The 2014 Animation School Rankings from Animation Career Review have placed California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) as the No. 7 animation program on the West Coast and the No. 22 program nationally.
The Review considered hundreds of schools in the United States that offered programs geared towards animation or game design and based their ratings on such criteria as academic reputation, admission selectivity, depth and breadth of the program and faculty, value as it relates to tuition and indebtedness and geographic location.
It also praised CSULB for its bachelor’s of fine arts degree in art with an option in illustration-animation, where students may choose a four- or five-year plan, both of which offer a variety of animation, design, illustration and drawing courses. Students in the School of Art are required to take two years of foundational courses and a new class, Art 291, Introduction to Animation, which begins this fall.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Aubry Mintz, who worked in the United States, Canada and India on productions for film, television and the Internet, before joining the CSULB Art Department in 2007 and is writing a book on animation storytelling for Michael Wiese Productions. “I think it’s great that people are noticing. We’ve built up this program in a short amount of time.
“Our goal is to find the student’s voice. In a way, we are trying to find the voice for CSULB’s animation track,” he added. “It’s slowly starting to reveal itself and people are beginning to notice.”
The distinction came as a surprise to Robin Richesson, a member of the Art Department since 1990 whose illustration credits include such films as “American Beauty,” “The Grinch” and “Forrest Gump” and who earned her B.F.A. in illustration and M.F.A. in illustration from CSULB .
“I knew these lists existed but they weren’t something I paid much attention to,” she said. “My first reaction was, why are we just No. 7 on the West Coast? But now I understand seven is pretty good.”
The recognition establishes how fast and how far CSULB’s animation program has come, said Mark Michelon, who also received his B.F.A. and M.A. from CSULB before joining the Art Department in 2006.
“It has been eight years since I became the first hire in the animation program, so we’re still relatively new,” he noted. “We are not only evolving, we’re growing as a program.”
Richesson believes the animation programs strength lies in the drawing at its curricular core and the combination it offers of illustration and animation majors working together, which broadens the students and gives them more of a skill base to work from. It also gives them time to develop, she said.
Michelon thinks another program strength is its willingness to try new things. “Our new direction is experimental animation,” he explained. “The program will add in the fall of 2014 a new full-time faculty member, Beomsik ‘Shimbe’ Shim who will teach experimental and computer animation. This will complement the current approaches to traditional drawing-based animation filmmaking.”
Mintz feels the program’s level of achievement represents the quality of instruction available at CSULB.
“I feel blessed to be part of this crew,” he said. “We all have different strengths and none of us could be called easy teachers. We expect a lot. Yet each of us has different expectations. Some are more focused on story and some on drawing. Students get a variety of instruction and our standards are high. This says we are leading the students in a good direction.”
Richesson added a tip of the hat to the program’s part-time faculty members.
“They are so talented,” she said. “Because we live in the Los Angeles area, our instructors are working professionals. We have access to a giant cache of talented people in this area. This is something that schools elsewhere don’t have.”
The future of animation at CSULB is exciting to Richesson, who believes that in the next five years, the program is really going to start to establish a solid voice for itself.
“It was an uncertain thing to start an animation program. It was kind of scary,” she pointed out. “But now that it is finally going, there seems to be a bright future.”
— Rick Manly