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Summer Teaching Dispatch: Lark Buckingham and Advanced Digital Animation

Animator David Rippberger starting work on a new cel in the Animation Gallery at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Lark Buckingham, recent BCNM graduate, was selected to teach “Advanced Digital Animation” as a NWMEDIA 90 this past summer. Below, she describes the experience:

It was an honor to teach 2D Digital Animation for BCNM. I find the process of animating movement—breathing life into the inanimate—to be an unbearably satisfying process of creative realization. To teach animation and witness students’ process as they learn to craft a universe for their vision is a deep delight.

The students in the course took to the medium with gusto. Though many were at first intimidated by the software, all worked diligently to acquire technical skills in After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator. We covered a brief history of animation and read key texts from film theory and new media, applying concepts to the unique positioning of animation. Because animation constructs the illusion of life, it also relies heavily on tropes of representation. We looked closely at the dismal history of race, gender and class stereotypes in the animated film. Bell Hooks’ video series “Cultural Literacy and Transformation” was a launching point for many discussions on the politics of representation in pop culture and beyond. The students had an incredible discussion about the villainization of queerness in cartoons, as seen through the queer attributes of Disney villains. Their debate over the gender & race politics of the Lion King was amazing to witness as they confronted the implicit biases and sub-narratives of media that informed their childhood experience.

I was thrilled to show them many of my favorite movies: early abstract animations by Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren, the 1926 cut-out masterpiece “Prince Achmed” by Lotte Reinenger, insane escapades of Betty Boop’s first films by Fleischer Studios, early computer animations by John Whitney and Peter Foldes, the animated films of Sesame Street Animators Karen Aqua, Al Jarnow and Sally Cruikshank, and 21st century art films by Papperrad and Jacolby Satterwhite.

The students’ first project was to create an abstract animation or visual music piece. Their second was a short character animation and their third a class project using rotoscoping and special effects (imagine fire-toting cackling witches hovering in the air and Street Fighter-style fights with flying bananas; the loser of the fight ascended to the heaven with banana-wings). Their final projects reflected their diverse personality and interests. Three students chose to make animations for videogames, including a platformer game about ninja time-shifting, and a parallax scrolling prehistoric landscape boasting a variety of dinosaurs and fireflies. Other projects included a visual dense story of failed chimeras, a stunning account of sleep paralysis, and the tales of an international student from China and the Berkeley elf who stole her cookie.

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