As I came into the Learning Lab one day in early February, I discovered that, like most days, I got to sit in on a shiny new workshop, and this time for a whole new set of permanent programming: AnimationLab. As a tool, animation at the time remained elusive and cool, something only trained artists applied to already stunning character art to create my favorite Disney films or Crash Course videos. Would I be able to wrap my head around the software necessary, or even sketch a passable stick figure for this exercise? Well, when the session wrapped up a few hours later, I found I'd been too hooked on this medium to notice how much time had passed.
Our activity that day was to create a repetitive, gif-like motion sequence. With the pencil and sheets of paper I chose, I set about drawing a 12-frame walk-cycle. True to my Disney roots, I tried for a cute mouse, reasoning that this chubby character's limbs would be more forgiving for a wobbly first attempt. However, as I scoured the internet for a reference and contemplated the way it would move, I realized that everything from my choice of character art to the amount of variation between frames would affect the final product. I needed to get his facial proportions and smile right, but given the inevitable differences that would occur from one sheet of paper to the next, how could I intentionally take advantage of that dynamic to create personality?. Through these 12 frames, I discovered a huge curiosity in dissecting and recreating something as supposedly mundane as a walk pattern. It was the beginning of a journey into discovering the instructive power of programming motion, and truly, we LLUFs soon discovered, animation offers many benefits as a pedagogical tool.
Jordan and Connor's Abominable Snowman
From that very first activity, details emerged as the crucial factor to success. In fact, as our lab leader, Snow Dong, noted, even professional stop-motion animators need an entire day's work just to produce 1-2 seconds of quality content. We discovered using a wood figurine that positioning the legs or the torso's center of gravity was a precise exercise and made the difference between conveying a realistic walk or robotic stumbling. The attention to detail began not only when we actively began to animate, but as we observed the world around us. Before we even put pen to paper, we started with a slow walking exercise, using halting movements and noting our limb positioning from head to toe as we took our two steps.
Drawing skill also did not bar us from animating. On a "field trip" to the common area housed one floor above the Learning Lab, we got to use everyday objects to create characters. We used fans to "blow a person away" and take a seat at a table and had trash cans hold a conversation, all in stopmotion. Animation taught us to engage more with our physical space to see opportunities for creativity, and then using clay, chalk, Ipads, and more to enhance the effects as we become more aware of ways to improve.
Within the classroom, we found many ways to use animation to enhance learning. It is well-known that to motion to the human vision field often signals our attention to focus on it, and while many moving parts can cause confusion, targeted usage of motion and animation in visualizations can enhance the effectiveness of teaching material. What could only be conveyed in person with an instructor pointing out regions of importance could be signalled with a moving arrow and case studies, which often rely on storytelling to convey nuanced meaning, could be further enhanced with animated players (hence the popularity of Crash Course's videos). Creating these animations might usually be seen as extraneous or inaccessible because teachers don't have the tools to easily incorporate this into their slides. However, now with a whole lab dedicated to creating such assets, more possibilities are open and more LLUFs are trained to assist in testing new animation strategies.
In fact, the progression in animation skill among LLUFs has been immense over just these few months. We're now utilizing Adobe's After Effects and Animate to recreate whole sections of professional video and animation, a far-cry from our first walk cycles and testament to the level of skill and diversity of applications possible in animation. At the beginning of this semester, I never thought I'd be able to pull off something so advanced, but through my own Vox Unboxing, I was able to both plan my asset creation strategically and then animate the pieces to replicate a Vox video section on vocal range.
I also saw incredibly cool creations made my fellow LLUFS, including Sofi A.'s Word Snakes and Aliens recreation. Through this process, we not only learned to animate well but to select the most effective tools from the ones we explored earlier in the year, meaning we now had transferrable skills across animation tools and artistic disciplines.
As I did my Vox Unbox, one of my most important takeaways was to learn by being ambitious, whether it was in animation or any other project. We all came in with only hypotheses on even what tools could best accomplish our task and were able to piece together the resources and steps to get a cohesive final product. The leap of progress we made was made possible by a strong foundation and ambitious goal, and exercises like these encourage us to take more creative risks to realize an unexplored frontier and create useful documentation for future classes.
There are so many advanced techniques to learn, and Snow's video playlist offered a lot of inspiration. Now, I find myself contemplating how lineart I make could use line thickness and arrangement to convey flow or the way animated calligraphic paint strokes can convey crowds of people, emotion, or even community culture. This visual language is new and fascinating to me, and I am so glad to have discovered all this via AnimationLab. Reaching that level of skill would go beyond just showing me how to analyze and express what I see but also enable me to encode abstract significance, a really exciting possibility that constantly motivates me to keep learning and collaborating.
A space like the Bok center enables students to experiment and create seriously using unconventional mediums and acts as a strong supplement to the undergraduate experience.