Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Cal Arts Animation Program

California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA, was founded in the early 1960s by Walt Disney, who wanted to create a “Cal Tech for the Arts.”


The school developed a counterculture spirit in the 70s and 80s, taking on teachers like Judy Chicago, but it has recently become oriented more to the mainstream. It earned praise from several of the animation studios we’ve visited, who told us it graduates some of the best animation artists.

The 150 character animation majors show their short films in the annual “Producer’s Show,” which draws interest from the industry. Students own the rights to their own characters and stories.

When we visited in October, the spaces inside the building struck us as a bit confusing, with unmarked doors and volumes that were alternately cavernous and cramped. As visitors we needed a guide to find our way around, but everyone was helpful, and the students seemed well enough adapted, dividing some of the bigger rooms into beehives of ingeniously decorated work cubicles.

Above, with Steve Brown, who teaches animal drawing, and Maija Burnett, who is associate director of the character animation department. To my left is student Patrick Harpin.

The animation program builds on traditional skills. In the display case was a collection of character designs based on camels. Most of the animation students do the “cape assignment,” which involves fabric flapping in the wind, a harder challenge than it might seem.


The goal of the school, as originally expressed by Disney, revolves around the idea of cross-pollination of various disciplines, something he also tried to accomplish with Epcot, Imagineering, and Fantasia. The dream is to whip up a spirit of Gesamtkunstwerk, a marriage of creative disciplines, where dramatists, musicians, and artists build on each other’s creativity.

CalArts website, with QuickTime movies
Producer’s Show, 2009
Art of Jen, a student blog

5 comments:

Tyler J said...

This school has turned out some amazing talent, John Lasseter, Glen Keane and Brad Bird, who is one of the best modern American storytellers.

Most of the shorts I have seen from them show a real attention to story and the twelve principals of animation. A minor gripe is that few of them are ever finished. I suppose that they are eager to do something amazing and get bogged down with limited resources (as we all are prone to, I suppose).

Incidentally, here is a link to the twelve principals of animation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12_basic_principles_of_animation

Ellen Yu said...

Thank you James for coming to our school. Your lecture was so inspiring It helped bring out the little researcher in all of us.

CalArts's building design is a bit outdated and in need of repair. It has a certain charm that makes it more like a village than a school.

I would love to see you lecture again when your color and light book comes out.

Thank you again!

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Peters said...

Oh, California Arts, this is very famous arts university.

KB said...

The building was meant to be part of a larger campus that never quite got there. You might e entertained by this very odd planning film, produced by Disney and narrated by... well http://vimeo.com/11955096