I preface this by saying that it has been some time since I was at CalArts. The information I have written up was valid at the time I was there (mid 2000s) and there might have been changes since then. However, since I still get asked about the best way to be accepted to the Character Animation program, I felt it would still be helpful to keep this information available.
How hard is it to get into the character animation program at CalArts?
It’s pretty difficult. I read somewhere that the acceptance rate for that particular program is 8-10% although I don’t know if those figures are still accurate. They only accept 40-50 new students a year though if that gives you an idea.
Holy crap! I better make my portfolio kick-ass; what should I put in it?
Since I can only speak from my own experience and observations, the first thing you should do is call the school and speak with someone in the admissions department (main number: 661.255.1050 and ask to be connected with the admission office). Another really great resource is to attend a National Portfolio Day. CalArts usually is one of the schools in attendance and it gives you a chance to get a dry run portfolio review. Bring your stuff and have them look it over; the CalArts reps will be able to tell you what you need to do to improve your portfolio (if necessary) for when the time comes to officially submit your application.
Now, as far as my experience goes, I submitted 20 life drawings. I know that some of my classmates submitted many more than that as well as some of their sketchbooks. CalArts isn’t so concerned with finished pieces (although feel free to include some in your portfolio) as they are with seeing that you know the body and how it moves. They like gestures. They like to see structure lines and how you figured things out. They like poses with a lot of movement (after all, you’re applying to a program that’s all about conveying life and motion). Here’s a quick list of DOs and DON’Ts:
- DO submit life drawings
- DO submit gestures
- DO submit dynamic poses taken from life (not from photo reference)
- DO submit work in a variety of different mediums (pen, pencil, charcoal, conte, etc)
- DO submit works of varying lengths (30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes as well as a few longer poses)
- DON’T submit cartoons
- DON’T submit cartoons
- DON’T submit cartoons
Figure drawing? But I’ve never taken figure drawing!! What should I do?
Well, you need to refine those skills. Luckily, you have several resources available to you. First, check to see if any nearby schools–like a community college–offer life drawing classes. If not, check the bulletin board at your local art store (most of them have one) to see if there are any open figure sessions in the area. Sometimes a bunch of artists will get together and all pitch in for a model. If worse comes to worse and there are no classes or sessions in the area (or you’re young and your parents don’t want to expose you to naked people yet), recruit your friends and family. Obviously it would be a bit much to ask them to strip down for you but a model doesn’t need to be naked for you to draw them. If no one wants to sit still, go hang out at the mall or a coffee shop or something along those lines and just sketch the people that you see. You can also check out anatomy books or use photo reference but I would HIGHLY suggest that you draw from life. You really will get more out of it if you see how the body moves. Working from books or photos, you’re just learning how to copy.
Should I submit some of the animation I’ve done?
You can but their primary concern is that you can draw the figure. This isn’t a program that will teach you how to draw. They’re looking for people who can already draw. This is a program that will teach you how to take your drawing skills and animate with them. Some of my classmates already experimented with animation prior to attending; some of us (myself included) had never animated before starting this program. So you can include some of your animation in your portfolio but it’s not going to make or break the situation.
How much do grades and test scores factor into the admission process?
None. Zero. Zilch. Although they have you submit those things, they don’t even look at them until they’ve already accepted your portfolio. Getting into the character animation program is based solely on talent and skill.
Can I transfer into the program?
Yes and no. If you have attended college elsewhere, your credits will transfer over. However, this only really gets you out of taking critical studies classes (i.e. liberal arts classes necessary to graduate); it won’t advance you through the program. Because it is highly structured, it is a four-year program no matter what.
Can I attend part-time?
As far as I understand it, the answer is ‘no’. It’s a highly structured program and you take specific classes during specific semesters. However, I’m not 100% sure on this so your best bet would be to call the Character Animation office and get the answer right from the source!
I didn’t get in! Now what?
That’s okay, most people don’t get in on their first try. It’s pretty rare to get in straight out of high school and most people in the program already have a bit of college under their belt. If you don’t get in but still really want to go, consider a community college or a state school. Call the admissions office to get some feedback as to why your portfolio wasn’t accepted and what you should work on for your next year’s application.
I got in! What’s it going to be like?
It’s going to be awesome! You have teachers who work for Disney, Dreamworks, etc. All your classmates are kick-ass artists who are very enthusiastic about what they’re doing and are sources of constant inspiration. Sleep is a thing of the past because you are going to be busy, busy, busy! Studios pay a lot of attention to the school–they come by to give presentations, lectures, workshops, etc.
Like mentioned, the program is very structured. Aside from your critical studies classes, your schedule is already set for you. They split the incoming class into two sections and one sections will get one schedule and the other section will get the other schedule. Therefore, you will have the same people in all your character animation classes. Classes meet once a week and everyone gets a cubicle with an animation desk in it (there are some singles but those go to the upper-classmen; everyone else gets doubles or triples). You can rent or buy an animation disc for your desk. This is an example of a freshman schedule (mine):
Video Animation 9-12
Basic Perspective 1-4
Beginning Story Development 7-10
Color & Design I 9-12
Animation I (computer) 8-11
Figure Drawing I 9-4
Animation I (traditional) 7-10
Story for Animators 10-12
Freshman are required to make a 90-second film (no dialogue, no choreographed music) by the end of their first year and much of your second semester will be devoted to making this happen.
What else can you tell me?
That I like cake? Ha! I think that about covers it. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to e.mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!