Monday, 15 June 2009

CalArts Part 1: Schools have Libraries for a Reason

So there's been a lot of discussion on various websites recently about the pros and cons of going to the Character Animation program I attended at CalArts. For some reason there's always some big controversy going on with it.

I have to say that I'm glad I went there for the most part, especially at the age that I did. I started my first year when I was 25 years old, so I knew how seriously I wanted to take the school and what I really wanted to get out of it. I also really appreciated the opportunity that I had in those 4 years to really try to learn and grow. It was great to be able to pretty much completely focus on what I wanted to do creatively, and have the uninterrupted time and facilities to do it as well. I worked really hard during my time there, and I'd like to think it was as hard as I could have. I have some regrets on some choices I made there, just like a lot of students probably do, but after all is said and done I think that I grew and improved a lot. Most importantly, I was able to do what I wanted to do--even to my own detriment.

I originally wrote some of the following as a response to a discussion on a website, but decided not to post it there. Mostly because I thought it would fall on deaf ears and the discussion got too negative, to the point of being non-constructive. Some people on my personal art blog expressed some interest in some of my book recommendations though, and since that was the main thrust of my post I'm going to share it here:

The following questions are for the students of Cal Arts; past, present, and future:

Have you read, and please ask yourself if you really understand the information in, the following books?

"The Animator's Survival Kit" by Richard Williams
"The Illusion of Life" by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
"Composing Pictures" by Donald Graham
"The Human Figure" by J. Vanderpoel
"Human Anatomy for the Artist" by John Raynes
"On the Art of Drawing" by Robert Fawcett
"Composition of Outdoor Painting" by Edgar Payne
"Cartoon Animation" by Preston Blair
"Timing for Animation" by Whitaker and Halas
"The Visual Story" by Bruce Block
"Dream Worlds" by Hans Bacher
"The Practice and Science of Drawing" by Harold Speed
"Forty Illustrators and How They Work" by Ernest Watson
"The Merchant of Dennis the Menace" by Hank Ketcham
"Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative" by Will Eisner
"How to Create Animation" by Cawley and Korkis
"Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life" by George Bridgman
"How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" by Stan Lee and John Buscema
"A Complete Guide to Drawing, Illustration, Cartooning, and Painting" by Gene Byrnes

These are just a few of the books that I could think of off the top of my head that I've found it helpful to sit down and read.There are hundreds of other books I could mention, that have a wealth of great information about film making/animation, or that have great drawings/paintings in them, and contain very clearly, detailed information in the text about the thinking, philosophy, study, and required abilities that went into creating them. Many of these books essentially explain HOW it's done, what the artist was thinking, or what influenced the creation of the art itself.

Now I don't claim to have read all of these books, or to completely understand them all, but many of them are on my book shelf, and I've at least read parts of them and have drawn/studied from quite a few of them. Most of these books are also available to read at the CalArts Library, and I read quite a few of them there while I attended the school. Some of them I read more than once, in order to try and fully comprehend the information.

Some of the aforementioned books are also available online as .pdfs now, for those who really wish to read something that these great artists felt was importantenough to write about. For example I just recently found "The Eye of the Painter and the Elements of Beauty” by Andrew Loomis through a Google search which lead to a .pdf of the entire book posted on a concept art forum. Just type in the book title and author into Google along with the word ".pdf " and you are sure to find some, and if you can't find them online, you can either purchase them, or check them out at a library. Once you start actually reading and studying the information in these books, you will usually be led to other books and artists that the authors write about in the texts. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, you'll see how deep the well of knowledge and inspiration actually goes.

I know some people might get angry that I've given away a lot of "secret" information on what are considered to be some really good books (some of them took a lot of effort, reading and researching, to find), but the more people that know about them, the better as far as I'm concerned. Most people probably won't even read this post or the books I mentioned anyway either. I certainly haven't gotten to reading them all myself yet, and just like most people I like to look at the pretty pictures and completely ignore what's written in the books sometimes too. But the text is often really worth reading, even if it's written in an archaic way. I'll probably end up mentioning these same books again later in subsequent postings, so please forgive me if I seem too repetitive.

In my next post, I'll continue with what I wrote about CalArts as it pertains to teachers.