Hi guys,

I need some help and advice on what to do/ where to go next. (Hope this is the right place to ask this...)

TL; DR version:
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Recent grad has tried to teach self character animation and software; needs more education and experience to become proficient in Flash, After Effects, Maya, Character Animation to be hired by a studio. What to do? Where to go next? Advice? Suggestions? THANKS!

I graduated from a four year art school a little more than 2 years ago. The college I attended, their animation program was new at the time so, did not properly teach Flash, Maya, or After Effects. Also, didn't cover character animation. In that time, I've worked on a couple freelance projects and mostly spent time trying to fill in the gaps my education left. I used what I could find on YouTube and on Lynda.com. But a video only helps so much. For instance, it doesn't give feedback.

I feel I've improved, but I still have a ways to go. I can get around in Flash (my strongest program outside of PS or Premiere/ Final Cut) but the idea of puppets still baffles me, at this time I’m unable to use them properly. No one has shown or taught me how. When I use Flash it’s usually a combination of symbols (for the head, mouths, etc) and frame by frame (for everything else). Correct me if I'm wrong, but in my experience that’s not what small studios are looking for.

What I hope to do is work for a studio on 2D character animation shows or commercials animating in Flash, Toon Boom, or After Effects. But, I am open to using 3D as well, though not my first choice. (I still need to become more adept at modeling, rigging, and skinning.)

So, I'm wondering if you have some words of wisdom for an aspiring character animator. Are there any other websites, workshops, programs, brick and mortar schools, or anything that can help me? Cal Arts and RISD are the only other institutions I know of. Do I go to grad school? Or do I start from square one and go through a 4 year program again? In a perfect world, it would be nice if it wasn't too expensive since I already have student loans and am in debt.

I’m at the end of my rope and I don't know who else to ask or where else to go. Please any help you can give is greatly appreciated! (And if you lasted this long I thank you so much for your time!! Honestly, I can't thank you enough!)