The classroom and my studio are built upon a common ground of collaboration and mentorship. It is where I find partnerships and direction with new and experienced practitioners. In my classroom, there are no computer scientists and artists, just individuals with a common goal, to find personal expression through collaboration and practice within a creative space. This inspires and fosters new directions for both the student and mentor. My ideal learning environment combines concept and research with technology and craft. Concepts should drive technology and significant time be allocated for research before engaging in any specific medium. The digital world plays an important role in allowing students, individually and collaboratively, to cultivate ideas into complete projects. This is the environment that drives our creative process and allows for various paths that a student may take to pursue each project. This is the foundation that has empowered my students to go on and earn Academy Awards, academic positions, leadership roles in the industry, and creative endeavors that have been exhibited in film festivals nationally and internationally alike.
- Interdisciplinary position between the Arts and Computer Science
- Class room integration of Art and technology
- Student Work exhibited in international and national peer review exhibitions
- Post graduation success, industry positions and major Awards
The Digital Production Arts Masters program (DPA) is unique in that it strives to integrate the arts with technology, and bridges two distinct colleges, Engineering and the Arts, Architecture and the Humanities. I believe this makes DPA a very unique academic program nationally as well as internationally. My position is a similar blend of academic, professional, arts and science that spans between the colleges and university. I am one of the longest serving faculty member in DPA and during my tenure I have seen quite a few challenges from multiple change of leadership, curriculum and program evolution, and the various collaboration through multiple departments and colleges. I have embraced these challenges and strive to push my teaching, research and service at the highest level. I have appreciated the accomplishments we have made during my tenure at Clemson and building DPA into a leading and innovative program that has made a big impact in the professional, academic and artistic world. I have been inspired and take great pride in seeing non-traditional art students find their creative and artistic voices as well as empower traditional artists with the technology to succeed at the next level. My colleagues and peers in the Visual and Performance Arts and Computer Science have help create a great environment for teaching and practicing my craft. I know my position is a unique one and I relish the challenges that come with combining arts and science into one stream with the strengths and resources that come from both colleges and the university.
I have shaped my academic philosophy upon the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Animation program that empowers students to develop independent expression and at the same time, apply these skills to gain employment within a professional studio environment. This was the approach I brought to Sheridan Institute in 2004 where the faculty developed the traditional diploma program (three years) into a four year Bachelor’s degree in Animation. Our main challenge was to strengthen the critical thinking, personal expression, and intellectual development that supports the technical and industry skills that was the hallmark of the program.
Each institution is unique in terms of environment, culture and heritage. Clemson has a long tradition of producing excellent programs and students. Perhaps the greatest challenge being the only animation faculty member that bridges two disciplines, departments, and colleges is that my efforts can only go so far in terms of refining the students interests in animation. It is my hope that we can build a stronger program with more resources to allow for both faculty and students to grow artistically and professionally.
A majority of students in our program have a technical background and so it is essential that they are engaged in critical thinking and concepts that are developed at a deeper intellectual level. These concepts are the foundation for a capstone course I developed where students and faculty engage in developing content in tandem with technology. My goal with each production is to integrate production industry standards with artistic expression that creates a film worthy of artistic exhibition and cultural relevance.
In the fall of 2019, we embarked on project, “Mocking Bird” based on a song written by musical colleague, Mike Cannon. I worked with students and the musician to create an original animation film. This experience allowed the students to interact directly with the musicians for a deeper connection and inspiration. Mocking Bird has since, premiered at the 2019 Mobile Animation Festival, in Alabama and at the Reedy River Film Festival, in Greenville South Carolina where it won for Best Animation. In February of 2020, Mocking Bird, had its west coast premiere in Los Angeles at Jelly Fest, https://www.thejellyfest.com/.
In another capstone project (2016/17), I had the students research and explore the various challenges of the Monarch Butterfly in making their migration from as far north of Canada all the way down to Mexico. Such a delicate creature can withstand harsh element and physically fly over 5000 miles, offered many narrative outlets.
I challenged my students to
- Identify a narrative arc around the Monarch Butterfly within a specific genre.
- Art Design a world and potential characters that reinforce this narrative.
- Develop production methods such as modeling, animation, rigging, vfx, that can evolve into a potential short animation or interactive production.
The audience should be a wide range from primary school classrooms to Earth science, biology and conservation conference and campaigns.
Research into the Monarch can be either: humor, political, environmental, science, educational and drama based. Everyone will have a distinct and diverse portfolio conceptually, visually and technically. But the main theme of education and inspiration to a wide audience is expected. Your concept can be very imaginative but be rooted in some aspect of reality.
Possible challenges that face the Monarch:
- Physical: Climate (Winter), Geological, Technology, Predators
- Environmental: Pesticides, Loss of Habitat, Global Warming
- Political: Corporate Farming, Over Development, Toxic Chemicals
- Emotional: Pathos, Personality, Humanity
In order to fully understand the Monarch I encouraged the students to leave the lab and to immerse themselves into the natural world as well as engage with scholars and scientists in the field to ask questions and establish a dialog to help inspire them back into the lab.
I scheduled visits to the Cherry Entomology Farm and the SC Botanical Butterfly Gardens. Our class went on location to get up close and personal to view the Monarch’s habitat and physically interact with this fascinating creature. Sue Watts, Education Program Coordinator from the South Carolina Botanical Gardens introduced my class around the habitat of Monarchs and the various other species.
We were able to see up close and personal the entire life stage of the Monarch from the caterpillar habitat of the Milkweed plant to the various floral that the butterfly feeds on. Dr. Suellen Pometto, from the Cherry Entomology Farm allowed us to hold and capture high-resolution images the Monarch through the lab’s microscope. Dr. Pometto further shed light on the research efforts of the Farm and how they are tracking the Monarch’s migratory patterns through capture, tagging and releasing the butterflies back into the wild.
- won best 3D animation at Jalloo! International Film Festival in New Brunswick, Canada, the largest film and gaming festival in Atlantic Canada.
- screened at the South Carolina Underground Film Fest Nov 14th 2017,
- Karelian International Film For Youth Festival. Sept 15th 2017 Petrozavodsk, Karelia, RUSSIA
Cristopher Cain, is a professional composer has contributed to many of our DPA group productions (i.e. Flap!). It is through his great sensitivity to the narrative and ability to connect pathos to our animation that our work collectively becomes much stronger. This relationship is another key to the students ability to push concepts to a deeper emotional and intellectual level. This aspect of production is paramount within a degree of the Fine Arts and it is an opportunity I strive for my students to comprehend and incorporate in every aspect of their course work. I have been proud to have student films that were worthy of exhibitions and win various awards like Best Animation at the Charleston International Film Festival.
ART 8210 Visual Narrative
Before students can progress into a higher level of courses, it is critical they have a foundation rooted in visual narrative. I developed such a course, ART 8210 Visual Narrative, where students are engaged in a cinematic world where authorship and independent directed projects are developed. This course develops a student’s graphic skills into a comprehensive cinematic language that enables them to express individual concepts and ideas within a sequential narrative format. Students gain a better understanding of these concepts through the discussion and dissection of literary, cinematic, and theatrical works. The structure of the course includes screenings, assigned readings, presentations of professionals in filmmaking or related fields and various research and writing assignments. Students are required to do visual research and design to support their cinematic vision and overall artistic direction. The final project (a story reel) reflects all levels of the course work and screened within a theatrical venue.
This course originated during my tenure (2004 to 2007, 2011) at Sheridan Institute’s Animation Program in Ontario, Canada. Sheridan’s Bachelors of Arts and Animation was a degree I helped developed which led to my current course Art 8210 where students developed the foundation for story and visual narrative. In the spring of 2019, two of my former Sheridan students, Domee Shi (2007-11), and Trevor Jimenez (2004-07), were nominated for Academy Awards in the Animated Short Film category. Ms. Shi won the Oscar for her short animation film “Bao”.
External mentors play a big role in inspiring my students as I feel it is important they have opportunities to engage and interact with artists from various backgrounds. I invited South Carolina Heritage Award winning musicians Steve McGaha and Greg Barfield to engage my students in folk tales through traditional upstate music.
In addition to performing traditional folk songs, Steve and Greg, shed light into the origins and how songs were adapted and changed from generation to generation. My students developed character designs and story ideas by sketching the performances and were able to engage with the artists about the meaning and concepts behind the music.
In the spring of 2018, I welcomed songwriter and performer, Ted Handley into our class room to inspire and discuss the style of classical and Spanish guitar. Mr. Handley gave depth to a project that was based upon Picasso’s Blue Man.
Character Animation and Pathos
Most of my students come from a technical background and may have great proficiencies with a computer, but may have a hard time understanding emotions and how to express them visually. The first day of my 3D animation course, I introduce them to “Pathos” and how it connects to Character Animation with the original Disney Animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. We discuss pathos each class and with each assignment, students are asked how can they make an emotional connection with their character. Since this is the only character animation course offered, students get a limited opportunity to understand acting and how to emote through animation. I strip away all the complexity of character design and have them focus on the bare essentials to allow them to tackle personality and emotion through the spine, hips and limbs. I introduce the Flour Sack and Woody Figure, without facial features and within simple shapes that allows the students to grasp the basic fundamentals of Character Animation.
2D Animation and Directed Studies:
Animation has evolved into a dynamic art form with numerous directions of genres, styles and techniques. I offer a 2D animation course that surveys the different aspects of this medium through various techniques including fine art, graphic design, and figurative animation.
2D animation tends to be less dependent on technical software and allows the creator more visual freedom. It is more dependent on the foundation of art and design and demands more from a student in terms of drawing, painting and composition. I have students explore animation through the lens of fine arts and music.
2D Gaming and Animation
I had various students take a course with me that integrated 2D gaming that corresponded with Dr. Brian Malloy’s game engine course. This directed studies allowed students the opportunity to study character animation as well as develop conceptual and visual elements that were incorporated into a playable game. Students were able to synthesize learning from both courses to develop projects at a higher level intellectually, technically and visually.
During the spring semester of 2019, we had a unique opportunity to correspond with a special exhibition of Andy Warhol at the Lee Gallery, located on campus in Lee Hall. I decided to integrate Andy Warhol into my 2D Animation course that semester and had my students, many who were computer science majors, make a visit to not only learn more about the artist, but to engage with our gallery director, Denise Woodward-Detrich, and various student and faculty from within the visual arts program. This was a great opportunity for everyone to build deeper connections between both programs and colleges.
I tied the Warhol exhibit with an animation assignment based on the self portrait. I had students do research and develop an animation based on the iconic meaning of self.
The Digital Production Arts program offers a Masters of Fine Arts, so it is critical that the Thesis component adheres to the standards within our college, university and external accreditation bodies. Through my mentorship, I have ensured that students are engaged at the highest intellectual level in critical thinking, artistic expression and conceptual development. One particular case in example is Karl Jahnke who graduated in the spring 0f 2016. Through Karl’s thesis, we explored and developed it through independent animation film, “Look The Other Way”, about the impending challenges of climate change.
I worked with Karl to ensure that his artistic voice and personal expression were emphasized with a foundation in context, conceptual development and art direction. The Artist statement is the focal point and with all my graduate students, this is the most important stage in the thesis as it is the foundation that guides research, content, and production. Mr Jahnke’s Thesis film has been accepted into various film festivals:
- Earth Day Film Festival (international)
- Cross Connections (international), Blue Plum Animation Festival (national)
- Film One Fest (international)
- ANNY- Animation Nights New York (international)
This is a critical component of the MFA degree as it is vital that students have creative outlets for self expression and career paths that lead to other opportunities like academic and creative positions. Through my tutelage and guidance I believe Karl has paved the way for other students to embark on this journey.
Paul Debaun, VR Project
In addition to traditional film projects, I have students who wish to push their narrative into new realms. Virtual Reality is one aspect that my students find a great platform to use animation and visual narrative to express unique projects.
Journey to Proxima Centauri is an immersive VR experience where the user takes on the role of a special operative sent to uncover the mystery of the missing androids. The experience design is inspired by Disney Imagineering, and the experience story is inspired by the early 20th century adventures of Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic journey. We explore what it means to be human and what the value of life is. The production of this experience spanned over 9 months and involved the talents of 18 people. The experience was built in Unreal Engine and uses a custom designed motion platform.
I worked with Paul to push the art direction and to look deeper into Art History to better contextualize his vision. I also stressed that the Artist Statement is critical to guide his technical and production practice.
We started to discuss the ethical and moral dilemmas that a participant may face when they engage in the VR project.
Humanity is quickly reaching a distinct moment of change in what our deﬁnition of “human” will actually mean. As virtual assistants advance to higher levels, our society will experience the emotional and physical evolution of artiﬁcial intelligence-driven devices moving towards a more humanlike form. We will soon face ethical challenges in deciding what characteristics constitute a life form as human. I believe that artiﬁcial intelligences must be given the same rights that we give ourselves. This change in thinking will be slow and painful, as all past civil rights movements have been, but it is unavoidable. It is essential that we introduce the concept of artiﬁcial intelligences as life forms of human value as soon as possible to help society address this transition as smoothly as possible.
This project is entitled Journey to Proxima Centauri: Terror of the Mnar. The experience is an ethical journey for the user. The topic addressed by the narrative is the value of artiﬁcial life. In the story, the humans send sentient androids into dangerous situations without a giving a second thought to their safety, as if they are totally expendable. The artiﬁcial lives of the androids are ascribed to have no value beyond their utility. The story highlights this by putting the user in the shoes of an android that is seen as less than human, which forces the user to question the value assumptions of the humans. The journey to understanding and empathizing with these androids leads the user to conclude that the humans are less human – lacking the capacity to care or empathize – than the androids in this scenario.
Performing Arts Collaboration
One of the longest academic relationships I have had at Clemson is with my colleague within the Performing Arts, Associate Professor, Tony Penna. We have worked together closely within courses like the capstone DPA 8600, and welcoming my students into the theatrical productions at the Brooks Performance Hall. With one particular production, “She Loves Me”
Tony gave my students access to sketch the acting and stage design during the dress rehearsal performance. This is a critical learning opportunity as it opens up my students many of who have not been exposed to the liberal arts. This opportunity allows them to understand important concepts that deal with emotion, pathos, and narrative. This is at the core of my teaching and it is important that students adventure out of the computer lab and immerse themselves into the art environment. The dress rehearsal allows the students to sketch and move around the theatre without infringing on audiences during a normal performance. Through Professor Penna and my collaboration and efforts, we are able to offer students this important learning environment.
HAIDA GWAII visit and animation workshop.
In the spring of 2016, I held an Animation/Story work shop for the Haida Gwaii Film Festival in Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands which is located not far from Ketchikan, Alaska. The workshop revolved around this dynamic environment of the Pacific Northwest with towering rock formations, dramatic coastlines with huge Cedars and the art and culture of the Haida Nation through their carvings of totems and canoes. Animation can embrace the dynamic changes of climate and weather conditions of this particular region is known for. We worked with color pencils and each participant contributed their own unique interpretation of Pillar Rock.
From Animation we discussed story and focused on the folktales and the cultural origins of myths and fables. Using Pillar Rock as a starting point, participants were asked to create a folktale that helps explain the origin of how the tree grew on top of these massive rocks.
The rest of the participants work can be seen on this link…
Haida Cultural Center Spirit Lake Haida Museum.
Student Post Graduation Achievements
The main emphasis of my teaching is to inspire and develop a student’s creative intellect with a deeper awareness of the arts and humanities. I believe it is impossible to integrate professional development and apply what they have learned into a professional path into all types of careers whether they may be Academic, Film, Interactive or entrepreneurial. During my tenure at Clemson and Sheridan, I am always inspired by the paths each student takes after they leave the class room. There are far too many to list but I wanted to highlight students that encompass a wide scope from the creative and technical and those who embark on independent and starting new businesses.
Anderson Plays It Forward, July 2019
Illustration, Graphic Design and Performance
“The mission of Anderson Plays it Forward is to make music, music education and musician mentorship accessible equally and to everyone.” Conceived in 2017 by Carolina Bauernhaus Co-Founder David Thornton and New Time Travelers Studio Founder Mike Cannon
An ever-growing community of musicians founded in 2017 around the weekly Open Mic Night at Carolina Bauernhaus Brewery and Winery in Downtown Anderson, South Carolina. The mission was to promote the collaborative and creative forces in our community by showing the vast span of talent from area musicians, each offering up an original tune recorded at Time Travelers Studios in Townville, SC. All proceeds from sale of the C.D. will be Played Forward to music scholarships in Anderson, SC. Supporting partners include Carolina Bauernhaus Brewery and Winery, Time Travelers Studios, Sounds of Carolina Music Academy and The Guitar Shop.
Hagood Mill Heritage Site, Pickens SC
Illustration for Story Telling Festival, Kids Fest, Site Map, South Carolina State Fiddling Competition.
York/Durham Regional Fingerstyle Guitar Association, Stouffville Ontario, Canada. Promotion and Host Events, Assist in setting up and breaking down PA systems.