It's critical that art students have multiple opportunities to grow into professionals--this includes using industry-standard technologies.

4 ways to prepare art students for life after college

It's critical that students have multiple opportunities to grow into professionals--and this includes using industry-standard technologies

When you think about art school, you might picture some of the traditional studies such as drawing, painting, or graphic design. However, as industries like movies and video games demand more creative individuals to both conceptualize ideas and bring concepts to life, there are more and more opportunities for students who have a creative bent to thrive.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is anticipated there will be 94,000 jobs open each year in arts and design, and more than 20,000 new jobs created in the next decade. For students interested in art and design this is good news, and as a professor in the School of Arts at CSU Long Beach, it’s important for me to make sure they’re aware of and prepared for these opportunities.

At CSU Long Beach, we feel it is important for students to be well-rounded, creative thinkers who are prepared to enter their field of choice. Specifically, students in the animation program are given multiple opportunities to help them grow into professionals, which includes using industry-standard technologies, providing guest speakers who can talk about various careers, professional practicing classes to prepare them for interviewing and working with others, and contest programs to recognize their work.

1. Industry-standard technology

When a professional artist walks into a studio, it is almost certain there will be Wacom interactive pen displays at hand. The majority of professional artists use these to create digital art and renderings. We expose students to this industry-standard technology in our classrooms.

Initially, students tend to prefer to draw their animations on paper, but once they go through a few demos and see the steps on how to use our Wacom Cintiq Pro displays, they often stick with the tech. Students come to understand it is a similar artistic process, but can be more efficient for some projects. Using the pen displays, students streamline their workflow, including the storyboard, concept and design, through to the finished product, within one digital space.

Students in the animation program are also able to check out Wacom Intuos Pro tablets or Wacom One displays to take home so they can continue practicing using the technology and working on their projects. This is a key part of preparing students for their future careers because wherever they work after graduation, they will need to know how to use this type of technology and they’ll already have plenty of experience.

2. Industry guest speakers

One of the things my students like the most is to hear from guest speakers who are leaders in the industry. Some of the guest speakers have included Alison Mann, co-President of Fourth Wall Animation and co-founder/CEO of the BRIC Foundation; Monica Mitchell, a TV producer for shows such as South Park and Mickey Mouse; Scott Morse, a storyboard artist for Pixar; and Sam Goff, an outreach coordinator at Netflix.

Speakers cover a range of topics, including the ins and outs of animation, as well as the other side of production and what students need to know about funding, budgeting, and scheduling. For example, during Sam Goff’s guest lecture, she discussed exploring diversity in animation and how to think about it while creating stories and characters.

Guest speakers have helped students think about all sides of the industry and learn more about what to expect when they start their careers. It is also a great way for students to start making connections with people in the industry they will soon be joining.

3. Professional practicing classes

Student artists can be introverts by nature and over my years of teaching I’ve realized the importance of getting them out of their shells. At CSU Long Beach, a professional practicing class is a requirement in the animation program. It helps students gain strong professional skills, especially as it relates to speaking in public, and it prepares them for job interviews. These classes include cover letter and resume writing, as well as creating websites and portfolios.

Students also learn about how to apply for grants and film festivals. The class helps ensure students are more prepared and confident going into the interview process.

4. Challenges and contests

Film festivals are a significant part of the industry and it is important students understand the process of applying for a festival and have experience entering at least one. CSU Long Beach requires students to submit to at least three festivals. This helps students to realistically think about filmmaking and understand the whole process.

Additionally, the 24-hour Animation Contest was something I created 20 years ago when I noticed students needed an additional competitive edge and something to really motivate them. Students sign up for the annual contest in teams of five. The year’s theme is announced at 4 p.m. on a Friday, and then students have 24 hours to create and finish a short, animated film. Students haven gotten really invested in this contest, and it has also helped build ownership and confidence while adding to students’ portfolios.

Creating confidence

Confidence isn’t something that can be easily taught, but it is something students need as they first enter the arts and film industry. With career-specific experiences in college, students are better able to gain the confidence they need when applying for jobs, interviewing, and creating and submitting artwork during their careers. All of these opportunities push students out of their comfort zones and help them prepare for their future careers.

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