Classical Animation Curriculum

Term 1 Course Descriptions

Animators breathe life into characters and make them come alive on screen. Regardless of the medium used, the animation principles required to make characters believable are the same. With a focus on traditional, hand-drawn character animation, students learn key industry terminology and practice production procedures including how keys, breakdowns, and in-betweens, all combine to make fluid action. In interactive lectures and hands-on exercises, instructors stress basic principles as students explore squash and stretch, anticipation and settle, the wave principle, and overlapping action. Students also have the opportunity to develop skills in clean-up, the technique of producing a polished drawing from a rough animation.

An animated production often requires many animators to bring just one character to life, but the character has to look and act consistent. This is achieved by a set of “model sheets” created by the character design department. Besides a solid drawing ability, a character designer relies on knowledge of design aesthetics, composition, and how the character will animate. This course covers fundamental character design principles, professional techniques and procedures, and terms used in the creation of characters and model sheets. Following an introduction and examples of various types of model sheets and their uses, students study the various disciplines of character design, including the importance of the 3/4 pose, the use of different proportions to create a stereotype, character analysis, developing complementary and contrasting characters, and exploring different character designs and styles. Students apply the various techniques to create concept drawings which can be used for their Final Film Project.

An artist is a visual communicator and requires a thorough understanding of the dynamics of composition. This course takes students through a series of assignments that range from the deceptively simple to the increasingly challenging. Students study and apply principles of composition and perspective such as the principle of threes, placement properties in positioning, line and movement, depth of field for clarity and impact, spatial relations of surface division, subliminal lead flow, and direction of lines.

It’s often said that you can’t know where you are going until you know where you’ve been and this is especially true for the ever changing animation industry. In this course, you will develop an understanding of animation in its historical context. Discover the pioneers, innovators, adapters, and the followers of animation as they explored the limits of this evolving art form. Examine the major events in animation to understand how trends, technological advancements as well as stylistic and cultural developments affect the industry. Lessons include lectures and the examination of milestone cartoons followed by discussions.

Life drawing is the backbone of any art-related field, and animation is no exception. Regular practice at life drawing improves artistic performance in all stages of animation production. Through gesture drawing students gain an opportunity to further their animation skills by focusing on what’s most important in the pose. Basic anatomy is the focus, along with exploring different elements of the human body and how they relate to each other. Students also discuss and practice additional techniques for improving proportions and simplifying gesture lines.

Understanding perspective is essential in order for any artist to draw dimensionally. This applies not only to drawing backgrounds but placing characters within those backgrounds. This course covers principles that range from the basic, traditional perspective to the more complex as it pertains specifically to animation. Students learn one-, two-, and three-point perspective, grids, three-point curved perspective, 360° rotation, and shadow perspective.

The Career Prep track is a workshop series delivered in 3-hour segments from Term 1 through 6. The key topics are intended to equip students with essential skillsets for pursuing employment in their industry and position of choice. Students will explore their preferred career paths, understand the importance of networking and social media, begin creating their web "brand," produce Industry-specific cover letters and resumes, as well as examine strategies for nailing the perfect job interview. Attendance is mandatory, and students will be evaluated based on attendance of workshops.

Term 2 Course Descriptions

Students continue exploring forms of movement that range from technical to highly exaggerated. They learn to solve problems involved with rotating a character in three-dimensional space and are introduced to “explosion” timing. This includes practicing the techniques required for both the two-legged and four-legged walk, including the calculation of foot slip and arm and leg patterns. The importance of being able to animate a good character walk cannot be overstated, and is always considered a valuable addition to a demo reel.

The look and setting of an animated production can take the viewer away to fantastic, imaginary places. Setting the tone for a cartoon world requires the skills of the background designer. This course covers the fundamental principles of background design, exploring a variety of graphic design styles. Students learn the terminology used in this aspect of production and the difference between design and layout. They discover how to match an existing design style and create an environment that establishes the identity of a character. Through the development of thumbnail sketches, students piece together a location from storyboard panels.

This course builds upon the subject matter learned in Character Design 1. Students analyze design styles of given materials to see how elements of that world are constructed and apply that knowledge to create prop designs. Using a mirror to study their own expressions, students create expression sheets for their characters. They learn the importance of a construction map, character rotations, and full-body gestures. The remainder of the course is devoted to creating a production model pack – a series of drawings showing their Final Film Project characters in various poses and expressions.

Just as the classical animation course centres on character action, the Effects Animation 1 course concentrates on animating the environment – features such as fire, smoke, water, and bubbles. Natural elements have their own physical laws to guide their actions and consequently require a unique discipline of their own. Students study natural laws through the use of stop-frame examples and put these techniques to use on their assignments. They apply the correct principles to perform animation tasks such as flame and smoke, water drop, explosion, bubbles, curtains, pixie dust, and water bucket.

Throughout the entertainment industry, storyboards and animatics form a blueprint that previsualizes and directs all aspects of a production. Before production begins, a storyboard is created to visually tell how the events will unfold in a film, whether it is animation or live-action. Often one of the most challenging yet creative roles in a production, storyboarding draws upon one’s skills as a storyteller, actor, director, and artist. This course builds students' skills step by step – from the creation of basic storyboards and animatics through to advanced directing techniques of storytelling, action blocking, camera work, lighting, sound design, and editing. Using state of the art technology, students create industry-quality digital storyboards and animatics. They apply knowledge gained from lectures, hands-on exercises, and assignments as well as access to the expertise of industry professionals.

After a storyboard is complete but before animation begins, the stage must be set for the scene to take place. This is the job of the layout artist. This course focuses on fundamental layout principles, ranging from basic to complex. Following an explanation of the role of layout in animation, students are introduced to the procedures, techniques, and terminology encountered in this aspect of production. They learn how to create layouts for the establishing shot, the repeating (or hook-up) pan, and the vertical pan. Students learn how to break down a storyboard sequence and create multi-level scenes. They also delve into topics such as animated backgrounds, warped perspective, and soft focus layouts.

Term 3 Course Descriptions

This course builds upon the subject matter covered in Animation 2. Students learn the importance of timing and posing, as well as “stagger timing” in simulating the properties of weight, force, and inertia. They also explore reaction and gag timing as well as the pros and cons of animating in silhouette. Time out animation and body posing reinforce character believability, which students demonstrate by breaking down a complex set of actions using strong posing and clear staging.

This course builds upon the subject matter learned in Animation Assisting 1. Students work on an actual studio assisting test scene, learning techniques such as re-pegging rough keys, using under colour, erasing back colour line, and putting a final line on top of a rough colour line. They also learn about the various pencils used for clean-up.

Colour is often an overlooked, underestimated, and misunderstood basic element of visual design. This is usually due to a number of factors: limitless possibilities, seeing colour as an afterthought, and over-simplification of colour schemes. The aim of this course is to break down the complexities of colour theory into basic elements within the greater context of design. Instructors build upon the importance of colour in design and guide students through more sophisticated approaches to colour mixing in lectures, examples, discussion, and – most importantly – practical application. Outcomes include a basic understanding of colour theory and corresponding terminology, which students can use to analyze, reference, and create their own colour schemes. With continued exploration of these powerful tools, they begin to create personal colour “signatures” that give their work confidence and power.

A continuation of study from Term 2. This course introduces students to more complex techniques and subject matter, progressing their skills to the next level of study.

A continuation of study from Term 2. This course is designed to assist students with their Final Film Project storyboard.

In this course, students focus on the basic concepts of telling a complete short story in an efficient and compelling way.

Additional Sessions (Non-Credit)

Students in this course build a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of Toon Boom software so they can better plan their film projects before they enter Digital Ink and Paint (DIP).

Students are provided with feedback and direction for colour choices in the early stages of their Final Film Projects.

Term 4 Course Descriptions

Nothing communicates personality better than dialogue. Putting a voice to an animated character gives it a dimension and believability that can’t be achieved any other way. Following an exercise in basic lip sync, students proceed with planning, thumbnailing and animating a character to prerecorded dialogue. Being able to make a character act appropriately to dialogue is vital to one’s skill set as an animator. Students receive one-to-one feedback from instructors and their animation is graded on the strength of the posing, expressions, and timing.

Now that students have learned the basic elements that go into making an animated film, they focus this knowledge and create their Final Film Projects. From initial concept to finished film, this process encompasses the entire production process and results in projects approximately 90 seconds in length. Students are solely responsible for creating storyboards, layouts, character and background designs, rough and clean animations, ink and paint, and sound. This course continues through Term 5. Films are not censored, though instructors strongly encourage tasteful content in order to strengthen each student's final portfolio. All completed films are compiled into a class showreel to be screened at graduation. Whenever possible, VFS selects the best student projects to enter into competitions and festivals.

Layout is revisited to recap and reapply knowledge from courses taken in Terms 1 and 2.

This course is designed to inform students how to produce better Leica reels.

Students learn how to breakdown pre-recorded dialogue and how to write it out on exposure sheets.

Term 5 Course Descriptions

Computers have dramatically transformed how animators perform traditional tasks. Rendering and post-production are the roles in traditional animation production that have been most altered by digital technology. Students are trained in Toon Boom’s state-of-the-art Opus software, which is widely used by top professional studios throughout the world. They learn all the Opus functions including scanning drawings, x-sheet entry, painting, scene planning, special effects, camera moves, and compositing. Additionally, students receive basic training in art direction and rendering backgrounds in Adobe Photoshop. Finally, they learn professional procedures, organizational skills, working habits, and the standards of handing off client deliverables. Basic computer knowledge is beneficial but not essential, as training starts from the absolute basics. This course continues through Term 6.

Term 6 Course Descriptions

This course is designed to allow classically trained animators to gain a fundamental and functional understanding of two of the major 2D digital animation software packages available: Flash and Toon Boom. Students work in a simulated production environment to create a short animated film in Flash. Special attention is given to the pipeline, specifically as used in studio production rather than for web application. Collaboration between students is encouraged. Following their short films, students learn more about the Toon Boom interface through an exercise in which they create and animate a character.

Students learn and demonstrate industry-professional standards in a classical animation portfolio presentation, and create a résumé and cover letter while refining their overall animation industry awareness and interview skills. Every class has at least one field trip to a local animation studio to see firsthand what working in a real studio entails. Artistic leaders at the studio spend time with each group of students in informal presentations and Q&A sessions.

To achieve high-quality sound for their Final Film Project, students have the opportunity to work with a sound designer from the VFS Sound Design for Visual Media program.

Additional Sessions (Non-Credit)

This course explores the various properties of lighting, colour, composition, camera techniques, and their uses in the final composition of students' Final Film Projects.

Photoshop is one of the cornerstone software applications that everyone in the commercial arts field needs to master to a certain degree. You will be introduced to this versatile, powerful tool and discover and explore some of the functions that relate to the animation process.

In this course, the students will be given a general overview of 3D skills and techniques. They will be introduced to modeling and sculpting objects in Maya and Zbrush. After completing the modeling lessons, they will also be introduced to how to animate simple 3D characters in Maya.

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