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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Animation Program Prepares Students for Jobs, More Education

Some students in WCC’s 3D animation program get work even before they graduate.

Jason Woodwyk is one of them. With two classes to go before he earns his associates degree in 3D animation, he already has a thriving freelance business. He’s created animations demonstrating a new airbag technology, how a fuel pump works, and how different layers of a roof were built.

“This animation program has changed my whole life,” Woodwyk said. “I have the opportunity to do so many great things with these skills. I can do cartoons, video games, movies, commercials, special effects, and pretty much anything that I want. I can be creative in a way that I had never imagined before.”

Woodwyk was taking graphic design classes at WCC when he learned about the 3D animation program. “I always get what I’m looking for when I take classes at WCC,” he said. “I knew that this would be perfect for me.”

Media companies and smaller production studios are the sources for Woodwyk’s freelance work so far. “I’ve been very lucky to have all these opportunities,” he said. “I have really been able to directly apply what I learned to all the projects that I work on today.”

Skills developed in WCC’s 3D animation program, which is only four years old, can lead to entry-level jobs or four-year degrees, said Randy Van Wagnen, head of the program. WCC’s program is special, he said, because it offers “a full-featured degree. You get to do a little bit of everything.” This includes working with modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering, and animation.

The video game industry is an important job market for animators, Van Wagnen said. Jobs also are available in commercial art, special effects and post-production work for movies, traditional cartooning, and other areas, he said.

Animation is a “high-growth industry,” Van Wagnen said. Although many jobs are located outside Michigan, the rapid growth of the state’s film industry is creating new job opportunities in the area. Van Wagnen said several post-production facilities and studios have been announced or are being built in Michigan. “There are going to be more jobs here than ever before,” he said.

Van Wagnen said animation jobs are scattered across the country, primarily in big cities, although California remains a key market because so many movie studios are located there. And animation is booming in movies. In June, The New York Times reported that computer animation, “once one of the most isolated corners of Hollywood, is rapidly becoming one of the most crowded.” This year 14 animated movies, most of them computer-generated, will have a wide release, the newspaper said.

Strong art skills are the foundation of animation, Van Wagnen said. But to succeed, students also need to overcome any fears they have about math and computers, he said. For example, building a model requires knowing geometry. Some students who previously were intimidated by math suddenly see it as interesting and exciting when it’s applied to animation, he said.

Animation students must be dedicated, Van Wagnen said. “This is not something you can do without having an outstanding work ethic,” he said. “It’s by no means fun and games. This isn’t easy stuff.”

Van Wagnen said the program features a “cool mix” of people, ranging from 16-year-olds from Washtenaw Technical Middle College to retirees. “As long as they’re willing to learn and be artists, we make it happen,” he said. “If they’re committed and work hard and are fearless, this is a great program.”

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