This week, I try to help a concerned father make an informed decision about sending his son to animation school.
My wife and I are faced with the difficult decision of finding an animation school for our son. We have been researching and visiting a number of private schools with programs in traditional and computer animation. They all seem pretty good and claim to have excellent alumni support and great industry job placement rates. Part of what’s nagging me is that there doesn’t seem to be any discernible criteria regarding who gets accepted – I don’t believe the kids are required to have a portfolio review or any skills assessment testing. I have no idea if my kid really has what it takes for a career in animation. Is my concern warranted? What are his future prospects? How should I proceed?
Brad in Dallas
I can hear the pain in your voice as you struggle with your son’s future plans. He’s lucky to have a dad like you. Your concern is admirable. Before you make any decisions, indulge me for a moment and participate in the following exercise, which I think will help put these issues in greater perspective.
Grab your current stack of monthly bills. Find a quiet room where you can concentrate and won’t be interrupted. Before we begin, take a moment to reflect on the joy you feel as a parent, the sense of fulfillment that comes from being a responsible father, the pride you feel knowing your child is ready to go off to college. Now, consider for a moment the unconditional love you shower on your kid, your limitless commitment to his happiness and general well-being. You love him dearly and wish only the best for him and his future. You really are a great dad. Everyone wishes they had a dad like you.
Now, think about the bag of weed you found in his backpack a couple weeks ago. Pretty pricy chronic, not like the stemmy Mexican hay you bought by the finger back in the day. Remember how that was the best pot you could afford with the meager money you made on your 5 a.m. paper route? Think back to the angry call you got from his girlfriend’s dad over Christmas break, when your son drank a bottle of Gin and ralphed all over the inside of the guy’s new Jag? Remember the last time you asked your budding artist to clear the dinner table or bring in the trash cans? That hint of indignation in his voice when he told you, “I’ll do it llllllaaaaattttttteeeeerrrrr…” OK, now pick up the stack of bills. Let’s begin.
Slowly, one by one, open up each bill, paying particular attention to how much money all those bills add up to. Money you and your wife must earn to feed, clothe and entertain the young Jackson Pollack now standing in the kitchen gulping down an entire container of orange juice right from the carton. I guess he forgot where you keep the glasses. A bunch spilled off his chin onto the floor. That’s OK, you can clean it up later. Now look at the stack of bills in front of you. Look at all those bills! Kids are expensive these days, aren’t they? But they’re worth it!
Now, sit back, close your eyes and picture yourself at the kitchen table, late at night, alone with your thoughts. You’re holding a set of loan documents. At the bottom of the last page is a number – $150,000. That’s a big number! Now picture $150,000 in cash. Hold it in your hands, stacks of 20s, 50s and 100s. Think how much money that is. Think how long it takes to earn $150,000. After taxes. On what you make, I imagine it would take quite a long time. Think about how long it will take to pay back $150,000, in after-tax dollars, with interest. Think how old you’ll be when you finally finish paying off that debt. With interest. Compounding every micro-second. Very, very old indeed.
Try to relax. Take five deep breaths. OK. Now, picture taking that $150,000, all that money, and handing it to over to your son. The kid with the expensive taste in cannabis. The kid who’s upstairs right now listening to Slayer, pounding the crap out of his X-Box, shooting trolls or terrorists or baby seals or whatever creature flies across that sweet 24 inch monitor you bought him last month. Go ahead, give him the money. That’s right, hand over $150,000 to your son. Derelict today, animator tomorrow.
Gently remind him he needs to be prudent and make that money last for four years. Of course, you’ll still take care of paying for his car and insurance. Picture the look on your son’s face when you hand him that money. Hold it…Hold it…Get a good look. Now continue.
When he’s finished rolling around on the ground laughing, texting his friends and his dealer and he finally hugs you, professing his love, just tell him all you want in return is for him to work hard and try to become the best animator he can be. He needs to buckle down a bit and apply himself, make the most of this opportunity. Tell him he’ll be assuming more responsibility, that he’ll be moving far away from home, living unsupervised at a cool art school, in a dreamy college town filled with bar-lined streets and lots of really hot high school drop-outs taking cosmetology classes at the JC down the street. With $150,000 in hand.
Look at him, your son, your little boy – you beam with pride picturing him pencil in hand, in a cleanly pressed shirt, busily working on the next Toy Story. Try not to picture him barreling through his second 8-ball of the day, nuts deep in some roofied coed, screaming “VALHALLA I AM COMING!” at the top of his lungs. Push that bad image away. Go away bad image. Return to the Toy Story image. Much better.
Pick up that stack of bills. My, that’s a big stack, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s one bill short. There’s an additional bill you’ll have each month, a bill for that $150,000 your son is burning through like Melissa McCarthy burning through a stack of cheeseburgers. Get to know that new bill well, because you’ll be paying an identical one every month for the next 15 years.
Now, picture your kid stumbling into class, dirty shorts, sweat stained tank top and ratty sweatshirt, new iPad in hand, updating his Facebook about the killer party he was at until 4 am that morning, the teacher up front blathering on about “low-res poly models.” The stank of his latest dorm hookup wafts through the room with the scent of conquest, irresponsibility and gash. He’d probably be taking notes if he had thought to bring a pen. Or paper. Think about his first 2D class exercise, how all the students work together to help each other animate a walk sequence. While drunk, naked, popping Oxy like chocolate covered raisins. Dwell for a moment that this will be going on for four straight years.
Take a deep breath. You’re going to be OK. We’re almost done. Now, picture yourself at an animation industry job fair, 5 or 6 years in the future, your kid hoping to meet with a recruiter from Pixar. Or Disney. Or DreamWorks. Or Blue Sky. Or Tom Dickman Studios. It makes no matter. You’re in line with 1,000 other kids who look exactly like your son. Same outfit, same eternal look of stupidity and boredom on their puffy little faces. Listen quietly as the recruiter spends a generous 30 seconds politely turning the pages of your kid’s portfolio. Note the abundance of spaceships and monsters, the variety of swords and hacked-off limbs. Nice plasma rifle! Wow, I bet you didn’t realize your kid really likes to draw bloody superhero butterfly knife fights. Study the look on the face of the recruiter. Note that their calm expression belies a slight furrow on their brow, borne of silent resignation that their weekend will be spent looking through 500 more shitty portfolios in a futile attempt to find one reasonably talented kid they can offer an unpaid 3 month internship. And that kid is not your son.
Now, set down the stack of bills, walk upstairs and break your son’s laptop. Don’t say a word, just walk into his room, snap that puppy in two, and then leave. Take a moment to relish the feeling you’re experiencing. That’s called happiness. Savor it. Wallow in it. It will last no more than 3 minutes. It’s the last happiness you’ll ever experience if you send your kid to an expensive animation school.
Before you make the decision to sign away your life, move to debtor’s prison and watch that ungrateful fruit of your loins drive off to attend the most expensive four-year summer camp money can buy, you MUST come to grips with the following harsh reality: your son will NEVER have a career in animation. EVER. He doesn’t have the patience, the aptitude, the perseverance, the drive, the skills, the attitude or the sense of urgency. He’s just not talented enough. No studio will ever hire him. EVER. He has no clue, nor will he ever. PERIOD. It’s that simple. To think otherwise is to tell yourself a huge and disastrous $150,000 lie. A lie with interest. In after-tax dollars.
Brad, under no circumstances should you send your kid to a 4 year private animation school. Do not, I repeat, do not do it. There, the decision is made. The exercise is over. You can relax now. Your future is secure.
What now? I suggest you do the following. Tell your son that animation school might not be in the plans, but you’ll support him becoming a guerilla filmmaker. Drive him to the nearest big city at least 1000 miles away. Find a little diner and treat him to a hearty meal. When you’re finished, walk outside, give him $20, and then leave him in the parking lot. If he makes it home, buy him whatever he needs to make a film about the experience. He’ll actually have a story worth telling, that might even be worth watching.
Brad, I’m rooting for you to do the right thing.