OK, this post is part just talking about Animation Mentor, and part completely me bragging about how happy and excited I am, so look away if you hate that kind of stuff, as I probably would if I weren’t me.

Animation Mentor has officially begun! You can see I’ve got official badge on the side there, haha! My mentor for the first semester is animator Tim Crawfurd, who did some 2D animation before getting hired by Pixar in 1997 (when CG animation was still pretty new), and he continued to work at Pixar until 2009. Check out his imdb profile to see the films he worked on with Pixar, and his showreel on YouTube.

The structure of Animation Mentor might seem confusing at first, but basically there are six “classes” or “semesters”, each one lasting 12 weeks. Within each class there are 12 to 15 mentors, and each mentor is assigned to 9 to 14 students. So Tim Crawfurd is the mentor for me and 12 others. I think three of us are in the US, and the others are around the world, like in India, Ireland, UK, France, Spain, etc. Each semester you get a different mentor, so you get professionals with a variety of industry backgrounds (but they’re all character animators, obviously).

Here’s how the learning part works: on the Monday of each week, you get a video lecture and a corresponding assignment. The lectures and assignments are the same, no matter which mentor you have. The lectures also feature a bunch of different animators, so you get to hear from a wide variety of pros; it’s not just one guy telling you everything. You have until 12 PM PST Sunday to upload your assignment, so you have almost the entire week to work on it. Sometime during the week, you have a Q&A session with your mentor, live using webcams and microphones, allowing you to talk with the other students in your group and the mentor, asking any questions you have. Lastly, each week you’ll get a (non-live) video from your mentor reviewing and grading your assignment from the previous week, so if you did something wrong or have something you could improve, you’ll know exactly what and why from personal attention from your mentor. These reviews are also made public, so everyone can learn from your work and the mentor’s comments. (If that embarrasses you, too bad! I personally think it’s a great idea! The assignments are animation practice, not strict tests to see how smart you are.) Lastly, the online “campus” has other places to visit, like the perpetual chatroom, a forum, a “library” with book recommendations, and videos of animated-related learning material, like one about stop-motion animation, Maya training, etc. There are profiles to learn more about each other, video journals you can keep, etc. I think it could be easy to forget you have an assignment to do with all the social networking fun on the site!

To more specifics:

The first semester, that I just started, is “Basic Foundations” … so we’re starting with the basics, bouncing balls and such. You obviously can’t just jump right in and animate full characters! You have to progress to that. There’s no real assignment this first week; it’s all about getting introduced to the site, to the other students, and to your mentor. Yesterday I spent some time meeting some other students in the perpetual chatroom, which was a ton of fun. And I just had my first Q&A session yesterday and it was awesome. We mostly just tested out our webcams and how the whole Q&A thing will work, and had the opportunity to ask questions. I could probably sit there and ask a professional animator endless questions, but I only asked one today about how he approaches scenes that combine a lot of physics with character movement; to me that seems like the toughest stuff to animate; I fear I’ll really stink at it. But I haven’t animated anything at all yet, so maybe I’ll stink at even simpler things!

It was interesting to see people from all different time zones as well. It was late at night for some, early in the morning for others, 2 PM for me (which is perfect for me).

And it was really just my nerdy dream come true to be talking LIVE to someone who REALLY WORKED on some of my favorite movies of all time! And I look forward to more!

So now I’m in a state of elation, just so excited at actually having the opportunity to learn this stuff. So I hope I’ll be geeking out over animation for the next year or so, and my other interests, like music, might take more of a back seat. Maybe for eternity. OK, not for eternity.

Oh, I also love how informal Animation Mentor is, by which I mean it’s not like being at a university, with lofty professors who take themselves too seriously and dress up for class and have you worrying more about your grade than the actual subject.

So, overall, life is very good right now!

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