Too late to study art?
December 17, 2013 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in studying 2D Animation later on in life but is this idea feasible or just a pipe dream?

Currently I'm 22 years old and studying at a local business college in NYC. I once considered studying art and applying to art colleges earlier in high school but due to outside factors I never pursued it. Especially since the local arts colleges are expensive and I didn't know what I wanted to to study.

I'm inexperienced apart from taking regular art classes in highschool and one semester of studio art at a public university. I always planned to study art as soon as I graduated from college and found a stable job but I never considered that I might be too old or too foolish overall. I don't want to be a financial burden to my mother so I'm considering my options in hope that I get a good idea before I waste everyone's time. Any suggestions or advice are welcome. Thank you.

Also, I have considered self-taught art lessons but I feel like I'd benefit from a formal setting for art.
posted by chrono_rabbit to Education (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You are 22 years old. You are not too old, trust me.
posted by royalsong at 8:49 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why not take classes in the evenings at the local Community College? It's cost effective, and you're as likely to get as good an education as any other formal art school.

Art is one of those things where once you get a good foundation, your own interests and passions will take over. If you're talented, great, you may be able to make a career of it, even if you aren't, it will give you pleasure in your leisure time.

I am a life-long learner, so although I'm in my 50s now, I still follow my interestes and am willing to learn new things.

This has proven useful in that I have able to make a career transition when many of my peers haven't.

So you can either take some art as electives in school now, or let your interest keep, and once you start working, you can fit some art classes in as you see fit.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:02 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're definitely not too old, 22 is not at all 'later on in life'. I went to art school (for 2D animation) in NYC from 2000-2004 and there were plenty of freshmen who were older than 18.

However, I would advise you to learn a lot about the animation market before you take the plunge. Animation is a tough career. It's very cyclical, with good times when jobs are plentiful and bad times when seemingly everyone you know in the field is unemployed, there are no productions going on, and you just wonder whether you'll ever work again. I know several extremely talented animators-- who for the most part had steady work-- who left the industry for more stable fields. There hasn't been a major 2D animated feature made in the US since "The Princess and The Frog" and although there is always hope that that will change, you never know.

In TV, only preproduction is done here, for the most part-- character design, storyboarding, layouts. The actual animation usually gets sent out to studios in other countries. That doesn't mean that you can't make a great career as a character designer or storyboard artist, just know going in that you're probably not going to be an 'animator', and plan your studies accordingly.

There is a growing market, now, for animation in apps (for android/iOS), so that's something at least.

You will most likely want to learn After Effects and Cinema 4D, as a lot of the work in the industry these days is in motion graphics. I would also add Flash to the list-- Every year I think it's finally going to die but every year I'm still working with it. As of now it's a good skill to have, though that may change.

I do think a formal setting is important (I know it was for me) and the contacts you can make (and internships that you... ugh... pay for) are invaluable, but they come at a price. I would try to see if you can get a foothold in the industry in some other way before you decide to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a degree that is not necessarily worth what it costs. Drop by some smaller animation studios and ask if they need an intern, if you have a weekday free when you don't have work/classes. It would be a good way to get a feel of whether it's the career path for you.

Try to find some recent animation school graduates-- there are I am sure some people who are very happy with their career choice, but there are certainly just as many (if not more) who are kicking themselves every month when they get the bill for their student loans in the mail.

I am still working in the industry (though more on the motion graphics side these days); feel free to PM me if there's anything you want to ask me about in detail. It's a tough career in a lot of ways but I have found it to be extremely rewarding.
posted by matcha action at 9:11 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hello, self-taught 2D animator here. If you do this, don't do it because you think there will be work for you -- there might not be. Do it because it brings you joy whether someone is paying you to do it or not. Do it because you love it and can't stop obsessing about it.

2D animation is one of those things that can take a relatively short time to understand, but a lifetime to master. It's never too late to start, but it's better to take a long view and aspire to being a 100-year-old animation sage one day, rather than a young hotshot.

Classical animation is pretty much an antique now. It's like opera -- once upon a time, kings of the world's most powerful empires paid big bucks for a grand opera to be written and staged; today, opera is pretty restricted to a tiny niche of devotees. The social relevancy is nonexistent, money is tight and jobs are extremely competitive. Likewise, hand-drawn animation was once the most profitable medium in the film world, but now masters of the craft can't even stay hired at the very studio whose name is synonymous with animation itself. The job outlook is even rougher in NYC and other points east.

With all of that said, the time has never been better to be an animator. It used to be that in order to make an animated film, you needed tons of paper; an animation desk; cels; expensive ink and paint; then you had to rent time on a camera stand; for God's sake, you used to have to BUY FILM AND PAY TO HAVE IT DEVELOPED. You don't need ANY of that anymore. All you need is the initial cost outlay for a computer, some software and a pen tablet. It's now possible to create a full-color animated short completely by yourself, in the span of months or even weeks. This was completely unheard-of in the past. You can also collaborate with other artists thousands of miles away and create a virtual studio. Ralph Bakshi puts it best in this video. What the heck do young artists even need the studios for anymore?

The time has also never been better to learn 2D animation. There is an abundance of resources that were never available to people in the past. There are lots of great books and video tutorials available, free software, not to mention social media systems that allow you to pick the brain of professionals and even get private lessons online. Don't rule out the idea of self-teaching. Industry pros complain all the time about how little their schools did for them. Don't even THINK about a for-profit art school.

The last thing I suggest you think about: even if you do get a job in the industry, your 8-hour grind isn't likely to be very sexy. You might be working on a very dumb commercial project, or you might be doing a very tedious but necessary job like touching up someone else's work. Then, at the end of that long shift, when are you going to be doing the personal work that truly excites and interests you? After hours, in your spare time.

So why not get an unrelated job that pays the bills, and instead make your own films during your free time?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:22 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's never too late to start studying an art... my grandpa (89) recently informed me he is beginning guitar lessons in the new year. . .

But it's especially not too late if you're 22!! Are you crazy?

I think your plan seems like a sound one.. find a stable-ish job, ideally 9 to 5, and take art classes at night. For me personally, this type of structure actually enhances my ability to work on my practice. When you only have a limited amount of free time you are forced to make the most of it. Maybe once you've saved up for a couple years, that would be a good time to go back to school full time.

Just keep your eyes on your goal and you will be Ok. It's ok to be in a transition for a few years while you figure things out.
posted by winterportage at 10:29 AM on December 17, 2013

You are 22 !?

I took a left turn in my career at age 36. Went into a field completely unrelated to anything I had ever done before. A was a bit dodgy at first, but now, 7 years later, I am happy and secure.

posted by Flood at 11:45 AM on December 17, 2013

I have a BFA, and probably 75 percent of my department were non-traditional returning students, many well past 22.
Most definitely not too late!
(Don't acquire very much debt for this though!)
posted by jrobin276 at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

HELLO HI WOW YOU ARE ME LAST YEAR!! So I'm a 23-year-old animation student who's treating art as a career for the first time in her life and who just finished her first semester of animation school. I was struggling with basically the exact same dilemma last year, so I'll share some of what I've learned in the hopes that it'll be helpful. (Caveat: I have little experience with the actual industry, and while I've heard plenty of stories from teachers and older students and feel like I have an idea of what to expect, I'm really just coming from the perspective of someone who's done a lot of research into what options are currently available for people in our shoes. I'm also very big-company-oriented; if you're more interested in being an independent animator then some of this information may not be as applicable.)

Re: studying animation

So— studying animation at this point in life is VERY FEASIBLE! 2d animation? Unfortunately not so feasible! matcha action is right; if you want to be an animator-animator, you're going to have to approach it from the cg side of the equation— which, if it's the actual bringing-things-to-life aspect of animation you're interested in, is still pretty cool! If your heart is really set on 2d, though, you'll probably want to look into storyboarding, which is a much more stable field and happily will be enhanced by a knowledge of 2d animation. Do you know what precisely you'd like to do in animation or are you still exploring your options?

People will always suggest teaching yourself art, but I think certain kinds of personalities (mine, for example, and perhaps yours?) benefit exponentially from formal schooling and a more structured environment; things really clicked together for me once I entered the classroom, and I always do better with immediate feedback from teachers and peers. Right now, I'm paying not only for the facilities and my teachers but also my friends— networking is so, so important in animation and I know that the people I'm studying with now are likely the people I'll be working alongside later. (It doesn't hurt that they're all fantastic— animation people are really great.) So basically I'm a big dummy who will be going into not-insignificant debt so I can be in my choice of animation school! Don't get me wrong, I LOVE where I am and I've never been happier in my life, but I've also gone into this venture eyes wide open— it's likely that I won't be able to stay all four years of my program. However, I work extremely hard and try to make smart sacrifices in preparation for tough days ahead of me; I'm trying to stack the odds in my favor as much as possible while I have the breathing room.

At any rate, you have a couple of options with respect to schooling.

Online schooling— more online than ever! Beyond just following animation blogs (yes!!) and reading books on animation from the library (often limited but so free!), you can also apply for courses like Animation Mentor and the CG Master Academy. Motivarti is a pretty neat program, and I've heard really good things about 11 Second Club as an animation community. Basically google around or hang out at forums like and you'll get an idea of where to look. Tutorials, both video and image-based (like on Tumblr), are also a great idea. They're usually pretty specific and stand as independent lessons instead of as part of a curriculum, but don't discount the helpfulness of really understanding what they're trying to teach.

If you decide to go with an actual school, know what you're getting into! Many of the highest-ranked schools will be the most expensive, unless you can win significant scholarship or get into, like, Sheridan in Canada. Like overeducated_alligator says, some schools just don't provide a proportional amount of value for what you pay. (Of course, great talent can rise from any and every school, and has, but personally I'd rather work with the system than against it.) Read reviews, evaluate testimonials, do your research! Everyone makes their choices depending on different variables, but for my part I decided to apply only to well-ranked schools that I 100% knew would concretely add value to my animation career. If I hadn't gotten in, then I would have gone back to nerd college and tried the self-taught route; because I had academics as an fallback, it wasn't worth it to me to commit my time, energy, and money to go to an animation school I wasn't completely sure of. But, while I needed that assurance, this is not going to be the case for everybody— and that's REALLY OK! Just make the best choice for you, through RESEARCH!

I really like matcha action's advice to drop by smaller studios; I live somewhere where animation work is nonexistent, so getting to California was really important for me, but if you're in NYC you'll probably be able to get that introduction without committing all your time/money. Maybe go to a Dr Sketchy's? Find out what bar all the animators hang out at and drop by yourself?

There's one benefit to formal schooling that I don't think I often see discussed, which is that you have the luxury of guided exploration. A lot of teach-yourself courses and sites will introduce the different aspects of animation (vis dev, story, technical direction, etc) but they only focus in on one of them. So something like Animation Mentor is a fantastic and relatively inexpensive option for budding animators, but you better be darn sure that that's what you want to do. Otherwise you may be spending a fair amount of time just fumbling around trying to understand all the things animation is, which can be difficult without someone to help you figure out what's going on. In school, or at least one with a holistic syllabus, you'll be fully immersed in the animation pipeline, and you can figure out what interests you at a more leisurely rate and in a more informed way— and at that point, you'll have resources like your teachers and peers at your disposal. If you're a lone wolf type this probably won't be a big deal, but I found the shared experience of my teachers and older classmates immeasurably helpful in making a transition from no art to ALL ART ALL THE TIME.

Re: the age thing

In my year (first year undergrad) we have people from ages 18 to 30, and I'm right there at the median. I am so, so glad I didn't go into art school right after high school, because a) animation can be really insular + challenging + industry-oriented and it can be more difficult (both logistically and financially) to do other things and meet other people once you're in the fray, b) you have fewer past experiences to inform your art, and c) you just don't know as much about yourself. This is not to devalue the contributions, talent, and knowledge of high schoolers, who are some of the most fantastic people I've met, but I've found the additional years can often provide valuable maturity and perspective. This one 30-year-old guy in my class traveled a lot and did a ton of cool non-art-related things before enrolling at animation school, and he has the most amazing stories— his art and personality absolutely reflects this, and our year is stronger because of it. Overall, I feel like the people who've spent some time out of high school are better-equipped to understand the stakes at hand— we know what our other choices are, having lived through them, and so we really commit ourselves to working hard and succeeding with this one that we've chosen.

I always planned to study art as soon as I graduated from college and found a stable job
If you're ok with waiting until you're in a stable place, this is VERY VERY SMART. Just keep working on and thinking about art in your own time! One of the most valuable skills you can develop is that of observation— do observational drawing (just go to a park or mall or coffeeshop or the zoo and sit and draw people and animals), pick apart the acting in your favorite animated movies or tv shows, study the way people move, figure out why you like the things you like! This kind of critical thinking about your art will help a lot for when you decide to take the plunge into animation. I didn't draw for about seven years, when I was really focusing on academics, but I still followed art blogs closely and spent a substantial amount of time just thinking about what I liked and why, noticing subtleties and developing my taste (climb the ladder of influences! see someone you like? find out who their inspirations are and study them! repeat!!). At the end of the seven years, I wasn't as good as I would have been if I'd kept drawing (in an ideal world), but because I just thought about it so much my artistic progression afterwards was much faster than if I'd spent seven years in a stupor.

I'm seconding the community college night class suggestion— I took a figure drawing class at a local community arts center last winter for very cheap, and built up my entire art school portfolio from those two months. You can luck into some really amazing teachers, especially if they're professionals or retirees who just want to teach part-time.

ANYWAY I have typed a WHOLE BUNCH so I'll stop here. Please feel free to ask if you have any additional questions! Again, I don't have a lot of working experience, but I do care A LOT about animation and what it means to work in animation and I've put a lot of thought into my present circumstances and my future prospects. Honestly it looks like you're in a better place than I was because you're willing to wait— I wasn't, and while I'm happy where I am I also recognize the disadvantages of not holding out for a more stable position to start from.

posted by brieche at 8:17 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks for all the helpful advice, I feel more hopeful now than before :)
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:33 PM on December 19, 2013

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