A lesson in the magic behind animation

The art of animation proves to be more difficult than it looks, especially in Temple’s Animation Workshop.

AveryMaeherAs the clock ticked on into the early hours of the morning, the pile of crumbled up pieces of index cards grew larger and larger.

After a long production day at The Temple News last spring, I sat on the edge of my rolling chair inside of my closet-sized bedroom – not writing, but drawing. The assignment was to produce a series of illustrations showing a “monster” walking across the sheet.

All I could think about, as my version of a monster failed to make it past his first step, was, “I’ve made a colossal mistake.”

I was in the midst of Temple’s Animation Workshop, a graduate-level class taught by longtime film and media arts professor Warren Bass. I decided to enroll in the course while reminiscing on my childhood, when my family watched Disney movies like “Peter Pan” and “The Lion King” on a daily basis. I knew the class would be challenging, but never envisioned it would be this difficult.

But by the end of the semester, I had a newfound appreciation for the art form of animation – especially at the independent level. We studied the work of animators like Norman McLaren, Chuck Jones, George Dunning, among others. I even produced a few – very brief – pieces of hand-drawn and computer animations.

Bass, whose work often consists of documentaries about social issues, said he sometimes goes to animation as a relief from the more serious topics he covers. He teaches the course every second year, and enjoys seeing what his students are able to accomplish in the course of just a few weeks or months.

“Part of the aesthetics of animation is the excitement of seeing graphic forms move,” Bass said. “It’s almost like how there can be an excitement about dance or something else.”

“I think [the class] is a lot of fun,” he added.

The workshop requires students to continuously work on a final project that’s around a minute long – so students who are interested in making a traditional animation may need to produce close to or more than 1,000 drawings, depending on what techniques they use.

Senior FMA major Caitlin Frain, who is currently participating in Temple’s Study Away Los Angeles program, said she took the class because she hopes to one day write animated films. Although she said the course was rigorous, she enjoyed learning more about the field she one day hopes to be a part of.

“I’ve always considered myself creative and an artist, when it comes to drawing by hand,” Frain said. “So it was a rewarding experience. There was a high effort and high reward.”

The rewarding aspect that Frain is referring to is why, by the end of the semester, I was glad I decided to take the class. Through all of the crumpled up drawings, the broken pencil tips and the late-nights pondering whether my over-ambitiousness had gotten the better of me, Bass’ teachings were among the most worthwhile I have experienced at this school.

When it came time to finally watch the monster assignment up on the big screen of the classroom in the basement of Annenberg Hall, I was afraid to watch. Bass would collect our drawings on the due date, and then string them together on a computer and screen them all for us the following week. So I hadn’t the slightest clue of whether the monster would walk across the screen, or appear as some sort of jumbled mess. My best hope, I thought, was for the class to find it funny. I tried to animate a bumblebee flying across the screen, which was supposed to land in the monster’s mouth as his expression changed from angry to perplexed. Would it work, though?

The clips were all shown consecutively, and when mine cued, I closed my eyes. But then, by some miracle, I heard laughter. My classmates did find it funny. So the second time it played, I watched. The crudely drawn monster’s walk was by no means perfect, but there was no denying that he made it across the screen and ate that bee whole.

The monster had made it, and so had I.

Avery Maehrer can be reached at avery.maehrer@temple.edu

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