At the start of each semester, I try to empower my students by giving them sense of control over the class. At our first meeting, we discuss techniques, tools, favorite artists, favorite films, and exciting challenges; from this, I try to shape elements of the class around student preferences. Including students' input at the start of the semester motivates them by reminding them of their agency, and also builds their trust in me: I only want to help them succeed.
In my studio classes, I give honest, detailed critiques; I am encouraging but serious during crits. I devote a significant amount of time to every film, no matter the length. I don’t want students to think that they can avoid attention through incomplete work, or that their less-successful attempts are only failures—all are learning experiences, and even fragments can contain interesting ideas. Pretty much all my students work harder after the first round of crits—I take the films very seriously, and the students respond in kind. During crits, I try to draw out a student’s intention and I also tell them what I see—the vernacular they are using, the issues they are raising, the references I recognize. I help them understand what they have (sometimes unintentionally) produced, so that they can alter or advance their process going forward.
Animation lends itself well to multiple meanings, to philosophical concepts, to idiosyncratic filmmaking, but animators are all too often able to avoid engaging with animation on a deeply thoughtful level. Close-reading film was a huge emphasis of the Bard MFA program, and I have received substantial benefit from being able to talk cogently about my films. It is one of my long term goals to help young animators develop vocabularies for talking about animation, through discussions in both studio and art history classes. This discursive approach has lead to better work from my students, and contributes to their pride in animation as a medium.
I try to create a classroom atmosphere that is fun and funny while full of intelligence. Every animation builds a world of its own—animators don’t need color, or form, or gravity, or gender. Individual perspective shapes so much of animation; animation class should be where students feel empowered by their individuality. Animation is a space for thoughtful exploration, for improvisation and experimentation, for metaphor. And jokes. We also make lots of jokes.