Mark Mayerson

Writer, Cartoonist, Sculptor

It's the School Plus You
(July 10, 2012)

We’re number one!

We’re number one!

We’re number…

Umm…wait a minute.

With all due respect to a site that recently declared Sheridan College’s animation program number one in the world, I don’t think it’s possible to definitively state that one animation program is absolutely the best. How is it being measured? Is it the number of graduates? The number of graduates employed? The number employed on high profile projects? The number who have won awards? The number who make the most money?

How can you measure the quality of the faculty? Is it the one with the most industry experience? The one with the best resumes? The one with the best teaching skills?

Then there are the facilities. Is the best school the one with the highest number of relevant books and DVDs in the library? The school with the most expensive hardware? The school with the greatest variety of software? The school that brings in the best guest speakers? The school that works hardest to connect its students up with industry?

Any of the above criteria count for something, but which one or combination can be said to indicate the best school?

Finally, the above criteria leave out what I think is the single most important factor: you.

There are graduates of leading animation schools who have not had successful careers. And there are people with no formal animation or art education who have made major contributions to animation loved by the public.

If you were lucky enough to get golf lessons from Tiger Woods, it doesn’t automatically follow that you’d play golf as well as he does. That’s because there’s a difference between knowledge and skill.

If I tell you that water freezes at zero degrees Celsius, you can take that knowledge and go make yourself some ice cubes. But if I tell you that to play the piano, you put your fingers on the keys and hit them in the right order, for the right amount of time, and with the right amount of force, you can’t take that knowledge and sit down and play a piece by Mozart. Knowledge isn’t enough; you also need skill. And the only way to acquire skill is to practice. That takes time, dedication and patience and unfortunately, nobody can do it for you.

The students at Sheridan have access to the same instructors and the same facilities. They hear the same lectures and do the same assignments. However, their results vary. Part of this is due to talent (or if you prefer, aptitude), and the rest is due to how much they practice.

Talent remains a mystery. There have been advances in understanding it, and if you’re interested, I recommend the books Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Both these books talk about things like desire, opportunity, deliberate practice and coaching. Schools provide opportunity and coaching, but you have to come with the desire to learn and the dedication and patience to practice.

I won’t dispute that some animation programs are better than others. At Sheridan, we do work hard to stay current with industry trends and are very dedicated to the success of our students. However, the best school (however you measure it) is only one part of the equation. You are the most important part of your animation education.