Studying at JMC Academy

Studying at JMC Academy

Read on for insights into studying at JMC Academy in Sydney, Australia.

Cal R. Spencer is a 2D Animation student at JMC Academy in Sydney, specialising in hand-drawn animation, storyboarding, and character design. Cal enjoys exploring diverse areas of skill and is driven by the goal of creating narratives and characters that deeply connect with audiences and evoke emotions. In this article Cal shares valuable insights into studying at JMC Academy in Sydney, Australia.

Can you introduce your school to us and share what makes it special from your perspective?

JMC Academy is a creative Academy providing higher education degrees and
diplomas across a wide range of courses including Acting, Animation, Audio
Engineering, Design (Visual Communication), Entertainment Business
Management, Game Design and Music on their campuses in Sydney,
Melbourne and Brisbane.

All of these different industries combined together in one campus is what makes it so special to me. The entire campus is chock-a-block with skilled creatives from every department that you can team up with whenever you need to collaborate. It creates this great sense of community and connectedness because everyone shares that similarity.

It also means for me as an animator, that every resource I’d ever need to complete my projects is quite literally next door. I’m able to not only get tons of support from peers and my teachers with animating, but can also ask for help with recorded dialogue from audio engineering and acting students, enlist a composer to write a score for short films or ask a graphic design student for help with creating a film’s logo or poster.

It’s incredibly inspiring to be able to interact with students from all of these different departments and to learn about how their work can be incorporated into animation. It’s something I didn’t even consider to be an option before starting my studies at JMC.

Something that makes me smile about being a student here is just how small of a world it can be. I’m always surprised by how many JMC students and alumni I meet from other departments outside the campus. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve met someone new at a gig or at a bar only to find out that they either know many others from JMC, or they’re graduated JMC students themselves. This isn’t even Sydney exclusive either! There was a time that I was very excited about a new show named “Black Snow” that is filmed in my hometown, which was already unbelievably exciting on its own. Not long after finding out about this, I got an Instagram notification for a JMC post… announcing that the lead actor, Talijah Blackman-Corowa, was a student from the Brisbane campus!

What made you choose to study at JMC Academy, and has it lived up to your expectations?

Moving to Sydney from a rural town straight out of high school, I was terrified of just how big and intimidating everything was. While applying to every big college and university, I was dreading the thought of getting lost on massive campuses and being a number in a massive, crowded lecture room. JMC shocked me when I first visited because it’s not like that at all. The campuses are smaller- but not any less equipped- and the environment is highly supportive and inviting. The smaller campus makes it easier to navigate and to find staff when you need them, and there’s always an abundance of friendly greetings and conversations to be had while just walking a couple of metres to a classroom. You’re not locked to your own department due to the large size either, so there’s always fun band jam sessions that can be heard in the student lounge to lift your spirits.

The amount of opportunities, as well as freedom at JMC Academy has exceeded my expectations. Stepping into the course after years at high school being warned that university was strict and scary, I was surprised to find that although the workload is greater, I actually have more freedom and a sense of fulfilment pursuing a creative career. Adding to this, I had this vague notion that attending JMC would give me nothing more than animation lessons and access to the equipment, but arguably one of the most valuable things JMC has given me was networking opportunities and connections. Sometimes there’s so much opportunity at your fingertips that it’s hard to keep up with while studying, but it’s already led me to having some incredible experiences so far.

How do students and teachers interact at JMC Academy, and is there a supportive mentorship dynamic?

Everyone is always so focused and hardworking, yet the classrooms are always “casually formal”. There’s a wonderful balance of both professional, and relaxed friendly attitudes with the lecturers that makes the learning environment enjoyable and exciting to go to. On top of that, they all have such a wealth of knowledge, and a great sense of humour to ease the nerves when stepping into new classes. Again, due to the smaller campus size, there’s more space for connection on an individual level with lecturers and supportive mentorships often sprout from this. Even outside of class, lecturers offer so much support and help, and genuinely care about you both as an individual, but also the work you create. Every teacher is always excited to give feedback and check in on your creations that are in progress as well. There is always help at just a call away if you’re struggling too. I’ve had alumni help out as tutors or teacher aids in many of my classes, and it’s really easy to form friendships and great industry connections through them, especially in that environment. I’ve even had lecturers and tutors reach out to me for commissioned artwork or personally recommend me for opportunities outside of JMC. Every staff member is rooting for your success here.

What have you found most valuable about your learning experience so far, and how has it impacted your artistic growth?

The ability to work on self-managed projects as part of the units “Lab One” and “Lab Two” has been the most valuable learning experiences so far. Since they’re mostly self-managed projects over the course of roughly 12 weeks, you get to know so much about yourself, your workflow, time management and self-discipline skills. In the duration of the first project in Lab One, I was often met with reality checks about my poor time management, which learning of and acknowledging of that underdeveloped skill was a great first step for me to work to improve.

I had this vague notion that attending JMC Academy would give me nothing more than animation lessons and access to the equipment, but arguably one of the most valuable things JMC has given me was networking opportunities and connections.

Like most artists, I'm a ridiculously ambitious person, and always plan these projects to be a bit larger in scale than recommended by my teacher. However, I use these as opportunities to push myself further to create something even better than before, and also try to challenge myself with a skill that I’m not very confident in yet. Although I’m normally filled with self doubt throughout the whole first half of the project, and hit many bumps in the road on the journey, I always come out the other side having greatly improved my skills with an abundance of helpful feedback from weekly meetings with mentors. I normally challenge myself to create a finished animation for each of these projects, and work as hard as I can to polish them for the deadline, which also gives me a chance to build up a portfolio that I'm proud of.

Can you share an example of an assignment where you received valuable feedback from your teachers?

I receive endless amounts of constructive criticism from each class that I take, but an important lesson was had during the making of my first student short film “Petrichor”. Each week I’d meet with my Head of Department, Sean Callinan, to show my progress and to receive feedback. I’d already noticed based on previous projects that I have lots of room for improvement when it comes to environment compositions, and in the early stages of this project I found myself struggling once again. The feedback I received was that many of my compositions were flat and straight on, and the perspective in many of them was…wildly inaccurate. At first I was pretty devastated, I’d designed eighteen different layouts and at that moment all of the feedback for each background felt so overwhelming. I took it a bit personally at first, to be honest. Although, I did know that it’s something I needed to improve, so I spent a week and a half buckling down to alter the composition of my shots and get them finished in order to stay on top of my schedule.

Some had to be redesigned altogether to incorporate all of the feedback into the new set of finished backgrounds. Once it was all complete, the difference in quality was amazing. From the pieces of advice I’d received, I improved so much in my perspective, sense of composition, and confidence. The backgrounds I managed to get out in the end aren’t perfect, there’s so much that I notice I could’ve done to take it even further based on the feedback that I’ve now had time to really absorb. However, they ended up being significantly better than my first iterations, and I finally gained a much better grasp on what I felt were my weakest points.

What helpful resources or opportunities does JMC provide outside of regular classes?

One of the greatest opportunities that I was provided with was the chance to travel to Japan as part of JMC’s International Study Tour program. In September last year, I took my first trip overseas with a group made up of animation and games students from all three campuses. The study tour went for two weeks, and was jam-packed with so much sightseeing, industry-related exhibitions and activities, and three days of learning experience with Nippon Designer’s School (NDS) in Shibuya. Aside from this being my dream trip and being able to spend my birthday in Japan, the scheduled activities that JMC organised for us were out of this world. Our first week was spent in Kyoto at the International Manga Museum, then the ChiChu Art Museum at Naoshima for a day, with the rest of that week exploring Osaka and visiting art exhibitions.

During the second week, we spent most of our time in Tokyo. We visited Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios for some leisure, and had the most magical experiences at Team Labs, and the Ghibli Museum. The majority of the second week at NDS was dedicated to taking workshops and masterclasses on Manga illustration, Japanese conventions of story writing, Watercolour workshops, and finally a student work showcase and mixer at the end. I learned so many technical illustration skills during the workshops, and despite the language barriers, I made friendships and connections with many of the students at NDS. During the showcase, it was awe-inspiring to see the work of other students outside of JMC, and got me so excited to jump straight back into my studies once I arrived home. We were also allocated a time to gather together a small collection of our own work to receive feedback from NDS lecturers. The advice given to everyone throughout that entire session was nothing but constructive, encouraging and motivational.

Upon arriving back home and starting the new trimester, we were each required to finish a solo project that took inspiration from our trip in some way, which is why I made Petrichor. My ongoing love of Ghibli films, and the elements of wabi-sabi and iyashikei that can be found in their stories is something that frequently influences my own work. So it’s no surprise that my visit to the Ghibli Museum only added more fuel to fire. I’d also had a transcendent experience in Kyoto while hiking at the Fushimi Inari Taisha, the famous ten thousand torii gates. While hiking, my classmates and I decided to take a route that split away from the main path. It led us through a secluded bamboo forest, where there were no other tourists in sight, and all you could hear were cicadas humming. It started bucketing down rain during our trek and the scenery completely changed, the raindrops on the bamboo sounded like wooden chimes. Although I overscoped my project and it was a real challenge to complete, I knew I had to recreate this experience as an animation, and so I did!

Can you describe any collaborative projects or experiences that have enhanced your artistic skills and fostered teamwork?

I’m currently working on my first collaborative project as part of a unit named “Lab II”. This small-scale group project is a precursor to our Studio units where we, as the name suggests, work in a simulated studio environment on pitched projects as part of a larger team. While only early into this project, I can already forecast some skills that are going to enhance more towards the end. Working in a group is already giving me a much-needed boost to get on top of my time management skills, because while they have improved significantly, I’ve still got a long way to go.

Working in groups puts the pressure on me to succeed and get the work done then and there, because it’s riding on other people’s success and patience as well. Fostering good communication skills both in person and online is something that I’m also starting to notice improvements in, as I barely used to check emails and teams (so many missed opportunities, I know) which is already something I’ve made a habit of since joining a group project. My biggest goal with this project is to ensure group collaboration and communication is effective and drama-free, and I’m aiming to improve my animated lip syncing skills. So far, our team has overcome some minor hurdles without too much fuss and our collaboration is working extremely well. I’m extremely lucky to have a team of like minded peers.

Have you had the opportunity to work with industry professionals or participate in real-world projects during your time at the school?

I tend to get very focused on my studies and put loads of extra effort into all of my assignments, so I haven’t yet had a chance to work on anything major outside of my JMC projects. Although, I have had the chance to participate in other collaborative student projects, art exhibitions and have been able to make some really valuable connections through JMC.

Studio, as mentioned before, is a large-scale collaborative assignment that is completed over two units and sometimes requires outsourcing in order to complete. Students are able to pitch projects and play the Art Director role, or be enlisted as a team member in the creation of another student's proposed project. Although I'm not yet up to that point in my degree, I was outsourced by a peer a couple of trimesters ahead of me, as a character artist for their visual novel game last year. It was exciting to see the project come together, and it was a great learning experience to be working to a specific criteria as part of a larger team. It gave me plenty of insight as to what I can expect when I get to the point of working on my own Studio assessment.

Digital painting of original characters, Cedar and Lughzan

Outside of JMC, I’ve started to make it my goal to take opportunities to put myself out there as much as I can. In December last year, I was accepted to have my artwork featured as part of an exhibition at The Packing Room Gallery, organised by a trans-owned store Sock Drawer Heroes. As my first time applying for an art exhibition, it was a huge step out of my comfort zone! When arriving at the gallery on the day of the debut, I was shocked to see my art at the very front and centre of the gallery. It was a truly uplifting experience. There were a couple JMC classmates that had their art on display as well, and I made so many new connections and friendships with fellow Sydney artists by throwing myself into the deep end.

How does JMC promote diversity and inclusivity within its student community, and how has this enriched your educational experience?

The student community is incredibly diverse, and JMC has made itself a safe and welcoming environment. As a trans student, it can be incredibly challenging to navigate life at times. Luckily, I never have to worry about study being one of those challenges. All staff are respectful, understanding, and extremely accommodating for the manifold of different student situations. From day one, my name and pronouns have been respected and any mistakes made have always been quickly and respectfully resolved.

That small amount of extra effort to care for all of the students goes a mile. It’s allowed me to be open and feel comfortable in this environment, which in turn allows me to focus on my learning. Being trans is often met with feelings of alienation and disclusion from others, but I’ve never felt out of place or unwelcome in this space. Mardi Gras is also in full swing in Sydney at the moment, and staff and student reps have organised a full range of inclusive events, not to mention, that there are always free pronoun pins available for grabs in the student lounge!

The support doesn’t stop there though. The campus has a community engagement coordinator who provides a space to have a voice about the campus culture with one-on-one meetings. They also work closely with the Student Representative Council, which is open for any students to get involved in with improving the student experience as well as organising events. JMC is always looking to improve for their students, and often sends out surveys where we can each have input about our personal experiences with our courses. There’s no doubt that they actually take the time to read and incorporate as much feedback as they can. This recent trimester, there has been course content and assignments that have been altered to improve the curriculum for students and in order to keep up with the changing animation industry.

What are your future goals, and how do you feel JMC has prepared you for them?

Amongst all of my wild ideas and interests, my near future goal is to work as either an in-betweener or storyboard artist while being able to do freelance illustration on the side and build up a stronger online presence. Flying Bark Productions is a studio in Sydney that I’m most interested in working for, and I love the shows and movies they make as it’s something I’ve been able to share with my nieces. My biggest long-term future goal is to be able to create my own animated series.

JMC has prepared me by giving me the tools I need to build up my skills, get a headstart on my portfolio, and also develop a wonderful network. Having access to the industry standard softwares like Toon Boom’s Harmony Premium and Storyboard Pro were game changers, as I wouldn’t have been able to acquire them on my own. Majority of assignments are also designed with the goal in mind of accumulating a finished portfolio by the end of the course. In the final trimester, an entire unit is dedicated to putting together a portfolio and CV, having a mock interview, and putting yourself out there to recruiters. With a lecturer to guide you, you gain feedback on how to improve so that you’re ready to apply for work, and also eases the stress of finding a job straight out of my time at JMC.

Reach out to Cal and check out more of his student work via his Rookies profile here.