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teaching one's self

Dear Mobby,
I am in the last stages of applying to graduate school. Ultimately, I crave the community of artists and academics I left back in college, and I want to gain skills that I cannot teach myself in order to pursue a career in animation.

I love to travel, I have a ceaseless desire to create things, and other jobs in the film industry (the area in which I received my BA) bore me to death. My hope is that graduate school will provide me with the credentials and skills I will need to land a decent paying job in an interesting field.

However, the 80+ grand I'm going to have to swallow is giving me cold sweats. Is there another way, outside of teaching myself Maya, that will leave me less bankrupt and ultimately provide the same amount of satisfaction? Am I merely just falling back on a blueprint laid out by my parent's generation regarding what to do when you're nearly 25 and haven't done anything noteworthy?

I would love to continue working independently, but it is difficult to work 40hrs/week and save up enough time/money to pursue all of my creative ideals, not to mention that I lack the skills needed to bring some of my best ideas to fruition.

Experience, guidance, and/or resources would be lovely.

habile bumblebee

Comments (21)

Hi Bumblebee. Do any of the grad schools you're applying to provide funding? I'm in graduate school at the moment, and I teach one class a quarter in exchange for free tuition and a small (approximately 10k/year) stipend. It's an excellent deal--but I'm not sure if there are schools with funding in animation.

I like grad school because it gives me time to pursue creative ideas and a community to share them with, but you can find those things outside of grad school--it just takes work and a little luck.

Whether or not you go to school, you should start acting on your ideas now, with as much skill as you have. You will come up with even more ideas, and you'll develop the skills you want. You might find out that your life already has lots of creative potential.


A lot of smaller colleges offer night classes at reasonable prices. Depending on your area that's a good option. Another would be to try to get into a startup company. A lot of startups take good people with limited experience, you can always work your way up and learn things on the way. Hope this helps.


Hello, Bumblebee...

I admire your passion for your chosen work, and your desire to improve your skills.

Yes, $80k is a ton of money. I don't know how it works in arts education, but are there any academic programs which would provide you funding in exchange for teaching or assistant-type work within the department or the university? What about fellowships and grants? I suggest looking into several different programs (both here and abroad), as different institutions have more or less money to throw at grad students. And when filling out those applications, never say that you're willing to pay for it yourself, or they'll never even consider you for funding.

You might also want to check out some private or government grants which might help pay the bills while you're in school. Yes, it involves filing the paperwork and writing the proposals, but if you're given the grant, it's basically free money.

Don't write off grad school based on the money. Do some digging first, and see what your options are. You may be surprised at what the possibilities are.


Is teaching yourself Maya not an option? Folks have certainly put in the time/effort to learn a skill on their own. For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybXrrTX3LuI

This guy taught himself computer animation on the side, made this silly video, and got hired by Pixar as a result.


I have a hard time believing there are skills you can't teach yourself, although it is certainly easier to have someone teach you. I have also been told never to pay to go to grad school. If you can't find a school that will give you at least a scholarship to cover tuition, preferably a stipend as well, then you should seriously consider whether it is worth going. In general I believe that if you are talking about technical skills, you can learn them better on the job than in school.

On the other hand we have reached a point where employers expect a master's degree whether it is really needed or not. I blame it all on the baby-boomers. The desire to stay out of Vietnam led to a lot of advanced degrees, which has raised employer expectations, but do most employees really need advanced degrees? Probably not.

Have you looked into schools that might offer full ride scholarships? I am in a similar situation where I absolutely cannot afford any more debt on top of what I piled up for my BFA, but I am talking to some of my professors and trying to find schools that have such scholarship for photography. Also many schools will ofter assistanceships where you'll get paid as a teaching assistant which will often cover some or all of your tuition and possibly give an additional stipend (however, most of these programs will only kick in after you've been at the school for the first year.) There are other fellowships to look into, particularly for the arts there is the Jacob K Javits Fellowships for the Arts.

What specifically would you want to study in grad school? Continue your track for an MFA in Film or would you branch out?

If you love to travel, do you have a project that you'd love to do abroad if you could only afford it? If that's the case look into the Fulbright scholarships. You'd be suprised how many people do NOT apply to these because they think they'll never get them. I would recommend looking into it because not only is it an amazing opportunity, it also is a very prestegious award and saying you're a Fulbright winner stands out a lot more than saying you're a Master of the Fine Arts.

Best of luck


Might I suggest that you find out about Roadtrip Nation? This movement has been documented through books, DVDs and a PBS series and it is intended for people who are in your kind of situation. If you are interested, the book "Finding the Open Road" (part of the Roadtrip Nation series) might open up your eyes to the possibilities that are around you.

Best of luck.

hi bumblebee,

you sound scared about the money.
and worried about what will happen to your soul if you don't take the leap and pursue a more creative life.

my guess is that your intuition is telling you two things:

1. you really need to make a switch. now is a really good time. you're young, not too far into your career. you know you really can do it.

2. it really is too much money to spend. you probably have another number in your mind that feels more reasonable if you think about it. either that or you need more financial support to really feel good about taking this on.

what comes across really strongly in this post is how much you feel that school would be a good environment for you. trust that. other people might find another way, but this is really the best way for you.

my advice is to validate yourself on all the points you *know* are true, and then work on researching every possible way you could get this training with the price tag beside. also, i'd be thrilled if you made a list of people in your life who would feel honored and happy to contribute to your future. you might have resources than you realize and more options that feel reasonable.

if the fear thing gets out of control, google jen lemen letting go of fear. i created a little ritual that is helpful for moments like this.

best of luck!!


If you're looking to get into animation, maybe grad school isn't the right place. Might i suggest a technical college of some sorts. Specifically, I have a few friends who are attending AnimationMentor (animationmentor.com). it is a bit pricey as well, but it will take you less time and its taught by actual animators at all of the top studios (pixar, sony, etc). Plus, since its online you still have the option of traveling.


This is just a thought, but do you really want to learn Maya, or do you want to learn animation?

Anyone can learn Maya, but not everyone can be an artist. It seems to be that you might be better off learning traditional animation. This would make you stand out from the pack, because traditional animation isn't something that they teach in schools these days. (Even Cal Arts only really produces people qualified for Disney or Saturday morning crap. Nobody is teaching real, honest-to-god cartooning. And in a sense, nobody ever really did learn it outside of one of the studios that did it back in the day.)

John K (of Ren and Stimpy fame) is running an informal online animation course for free (but there is a tip jar). It'll cost you nothing to have a look and see if it's for you.


If you are considering learning Maya the University of Illinois at Chicago is a cheapish public university that offers Classic Maya writing. Or think about the University of Chicago as a more expensive (but financially supportive) private school. UC teaches both Classic Maya writing and Modern Maya dialects. Both schools are very supportive to their graduate students if you are willing to work hard and have a solid application. And they both have great communities in a diverse city.

Yes, I think you should go to grad school. It might be expensive. It might be stressful. But you will be an expert in the field of your choice. If you're ready for the work, and excited about it, the experience will outweigh any monetary debts.

Hey I have a great school for you with which I go to currently. It's called animationmentor.com. I have a blog at animepauly.com showcasing my work and I have never created any animation before january of this year. I'm not great but I am way better than I was 11 months ago. We are taught by industry professionals. I have had 3 teachers currently or formerly from Blue Sky and 2 from Dreamworks. They are amazing. I suggest you check out AM's site and 11secondclub.com to see what a critique looks like. If you decide to go, please email me and let me know because we get a referral, but that's not why I am writing this. This school changed y life and it's relatively cheap. I paid $14,500 in tuition for the 18 months. It;s slightly higher now but not much. Check out the student reel and sign up for their newsletters. You will see how amazing it is for yourself. Also there is a video posted on my myspace page about my school. www.myspace.com/animepauly. Sorry for the terrible writing but I am tired, always doing homework :)


There are many art schools here in San Francisco that offer scholarship to talented and deserving individuals. IMHO, you're both.
(also I would be over the moon if you were nearby :D)
Having said that - I thing kb2zuz's suggestion is a great one. When I was working on continuing my Bachelor's after taking a short break, I thought I was going to get a full scholarship to University of the Pacific (a scout heard me sing when I was at De Anza College and told me he'd get me in there). While I was waiting for that to happen, I mentioned to my parents that I wanted to go to USC for grad school. "Why not now?" my stepmother said. After some deliberation, I ended up auditioning for the classical voice program and received a full ride (at least for tuition! I've got big debt for loans I took out for living expenses, which I probably could have avoided with better planning...)
Whatever you do, don't give up. Not at 25, not at 40. You have enormous gifts, *e* *NOR* *mouse*!!! You definitely have something precious to offer the world. In case you haven't already read this, I'm going to add a quote by Martha Graham:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening,
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all of time,
this expression is unique.
And if you block it,
it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost.
The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is,
nor how valuable,
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly
to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.

Hiya, I was looking into film school a few years ago. I decided to pursue something else, but here are a few articles that I enjoyed:



I got the impression from looking into things that lots of people get into the industry by learning outside of school (in jobs, internships, and from mentors) and that you can gain some valuable experience by doing things yourself.

One of the big benefits of school is that it forces you to put your nose to the grindstone, but it can also be stifling. If you're willing to consider putting the time and money into film school, maybe you'd be just as well off sinking the money into books and film equipment.

If you feel like it's taking a long time to find a job, to learn the skills, to feel like you know what you're talking about - just think about all the time you'd spend filling out applications, waiting for interviews, doing gen eds, and doing class projects and readings that you don't necessarily feel are helpful while you're waiting to get to the "good stuff" in school.

I imagine film school would feel sort of like lots of other education programs where the students don't really feel like they've progressed much until their senior year and then feel like they get their "real" experience at their first few jobs.

You have all of the skills you need to actualize all of your creative notions. What you lack is experience.

It takes about a year to get a year's worth of experience.

Borrow eighty grand and you are really paying someone for that money. You will end up paying them back over the next 15 years or so for the privilege to have the money now.

Why not work to get a job in the industry where someone will pay you to learn animation?

Heavenly Fodder:

You are suffering from fear of adulthood. If you were truly gifted in the creative arts money would be of little concern to you. You are searching greener pastures where none exist. Be still, Be silent and wait for your answer.

Hi Habile B,

I've seen some of your work on the ORG and I want to encourage you. I don't have answers about grad school or financing or career strategies, but I do know creatives need to stay tuned into that peaceful answer within the heart that knows which way to go - it's the same thing that makes you pick up a particular color when you're drawing something you haven't even identified yet.

People who don't trust their own creativity will worry about you. They will try to encourage you toward a path that is comfortable FOR THEM. There's irony though, because as you listen to your artistic intuition, and act on it, you will demonstrate courage and they will benefit from it.

I'm about twenty years older than you. When I was your age, doors were open for me as they are for you now. I stood before them and did not move. I was perplexed like a dog hearing a sound it couldn't register. I backed away. I rationalized that if creativity came naturally it wasn't so special. But, living in LA I got into the TV and Film industries and took assistant jobs that led to script development work. People wanted to see me do well, but I listened instead to the ones who told me how hard it was to succeed and that I should play it safe.

The desire to write would not lie down so at the age of 30, I started graduate school. I got a Master's in English/Creative Writing. I went to the inexpensive school that limps and drags the other foot, but I got the work done. If I had it to do over, I would have listened to the advisor who said this:

"Why do you Californians always think you have to pay for graduate school? They should pay you! Scholarships! You have talent - they get you, THEY look good!"

Oh. But.

I was scared. I stayed home. I'm working my way out of a rut. I would have found more help if I hadn't accepted being IN it in the first place. The rosy glow on this story though is this: the muses persist.


hi bumblebee,

i am in the same situation: i want to go to graduate school for graphic design, but being in my early 20s i just don't have the resources for it.
many people (some of them here) are of the opinion that design can be self-taught, and that you can make a career out of being naturally talented and lucky. while that may be true for some people, for me graduate school would be a way to get my foot in the door of an incredibly exclusive industry (advertising).
i've been looking at a lot of federal loans... the prospect of being $80,000 in debt at the start of my dream career is slightly horrifying, but what can you do?
unfortunately for us "creative types," design is seen as a luxury business. my college roommate, who got a degree in molecular genetics, is going to grad school for free (actually, THEY are paying HER $28,000 to be there)... but for me, a kid with a design school degree and big dreams about changing the world of advertising, there isn't a lot of monetary opportunity.
according to my lovely Southern mother, "sometimes digging the deepest holes lead to the most interesting places... even if you feel like you're digging too far, just think - you could end up across the globe, in a world none of us ever imagined."
take a chance! if you are passionate enough, driven enough, serious enough, and crazy enough, it's worth whatever investment you put in.
i'm trying my darndest to figure out what kind of support i can get and how much i'll have to front out-of-pocket and out-of-dismally-dwindling-savings, but however much it ends up being, i think i deserve to make my life happen.
and you do too!

Love, Kat.


you might want to try getting a part time job at an art school. Oftentimes staff members get free classes!

I just wanted to say a gigantic THANK YOU to everyone who replied to my cry for help. I have an assortment of resources now at my disposal, as well as options I could not have conjured on my own. What's more, I am touched by the generosity of strangers. It does wonders for my faith in humanity, which can always use a touch-up.
thank you thank you thank you!


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This entry was posted on November 10, 2007 1:20 PM.

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