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Why you should apply to California College of the Arts for animation

Tags: Customer Story Animation Storyboarding Education

With university and college application season in full swing, prospective animation students must consider their options carefully. The school they choose can influence and impact their career; the software they learn today may dictate the studio they work in tomorrow. Those aspiring to learn Toon Boom’s future-proofed animation technology should have a look at California College of the Arts (CCA).

CCA was founded in 1907 in Berkeley and now has its campuses in Oakland and San Francisco, the modern-day engine of America’s technological machine and just a stone’s throw from Silicon Valley and California’s galaxy of studios. The school is renowned for its fine arts and architecture programs, though its relatively new BFA in animation is already its fourth-largest major —with 34 faculty members, 210 currently enrolled students and approximately 20 percent annual growth— and is continuing its legacy of leadership.


Launched in 2005 by Pixar alum Andrew Lyndon, California College of the Arts ranks among the 20 best animation schools in the U.S. according to “Animation Career Review”. Graduates have gone on to work at studios from Walt Disney Animation Studios to Bento Box Entertainment, both of which use Toon Boom animation software.

The cornerstone of the animation program has always been mentorship from top industry professionals. CCA’s animation program co-chair, Rick Vertolli, notes the faculty’s experience, empathy for students and educational skills are the school’s most valuable assets.

Those wishing to learn Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Harmony have the flexibility to do so with CCA’s curriculum model. In the freshman and sophomore years, the requisite courses foster an understanding of preproduction and production processes, plus artistic skills like hand drawing. From there, students can build the education they want by selecting from a variety of tutorials, workshops and studio electives.


“We try to tailor the program to each student — meeting with them, discovering their desires and needs, and where they hope to be after graduation,” says Vertolli. “If they want to focus on TV animation in Toon Boom, the senior project or junior project courses are a good starting point. They can do a production, maybe it’s a 30 second animation, and take that project end-to-end in a semester, while learning that workflow and process.”

To bridge the pedagogical and professional, CCA gives students client work that often has a social good or community engagement mission. Among the most emblematic are two videos created for the wildlife non-profit Marine Mammal Center produced in Toon Boom animation software. The first piece, Domoic Acid Attack, was done by 15 students in a semester using Harmony, while the second, A Word with Dr. Whizzlepuff: Climate Change,

was completed over an entire academic year with both Storyboard Pro and Harmony.

Celebrated animator Steve Segal (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life) is a senior adjunct professor at CCA. He directed Domoic Acid Attack and advised on its spiritual successor. Given that the short had to be finished in a semester, he credits Toon Boom Harmony’s efficiency with helping to ensure its completion. Among the features he and his students found most useful were the curve deformers, colour fill and line control. 


“One of Harmony’s features that I like over TV Paint is it is a vector-based program,” says Segal. “There was a bit of a learning curve as most of the students hadn’t used Toon Boom Harmony before, but they adapted to and excelled with it.”

Ultimately, Marine Mammal Center was thrilled with the results and have ordered a third short. Though she did not work on the aforementioned pieces, CCA senior Liz Graybeal uses Storyboard Pro in all of her projects and explored Harmony during her junior year in the animation program. She is a lifelong 2D fan, noting Avatar: The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack and Batman: The Animated Series are among her childhood inspirations.

“Storyboard Pro is the best software for storyboarding because you can do everything you need do without using other editing programs,” says Graybeal. “The features I like the most are how the panels in Storyboard Pro have their own layers —so you don’t have to worry about layers from other panels bleeding over— and the camera tools because of how easy they are to operate. Each new technique I learn allows me to further my storytelling.”

CCA_animation_BFA_toon_boom.jpgSource: California College of the Arts.

To augment her education, Graybeal has used the Toon Boom Learn Portal and believes her knowledge of Storyboard Pro will help her find work after graduation. For Vertolli and the faculty at CCA, this is proof of a job well done. The ultimate goal is to give students the well-rounded skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s animation industry — and for many, that includes learning Toon Boom animation software.

“When students want to do 2D animation, they wonder, ‘Am I going to learn TV Paint or Toon Boom?’ I think that Toon Boom is the more logical way to go because there are more studios using it, so it makes sense to have that experience,” says Vertolli. “Being a vector-based software gives it a leg up over pixel-based programs; I personally always suggest students try it.”

Top marks, indeed.