Animation School Portfolio Requirements

Most animation schools all ask for basically the same things. I'll go through some of the typical questions that people ask about portfolios and then give you an imaginary set of portfolio requirements. Remember: it's always best to contact the school or studio that you're applying to before putting your portfolio together, it'll help prevent having to redo the whole thing.

Portfolio Assessment
The faculty of the program will usually assess the portfolios. Sometimes it's just the Co-ordinator, it depends on how many portfolios are sent in. Sometimes the portfolio will be graded on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being a "low" grade and 10 being "high". Once all the portfolios have been assessed, they will be ranked and listed from highest to lowest. The top portfolio applicants will be sent a letter of an offer of a position in the program. You will then have the option of accepting and taking the course or declining and not taking the course. There will be a set deadline for your acceptance into the program. If you miss this deadline the next person on the list will be given a letter of acceptance and so on until all the seats are filled.

How Many Positions Are Available?
Some programs offer 100 positions and divide the students into 3 classes, meaning 33 students per class. Other programs offer far less positions. Does this mean the more positions, the better the program, and the less positions, the worse the program? Not necessarily. With 33 students per class in a 2 hour course with an instructor, that gives each student just over 3 and a half minutes of one on one time with the instructor, that's not much. A program that has around 22 students is obviously better as far as the student/teacher time ratio goes, but it's still a matter of who the instructors are. If you have an instructor with lots of experience, you're probably better off than getting an instructor who just graduated from the program a year ago.

What Are My Chances Of Being Accepted?
There are 7 major animation schools in Ontario with a combined 350 positions available. On average, there are about 2500 applicants for these positions. That means an average of 7 to 10 people applying for each position.

What Can I Do To Improve My Chances of Being Accepted?
If you're applying to one of the smaller schools, your chances are much better because not too many people apply to the smaller one's... they want to get into that BIG animation school. The odds were 25 to 1 over the past few years of getting in there. Some of the smaller schools get about 400 applicants, which works out to 9 to 1 odds, about the same as the overall average. So, what are the schools looking for? The same thing everyone is looking for, people who love to draw, people who can draw well, people who can't go a day without drawing, and people who really want to learn how to animate!

The only thing an assessor can really tell from your portfolio is how well you can draw. The other stuff is all emotional and internal. Some of it will show through in the quality of your drawings. O.k., so how do you improve your chances? Here are a few tips:

1) Don't submit your first attempt at any of the requirements. Do the drawing and let it sit for a day then look at it again and make improvements on it. Try looking at the drawing upside down (not face down) and see if you can spot any mistakes in perspective or structure.

2) Don't ask your mom to critique your work (unless she's actually an artist herself). Otherwise, she'll say it's great and want to hang it on the refrigerator. Find an art instructor whose opinion you value to look at your work, and ask them to be brutally honest! Trying to save your feelings is not good help at this point.

If you're interested in getting your portfolio critiqued by me click here for further information.

3) Take your time. This is not a speed test. The entire portfolio should take you around 2 weeks to complete. Some of the stuff like the 10 life drawings will be from existing work that you've already done from a life drawing class of some sort. If you've never done any life drawing before this point, quite honestly, you will most likely not be accepted. This is not an absolute rule, but it is more than likely. Get to some life drawing classes immediately and get to work.

4) Think when you draw. Some of the goofiest mistakes come from just not thinking about what you're doing when you draw. Pretend the pencil in your hand is a chainsaw. Don't let your hand get out of control. Remember: It's not your hand doing the drawing, it's your brain telling your hand what to do!

5) Don't copy existing artwork or photographs. It is so blatantly obvious when someone does this. It looks stiff and it's wrong. So just don't do it.

6) Things not to submit: drawings of - barbarians, swords and sorcery, demons, flaming skull heads, tattoo art, "dream art" (a favorite high school assignment), anime or manga characters, existing cartoon characters (like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, etc.), any sexist depictions of scantily clad or naked women (this doesn't mean your life drawings can't be of women, it means don't use reference from a Victoria's Secret catalogue, etc.), portraits of family members, including Jimmy Hendrix, Emminem, Alice Cooper, etc. (although a crying Elvis on black velvet could earn you bonus points... just kidding!... no, really, don't do this!) Desperately try to avoid any drawings of: kitty cats, horses and unicorns.

7) Shading, when done properly can really enhance the three dimensional look of your drawings. Shading, when done improperly can really make your drawings look bad. The same thing goes for coloring. Neither shading nor coloring are graded in your portfolio, so it would be better not to do it. For the amount of time that it takes to shade or color a drawing, you could have gone back over your drawing and checked it over for any technical mistakes in perspective, etc. No amount of shading or coloring is going to save a poorly executed drawing.

8) You can use any type of pencil you want to. Some animators use blue colored pencils to do their rough drawings and then clean them up using a black pencil. Life drawings are usually done with a conte pencil or charcoal. Avoid using magic markers as it's too permanent (meaning you can't fix the mistakes without using whiteout) and it makes the lines look like bent wires. This sucks all the life out of the drawing.

9) Most assessors would like to see the rough lines under the finished lines to see your thought process. If you have used different colored pencils in your drawings, just have them color photocopied or scan them using your computer and print out a color copy.

If you want to see some examples of what not to put in as well as some examples of good submissions, and you have a strong stomach,
click here.

What are they grading?
Here are the things I was looking for when I assessed portfolios:

Life Drawing (Part 1)
• an understanding of human anatomy (everything looks like it's in the right place),
• proper proportions of the arms, legs, torso and head,
• structural drawing,
• correct volumes,
• balance,
• a sense of weight (like gravity is acting upon their whole body),
• proper execution in the drawing of the hands and feet (don't leave these half finished or trailing off the page.)
• completed facial features are not mandatory but would be nice.

Perspective (Part 2)
• understanding and proper use of basic rules of perspective, (horizon line, vanishing points, inclined planes, etc.)
• solid, structural drawing,
• attention to detail (drawing what you see),
• spatial relationships (the relative distance between objects)
• proportion

Character Design (Part 3)
• consistent and proper proportions of the arms, legs, torso and head,
• structural drawing,
• correct volumes,
• balance,
• a sense of weight (like gravity is acting upon their whole body),
• emotional attitude of the character
• appropriate body language in pose

Your Favorites (Part 4)
These pieces should show off your strengths. If you are really good at perspective, put in 3 perspective drawings. If you're really good with character design, put in 3 model sheets. If you're good at both, put in 2 of one and one of the other, etc. When I look at these pieces, together with the rest of your portfolio, I should say, "Wow! These are nice. Let's offer this person a position in the program!"

Depending on the type of drawings you send, they will probably be looking for all the same things that were listed for each of the other parts, solid, structural drawing, attention to detail (drawing what you see), spatial relationships (the relative distance between objects), proportion, perspective, weight, and so on.

The Actual Sample Portfolio Requirements (at last)
(These are the requirements that I made up for Seneca College when I was co-ordinating)

Part 1 (Life Drawing)
10 Life drawings
- must show entire body including hands and feet, facial features not absolutely necessary but would be nice.
These should be from an actual life drawing class. The poses should be sustained for at least 10 minutes, no quick gestural drawings. They should be in charcoal or conte. Shading is o.k. so long as it adds to the definition of the muscle structure and overall volume of the character. Limit your drawings to one per page.
4 specific life drawings done for this portfolio of:
1) someone picking something up
2) walking
3) running
4) holding an object

2 drawings of your own hand

Part 2 (Perspective)
5 object drawings
- everyday items from around the house such as a can opener, remote control, stapler, etc. No abstract objects like weird lamps or lumps of clay, etc. No shading on these.

Part 3 (Environmental Perspective)
2 environmental drawings
- draw a two point perspective view of a room in your house from opposing corners of the room (stand in a corner and look across at the opposite corner and draw what you see, then move over to that corner you just drew , turn around and draw the opposite corner.) Make sure the spatial relationships of all the objects remains consistent between the two drawings. Horizon line at 5 feet. (If your room is a mess, clean it up first. Draw a room that has some furniture in it.) No shading on these.

All drawings photocopied on 8 1/2" x 11" paper (NO ORIGINAL ARTWORK PLEASE)
Your portfolio will not be returned to you. After it has been assessed and all positions for the program have been accepted, they will be destroyed.

Do not staple or bind the drawings together in any way, leave them loose. A plastic binder or any type of portfolio casing will not improve your chances - "presentation" is not one of the graded parts of the portfolio.

Be sure only your name and student number (no phone numbers or secret messages) are on the back of each drawing you submit.

On the front, in the upper right hand corner label which part of the portfolio this is from, i.e.: "Part 1A" or "Part 4", etc.

Do not include a cover letter with your artwork that explains how, "Ever since you were a little kid, you've desperately wanted to get into animation."

Send your drawings flat in a 9" x 12" envelope

So, there you go.

Good and Bad Examples

Portfolio Assessments