Art School Vs. Real World Experience

Feb 19, 2020

So you’ve just spent the last four years of your life in Art School. You’ve learned Photoshop and Illustrator. You know how to model and animate in Maya or Cinema 4D. Most importantly, you can now animate in After Effects. 

You are a motion graphic artist or as I like to say, a motion designer. You are ready for that first real job. You are ready to take on the world. The problem is, none of the high end production houses want to hire you. Let me tell you why.

Art School is great and it teaches you the fundamental principals of design and motion design which are important, but it does not teach you how to be a motion designer in an actual production house. 

What you learn in Art School is valuable. I'm not debating that. I come from a self-taught background but have hired many graduates based on their strong portfolios. That being said, their time management and ability to work seamlessly in teams has not been so strong.

Getting a four-year degree in motion design is not necessary. But getting Real World education in motion design is. Here are 4 lessons they probably didn’t teach you:

Lesson 1: It was due yesterday

Art School gives you an entire semester to create a finished piece for review and points. In the Real World you don’t get anything close to that unless you either have a mega budget or you’re working for peanuts. 

In my experience, you are given the project and then told that the client wanted it yesterday. It’s already past due. 

If you want the “good grade” and want to impress that client you have to shift into high gear, do your absolute best, make no mistakes and THEN go the extra mile (get your extra credit) if you want to retain that client. That’s the Real World.

Lesson 2: Every job is the final exam

I have hired a handful of students just out of school on a trial-by-fire basis and most failed. The newly graduated students had great portfolios. Pieces that I would look at and say “Ok, this kid has got talent.” 

I would hire them and put them to work right away. Everything would be fine and dandy the first week. By week two, I would see spirits start to drop. By week three, they would fold under pressure. Some would break down in tears and admit defeat. “I can’t do it.”

In this line of work, if you want to succeed you don’t EVER, EVER, EVER say “I can’t do it” three weeks into a job that you were assigned to do. You work after hours if needed and you figure it out. You ask for help.

Of course there are times that you need help. We all do. But there is a big difference between asking for input and ideas and saying that you can’t accomplish a task. You weren’t hired to take a project 50% to the finish line. You were hired to dive in, figure out a solution and make it look great. 

In Art School, you might lose points or have to retake a test. In the Real World, there are no redo’s, and just one missed deadline or incomplete job is enough to get you fired.

Lesson 3: Hard work really does pay off

I have an animator that has been with me for many years now. He went to Art School, received an Oscar and then somehow became a painter (sometimes this happens to the best of us). 

I saw his reel online and hired him. I needed a 3D animator and he fit the bill. I threw him into the fire and set the expectations high. 

He had a choice. Get paid decently and work A LOT of hours to hit a deadline, or miss it and go back to painting. He hit the deadlines and continued working for me for another 9 months until all the projects finally came to an end for the summer. 

We met at a coffee shop to talk about things before we both departed for much needed vacations. He walked into the meeting with the intention of quitting. His reel had gotten better from the work I gave him, but the long hours weren’t worth the pay anymore. 

I walked into that meeting with a bonus check in hand. He was rewarded for all the hours and great work. We each left that meeting with a smile on our face. 5 years later he still permalances for me.

The point is, yes, you can walk out of Art School and be a success. You just have to be willing to put in the time and energy and maybe some sleepless nights. 

Deadlines are fast and hard. You must learn shortcuts and how to save valuable time when you can. Time is money. If you stick it out the payoff may (really really) be worth it. If it isn’t, you should at least have a reel that will get you hired at another post house.

Lesson 4: Art School doesn’t matter anymore

So here’s the bottom line and the most important lesson of all. If you got a great foundation at Art School, cool. But now it’s time to forget all of that and play by a different set of rules.

The greatest formal art education in the world could never take the place of consistently creative and efficient work. THOSE are the keys to master if you want to be successful.

I’m not writing this blog to scare you out of art school. And I’m not saying that everyone’s experience is going to be exactly this. I can only come from what I have seen and observed in my career.

My hope is that after reading this article you can dive into that first job with a realistic view of the client/employers expectations. 

Do your part. Be honest with your team and know when to ask for help. Do your best and don’t complain. Others have been in your position before and know what you are going through. Work extra hours when needed and get everything done on time. People will respect you for that.

No one wants to hear your excuses. This isn’t Art School anymore. It’s the Real World.

To your ever-betterment, 

Mr. Black

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