IAP – Teaching Animation

Early this year I was offered the opportunity to teach animation over IAP by the MIT Student Art Association. IAP, or Independent Activities Period, is a special four week term at MIT that runs from the first week of January until the end of the month. The class would consist of three weekly sessions of three hours each, and I was required to start teaching right away.

Originally, I was asked to teach a software based 3D computer animation class, but I preferred to forget about computer software and approach animation from a more general perspective. I think learning animation is more exciting -and useful- than learning how to use a computer program. The most sophisticated animation software in history doesn’t help to become a good animator, but a basic set of animation skills can easily be applied across a broad number of mediums.

My first challenge was to find a way to remain entertaining for 3 whole hours. I summoned my favorite moments from Frank Espinosa’s teaching—here at MIT—and from when I studied animation at VFS, including a copy of the classic Illusion of Life by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

Having talked about some basics and history of animation over the first session, I needed to outline some kind of program that could be run as a workshop over the remaining couple of sessions. My purpose was to help the students produce simple animations from scratch to completion over a 3 hour interval, and use the results to start a discussion on storytelling, timing, and animation.

After being introduced to Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind Protocol, where he describes a program for people to produce amateur movies over an amount of time similar to what I had in mind, I adapted his approach to design a number of animation recipes, hoping to help the students focus on a range simple enough to conceive a situation and animate it in a short amount of time.

In the end, Computers and digital cameras played an important role in facilitating a quick way to test and screen the animations, but the use of editing or animation software was avoided. I wanted motion to be controlled by adding and removing frames by hand, so that none of the thinking during the animation process could be delegated to the computer.

The following pictures are frames from a Stop-Motion animation created last Sunday by Vvva and Lezno PlaK using a tatami mat, a broomstick, a hand cut banana peel, a hand crafted paper robot, and a Motorola Razr cellphone camera to capture each frame. The recipe they followed required them to create a biped character, and think about a situation where the character would walk until an external force stopped it.

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