Sunday, January 31, 2010

Animation, at The Cinema School

This winter I had a unique opportunity to help spearhead an animation program in the New York Public School system, working with the talented and hard-working staff of the Ghetto Film School . Our job was to design a six-week curriculum on the history, techniques, and current industry of animation for the pioneering freshman class at a brand new high school in the Bronx called The Cinema School. This program would be an interruption of the students' normal course of liberal arts studies, and for the six weeks of this "Mid-Winter Institute", they would be screening animation, learning animation approaches, hearing visiting guest animators, and going on field trips to New York animation studios and places of learning.

Technically speaking, the students learned the stop-motion animation techniques of moving objects, claymation, and silhouette puppets. They also learned sequential drawing (working with light boxes) and Adobe Flash animation. While learning these technical approaches, students took classes in storytelling, where they learned methods and approaches which they then applied to writing a short script for their final pieces. They also screened short films, short animations, and feature animations and practiced film analysis. They also had a slew of guest speakers, from animators to storyboard artists, to writers, directors and producers. We also schlepped the students to New York City animation studios and museums.

To keep this from being too much fun, we had pop-quizzes, written assignments, and grades for all of the animation projects accomplished during this institute. At the beginning of the six weeks, students were each given a notebook in which to draw and take notes, and these notebooks were corralled at the end of each week for inspection and grading. Finally, the students were expected to create their own dialogue-less short, using the animation approach (stop motion or Flash) of their choice, following their own script.

As this was the inaugural Mid-Winter Institute, animation was chosen as a way to familiarize the students in this 4-year high school with aspects of film making that they can then apply to future curriculum work creating live-action film. (My hope is that some of them will have loved animation so much that they will want to continue to approach their film making using animation down the road.)

Why I am writing about this on my blog is that this program was completely inspiring to me. I was inspired by the innovative, focused, and tireless Ghetto Film School colleagues with whom I taught, I was inspired by the Cinema School and staff for being there, up and running, I was inspired by the students, who engaged in creating characters, stories and animation (which is hard work), and I was inspired by the many fine contributors to the program who either came to speak, who let us visit at their studios, or who supported the program through funding, interest and/or love.

I would love to share photographs of the students in the process of animating, or their great drawings/puppets/claymation figures, or the many inspiring guest speakers (John Canemaker, George Griffin, Frank Mouris, Signe Baumane, Jeff Scher, Norma Toraya, Ian Jones, J.J. Sedelmaier, Eddie Gamarra, Doug Vitarelli, Dave Levy, Linda Simensky...), or the studio visits (to Curious Pictures, Funny Garbage, Little Airplane, NYU Tisch, Weiden and Kennedy, the Museum of the Moving Image, MoMA's Tim Burton Show). It was a whirl wind of a lot of people of all ages putting their energy into learning and teaching animation and its accompanying lessons. Within the context of a public-school curriculum, this was deeply affirming to the value of Animation as a practice, a story-telling medium, and an industry.