Discover the Best Animation Classes in Washington, D.C.
“I know this defies the law of gravity,” Bugs Bunny says as he and a high diving board remain suspended in mid-air at the end of the Looney Tunes cartoon High-Diving Hare, “but, you see, I never studied law.”
The law of gravity failed to apply very frequently in the wacky Looney Tunes universe during Warner Brothers Animation’s 1940s heyday. Therein lies the wonder of animation: it enables characters to perform feats that are unhindered by not only the law of gravity but those of physics and nature in general. (The Road Runner’s nemesis, Wile E. Coyote, regularly defies the laws of medicine, for example.) This ability to make the impossible visible is one of the reasons why the world of moving—and seemingly living and breathing—drawings has been so compelling since the invention of the spinning phénakisticope In 1833. Rabbits aren’t bipeds, and they don’t talk, let alone with Brooklyn accents, yet there is something that makes us believe that this nonsense is possible because Bugs Bunny does it right before our very eyes. In one sense, we know he’s “only” a cartoon; in another, he’s one of the most real movie stars Hollywood ever produced. (He even has his own star on Hollywood Boulevard.)
Warner Brothers’ animation was an edgy, manic, and irreverent answer to what was happening deeper in the San Fernando Valley, in Burbank, at the Walt Disney Studio. Indeed, the name Looney Tunes was a riposte to Disney’s series of Silly Symphonies animated shorts. Warner’s animation may not always have been great art in the Disney sense, but the patently insane Daffy Duck is as much an American icon as his fellow Anas platyrhyncos, Donald. The technology behind both ducks is the same: drawings viewed at the rate of 12 per second go by too quickly for the human eye to track individually, and appear to be animate, whence the term animation.
Both Daffy and Donald Duck are still in production today, and although they don’t look a day older than they did in the 1940s (more magic of animation), they are created by an entirely different process than the pencils, paper, pens, ink, paint, cels and 35mm motion picture film that brought them to life in their salad days. The 1990s saw the advent of computer animation, which has grown into the world of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) that is now used, not just for anthropomorphic ducks and rabbits, but also for most of the special effects in “live-action” films today. Whereas whole sets had to be built and then flooded with actual water for 20th Century Fox’s 1939 epic, The Rains Came, precipitation and even flash flooding can today be added to an image with a few clicks of a mouse.
Software such as Autodesk Maya, Pixologic ZBrush, and Houdini are currently in favor at Disney Studios, and are complex programs that can create astonishing things. There are, however, simpler-to-use programs that can create motion graphics, most notably Adobe’s After Effects. While you can’t reverse engineer Frozen (and probably not even High-Diving Hare) with the Adobe Creative Cloud and a MacBook Pro in the space of an afternoon, you can create impressive animation without needing a four-year degree in the field. Such is the need for animation across all platforms today that you can make a good, solid career at an independent studio creating motion graphics for commercial purposes.
Best Animation Classes & Schools in
One of the very few tech schools running in-person animation classes in the District of Columbia is Ledet Training. They offer courses in Adobe’s Animate and After Effects that cover both vector animation and motion graphics. Animate 101 is a two-day introduction to that program, and teaches students to create animations, manage the timeline and even add sound to their creations. That class can be followed by Animate 201, which covers, across the span of two additional days, such advanced topics as inverse kinematics, springiness, and creating interactive movies. The two classes may be combined into a four-day bootcamp. For those interested in After Effects, Ledet has classes that fit the same pattern, with the slight change that After Effects 101 runs for three days, not two. Thus, there is also an After Effects 201, and the two classes may be combined into a five-day bootcamp. Ledet’s Washington classrooms are located on I Street N.W., a block from Lafayette Park. If you don’t live in the White House, the nearest Metro stop is either Farragut West or Farragut North. (If you do live in the White House, the instructions are: go out the front door, cross Lafayette Park, grab a tea at Teaism, proceed along 17th Street for a block, then hang a left on I street and Bob’s your uncle.)
Washingtonians whose address isn’t 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., particularly those who are really Marylanders or Virginians, might prefer not to have to confront downtown D.C. on business days. They might want to consider instead an online class that can be taken from anywhere, from the District of Columbia to Washington state to Washington Island in French Polynesia. Live online courses offer something of the best of both worlds, as you get the unbeatable convenience of being able to study anywhere you want, but you also get to have live interaction with the instructor, ask questions, and even have the instructor take a look at whatever mess you’ve gotten yourself into on your screen.
Future Media Concepts is an example of a tech school that brings its New York-based classes to the internet. The school offers an Introduction to Adobe After Effects CC (the CC simply stands for Creative Cloud, the portmanteau term for all of Adobe’s software), an Adobe After Effects CC (Intermediate), and an Adobe After Effects CC (Advanced) class. Running for three, two, and two days respectively, the curriculum takes students from where their knowledge of Photoshop left them off through to advanced functions and effects such as the 3D Camera Tracker, Particle Playground, Warp Stabilizing, and the difference between foam and bubbles.
Another New York-based school with ample experience in teaching over the Internet is Noble Desktop, which offers a program that combines After Effects with Adobe’s video editing software, PremierePro. Put them both together, and you get a 17-day Motion Graphics Certificate program. In addition to the software training, you will also be able to build your portfolio (demo reel) and take advantage of 1-to-1 sessions with established mentors in the field to help you find your way in the animation world.
A much briefer way to approach After Effects can be found hosted by NYC Career Centers: After Effects in a Day. The class instructs students in the making of Animated GIFs, logos, and transitions, and, by the end of seven hours, will have them conversant with the software and able to use it to create simple motion graphics, incorporating such features as easing in and out, fade-ins and layer animation.
Another extensive online motion graphics certificate program is the Video Design Certificate from Digital Workshop Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. The certificate program combines instruction in both Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, including Adobe After Effects for Beginners (Level 1) and Adobe After Effects Advanced (Level 2), which may also be taken à la carte. The After Effects classes meet in the mornings, Mountain Time, which means they start at 11:00 a.m. in Washington. That should give you time for a proper breakfast before reporting to your computer to start your school day.
Industries That Use Animation
Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United States Constitution refers to a “district” that would become the capital of the United States. It says nothing, however, about the production of animated motion pictures, and, indeed, the District of Columbia was never an important player in the country’s film industry, which is probably a good thing.
That said, there are animation studios operating in and around the District. Although they’re unlikely to offer much chance of employment to the likes of Bugs Bunny, they do offer work to those interested in creating animation for commercial and, naturally, political purposes. Today’s world has created a need for all manner of catchy visuals to promote products, causes (both public and private), and candidates, to which end several animation studios have set up shop in our nation’s capital. These studios often work with advertising agencies and political campaign staff to come up with images that can be used across a variety of platforms, from broadcast to social media. There are far less exciting places to be a commercial animator than
Animation Jobs & Salaries in
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups animators and special effects artists under a common rubric, reflecting the enormous role CGI plays in the special effects that used to have to be created manually. More specific job titles are to be found on O*net Online, a job-seeker-oriented database maintained by the U.S. government. It breaks the BLS category down into such job titles as 2D animators, 3D animators, graphic artists, digital artists, and animators.
The BLS’ 2022 figures for the greater Washington area (officially known as Washington/Arlington/Alexandria, although it includes parts of West Virginia and Maryland as well) show that 310 individuals were employed as animators and special effects artists. While that’s perhaps more than one might have guessed right off the bat, the location quotient for the area reflects the fact that the area isn’t exactly the omphalos of computer animation: the figure is a meager 0.42. That means that you’re less than half as likely as the national average to find a job as an animator in the Washington area. If you do find an animator job, you will be rewarded with an annual mean wage of nearly $96,000, which ranks tenth for all metropolitan areas, although it is still less than the median wage for animators in the country, which is approximately $99,000. It is, on the other hand, significantly higher than the mean wage in of $78,500.
You’ll have to weigh that against the very high cost of living in the District of Columbia: it’s 52% higher than the national average, mainly because the cost of housing is 152% higher than the national average. Food comes in at a relatively modest 9% higher than the national average. On the other hand, a hot dog at Nationals Park is going to set you back some: it’s one of the most expensive in Major League Baseball at $7.49, and specialty dogs, including a characteristically Washingtonian version with onion, mustard and chili, cost even more.