What its Like to Study Online at Academy of Animated Art

What its Like to Study Online at Academy of Animated Art

Current student and recent graduate, Alex Acklin and Jordan Osborne, share the ins and outs of studying online at Academy of Animated Art.

Whether you’re already at school, looking to find a new school or even considering moving overseas to study, nothing beats hearing from the students themselves! We speak to Alex Acklin and Jordan Osborne about their experience studying online at Academy of Animated Art.

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The Specifics

What’s the name of your school?

Alex: I am studying at the Academy of Animated Art.

How long have you been studying at AAA?

Alex: I have been studying in their online community and program for the last 6 months.

Jordan: I joined in around August/September 2020 and I have been an active student since. I think I will always consider myself a student, because I never really feel like I want to stop pushing myself, learning and growing as a lighting artist.

Why did you choose to study here?

Alex: For as long as I can remember I’ve loved 3d in cinema, and for the last two years I’ve been studying CG and its many facets. Through my studies I have found a love for cg lighting and compositing. I found the program while researching different 3D software and looking for an online community. I saw their videos on youtube and the rest as they say is history.

I was looking for a school [like Academy of Animated Art] with an online community of artists and where I could feel supported by feedback while learning on my own. - Alex

Jordan: I chose to study here because going to an Art College was not a feasible option to me due to costs, and I wasn’t sure what my chances were of getting a job in animation. I came across AAA on pure chance through a fun little reddit dialogue with Michael Tanzillo asking him about good online animation schools, and he mentioned his school that targeted lighting. I remember checking out the website, seeing that they had a very high standard for visuals, a very easy and approachable cost, and lots of community and mentorship and structured courses.

Being an online school, what does a week at Academy of Animated Art look like for you?

Alex: I choose to study at an online school, because of its accessibility and affordability. When I study I watch the pre recorded videos at my own pace and follow along with the provided maya file.

Drone - Textures and Lighting by Alex Acklin

Jordan: For me, its going through online-course videos and during my most active time of studying I put around 5-10 hours per week in AAA. (I was also in university at the time, so I had to split between the two).

I also attended live-critique sessions with mentors when they hosted them on the weekdays. Sometimes you submit your images for review and they will either meet up with students live, pre-record critique, or do written notes. Depending on the instructor and the day.

You’re learning a wide range of skills and software, what subjects or tools are you enjoying the most so far?

Alex: The software I’m enjoying and learning about the most is Nuke because compositing is an important part of bringing the image to a more finished look.

Jordan: It surprises me how much I’ve been enjoying things outside of lighting too, like shading, compositing, painting,  and scene composition. I also of course really enjoy lighting, and i’ve found that focusing on these, just like a analogous colour scheme, are all next to each other and compliment each other quite strongly. These all play off of each other and enhance each other, and the most successful images handle all of these things quite well. As for software, quite the package. I love Maya, Nuke, Adobe Substance 3D Designer, Photoshop, and Unreal Engine.

What advice do you have for students thinking of studying online?

Alex: I would say it can be difficult to stay motivated sometimes so study your medium in films and games that you enjoy, look for inspiration everywhere.

Jordan: My advice is to just really bring out your inner sense of child, everything that makes you happy, inspires you, and just brings happiness into your life. Channel all of that inspiration into what you want to do. I always try to stay true to myself and keep that inner innocence and pure love that I have when I play a brand new game and feel completely awestruck. I am always trying to push for ways to make people feel that when they look at art I make.

I would also say to always be curious, and be hungry to improve something. The enemy of progress is comfort. It’s okay to be a little comfortable, but step outside of that comfort zone just a bit too and challenge new techniques, explore new ideas, and styles, or if something seems impossible, you may find that it is not as impossible as you think!

I would also try and talk to experienced mentors as much as possible, and soak in as much as you can!

Before I had mentorship it was like trying to find what direction North was on a cloudy night with no visible indicator. - Jordan
Ashli - Neon City. Lighting Challenge at AAA by Jordan Osborne.

I really did not know what I was doing, or why I didn’t like the images I was making. It was really frustrating, and I didn’t know how to get a creative job, it seemed impossible at the time! I later learned that what I was missing was to connect with people that helped “light” the way, to improve and travel along the right path.

How would you describe the school community?

Alex: I would describe the community as supportive; there is always someone knowledgeable who can provide in depth feedback.

Jordan: Extremely selfless, caring, and people really do go out of their way to help you on your journey. It’s intimidating to go through this process alone, and I think the AAA community understands that and really wants to make it a supportive space where we can all uplift each other.

One thing you’d never change about your school is...

Alex: I would never change the weekly critiques that are provided as a part of the program, and I wouldn't change the supportive community.

Jordan: The amazingly awesome community that is extremely selfless and wants to always help each other and uplift each other to higher places, as well as all of our fantastic teachers at the Academy that help to build students skills, and their confidence and love for lighting.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is:

Alex: I wouldn’t mind having more partnership with programs like Animation schools, so it's easier to attain animated shots to work on.

Jordan: I would love some super in depth Shading for Animated Film(AM) courses for characters, props and environments, perhaps even some other courses such as Character Modeling for AM, Matte Painting/Visdev,  Environment Art/Shading, etc! Anything really within that medium that appeals to feature/episodic animation.

I’m hoping to flesh out a little more in animation based generalist skills that also will improve the scenes I light, so these are all pretty much my dream courses. If I could learn how to model and design a beautifully designed Mario/Bowser, Mushroom Kingdom Set that looks as close to the quality in the Super Mario Bros Movie trailer as I can do as a single person, shade it, light it, and comp it, that would be a dream come true!

What is your greatest takeaway from your studies so far?

Alex: The greatest take away I’ve gotten from my studies is that feedback is crucial in getting creative works to the final stages of polish.

Jordan: The greatest takeaway from my studies so far is that the more enhance what I like to consider “vertical skills” that really help to enhance lighting. So studying painting, scene composition, compositing, and understanding the fundamentals of colour, value, and telling a story are so important too. And some are also a part of lighting, but I also consider them their own separate elements that studying them is like an exponent. I started painting recently and my eye for composition began massively expanding and i’ve been kicking some of that back into my approach in lighting scenes.

What personal projects are you working on at the moment? How do you stay motivated?

Alex: I’m currently working on a project with someone I met from the Academy community. I stay motivated throughout the positive feedback I get from the community and watching cinema in its many forms.

Jordan: I’m working on the Kitbash Mission to Minerva Challenge, and lighting a full chase sequence for a personal project and pushing myself in all areas, matte painting, lighting, shading, and compositing.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

Alex: I see myself working in the animation industry doing lighting and compositing on a major film.

Jordan: I’m not sure if I ever see myself graduating necessarily; I always consider myself a student and a lifelong learner, and I think I would love to always stay in the AAA community, learn, give back, and be a part of such a great group.

I do hope to be able to give back to the art community in any way, shape or form that I can. I want to make the process for getting in less intimidating, more approachable - I think there are so many amazing people out there that are inspired by animation/gaming/painting/etc every day, and that they have so much intense love for this field, although they might not know how to get in yet. There could also be barriers that are slowing or potentially even stopping some from chasing their dreams. I think together collectively we can all help to make this industry as accessible as possible and I want to continue to push for that.

I also want to keep working on myself and chasing my dreams of just making beautiful art and inspiring people, and making things that fulfil my heart for creating.

Alex is passionate about creating moving and still visual effects and images using the most advanced and powerful software tools such as Arnold, Maya, Nuke, Photoshop, Premiere, Mudbox, Mari, and V-Ray. In his projects, he has developed lighting scenes by adjusting shaders, rendering, and compositing shots while keeping consistency across the sequence. Alex believe in collaborative arts practice, harnessing the experiences and skills of each team member to make exceptional art.

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Jordan Osborne is a Lighting Artist with 1 year of experience working inside of Animation. He loves nature, animals,  working out, fashion, makeup, gaming, and creating art! Jordan loves to put art expression into everything he does and his number one goal is to learn how to continue making his work prettier! Jordan enjoys a wide variety of styles, but his favourites are a lovely combination of anything Nintendo, Gothic Fantasy (Think Dark Souls and Elden Ring).

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