Since it’s graduation time there’s a lot of animation student thesis films in the air. Even though all the local animation schools have their own culture and methods of teaching animation, they have one thing in common, which is the promotion of the idea as the animator as a filmmaker/auteur. This is why animation art students are expected to be the writer, designer, animator, and producer of their own films. Some even supply their own voices or music, expanding on their creative juggling act even further. For the students ready to do all this, it’s a great opportunity to strut their stuff. For the rest of the students it can be an uncomfortable uphill battle, at best.
I think this is a big problem with the local animation educations. How does it make sense to take a senior who is still having problems doing basic animation and require them to take on those other roles at the same time? Besides, the experience of completing your own film from start to finish in complete solitude doesn’t really prepare one for the idea of working in collaboration with other artists, a skill students will need to master if they are to build a career in animation. I think encouraged or mandatory collaboration could be the key, where small groups of students work as production units and make a film together. While that wouldn’t be without its problems or challenges, there would be a potential gain in how students could keep each other honest and hitting deadlines. The whole process could be overseen by a thesis advisor, which would help mediate any conflicts (both personal and creative) that arise. Not only could this make the quality of the films higher, it would result in better reel/portfolio samples, and (most importantly) ensure that the students learn key lessons in communication, teamwork, and production.
As the system stands now in the local schools, besides making their own films, students are also required to hand in a short mission statement concerning their vision as filmmakers. I think these are very instructive, not only to see where the students are coming from, but also as proof of how their educations in our local institutions could be improved. Looking through all the mission statements I kept coming across the words “worlds” and “universe.” For the students using this description, their attraction to animation was that it let them create unique worlds, and, or, their own universe. On the surface I get that. Animation does give its creator Deity-like powers to invent everything in an animated film, but what level of that should be in the hands of a student that has problems drawing the most basic of movement? The freedom of a thesis film puts all that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of students, whether ready to create an entire universe or not.
I also worry about the lack of standards that may go along with the “it’s my world” outlook. There’s a great potential for uneven or unfocused work under that umbrella because it makes such a great catch all excuse and defense for weak results.
The next bit that lots of the mission statements had in common was the idea that the filmmakers make work for the approval of family and friends. That is a sweet, honest, and understandable sentiment, one that is representative of the starting place for just about every animation professional. Who among us didn’t start out making films or drawings for their immediate family and friends? That truly is our first audience. It’s often a place of unconditional love and support. But, a college graduate stepping out into the world has to broaden their horizons because he/she will put out next works as professionals ready for professional critique. Once a part of the industry, there is a new set of standards, ones that are much more critical and objective. I’m still trying to learn how to better take criticism from my peers and mentors and I’m 37 years old! I'm proof it can take time to truly get to the stage where you’re ready to hear a real critique of your work; so don’t put that off longer than necessary!
On a very positive note, many of the mission statements demonstrated a desire to become a link in animation's collective chain, to honor the past by trying to create worthy works for today's and future audiences. That's a powerful and primal motivation for doing art, reminding me of the bridge between eons of humanity you experience in Wernor Herzog's new documentary feature "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," (pictured above).