Texas Tech University

Introducing Animation

Calan Welder

September 28, 2020

Animation is everywhere. Little clay puppets and moving drawings dot the freeways on electronic billboards, star in television and YouTube series, and delight both children and their parents at the theaters. Animation giants like Pixar and Disney have made their characters little pieces of everyday life, and scholars are taking notice. As the field of animation studies expands, the humanities are in a unique position to encourage students to explore the role animated content plays in their own lives.

ortega orfilaAnimation DUO, founded by School of Art professors Dr. Francisco Ortega and Dr. Jorgelina Orfila, explores "the intersections between animation and modern contemporary art, and animation as a tool to promote wellbeing." As their program expanded, Ortega and Orfila established an animation curriculum at Texas Tech that grew from the DUO's independent work into a single PhD class (which still exists today). J. T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts has adopted Ortega and Orfila's independent program in the form of an undergraduate certificate with classes in performance, theory, and animation proper set to launch in spring 2021.

Animators in the industry often work in a highly competitive, high-stakes environment at even the entry level. By bringing animation studies to Texas Tech from its predominant seat in European and British academies, the program creates a forum for students to explore animation and its applications in a controlled environment where they can become acquainted with animation from start to finish. The certificate program tackles both theory and practice, Orfila explains. "Our classes teach the same topic from two perspectives to give students a deep comprehension of the elements."

RachelOrtega and Orfila's collaborators include faculty from across the humanities, including School of Theatre and Dance professor Rachel Hirshorn-Johnston. "My work with Fitzmaurice Voicework allows the body to release sounds," she explains, "and it's a lot like puppet work when you do animation. You have to make the puppets breathe." Each character has its own life created in the body and expressed through the voice. Informed by her own experience as an actress for motion-capture video games, Hirshorn-Johnston trains her students to recognize the link between physicality and vocals to equip them with the tools to create nuanced characters, virtual though they may be. She remarks that the act of creating a virtual character is a lot like creating one on stage. Each character has its own life created in the body and expressed through the voice.

Stacey JocoySchool of Music professor Dr. Stacey Jocoy (Music in Animation) reinforces the role audio plays in animation, saying that soundscape and foley sound play crucial roles in world creation. Her class focuses on giving students hands-on experience: "Students will have the chance to work either with composing their own music or with compiling existing music as in the practice of making animated music videos--thinking all the while about how and why different music works for the various worldbuilding experiments."

The program's upcoming curriculum will enable students to create a capstone project by constructing a stop-animation story from start to finish, including voiceover and camera work. Certificate founders Drs. Ortega and Orfila expect that such interdisciplinary projects across the program and in their own classes will open new avenues for careers and areas of study to students interested in exploring the inner workings of an ever-growing segment of the arts.

Animation Studies reminds us that animation is not just Mickey Mouse and talking cars. The field is rich with theoretical and practical frameworks that discuss everyday influences, such as the explosion of Japanese animation imports, localization and globalization of culture, the arts in performance, and application of these tenets to home disciplines that allow students to explore their own role in a technological world.