A few years ago when I was trying to decide on which animation to go to, I blogged a few posts about Ringling vs. CalArts (around March/April 2007 in this blog). I was accepted into both and was having a hard time deciding on which to go to. Now a couple of years after I graduated from Ringling, I'm still being contacted by prospective students and concerned parents as to what Ringling is like, what the animation industry is like, and more specifically why did I decide on Ringling instead of CalArts.
Since it's that season again and I've been getting a lot of emails with the same concerns, I thought I'd post some questions I've answered.
What was Ringling Like?
I really loved my experience at Ringling. I've learned a lot and was exposed to many opportunities.
Ringling is a great generalist school. You learn the whole animation pipeline from 2d to 3d. People I graduated with have become storyboarders, animators, vis dev artists, lighters, modelers, fx artists, generalists. Some found their niche and explored that while keeping up with all aspects of 3d while others were able to focus their job applications towards what is in demand at the time. So in my opinion, Ringling gives you a wider range of opportunities and flexibility. I always loved drawing and visual development so sometimes I wonder if I went to CalArts I'd have developed those skills more. But I've had an internship at Pixar, worked on an oscar winning short at Moonbot, and currently work at Sony all because what I've learned at Ringling. I'm currently working as a lighter but am also interested in visual development, so although I'm still discovering which area I am most passionate about within the industry, I feel like I have a good starting point all thanks to the skills I've gained from Ringling.
Why I personally chose Ringling instead of CalArts:
For me, I chose Ringling over CalArts because for a few reasons.
For one, at the time of my application, Ringling was $10,000 cheaper per year (might still be, not sure the tuition at both schools right now). I was also able to skip the first year at Ringling since I already had a degree. I don't think you can skip a whole year anymore, although you can go part time first year if you are a transfer student.
Two, the right school for you really depends on your work habits and what kind of artist you are. I visited both schools and I was really impressed by Ringling's state of the art facilities and the professional atmosphere. CalArts to me seemed like a free-spirit school where you are mostly left to your own devices; which could be great to explore your creativity. For me, I knew if I didn't go to a structured and demanding school, I may procrastinate and improve at a slower pace. Also, if I didn't go to a cg generalist school, I may only focus on what interested me the most instead of learning the whole pipeline. I wanted to be well-rounded. It seemed like Ringling is a school with a lot of discipline, which is what I needed. I was almost 100% sure I wanted to go to CalArts until I visited Ringling's campus. So if you have the opportunity to visit before making a decision, definitely do it. You can speculate on and on about which school is better for you, but nothing beats actually being there and feeling the vibe of the school for yourself.
Three, I think in today's animation industry, it's good to have 3d training to expand your employment opportunities. Unless you know exactly that you want to do animation, vis dev, or storyboarding, maybe it's better to learn the whole pipeline of the animation industry so you can explore your interests and be a generalist if needed.
Can you tell me about the courses at Ringling? Is it busy?
Ringling is a very demanding school. The curriculum is also updated every year depending on advancements in the industry. Major studios like Dreamworks, Pixar, Disney, Sony, R & H all come to review student work and to recruit. You also learn a lot about professionalism. It also has some extremely talented students. I think I learned as much from my classmates as from the instructors.
You will have to spend most of your times in the labs to keep up with the course work. Maybe the first year will be fairly relaxing. As you get into the CG party of the major starting your 2nd year, you will have to be comfortable with time management. The teachers expect a lot out of you and everyone does try their hardest to prove themselves, which in turn motivates you to be the best you can be as well. Overall, be prepared to work at Ringling. Though you should have a balanced life, you will need the discipline to manage your time and assignments well.
Does the school actually teach(train) techniques and software or do you have to teach yourself?
Most people that start Ringling has no prior animation or maya experience. In the first couple of years it's very hands-on. The teachers will be very attentive and help you out with any questions. Later on as students find their niche and start working on their theses, it's a little more individual driven where the teachers will be more like moral support as you have to start solving more specific problems geared towards your own film. But this a this point, you can also go to your fellow students for solutions in addition to the teachers.
Overall you definitely leave Ringling with skills needed in the industry. You will learn how to do things the right way before you start doing things your way. It's not a fluff degree.
What are critiques like?
At Ringling a lot of the coursework is critique sessions. When you start working on your film, Ringling invites industry professionals from major studios like Dreamworks, Pixar, Disney, r &h, Sony, etc...to critique your work in progress. This is also a great way for these studios to scout out any potential new hires. Ringling will give you a lot of opportunities for exposure to these studios.
Is it hard to be accepted or do they accept everyone?
You have to have a certain level of traditional ability. Your portfolio has to show potential in your understanding of movement and animation, which means you should have gesture drawings of people or animals in motion. You have to show that you have a solid foundation in traditional arts so that you can take enhance those visual ideas in 3d. Computer animation is one of the hardest majors to get into and also one of the hardest for people to stay in. A large portion of students switch majors or fail out due to either workload or financial reasons.
How old is the student body in the program? Am I too old if I'm 24?
In terms of age, Ringling is mostly traditional aged (18-22) but there is also some transfer students. I was a transfer student and in my class were 40+ year olds, 27 yr olds, etc. In my graduating class the major had around 56 people, and I'd say there were probably 10 people that were over 24 by graduation. I started Ringling at 22. I wouldn't be afraid of the age thing.
Did you get scholarship? I read you're chinese but maybe you were established in America from before.
Ringling does not offer many scholarships. I am Chinese but I've lived in the US for over 10 years. I have the American greencard so employment was easier for me. I was able to get the Trustee scholarship my last year (given to one student in each major) and a scholarship from Sony Pictures. Both of those combined pretty much covered my senior year. I also worked at a resident assistant on campus so I was able to get free housing and food at Ringling.
Is Florida good?
Sarasota is beautiful!! I felt like I was on vacation every time I went off campus. It's a small tourist/retirement town though so it's not as exciting as a big city. It's got some amazing white sand beaches though. I think Siesta Key was ranked one of the top five beaches in North America? However, you probably wouldn't have much time to leave campus with all the work you'll be getting.
What is the industry like?
I am still new to the animation industry (I graduated two years ago). I'm still learning more about the industry myself so these are only my initial impressions.
The cg industry pays well but is fairly unstable. More and more studios (major movie studios included) are hiring based on project. Most cg artists are used to bouncing from studio to studio. A lot of my coworkers have worked at Disney, Dreamworks, Bluesky, and R & H (as in, one person has worked at all of these studios). As a cg artist you make a good living, but don't expect the traditional "Alright! I have a job, now I'm set for years!" mentality.
Hopefully this is helpful. Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to add or want to ask a specific question. Please note these opinions are based on my experience and impression only. Ringling isn't for everyone. Ringling and CalArts are also not the only schools. I work with a bunch of talented and amazing artists from SCAD, SVA, Texas A & M, The Academy of Art University, and more I don't even know about. Some artists are also self-taught. It's a small industry. Everyone knows one another what matters is your work and not where you went to school.