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for those who may be interested:
Could you possibly give some advice to a 16 year old aspiring artist who really wants to do something art-related after high-school but doesn’t really have a lot of financial backing? ie are student loans worth it? Can you get a job that pays them off if you go into art? I know you’re an animator at Disney, so I was hoping you’d could give me a few tips? Is it really hard to get a job at Disney, for example ...
The short answer is: Don’t take out student loans and expect a job at Disney to pay them back.
The long answer is much longer:
You can get a job in art, and you can get this job by going to school, but if you are getting into the art field (or “the arts” in general) I would advise against taking out student loans if at all possible.
First of all, think about what sort of art you like doing, and then look around and try to see how people make a living at that. Cartooning can take you into animation, storyboarding, or comics, landscape painting into background painting or environmental design, drawing clothes into fashion or costume design, etc. You might have harder luck if abstract expressionism or textile arts are your thing. If the only professional application for the art is ‘selling knicknacks on Etsy’ you might want to refocus.
I’d also recommend looking for schools in your price range. Even if you can’t afford any school out-of-pocket, a smaller local college will put you much less in the hole than a national private institution. “Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb” is NOT a good philosophy in this case. Especially if you’re still figuring out what field you want to get into, this sort of school is a good place to experiment and build foundations, then if you want to go on to something bigger you won’t be wasting your very expensive time there.
‘The’ school for animation is CalArts, but there was no way my family could afford that when I was looking for colleges. I found a cracking animation program at a small vocational school instead, learned an awful lot, and had a great time, made wonderful friends, and graduated without any debt. It was a longer hill to climb from there to Disney, as opposed to CalArts which, for its price, does give you a world-class network and a diploma that opens doors, but I did it, and other people have, too. The great thing about going into animation these days is with all the blogs, videos, online tutorials, and DVD bonus features, you have access to the same resources as everyone else, you just have to know what you need and where to find it.
Another strategy is to go to school for something else and continue your art on the side, then get into it more seriously when you’ve earned enough money to go back to school. Learn a trade that’s in demand, won’t be outsourced, and which you don’t actually hate doing; if it gives you some flexibility in your schedule or a fair amount of leisure time that is ideal, because if you’re really passionate about art you will continue to do it no matter what your day job is. And this gives you a valuable fall-back skill between art jobs. (There is always a ‘between’ with art jobs.) Remember you can always take night classes or seminars to improve your skills, as well as independent study – your first pass at post-secondary education is not your only chance.
If you have a killer portfolio and high-level skills they need right now to finish their movie, Disney is not that hard to get into. Getting the portfolio and skills is much harder work. If they don’t need whatever you have to offer at the moment, you won’t get in no matter how good you are, but you have those skills and can shop them around. As with any studio, timing and luck are important ingredients as well.
Keeping that job is another challenge – it used to be a job at Disney would keep you employed for years, but recently they’ve started to become more like the vast majority of animation studios, in which a core staff is retained but the majority of people are hired on a show-to-show basis. This is another reason why counting on them to pay off your student debt is not a good idea.
Luckily you are still young and have a couple more years of high school to find your artistic path, rather than being rushed into a decision immediately. Take advantage of that! A job where you get to do art every day is pretty great, so be strategic. And whatever you do, keep arting! It’ll keep you sane.