Studying at Ringling College of Art and Design

Studying at Ringling College of Art and Design

Monica Lagrange, a final year student at Ringling College of Art and Design, aims to pursue CG character animation for various narrative projects. In her article, she offers valuable insights into her experience at Ringling College.

Ringling College of Art and Design Campus

Monica Lagrange is in the midst of her final year at Ringling College of Art and Design. Her aspiration is to contribute to narrative projects, whether it be feature, video games, or advertisements, as a CG character animator. In this article Monica shares valuable insights into studying at Ringling College.

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

Ringling College of Art and Design is a college that focuses on artistic education via storytelling, fueling our projects and future careers. The faculty are phenomenal and all have industry experience, sharing their knowledge of both lessons in the job and the technical skills needed for the craft of animation. There is a big emphasis on story and artistry, giving our work so much more meaning and character than just “another school assignment."

I am a Computer Animation major, which means that I get to spend the bulk of my education learning how to tell stories via the CG animation medium. At Ringling, we are taught a generalist workflow, meaning that we do every step of the pipeline for every project we create. I have storyboarded, modeled, textured, rigged, animated, lit, and composited every aspect of every assignment I’ve created during my time at the college. During our last year at Ringling, we have the opportunity to create an entire animated short film, sometimes teaming up with one or two people, but most of the time going solo.

What made you choose to study at Ringling College?

Looking at past Ringling work, there is very clearly a high level of skill that is leagues ahead of everything else out there. It is crazy to think that such high quality projects come from such small teams (oftentimes just one person!) I looked into what the professors had done before teaching at Ringling, and where the alumni were going once they graduated. The more I looked, the more their paths aligned with what I wanted my professional career to look like, which made it a no-brainer to choose Ringling for my animation education.

Ringling College of Art and Design Campus

Ringling has very much lived up to my expectations–it is as fun as I imagined, but also as challenging as I expected it to be (maybe even more). I have been given many opportunities to speak with industry professionals while in school, while still getting to put my schoolwork first so I could achieve that high level of performance I was looking for in my education. In some unexpected ways, Ringling has also done much more than I expected by starting friendships that will last a lifetime and giving me many unique experiences that I will cherish for a long time.

How do students and teachers interact and what kind of mentorship can a student expect?

There’s different professors, each perfect for each different type of student that comes along. Some professors are hands off, letting students be free in their process and guide their project however they want. Other professors give meticulous feedback and guide you every step along the way (my favourite kind). There is one thing all professors have in common: they all want to see us succeed and feel fulfilled when it comes to our work. The professors encourage us to take the path that will be the most beneficial to our education, and they are there every step of the way ready to support our decisions and provide advice. Being a supportive professor comes down to being a person first, one that cares about their students and their futures.

At Ringling there is a big emphasis on story and artistry, giving our work so much more meaning and character than just “another school assignment."

What have you found most valuable about your learning experience so far?

I find that Ringling has taught me how to receive critique and interpret it. We receive A LOT of critique in Computer Animation, and I really appreciate that. The most successful classes in the college are spent giving useful critique on the students’ assignments. One of the things that made animation “click” for me was the multiple full-class critiques we would have in both my computer animation and traditional animation classes. Getting both personal feedback, and also getting to see other people’s feedback allowed me to see patterns of mistakes we were making, and thus I could learn to correct them early on in the process.

Can you tell me about a school assignment where your teachers gave you helpful feedback?

A big learning project for me was an assignment from Sophomore year that we call “Sit Stand.” The requirements are very simple: create a CG character and animate it for 12 seconds sitting down and standing up. I went through multiple character variations until I created a fun story involving a royal guard and his desire to wear the king’s crown. Still, this story is not the one that was in the final project. Instead, this first draft was a convoluted mess that had no clear resolution or character motivation.

I got all the way into animation blocking with this broken story, and that was when my professor, Paul Downs, stopped me in my tracks and suggested I change my story and basically start over. We sat down and spoke about the psychology of the character, thinking about what would motivate my character to sit, and how I could flip that on its head so that there would be a fun twist to the standing part of the piece. The crown was cut, the character was redefined, and the story took on a new life. I learned a lot in that process: structuring short stories so that they have a setup and payoff, leaning into the psychology of the character and why they do what they do, and most importantly I learned to not be afraid to throw away broken work in order to create much better stories.

What opportunities does the Ringling College provide outside of regular classes?

The classes are the best aspect of Ringling, for sure. Still, there are many clubs led by students that both help us in our careers, and to grow as individuals. One of these clubs, The Digital Paint & Sketch Club, specialises in bringing in both industry professionals and alumni to speak with us about their experience and give us advice on our journeys. The alumni give us guidance on how to survive our time at Ringling, making the most of it and having a blast while doing so. When there’s industry professionals coming in, the talks tend to differ depending on their specialty and how they got to where they got. Some talks are about a specific project they worked on (for example, we recently had John Musker visit and talk about his new short film “I’m Hip”), or are more about animation techniques and answering questions, such as the Eric Goldberg talk we had this past semester.

Can you describe any collaborative projects you have been a part of during your studies?

There are no real group projects in Ringling’s Computer Animation department until thesis, where you may pair up into groups of two or three (but the majority of people tend to go solo). You would think this would lead to a very isolated workflow and mindset… which is a slippery slope you can fall down. Fortunately, I’ve found that the best collaboration is among friends as we help each other out with our own projects.

Goldstein Library at Ringling

My friends and I like to do story meet ups to brainstorm new ideas for projects and films. This is how the majority of us came up with our thesis film ideas. While working on big animation projects, we critique each other’s work by giving drawovers and notes on how to improve. We help each other along every step of the pipeline, which I find propels us forward as a team, even when we are all working on our own individual projects.

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

Senior year at Computer Animation is spent making our thesis films. At the end of each big milestone (layout, animation, lighting, etc.), Ringling brings back alumni that are currently in the industry so that we can receive professional feedback on our films. Each alumni that visits is a master in their field, and oftentimes they offer to give extra critique or presentations about their specialty in the pipeline. These visiting artists give us the opportunity to get fresh eyes on our films, while also getting to learn what is the current standard in the industry.

How does the Ringling College promote diversity and inclusivity within its student community?

There are many student alliances that allow different groups of people to come together. I am part of the Hispanic-Latino Student Alliance, which gives a place for Hispanic people to come together and bond. This has given me a place outside of Computer Animation to be myself and get to know what is going on outside of my major. A big part of college is getting to know new people, and alliances such as this one gives us the opportunity to do just that.

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

My goal is to become a full-time CG character animator working on narrative projects, whether it be feature, video games, advertisement, or any other mediums. As long as I’m telling stories through character performance with a team, I’m happy.

Ringling has prepared me by teaching me both the technical fundamentals of CG animation and the creative aspects that make my work stand out as unique. My generalist education makes me comfortable to both jump around the pipeline and specialise in one aspect of it. By knowing how everything connects in the process, I can make my work flow down the pipeline without an issue. The grueling critique system at Ringling has also taught me to grow thick skin, understanding feedback and learning how to apply it to my work. Overall, I have grown both as an artist and as a person during my time at Ringling, and I feel ready for what is to come after graduation.

Hello! My name is Monica Lagrange and I am finishing up my last year at Ringling College of Art and Design as a Computer Animation major. I am originally from Venezuela and now live in the U.S., where I tell stories via animation that are both fun and heartwarming. Be on the lookout for my thesis film, Starlight Cantina, which will release online soon after its festival run is over!