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