was what made it worth the fees that I’m still paying off. Those relationships have pushed and challenged me as an animator and, 10 years later, I still share a studio with the same people I studied with. We have worked together and supported each other throughout our careers. To a certain extent, sharing a studio means we’ve been able to keep the university environment going.

“I could see a world where design studies go fully online and people learn from tutorials and one-on-ones with tutors, but to be surrounded by talented people with different thought processes and ideas that challenge you every day in a university environment was, and is, so valuable. I guess the question now is how valuable? Would I pay thousands of dollars per year for that? I would say yes, but I can see many many talented people thinking it might not be the best idea to have that much debt, and look elsewhere or try something else.

“Maybe the next thing that’s needed online is a space for people to come together and learn, but also be able to hang out with those people in person. I know it might sound old-fashioned, but I don’t think there’s any substitute for personal interaction. The internet is full of dicks, and I think trying to replicate the uni vibe of trying things and pushing yourself might be harder to do online. I’m sure there are forums and spaces where the review and critique of work could still happen in a productive way, and if they don’t exist they definitely should. The cost of art and design education is just too prohibitive these days to not explore other alternatives.”