At San Jose State University, every student majoring in illustration learns how to animate. The four-year program at this public university just south of the San Francisco Bay includes the traditional practice of creating flat illustrations for print, but it also covers acting, lighting, and creature design skills needed for the burgeoning fields of CGI and interactive.
Illustration/Animation chairman Alice Carter, herself a well-known illustrator and author, helped design the new curriculum. “Twelve years ago,” she told me, “we saw the business change. Print was gone, and it was being replaced by video games and CGI animation. We stripped down the program to just drawing.” SJSU began teaching how to sculpt maquettes, how to draw backgrounds, and how to develop a narrative with a storyboard.
We met John Clapp, (book cover above), one of the professionals from illustration faculty.
Alice "Bunny" Carter walked us through the art building and showed us the impressive senior portfolio booklets, each of which looks like an “Art of” production design handbook. “We teach the exact same thing in every class,” she said, “gesture, construction, anatomy, and technique—in that order of importance. Our emphasis is drawing. We teach figure drawing in every class.” Students have a sketchbook assignment to draw fifty trees and fifty windows. They go to the zoo to draw animals from life.
Students also learn computer graphics skills once they’ve got a handle on drawing, but “we don’t give application courses, except for Maya.” Ms. Carter admitted that graduating students don’t have as much time to spend with painting and color as they’d like, but they’ve only got four years.
There’s no portfolio entrance requirement; everyone is admitted, but midway through their period of study, students have to pass a review. Once they do, the older students give them a t-shirt and welcome them into the “Shrunken Head Club.”
The big players in the industry, like DreamWorks, EA, and Pixar, have taken notice. We looked into a classroom where students were sharing animation pencil tests via a video link with professionals at Disney. Recruiters regularly pick off the graduates. Almost 100% of them are hired.
Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks recently announced a six-figure donation to help build the animation program even more. The grant is welcome in a public institution that is a bit strained for resources. Tuition is one of the lowest of the schools we’ve visited. As a result of the tight funds, the computer rooms and cafeteria are crowded.
I shared my Dinotopia presentation with a group of over 200 students packed into a double classroom. At supper later, Alice said she often hears illustrators back east complaining about the declining field of magazine illustration. But she sees the industry with fresh eyes. “We’re committed to visual development, and now we’re known for it. This is the new golden age of illustration.”