|Bobby Beck got his start in the animation industry when he landed a job at a local San Francisco game company.|
From there, he was hired by Tippet Studios in 1997 and worked as an animator on the feature films My Favorite Martian and Virus, before moving to Los Angeles in 1998, where he worked at Walt Disney Feature Animation on Dinosaur.
In 1999, Beck was offered his dream job at Pixar Animation Studios. There, he worked as an animator on Toy Story 2, The Incredibles, Cars, Boundin’, and as a senior animator/character developer on MONSTER’S, INC. and FINDING NEMO. Beck co-developed Boo from MONSTER’S INC. and on the FINDING NEMO, he was the developer on Nemo’s character.
In September 2004, Beck left Pixar to devote himself full-time to running AnimationMentor.com as its CEO/President. It was one of the hardest decisions of his life. He embarked on a second wave of self-schooling — studying business development, leadership, administration and education — and began working with a business coach. It is a process that continues through today as Beck and his team at AnimationMentor.com strive to provide the best character animation education possible to their students.
How was the idea about an online animation school born?
There has been a huge void in animation education for a long time. It seems that the trend has moved further-and-further away from the art and craft of animation and has moved more-and-more towards computer software experts. AnimationMentor.com was born from this void.
My partners Shawn Kelly (animator, Industrial Light & Magic), Carlos Baena (animator, Pixar Animation Studios) and myself had been teaching for some time and felt that there was something fundamentally flawed with animation education. Many students who wanted to become animators had to focus on everything except the things they should have been focusing on; animation, storytelling and filmmaking.
Animation schools tend to build curriculums that give everyone a general knowledge about many things but not specialized skills in the proper areas. This is super fine for people who want to get into the industry in any way they can. But our challenge and goal is not in creating more “worker bees;” it has been to help create the next generation of storytellers, filmmakers and artists. Our school is designed with that purpose in mind.
If students want to come to our school to learn XYZ of certain software packages they may be disappointed as we are looking to train artists, not computer technicians. We feel we can teach the software to students in a matter of hours but the concepts and many facets of developing true understanding and construction for animation, storytelling and filmmaking take time and is where our students spend the majority of their efforts.
As any student in our school will tell you we push them to think and to really see the world around them and incorporate this into their work. That is the stuff that people want to see. They don’t care if something moves “nice” they want to see something that entertains them and feels real to them on some level.
We decided the best way to build the school would be online. Online there are no geographic boundaries so we can provide this education to a worldwide audience without them having to move halfway across the globe to receive it, and yet still feel very connected to the learning experience. Also, the Internet community has always been near and dear Shawn, Carlos and my heart. It’s where we learned a lot about animation when we were starting out and there’s so much energy and connection between people online; sometimes more than having ‘physical interaction,’ say at a typical brick-and-mortar school.
What drove you to take part in this?
What drove me to take part of this amazing adventure is that it simply needed to be done, and it needed to be done by people who really care about animation and the art and craft of animation. It needed to be built by people who animate professionally day-in and day-out for years who really understand what the industry needs from new fresh talent.
On a personal level I feel teaching someone continues to give back to me in such a “real” way. As teachers we are helping people change their lives and give them hope and a new direction, and words fail to describe that feeling. It’s truly amazing!
And finally it would not only bring students resources that they would otherwise not be exposed to, but it would unite top professional animators around the world and give them a place to share their knowledge for the first time regardless of what studio they worked for. It’s like a giant animator’s playground and we can all share and learn and feel good about driving the art, craft and language of animation forwarding a huge way! Woo Hoo!
Did you expect the school would be a success, or were you taking a big risk?
We definitely took the risk, but at the same time we just followed our hearts and we hoped people would want something like this. We were very “idealistic” in the beginning in terms of how much time and effort it would take to create something this ambitious.
Luckily we are very driven and we care very much about quality in every aspect of our lives. So whenever someone would get burned out the other two would step in and help pull the spirits back up and provide encouragement. It took us over 2 ½ years to create AnimationMentor.com before we ever announced it to the public. Our picky eyes and attention to detail are some of the many things that have made this a great experience thus far.
Now that you've had some real "hands on" experience with the students, would you say AnimationMentor.com is what you expected, or did it exceed your expectations?
It is far better than our imaginations could have dreamed of. On a professional level we are getting the support of the entire industry in such an inspiring way that we are committed to making it as amazing as it can possibly be.
AnimationMentor.com has exceeded our expectations in ways we simply never could have planned of. The weekly emails I get from our students around the world are breathtaking. It has really changed people’s lives and this is so real. On paper you can say it, but when you hear it and see it from people it moves me more than anything I can explain. It’s like when you work really hard on a movie for years and then it comes out and people really like it, but after a few weeks the buzz dies down and then you just know in your heart that it was a great experience.
With teaching it continues to give back to you daily. And that keeps us on our toes, because we not only have our students for 18 months but we feel they are like our family and we want to see them succeed. I guess it’s that feeling of spending so much time and effort on making something cool but then it starts to take on a life of its own and at that point it becomes bigger than anything you could have ever planned for.
How did teaching in a traditional classroom setting compare to teaching online classes?
I have taught at schools, conferences and animation studios. I never experienced teaching animation online before we decided to build AnimationMentor.com. But we did do a lot of research and planning before we dove into taking on such a big challenge.
At the end of the day we decided to build our school from scratch. The technology and curriculum have been built from the ground up and many people have worked long and hard to make sure it is as solid as it can possibly be.
I've been following AnimationMentor.com since the beginning, and there's a question I've had since the first day. As a student, I would be given the opportunity to learn animation in any medium I wanted (traditional, stop motion, or 3D). Say, that I took Stop Motion classes … what method would I use to learn animation in that medium? I just can't figure out a way to do the bouncing ball with clay.
Actually one of our students, Matt Strangio, did do the bouncing ball exercise in stop motion. He used a piece of Styrofoam for the background, a ball made of clay and a toothpick that he stuck into the clay ball then into the foam as he captured each frame of the animation with Monkey Jam, a free software used to grab frames along with a web cam. It turned out amazing! That is a true artist right there. Someone who goes outside of the box and makes it happen.
All students of AnimationMentor.com have 24 hour 7 day a week unlimited access to our video training for stop motion, computer and traditional animation techniques. These techniques give the students enough information for them to start getting their ideas out. The rest of their learning experience is focused on building each individual and helping them to pull out their own unique expression that they have inside them. No one told Matt how to do the bouncing ball per se, but he figure it out based on what he had seen in the training as well as putting his own creative mind to work.
Does the medium imply that [for example], a traditional animation student would never use Maya during his time at AM?
Students can use any medium they want. They can use a different medium on each assignment if they so choose and some do. We encourage experimenting in different mediums, and ultimately choosing one that they really like so they can develop their skills further.
What do you think sets AnimationMentor.com apart from other animation schools (besides the fact that the mentors are considered some of the best animators around the globe)?
I really truly feel that everyone involved in AnimationMentor.com believe in making it the best school it can possibly be and that’s what really makes this school shine above and beyond anything we could have ever imagined it to be. It’s a school built by artists for people who want to become artists.
The community at AnimationMentor.com is awe-inspiring. Students have built bonds with each other that they’ve never met “in person” yet they have real relationships with them as they are all going through the same experience. That’s the power of the Internet.
Could you explain the mentor-student interaction during the homework phase? What about student-student interaction?
Typically students start off each week with a video lesson encompassing a specific topic.
During the homework phase we encourage the students to post their work on their workspace page to get feedback from other students as this is the fastest way to get feedback. Since we are an online community there are always students online. We also have what we call Campus Mentors who cruise the campus and comment on student work that is posted on students workspace pages.
Campus Mentors are also high level professional animators, so having them available to give added feedback is yet another big bonus for students. Students can email their mentor if they get stuck, but because all mentors are currently working professionals they tend to save their responses for the Live Q&A web conferences they have weekly with their students.
When the student puts up their work to be reviewed by their mentor, the mentor will then give the student a video based critique (eCritique TM) of their work where the mentors can talk, act out and draw over a students work. This gets recorded and saved for each student so they can view it as many times as they’d like and it is also viewable by every other student so they learn from each other and each others’ mentors!
The live Q&A sessions give the students one-on-one time with their mentor to gain further insight into the lesson of each week as well as ask more specific questions about their work and any other problems they are having.
Many assignments span several weeks in length so the back and forth process on any given assignment is actually pretty big. Those who are more active in the school will get the most out of it, but that goes for anything in life, you get what you put into something.
Besides the above interaction, students can also post on the forum, use text chat to talk to their fellow students and can go into the Live Q&A sessions up to 1 hour before the session begins to give students more time with their fellow classmates and they can stay in as long as they want after a session has ended.
From our school students have been organizing student gatherings around the world that are happening regularly and are extremely successful. The most recent was in England where students came from Italy, France, Switzerland and Iceland to meet and share in their experiences! For this event we organized a tour with Framestore (an England-based visual effects studio). The event was a huge success.
Again, we really do look at our students as family and we continue to look for ways to bring them closer together constantly. There are many more great things in the works.
What does it take to be an Animation Mentor?
Enthusiasm, passion for the art and craft of animation, a minimum of 3 years professional experience in the animation industry, previous teaching experience is a big plus and an ability to communicate ideas into words. We are very selective of our mentors and we work hard to try and pick the best people that we possibly can whose work also reflects some of the best character animation on the planet today.
Finally, do you have any advice you would give to anyone trying to get a job in the animation industry?
I always talk about “the 3 P’s;” Practice, Perseverance and Personality. You have to develop all three of these skills simultaneously. I came to animation not being the most “skilled artist,” yet over the last decade I have, with the help of many great and talented people, learned to develop these skills and still continue to refine them on a daily basis. You can never learn everything, and shouldn’t think that you can.
Also, don’t believe anyone if they say “you can’t do it,” because you can if you believe in yourself. There’s times where your demo reel will get rejected a dozen times in a row and you have to continue to believe in your work and continue to make it better, then try again. The hard work will pay off if you stick to it.
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August 22, 2005