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 Article: Why 3D education isn't working 
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Joined: Sat Jan 05, 2008 1:27 pm
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Post Article: Why 3D education isn't working
A thought-provoking article....

Mon Dec 08, 2008 4:02 am

Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:25 pm
Posts: 13
Post Re: Article: Why 3D education isn't working
this article hits the right spot about 3d education. It is definitely a big problem here even in singapore. I sure hope all the relevant government and educational bodies in singapore (MDA, WDA, MOE + private education etc. )read about this and realise the severity of the problem and do something about it.

the .doc article on the page has more info.

This document is an extended version of an article that appeared in issue 112 of 3D World magazine. You can read the final version, along with four pages of tips for students on how to secure a job upon graduation, in the magazine itself.

For more information about 3D World:
To order an issue of the magazine online:

As the number of 3D degree courses increases, so has the discontent the industry feels with the graduates they turn out. We investigate the cause of the problem, why the blame does not simply lie with the colleges themselves – and why this situation may now be changing.

With 3D-related courses available at colleges and universities the world over now numbering in the thousands, it’s all too easy to forget just how young this academic strand actually is. Computer graphics may have started seeping into the mainstream in the late ’70s, but it’s only in the last two decades that courses specifically targeting these digital arts have been introduced.

Now, as students the world over look for training that will lead to career in animation, visual effects, visualisation and video game art design, and as employers demand fresh talent of an ever higher calibre, the debate over the quality, content and very nature of higher level CG training is growing ever louder.

That universities face an incredible challenge dealing with this field is not in doubt. While many other areas of academia also have to deal with issues that arise from trying to formalise courses that will educate, nourish and inspire students while also satisfying the demands of the destination industry, none face such a formidable task as those dealing with 3D animation. Other industries are generally well established and have established working practices and technologies. The computer graphics industry, by contrast lacks history and a formal structure, and is evolving at an astonishing rate. If those already working in the 3D industry have to constantly push to remain at the cutting edge, is it any wonder that teaching institutions, whose structure leaves them resistant to change and slow to respond to trends, face a tough time?'

Perhaps the most fundamental issue concerns what role a university education should play, specifically whether it’s the role of academia to turn out industry-ready graduates, or whether the industry should be expected to fill in vocational knowledge gaps with on-the-job training.

A part of the industry will always be happiest with graduates that can walk into a given role, while other companies will accommodate graduates that show aptitude or proficiency in some areas and provide some extra training, where necessary,” says Phil Organ, 3D animation lecturer at Swansea Metropolitan University’s School of Digital Media.

“I firmly believe students should be industry-ready,” says Martin Bowman, a veteran of the games and architectural visualisation industries who now works at the University of Hertfordshire as Digital Animation senior lecturer. “I do also believe there should be courses for students who wish to make experimental, thought-provoking animation but then I know there are absolutely no jobs in it for those graduates.”

But even if even if graduates do need to be work-ready, there are arguably other things that a university education should provide – things that can conflict and compete for time with content geared towards walking in to a job.

“Industry has a job to do and deadlines to meet, so we can’t blame them for wanting individuals to step in and be productive from day one with little to no training, but colleges and universities have their own set of needs,” says Jim McCampbell, Computer Animation department head at Florida’s acclaimed Ringling College of Art and Design. “In a fully fledged art degree program, there are requirements such as Liberal Arts classes, Art History courses, as well as the classes in one’s chosen discipline, all of which are required for a degree by the accrediting agencies that grant the ability to award a college degree.”

“There’s always been a conundrum in accredited education between the production skills of industry, plus the student seeking a job, and the broad goals of liberal arts education,” agrees Jeremy Moorshead, Savannah College of Art and Design animation department chair. “The most successful schools are those that strike a balance between the two, with students utilising whatever academic and production mechanisms work, including collaboration, to achieve the academic and production goals of create a senior year short and the career goals of a job reel.”

As challenging as finding space within a three or four year curriculum to address both core art and vocational needs is, perhaps the greatest difficulty is ensuring the more vocational content is actually providing what industry requires – no easy task when there are so many wildly different fields within the 3D industry, and no real consensus on the best working practices within each area. Hence recent rumblings from the UK games industry in the form of Games Up?, a campaign intended to highlight the lack of graduates armed with the necessary skills for a career in video games work. [For more details, see 3D World 108]. But if the games industry finds failing with the standard of many games-centric 3D courses now available, its needs are at least being partially addressed...
“3D education is a constant issue in the architectural visualisation industry because there are simply no schools or programmes geared specifically to our needs and nuances,” says Eddie Leon, president and CEO of Spine3d. “The end result is that we have to train many of the artists that we hire, and in fact, many of the larger 3D studios in China have created their own schools to ensure they get the talent that they need.”

Even the visual effects and animation industry poses a number of problems for educators, not least because of the disparity in working methods between smaller and larger studios. “The larger studios work in a very compartmentalised fashion, where one person’s set of responsibilities is limited to supplying only the performance of the character, or just the models, or only the lighting, and so are fine with specialised students as opposed to complete filmmakers,” says McCampbell. “But those studios still only account for a very limited number of entry-level positions each year, so taking a specialised approach severely damages the marketability of the students. Without a complete filmmaking education it’s an expensive, all-or-nothing gamble.”

Over at UK VFX studio Double Negative, HR manager Vic Rodgers agrees that undergraduate courses should be given a broad-based 3D education. “A course should initially give exposure to all aspects of CGI – modelling to a level, lighting, texturing, shading, procedural work, particle systems, rigid body dynamics, Maya and Houdini animation, technical and or character work, rigging, compositing and so on.”

Rodgers believes there are too many courses in the UK that try to do too much, and end up with graduates that aren’t capable of mastering anything: “Sadly many courses do not facilitate the development of a deeper understanding of methodology and simply teach people how to push buttons.”


There is, of course, a vast difference between those courses attempting to bestow broad-based 3D animation skills with those with a substantially larger and arguably woollier set of aims. The UK, in particular, has seen has a huge boom in the number of multimedia degree courses available. Such courses do have their place, believes Organ.

“Multimedia courses encompass the best elements from all these digital forms of communication,” he says. “Animation, for all its range in the form of movement is still only a partial element in the whole plethora of multimedia forms. If you really want to experiment in digital art and technology, engaging people on a personal and/or mass media level, then a multimedia path could provide the route.”

Not surprisingly, however, many believe such courses fail to provide the kind of training necessary for a career 3D, and often simply spread themselves too thin. “In many multimedia courses you get lots of skills taught to a 'reasonable' standard, and often very little tuition in art or design, which produces students with no visual sense but good working knowledge of a bunch of different programming languages,” says Bowman. “Great if you want to be a programmer, not very good if you want to be an artist.”

“With many of these courses the really important stuff is just too diluted,” adds Rodgers. “In our business we recruit very few people who have followed a multimedia course, and this has become more the case as the UK has become flooded with them.”

Variations in depth and breadth of training between the various breeds of 3D course aside, there’s no getting away from the fact that huge differences in the quality of education between different colleges and universities also exists. Inertia obviously plays a role in the fact that industry rates a number of key institutions particularly highly – a good reputation attracts students of a high calibre, which leads to a high graduate employment rate, which enhances that reputation, and so on – but there’s rather more to it than that. Not least the issue of money.

“Many universities and colleges now effectively operate as businesses,” points out Jason Jenner, training manager at Escape Studios. “They are interested in attendance numbers and fees and aim to attract students by offering courses in appealing subjects such as CG, games and VFX. This accounts for the explosion in the number of games-focused courses, some of which contain a somewhat schizophrenic curriculum; courses teaching a blend of games art, level design and programming?”

Operating as a business can be advantageous when it comes to 3D training, as the number of well respected commercial training institutions in the US testifies. But in the UK, colleges and universities are awkwardly placed halfway between commerce and academia, with government still controlling student fees and how many students a university is allowed to take on, while universities are motivated both by industry relevance and income generation. As a result many students have found that their degree courses don’t always deliver what was initially promised.

“I was under the impression that going to university was the step one would take in order to start their career in a position of more authority and importance, which also usually went hand in hand with better pay,” notes 3D artist Dominic Alderson. “However, what wasn't made blatantly obvious to me was that computer animation or a similar degree title had no relevance to this process at all. You're lucky straight out of university, degree in hand, if you get to start as a runner or junior in a studio! The reality of the industry is that experience counts.”

“One of the main faults of a lot of schools is the false sense of security they risk giving to students. It’s ‘Come here, and you will work at Pixar’,” says animation student Carlos Ashmansksas. “If you see a lot of commercials for schools, they sell it with the notion that the school is the main driver of the professional outcome.”

“The thing is with these courses is that they do blow a lot of hot air at you, from the taster days all the way through the first year of promises of improved opportunities,” agrees recent graduate Kevin Letchford. “I graduated this year and I’ve had to make a demo reel from scratch *after* completing the course.”

Changes in government policy have also put the squeeze on colleges and universities, as Sofronis Efstathiou, programme leader for Bournemouth University’s MA 3D Computer Animation course, explains. “HEFCE [Higher Education Funding Council For England] banding for undergraduate computer animation courses dropped from band B to C a few years ago,” explains Efstathiou. “That has resulted in just over £1,000 being removed per student per year from the incomes of schools engaged in running such courses.”

Little wonder academia is increasingly looking to the industry to provide additional funding, or that some universities seem to be unscrupulously launching games and multimedia-based courses that suggest more attention is being paid to the income generation part of the equation than the genuine industry needs.

The situation is likely to change in the UK over the next few years, with an expected removal of fee limits. But just what kind of impact this new market economy might have is not yet clear. “Hopefully this will reduce the amount of poor courses,” says Bowman. “But then poor courses may be able to just stay afloat by reducing their fees to a minimum, and of course offering the minimum of resources as well, but attracting those who could not afford to study otherwise.”

Another potential problem for universities is the need to tailor vocational content for an industry that’s forever changing. Academia excels at catering for stable industries, not those will ill-defined and constantly moving goalposts. In the UK, for example, course content is defined by Definitive Module Documents.

“A lot of other universities seem to put very restrictive information in their documents and once those things are written, they are supposed to stay relevant for five years!” says Martin Bowman. The trick used at the University of Hertfordshire, says Bowman, is to write the documents in a way that assumes the need for an evolving curriculum. Sadly many other institutions don’t take such a forward-thinking approach.

“I’ve previously taught at places where out-of-date software is being used because that’s what the module guide says will be taught,” he says. “These things can always be changed, it's just that many academics are lazy and having written the course documents would prefer to ignore them for five years. They are horrible things to write, they eat up a year of time, and you rarely get any time off from your schedule to work on them, but on the other hand this behaviour sickens me because it prevents students from being taught current skills.”

Problems with courses using outdated tools and techniques can be further exacerbated by teaching staff that don’t always possess the necessary level of experience. There are thousands of courses available, but only a limited number of people who possess the ability to teach *and* first-hand experience of this relatively young industry, and even less who will actually choose to teach – so, as with any job market, the best talent gravitates towards the employers with the best reputations and best funding.

“Lecturers are not on the greatest of wages, meaning you end up with a lot of people who couldn’t get a job in the actual industry or have not been in direct contact with it for a long time,” says Letchford.

“With a traditional science or law course, you know that the tutor will almost certainly know what he’s talking about, and at the end of the course you will be qualified to do a job which would likely be impossible without the degree,” says Matthew O’Neill, a private tutor at 3D Fluff. “In the majority of cases with CG courses the tutors just aren’t qualified to teach the subject. I’ve seen it over and over again where the tutors are just one step ahead in the lessons they teach, where they leave vital areas untouched, or just flat out teach pure tripe to the students.”

Martin Bowman admits that he’s worked at a couple of colleges where it wasn’t even necessary to show artwork in order to secure a teaching job. It’s not so much a lack of quality of control, he says, as a result of many animation courses being set up by people with little knowledge of the field. “In turn they need to hire staff, and if they've never worked in the industry and are pure academic researchers, they have no idea about what is good or bad, but they do understand qualifications and publications,” he explains. “What universities should be doing is hiring based on artwork, candidate intelligence, and the expectation that employees will undertake a post graduate certificate in Higher Education to ensure that they will be taught how to teach.”

However, there are signs that this situation is improving. “During recent visits to universities with whom we have relationships, a new breed of tutor with industry experience was appearing and making an impact on the course and work produced," says Jenner. "What is required of someone like a junior games artist isn’t a mystery and neither is how to teach it. Tutors with industry experience can deliver this in tandem with wider educational principles, as long as they have the input on course structure.”

The other obvious way to ensure that degree-level courses are giving students what prospective employers need is to encourage close dialogue between academia and the CG industry. At a day-to-day level lectures and discussions of studio-level techniques, critiquing, and student challenges from visiting professionals can all have a highly beneficial effect on a student’s progress, while also giving the kind of industry exposure that helps with networking. Industry should also arguably take an active role in the formulation of the curriculum.

“The main area that needs improvement is getting courses to interact with industry and vice versa,” acknowledges Bowman. “But getting industry input is hard unless you have friends who still work in the industry or unless your course is famous. Once the industry realises that there is talent they do pay attention, but this takes years to achieve.”

Again, however, progress is being made. “I think it’s important to acknowledge the good working relationships parties on both sides now have, with studios becoming more and more active in the development of 3D and VFX courses in the last few years,” says Efstathiou, who recently helped trial online industry mentoring scheme [for details, see 3D World 112]. “It is inevitable that there’s tension between the two sectors, as each have their own remits. But most institutions now work closely with industry to design curricula that facilitates and benefits both parties.”

“I remain mostly positive in all of this as I remember a time when animation students were few and far between,” says Organ. “With the number of students now wanting to work in the area I believe the standard of the work is higher and the level of performance expected in assessment at universities is equally higher. More professional animators now work in academia and there is so much more available for the average student to discover in terms of books, competitions, schemes, funding, directories and so on.”

And ultimately, points out Jason Jenner, the buck really stops with the students. “It’s easy and inaccurate the lay the entire blame at the universities’ door,” he says. “Students these days must become wiser about how they select courses and interrogate universities. They must seek to establish exactly what is being taught, how it is being taught and who is teaching it.”

“My advice for any prospective student would be to take a step back and look what you are looking to gain from university,” says Matthew O’ Neill. “Attending university is no longer a prestigious thing which you should be grateful for. You are buying something with your own money, so think of it as a business decision.”

Tue Dec 09, 2008 3:29 am
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Joined: Fri Dec 28, 2007 11:51 am
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Post Re: Article: Why 3D education isn't working
Thank you judassy and blackmondy for your contribution. This is such a great article that we have decided to move it here and pin it up permanently. We will also forward the article to all the govt agencies and MOE looking into manpower issue in this industry. Hope it helps.

Wed Dec 10, 2008 2:50 am

Joined: Mon Feb 18, 2008 12:25 pm
Posts: 13
Post Re: Article: Why 3D education isn't working
more food for thought

Discussion thread about this article over at CGTalk

Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:10 am
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