Animation schools packed, but industry not thrilled
May 11, 1999
Young men and women are crowding specialty schools with dreams of becoming video game creators or animation illustrators, but companies say many of these students are not gaining the tools needed to produce on the front line.
Although industries appreciate the soaring popularity in video games and animation, they are asking the schools to upgrade the quality of training because corporations have limited time to educate new recruits.
"It's questionable whether these specialty schools are teaching anything practical," said an executive at software firm Konami Co. "We're out to develop personnel who can produce immediately."
At the Sogo Gakuen Human Academy in Tokyo's Takadanobaba, 37 workstations, each with a tuition of 1 million yen, are usually packed. The students, most of whom are male, entered the academy in April.
The academy offers two programs in video game production: one dealing with computer graphics and the other for aspiring creators.
About 680 students enrolled at Sogo Gakuen's six schools this year. At its Tokyo branch, enrollment in 1999 soared a record 60 percent from 1996, school officials said.
The Computer Entertainment Software Association (CESA) said about 100 schools teach computer graphics or software development. About 10,000 students graduate each year.
But not all graduates find employment within the video game industry. Some move on to advertising or publishing, where computer skills are increasingly in demand.
Most companies said they feel that graduates of the training schools are not ready for the real world.
Of the 130 or so companies registered with CESA, about 80 percent are subcontractors with no more than 150 employees.
The companies said they would like to teach their own employees, but they simply lack the time.
"Surely the level of teaching differs from school to school," a former instructor with a computer school said. "But the thing is, what students learn in two years at school, they could pick up in three months on the job.
"You can't carry over what you learn to do on a PC to more sophisticated equipment used at work. Firms are being forced to count on the passion for computers of the graduates that got them through two years of school."
CESA, in the summer of 1997, formed a group aimed at nurturing young students.
"Our goal is to improve the quality of computer education, based on the information and demands provided to us by the industry," the chair of the group said.
Konami Co. also established its own training grounds, the KCE School, in April last year.
A full program at KCE runs for three years. Toward the end of the program, students intern at Konami, where their abilities are put to the test.
Graduates of KCE receive job offers from Konami. In April, 60 students--or about 25 percent--of KCE's first class were offered positions. The other students were short of credits or had quit.
KCE is basically Konami's three-year entrance exam. Total student enrollment increased to 800, and the competition has heated up.
"You cannot make it in the business by the old way--to pay new recruits well and then put them through training," the Konami executive said. "We pay our employees on an annual salary structure and offer them bonuses; they earn their money.
"We do not hire the incompetent."
An official of an association for animation business said a competent animator can earn the same salary of other workers in the same age bracket in other industries.
"But some that are starting out make as little as 50,000 yen a month. Many quit because they can't live on that kind of pay, but we are never short of people," he said.
"The industry is backed by a young generation with a fire for animation. Our concern is that they may head to the video game industry where the money is much better."
Aspiring animators at Yoyogi Animation Gakuin in Tokyo said they know the job will not be easy, but they want to give it a shot because they love the craft.
Yoyogi owns 12 campuses, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, with 860 students majoring in animation.
The school also offers courses in sound, video game design and special effects.
"We offer a variety of classes to stay in business," said the chair of Yoyogi's parent body, Oya Gakuen.
With so many schools teaching animation production, it is difficult to keep track of the actual number of schools.
The Yoyogi chairman boasts that 90 percent of the school's graduates find employment, but "only about 40 to 50 percent of those who enter the school find jobs as animators."
The animation industry depends on specialty schools for personnel, although it is not exactly content with the current crop of graduates.
"The current generation can paint a single frame well, but are not adept at producing many in a short amount of time," the animation association official said. "The schools should teach their students to do that.
"Of course, there is the problem of the firms not having time to educate their own. The popularity of animation has taken off, and the industry needs to catch up.
"We must figure something out before it starts to affect the quality of our work, and the fans leave us."
Toei Animation's research facility said, "Schools are so busy increasing enrollment that they have overlooked their programs."
Toei's research center was founded in 1995 to nurture personnel who can immediately produce, like Konami's KCE.
"We're not doing this strictly for us. We need to do this to keep the industry as a whole rolling," Toei said.
Asahi Shinbun, May 28, 1999
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