Who are you and what do you do at AnimDojo?

My name is Bader Badruddin. I’m a co-founder and animation coach at AnimDojo. I wear many hats in that role, including running the weekly live workouts where we animate with our students where we show them how much can be done in just an hour. It’s amazing what students experience, especially if it’s their first session and the realisation that animation isn’t as complicated as many think.

It’s all about the practise and that’s what I do with them – practise! I’m also working on what students request me to cover, whether it’s personal obstacles they face as animators or specific animation techniques. I like to ask, “What do you want to learn?” That’s our approach.

You can be a brilliant animator while never having worked on a feature or animated for one of the big studios.

What is your mission statement?

AnimDojo’s mission statement is this:

“Our core aim is to help as many people as possible, from all backgrounds, attain their dream job in animation through affordable, easy-to-follow online learning materials and workshops, helping artists structure their workflow and self-critiquing skills. We help artists practise to career perfection.”

We’re trying to help animators help themselves. We do this by training them on how to critique their own work better. We provide industry standard animation tutorials at an extremely affordable price meaning anyone can learn to animate and get their dream job as an animator. The biggest obstacle most artists face is the price of education. Let’s face it, animators aren’t the highest paid people in society, and as such, we wanted to provide a platform that was both sustainable and affordable.

How is the online school organised? The basic structure?

AnimDojo is structured like a gym to a certain extent. The core foundation required by all students to address first before seeing any results is called ‘The Animator’s Checklist’. Think of it as a basic induction with a private trainer you’re let loose in the gym in a traditional sense of the word.

Our ethos of practice makes perfect has proven that if a student sticks to our system, they will see improvement quickly.

Students rely heavily on feedback nowadays, and as great as it is to receive that from industry, it is a double-edged sword. It can create a mentality in the industry that new animators aren’t good enough to judge their own work unless they’ve worked on such-and-such feature. I have been guilty of that in the past myself. I never appreciated my own skills since all I’ve ever done is work in TV. But, through my own personal experience, I have come to understand that animation is the same everywhere. Sure the details in our techniques can differ, but the overall picture is the same. You can be a brilliant animator while never having worked on a feature or animated for one of the big studios.

Our approach is to empower the animator. With the Animator’s Checklist, we’re giving them a method, a simple step-by-step approach. We do give feedback, but in groups just like you would in a studio in a dailies session; learning from seeing and critiquing everybody’s shots. This gives the animator a stepping stone to then help critique other students’ work.

Then there are our Live Workouts. These make up the biggest element of AnimDojo. We meet once a week (we’re working on adding more workouts to cater to more people in different time zones) and animate together to a theme or specific concept.

For example, one session could focus on breakdowns. Students are provided with two key poses and it is their task to create a strong functioning breakdown that includes all of the elements (including overlap, follow through, etc). Once the workout is done, everybody uploads their work for a group feedback session.

In addition to that, we have our peer critiques page where students are encouraged to engage with one another and provide feedback. The reason we do this is to train animators to be critical thinkers. It’s always easier to judge someone else’s work rather than your own. Animators who engage the most earn what we call ‘Dojo Mojo’. The student who earns the highest Mojo for the week receives a free pro review where an industry animator goes through their actual Maya file and shows a specific, practical approach to making changes and fixes to the student’s shots instead of just drawing over a video or playblast.

Finally, we have the recruitment side of things. Students who we feel are ready for the industry are added to a list which is distributed to studios. Think of this as a sort of like a ‘seal of approval’ from AnimDojo. Other studios recognise these students as good candidates for their team. We’re able, and happy, to vouch for them.

It’s a system that works well. Students that stick to the method we have developed see improvement within the first few weeks.

Collaborative classrooms – how do you achieve this online? How do you promote best working practices and studio life?

We do this by promoting the idea of working to a slightly faster schedule than most schools. This helps students realise the pace at which they’d be expected to work in the industry. We also do group feedback sessions as opposed to one-on-one. This approach is more in line with how dailies work in the studio environment. Directors don’t usually have lots of time to spend holding the hand of each animator. Senior team members expect a general note to be enough for the animator to improve an animation.

Animators also help each other out in studios by sharing ideas, and that is exactly what we do on the site when students critique each other’s work. To a certain extent, this gives them the experience of what it’s like to be a junior animator in a team.

What have been the successes and challenges of working this way?

We’ve already seen so much dramatic improvement in many of our students. Over the past few months, a number of AnimDojo’ers have landed internships and jobs, which is great because that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve. It just goes to show that you get out what you put in. Our ethos of practice makes perfect has proven that if a student sticks to our system, they will see improvement quickly.

The challenges have been mainly in public perception. At first glance, AnimDojo might appear to be a standard animation training school like any other. It takes time to change this preconception and show that what we offer is, to a certain extent, very different.

Where other places focus on perfection, we focus on rapid quick exercises to train the animator to become faster and more efficient. Regardless of what industry they end up going – VFX, games, TV, or features – everything we cover applies. It’s no secret that the faster and more efficient you are, the more likely you can get your work/blocking viewed by a supervisor and the quick changes can be applied. This applies tenfold if you’re organised and follow our method.

How do instructors work together to complement other subjects than the one they lecture?

We’re looking at bringing in more instructors. We’re still fairly new. It’s important for us that any instructor who comes on board understands and is able to explain the AnimDojo way of working. Every discipline has its own hacks and shortcuts, and these are the kinds of things we like to focus on; working smart, not hard.

How do you cater for students who aren’t sure about where they are going? And, for those that do know what they want?

For those who aren’t sure if AnimDojo is for them, our price point is incredibly low. This makes it less of a risk for students to see if it’s is for them. But overall, AnimDojo is a very focused school. While we cater mainly to character animation, we do have plans to include other disciplines. In the future students who don’t know what they want to do can try different paths before sticking to the one they want.

How do students work up to creating their reel – what’s the process?

Creating a reel isn’t as important to us at AnimDojo as the process of practice is. We explain that creating work for a demo reel is the equivalent of having a major event, say a championship title match for a boxer for example. When an animator is animating, they can’t treat each shot as if it’s their title shot. They need to put in the hours first and practice, similarly to how a boxer would train in the gym.

Using the same analogy, we separate each skill, be it breakdowns, timing, posing, etc, just as the boxer would. Animators hone each skill to a high level so that when the title match comes around, they are ready.

From time-to-time, we run a three week [at the time of writing we had just finished our first] challenge where students who have been doing the weekly workouts are given the chance to start a shot for their reel. They have one week for layout and basic blocking, followed by two more weeks of spline and final tweaks.

Since they are all busy and working on the side, we allow the longer time period to create the shots as we know how fast they work during the workouts. This is where we see a dramatic jump in their abilities.

How does AnimDojo work with the Rookies to ensure students are getting the best chance of succeeding?

We are offering a six-month free gift card membership as a prize.

Where do you see AnimDojo going in the next 3-5 years? Any new initiatives?

Hopefully, the plan is that AnimDojo works closely with both industry and universities to bridge the gap in skills studios are looking for. We also hope to expand into more disciplines using the same training method for animating and open it up to more people who want to go into the industry but not necessarily as animators.