Two years ago, Britton Hill packed her bags and left Georgia College & State University for the sole purpose of studying animation at Augusta University.
While she had been studying graphic design, she felt it just wasn’t a good fit for her.
When Hill learned the Department of Art and Design at Augusta University had launched a new Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in animation in 2019, Hill was one of the first students to apply and get accepted into the program.
After two years of hard work, she will proudly don her cap and gown during the Spring 2021 Commencement on May 13 and become one of the first graduates of animation at Augusta University.
“Little did I know where I would be two years later,” Hill said, laughing. “It’s so surreal, but I’m just very appreciative that Augusta University built this program because I was about to be a graphic designer, which wasn’t my calling. And even though I still do graphic design on the side, I wanted more.
“I always dreamed of being an animator my whole entire life and Augusta University gave me the ability to chase my dream and begin a new journey. So, I’ll never be able to say how grateful I am to the university for giving me this program.”
In 2018, A.B. Osborne, the assistant professor of animation in the Department of Art and Design, was brought to Augusta University to design the animation program from scratch. It wasn’t a simple process, but Osborne made it happen.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with everything we’ve done so far because we started from nothing,” Osborne said. “We got the program set up, ready to go, and the students were ready to jump on board. And even though we’re brand new, we’ve exploded.”
“By next year, we’re going to have so many students that we’ll have to figure out how to teach them all,” Osborne added, chuckling. “It’s going to be packed, but that’s a good problem to have.”
Four more students are expected to graduate in the fall, Osborne said.
“People want to go into animation because they know it’s a good market to wind up in,” Osborne said, adding Atlanta is a hotbed for animation and digital entertainment careers. “There’s a lot of money to be made in this. Now, that’s not me saying everyone is guaranteed to make a lot of money. But if you get really good at one aspect of animation, you can craft a nice living out of it right here in Georgia.”
The animation program at Augusta University is also appealing to many students because it is an affordable option offered at a public university. Many of the other animation programs around the state are offered by much more expensive private colleges such as the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Kelseigh Robinson, 23, began at Augusta University as a computer science major, but quickly learned she wasn’t passionate about going into that field.
“My parents could tell I was going into computer science for them because it was considered ‘stable,’” Robinson said. “But I wasn’t happy.”
Robinson, who is one of five children in her family, had always been attracted to art and animation as a child, but her parents didn’t think it was a viable career.
“Art has always been something that I love and enjoy. It’s been the one thing I felt like I was good at ever since I was little,” said Robinson, adding that she comes from a military family who has lived all around the world including Poland, Washington, Kansas, New York, Alaska, Arizona and Maryland. “Growing up, I was told that you couldn’t make it in art, so I gave up on that for a while.
“But when the animation program was announced here at AU, I was like, ‘I’m going for it. I don’t care what anyone says to me. I’m going to make it happen.’ So, I did it and this is the happiest I have ever been in my life.”
It didn’t take long for her parents to also notice a change in her attitude about her future, Robinson said.
“After about the first semester of the animation course, my parents could see I was actually happy. And animation is actually, to them, a more realistic goal for a career in art,” she said. “So, they’re very excited for me now that I’m actually happy and doing something I want to do.”
Both Hill and Robinson are currently putting together portfolios and applying for jobs. While Robinson would prefer to stay in Georgia after graduation for the time being, Hill hopes to move to Orlando this summer.
“It is going to be tough,” Hill said, adding she couldn’t be closer to her animation cohort. “It makes me really sad to have to leave them because they’re like my best friends here. And it’s just amazing to see how a cohort gets so close with each other. We are 100% a family. When someone is struggling, we’re always there for each other and that has created a very beautiful bond between all of us.”
From the very beginning of the animation courses, Robinson said she felt comfortable with each member of the cohort.
“We all got along from day one. And it’s weird to me, because I’ve never been like that with any sort of group of people,” Robinson said. “We all have different skillsets, but we’re all so encouraging. Honestly, it feels like I made a whole new family in school.”
Having that close interaction and support in class is key in these animation courses, Osborne said.
“The first day of class, it’s always funny because nobody knows each other and everybody is really quiet and I tell them, ‘You might as well get over that phase, because in a couple of weeks you guys are going to be best friends,’” Osborne said, laughing. “And they are. They really do have to operate as a unit. They don’t get to work independently. They collaborate.”
Critiquing each other’s work helps every student in the course grow and build on their skills, Osborne said.
“Your enemies would just pat you on the back and say, ‘Good job.’ But your friends will actually say, ‘I’d fix this and this,’ so you don’t look silly whenever you present it to the world,” he said. “So, they have each other’s backs. They trust each other enough that they can show their work and they’re going to offer input and help them get to that next level. That’s what it’s all about.”
Osborne said he is proud of both of the first graduates in the program because they have grown so much in the past two years.
“When you think of animation, there’s specialists and there’s generalists,” Osborne said. “Generalists wear every single hat. Specialists tend to focus on one thing and get really good at it. Bigger places like Pixar, they need specialists. Smaller companies, that only need a couple of animators, they need generalists. Basically, people who can do everything.”
Robinson describes herself as a 3D generalist, while Hill specializes in digital hair grooming.
“Basically, I create hair for 3D characters or animals using a program called XGen, which is part of Autodesk Maya,” Hill said, explaining that Autodesk Maya is a 3D computer graphics application. “XGen is actually a 3D generating hair software that Disney created, which I have always loved Disney. Well, by using XGen, Disney created hair for characters such as Princess Merida and Rapunzel.”
Each strand of hair must be meticulously placed on each character, Hill said.
“It’s very tedious. It takes me hours and hours and hours to create one hairstyle because I’m really trying to figure out the physics of hair,” she said. “When you look at a hairstyle, you have to decide, what’s the percentage of flyaway hairs? Or what’s the shine on hair? It’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.”
Without Osborne’s leadership and willingness to spend extra time helping students develop their skills, Hill said she wouldn’t have felt confident pursuing a career in animation.
“A.B. was our whole program’s rock,” Hill said. “Without him, I probably would have dropped out of the program two months into it. If Augusta University didn’t have him, it just wouldn’t be the same. I’m very, very grateful that AU hired such an amazing person and amazing teacher.”
Osborne’s professional knowledge in the field ranges from all aspects of the business, including 3D modeling, texturing and lighting, rigging, character performance, rendering, 2D animation, motion graphics and compositing. And he wants each student to try different areas to see where they excel, Hill said.
“I can’t tell you how confident I am in this program,” Hill said. “I’ve never experienced a teacher who has been so involved in the future of their students. A.B. is going to lead so many amazing artists and animators into this field, so I’m very proud to be one of the first graduates of this program. It truly is an honor.”