The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Sparks Interest in Computer Animation Degrees and Careers

If you are inspired by the amazing visual effects in Peter Jackson’s new blockbuster, computer animation may be the field for you

By Greg Scott Neuman
Posted 2012

The Hobbit Sparks Interest in Computer Animation Degrees
The Hobbit Sparks Interest in Computer Animation Degrees

Millions of passionate fans have been longing to return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth since The Lord of the Rings trilogy wrapped up almost a decade ago.  And now we have our chance; Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey hits theaters this weekend, with show times scheduled for as early as midnight tonight.

But what if you’re more than just a fan?  What if the visual effects in films like The Hobbit inspire you to help make movies, not just watch them?  If that is the case, a computer animation career isn’t an unreasonable goal.  Getting there starts with taking the right steps.

Cultivate Your Art and Design Skills

If you want to enter the computer animation field,  it’s never too early to start developing your art and design skills.

“Students coming into our computer animation program have a passion for the film and gaming industries,”  said Pete Bandstra, Director of 3D Arts at Full Sail University.  “Understanding those industries is based in the traditional arts; a background in sketching, painting, sculpting or other art forms is important.”

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Students can begin taking art classes as early as junior high school, and the skills cultivated should include a variety of media.  So if you’re a young person interested in computer animation, start studying subjects like drawing and sculpting now.  And if you’re the parent of a child who shows artistic talent, fostering that talent could lead them to computer animation – or another rewarding design field – as they get older.

It’s also important to remember that developing your art and design skills doesn’t stop in the classroom.  Practicing on your own time is critical.  Fortunately, that’s usually not a problem when you have a passion for art.  If the field is right for you, time spent with a sketchbook or easel can feel more like recreation than work .

Earn Your Computer Animation Degree

Not every college or university has a computer animation program, but they’re becoming more common.  At some institutions, computer animation is a specialty within a broader discipline, such as digital media and design.  Generally speaking, your ideal strategy is to search many schools, and carefully consider each, before deciding which offers the program that’s best for you.

Once you are enrolled, you can expect to study many challenging subjects.  The curriculum at Full Sail University, for example, starts with classes in life drawing, shading and lighting, physics, anatomy and color theory.

“During the first 12 months of study, Full Sail computer animation students follow the same coursework,” said Bandstra.  “Later, they define their strengths as artists and spend time honing skills in their specific area of expertise.”

Computer animation specialties include 2D animation, 3D animation, modeling and effects.  While students develop some skill in all of these areas, most will eventually concentrate on just one or two.  Movies like The Hobbit depend heavily on visuals such as falling rain or animal fur that moves realistically, so developing strong effects skills can be good career preparation if you want to work in film.

Finally, participating in internships during – or between – your junior and senior years is a great way to learn while also gaining real workplace experience.  If an internship opportunity comes your way, don’t pass it up!

Pursue Your Dream Career

There are many different job titles for computer animation specialists, including animator, character modeler, rigger, technical artist, visual effects artist and at least a dozen more.  The area you specialized in while earning your degree will have an effect on where you start, but as your career progresses you may develop new skills and advance into new roles.

There are few limits to what you might achieve as a talented computer animator.

“Full Sail University computer animation graduates have worked on numerous nationally recognized projects,” said Bandstra.  “They include, but are not limited to, The Avengers, Black Swan, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2, Life of Pi, Pirates of the Caribbean:  On Stranger Tides, Thor and X-Men:  First Class.”

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There are very rewarding jobs in the field of computer animation.  So this weekend, while you’re in your theater seat waiting for The Hobbit to start, consider that what you’re about to see on the screen might amount more than an evening’s entertainment.  It could represent an exciting career that puts your name up there alongside Peter Jackson’s.

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