Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Animation 101: Five Teaching Tools for all the Prof's out there..

Being a teacher is particularly challenging to me due to the fact that I'm self taught. I'm currently professor of Animation at New York University Graduate program in Singapore. Here's a few tools I've used this past year.. Enjoy! Please comment to add your own methods of teaching, or how you would like to be instructed.. all are welcome. There really is not such thing as "Teaching" anyway.. it's more like "Revealing to others" if you ask me.

(Above) Patrick and NYU Grad Student David Huang
during "Drawing in Motion" class on the beach in Sentosa Island.

1. Get the hell out of the classroom.
That's right. Have class outside. Even a computer class can be mobile these days. Artists are too often chained to their desks, blow the dust off that sketchbook or grab some lap tops and have class in the sunshine, or even the beach (easy for me to say since I teach on the equator). I think it's important to go where reality is, if we are to observe and represent it within our art. Perhaps the best thing about getting out of the classroom is getting away from the internet.

2. Real time animation demos using the cintiq and flash.
My favorite thing about flash is instant playback. When teaching a class how to do a particular walk, why not animate directly before their eyes and hit play? it's one thing to talk about how to do it, and another thing to SHOW how to do it.
(Above) Revising a students animation via dry erase board and projector.

3. Move the dry erase board in front of the projector.
When viewing students work on the screen, move the dry erase board so it projects onto it. Now you can pause films, revise poses, suggest things, etc. For example, there's nothing like mapping the arcs (or lack thereof) of a joint or a hand onto the board, totally revealing the path of that joint and any problems that may exist. It's also excellent for cropping/suggesting a different field size.

Above, sketches from "Pull", my latest film that
I'm doing along side Tisch Aisa Thesis students.

4. Make a film along with your thesis class.
Making a thesis film is one of the most difficult things your students will ever do.. and it helps when the professor is struggling through the same steps. I like to stay about a week ahead of the class so I can show them exactly what the next assignment is (ie a rough storyboard) and how it should look and be presented.

(Above) NYU Grad Student Maryellen Atkins tapes a peg bar onto a white screen to convert a $3k cintiq into a simple light box;)

5. Use the Cintiq as a traditional light box for drawn animation.
Oh the IRONY! You're lucky to find any animation tables or light boxes at the technology happy modern university of today. Who needs a light table when you have Cintiqs! Just tape a plastic peg bar to the bottom, set your desktop to blank white (nice and bright!) and you're in business! This also saves the school space and money;)


  1. Cintiqs are a life saver. When I first used one, it speed up my progress in Flash faster than I could imagine. The difficulty of using a wacom tablet is the lack of control you have over the immediate drawing.

    Having only one class with you one semester, Pat, I wonder if it would have made a difference to actually animate in class (Pratt didn't add cintiqs until after we left). And I like the idea of animators observing things outdoors. The only media classes I took that involved outdoors were Experimental Animation (pixelation) and Video.

    By the time of thesis, I would suggest asking the students to figure out what paper can do that the computer can't, and vice versa. But that's just my opinion. I'm not a teacher.

  2. Interesting techniques patrick! I especially like the idea of putting the dry erase board in front of a projector, that could prove very useful.. it reminds me of something Brad Bird developed while working on Incredibles, the ability to draw on top of images to make suggestions.

    Emmett, it seems to me that paper can do a lot of things the computer can't, just like any other medium, each has it's many specific qualities.

  3. I like the dry erase bored idea too... very cool!

  4. In an era when higher ed is too often being controlled by committees and boards and so many aspects of teaching is being mandated - it is often a challenge to get the heart of what the subject and process is all about. Contrast to many many institutions where teaching button-pushing and software primarily is the focus to get them out in the workforce fast, only to have them stagnate creatively and conceptually - I've found, thankfully, opportunities to free up the students restrictions and let them explore. In short, the less restrictions, the more they feel challenged and the more often they rise to meet the challenge. Yes, there are always those that bomb and resent the "laidback" approach, but sorry for them. This, after years of being micromanaged, I've found to improve student and teacher morale, energy and products!

  5. scribblejunkies' Animation 101: cheapest animation college ever, nuf said.

  6. We have a whiteboard behind our projector screen. A groan goes up from the student showing his/her work when I retract the screen to draw on the whiteboard. Usually means there's a significant issue with the shot.

  7. Thanks for such good compilation of suggestions for teachers.

    I guess I should blog about this also. I loved the most is first one : Get the hell out of your class.

    Its very essential for CG artists who spends most of their time in front of the computers !

  8. Ha ! I do the same thing with my 21" UX Cintiq (that is, taping a peg bar to it and using the Cintiq as a light box) . It does save space and since the Cintiq rotates it's just like using a traditional animation disc.

    The only thing I'd caution anyone wanting to try this is to NOT draw directly on the Cintiq screen because it could get scratched. I put a thin layer of clear plexiglass (1/8" thick) over the surface of the Cintiq when I want to use it as a light box. The plexiglas is held on with velcro straps that come off the top of the plexiglass sheet and attach to corresponding velcro tabs on the back of the Cintiq (at the top corners of the back). Flat metal peg bar from Cartoon Colour Co. is taped down on the plexiglass sheet. I can attach it or remove it in a few seconds, thus converting the Cintiq to a traditional animation light box when needed.

  9. I've been teaching classical skills using Flash and tablets since 1999 and it's a better teaching tool than it is a production tool! Much faster than doing a bunch of mini-demos at the animation table or using video. It's also a great way to introduce concepts like walks and dialogue because you can have the students at their workstations key out the animation with you as you go over the procedure.

    For the last two years we've had a lab of Cintiqs and I use TVPaint animation software (Mr. Nethery knows all about that!) rather than a white board so I can draw over, erase, move and re-time student animations in an instant and play it back for the class. Students shoot their paper-based drawings into TVPaint. (we switch between paper and digital animation depending on the project). Teaching classical procedures with TV Paint is easy because it emulates the traditional process.

    SoDak, you're so right about the problem of schools focusing on teaching software. Our instructors utilize Camtasia screen capture software to make short, specific tutorials of so that students can learn software on their own time and that keeps us focused on the real content of each class. I've even made short videos to send to students who email me outside class with questions.

  10. CapU Lifer, I like the Camtasia idea. I actually use some tutorials that the students can view outside of class time for Flash instruction. Lynda gives them a special deal for the semester, and I get to spend more time in class teaching creativity.