Don Bluth’s Animation School

Longtime OA reader Owen Welsh recently asked me to take a look at Don Bluth’s Online Animation School, Don’s Club. After skimming through the site a little, my interest was peaked. Every OA reader probably knows that traditional animation is where my heart is, so I was intrigued to learn more about an online animation club that focused on this medium while so many others choose to ignore it. I’m currently enrolled at Animation Mentor, so I was also curious to see the differences between the two programs as far as how the curriculum is set up. Owen hooked me up with a Don’s Club membership so I could take a deeper look at how it’s setup.

There’s a ton of very informative videos on the website for you to learn from. Many categories are covered including Drawing, Animation, Character Design, Storyboarding, Acting, Music, Script Writing, Production, and Portfolio. Within these categories are some unique videos like,”Warming Up,” where Don shows you his method of loosening up by drawing circles before moving onto dimensional characters. This is something I hear a lot of artists talk about but never actually see what they do to warm up. There’s also a lot of over the shoulder videos where you can watch Don draw his iconic characters, making it look effortless in the process. Watching great artists work is always a pleasure. Once you’re finished with the on-site videos, you can order an 8-DVD set on drawing and animation for $136 bucks. That’s pretty good value if you ask me.

These videos are informative and entertaining, but the live seminars are much more than this. I was able to sit in on a couple despite my hectic schedule, and here’s what I experienced: A tight knit group of artists feeding off each other and Don in an open forum. Every artist was at a different level of development and skill and each took their turn asking Don questions which he answered thoroughly and almost exclusively with illustrated examples using the same over the shoulder view mentioned above. A passion for the traditional methods was clearly present among all. The only thing that was unusual was the amount of students involved, there weren’t many.  Owen writes, “It surprises me that more animation students and professionals haven’t taken advantage of this amazing opportunity.” Throughout this post you’ll see examples of Owen’s work from the program. It’s impressive to say the least:

Speaking on the technical aspects of the seminars, Owen had this to say:  “The video seminars are live and last one hour every Wednesday.  Don Bluth resides in Arizona, so the seminar starts 4pm Arizona time.  As of now, the seminars are small usually consisting of about 12-15 members asking questions.  What is great about that is you can ask as many questions as you want in the 1 hour time frame.   Also because people haven’t caught on to the site yet, he will spend more time answer your questions.  Even if you have questions that run over, he always responds to it later. Along side the live video feed you can also chat live, via an IRC chat room.  You can chat with other members before the seminar starts, and post your questions while the seminar is going on.  It’s highly entertaining.”

After you’ve experienced the basic tips on the website, and participated in the live seminar, the next step, as you dig deeper into the program, is the workshops. After the workshops, if you’re still up for more, the animation classes are the ultimate experience, working with Don in a personal classroom setting in Arizona for one week. Each step is outlined in the curriculum excerpted below:

It is the intent of Don Bluth Animation to teach the Principles of Animation to students that aspire to make a career in this wonderful medium. The Principles of Animation that Don will teach are basic. You may apply them in both the traditional 2D and the CG animation worlds. Since every student is not at the same level of understanding, it will be necessary that we keep the lessons simple at first; in college it would be listed as animation 101. With that in mind, however, we will also teach advanced animation to those students who are further along in their understanding of the art form. There are three arenas listed below wherein you may receive information from Don to assist you in building your sensitivity as an artist/animator:

The Seminar
This program is part of the Don Bluth Animation club. As a member of the club, you will be given drawing assignments and also be privy to Don’s live, sixty minute broadcast, which takes place once a week; there you may field your questions. The program will include an overview of the business, both historical and current with an emphasis on character design and basic animation principles. This course should help you decide if animation is truly the career for you. The medium is pencil and paper, and an important part of the seminar is the posting of your drawings for the other club members to see, and receiving their feedback. The cost to become a member of Don’s Club is $7.95 per month.

The Workshop
This program includes a live video broadcast – every Saturday Morning from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM for five weeks– in which Don animates and narrates his thoughts as he draws. In the beginning of the Workshop, students will be given a scene to animate and Don will critique and offer instructions on how to make the scene more appealing. Students will be given a complimentary membership to Don’s Club for the duration of the course. Each of the five workshop classes will focus on an animation problem and its solution. The emphasis is placed upon entertainment values, and discovering fresh creative ideas. The course is interactive and you may ask questions during the show. The cost for the Workshop is $250.00

Animation Classes
This is a master class. This program is perfect for the student that wants to learn at a faster pace. The animation student must travel to Scottsdale, Arizona to attend classes five days a week, 4 hours per day, 2 hours in the morning, a break for lunch, and 2 hours in the afternoon. The course will take place over a one week period, and you will be required to animate one scene with in-betweens during that time. Your rough pencil test scene will be cut into a planned production reel that has been designed for all of the enrolled students. The class will be small, not more than ten students. The goal is to create an environment similar to an actual production house, during a real production. Don will personally teach the class, and critique each student’s work. The cost for the one week course is $1000.00. You will be responsible for your own travel expenses and living accommodations. However, we will make suggestions to help you economize.

I asked Owen to describe his experience at one of the animation classes in Arizona. Here’s what he had to say:

“My experience in Arizona, honestly, was the best time I’ve had in my entire life. The 5 day masterclass took place in Scottsdale Arizona at the Xona Resort. The accommodations were excellent at the resort and it was dirt cheap because in the summer months everyone flees the state due to the heat.”

class photo

Class Photo

“All supplies were provided for at the class, you really didn’t need to bring a thing. We had light boxes, pencils, erasers, paper, acme hole puncher, pencil test station — we even received some rare pamphlets with animation knowledge from Don and Eric Larson. We had a nice air conditioned conference room which seated about 15-16 students. The students themselves were very diverse. It ranged from very young students to older working professionals, the whole gamut was represented men and women. ”

don flipping my animation

Don Bluth flipping Owen’s animation

me working late at night

Owen working late at night at one of Don’s masterclasses

“Everyone was very friendly and eager to learn. Don, with his assistant Dave, was there for 4-6 hours a day helping us plan our layouts, animation, lecturing on the principles and drawing over our drawings to help us improve. Don is very approachable and an excellent teacher, but you have to ask questions. It was fascinating to look over his shoulder and watch him draw over our drawings. With just a few effortless scribbles he could create an amazing drawing packed full of punch and vitality. During the day we learned more about the metronome, the x-sheet and most importantly, what it means to animate ‘on beats.'”

nate and don

Don Bluth with classmate Nate

pan background layouts

Pan background layouts

“Most of us would stay up late into the night working on our scenes. In the evening, some of us would take a break from drawing and go to the pool to relax for a bit before coming back and drawing more, (I don’t think we told Don about that, laughs.) The only thing I could think of which would have made the trip better is if it were longer and we could get more of Don’s time. It was sometimes funny to watch 15 students fighting over Don’s attention and time, there were a lot of eager beavers in the room and time was precious. ”


Students working away

“It was sad when we had to leave but Don encouraged us, “If I had you guys for 2 months, I could turn you into film animators.” And I for one believe that! Don is always able to pull the best work out of you if you listen closely to what he has to say. I think most of us left the class a big leap ahead of the competition in terms of our understanding of animation and how to approach a scene — its all about the planning!”

This program looks like a very affordable place to start an animation education and really get a feel for what’s involved. It puts the onus on the student to excel and provides a healthy environment filled with passion and excitement. A student can gradually get more and more involved as their passion grows and the most they’ll spend is $1000 bucks if they take the plunge and go all the way. I’ve spent tens of thousands on schools that don’t even come close to this kind of experience. There aren’t many schools out there with a better bang for your buck than that. Obviously it’s my intention to provide some exposure for this program, but it’s also my intention to attend one day. I do plan on sharpening my traditional skills again once I’m finished at Animation Mentor and have a bit more free time, and this seems like the perfect place for me.

Don is planning a summer class in Arizona at the moment. “Don and Dave are putting the dates together now as we speak. The information will go up and if there are enough signups, then it will happen,” says Owen. I’d recommend you sign up soon if your interested. This could just be the beginning and Don may well one day host a group of students for two months and make them into feature animators.