Teaching Animation and Digital Graphics

Sarah Hamilton

I will be teaching four weeks of an animation and digital graphics couse at a local high school. Because I don't actually know anything about the animation programs, I would like to spend my four weeks having students create a portfolio to document the work they already have.

I feel they could use this portfolio to get into college, and if they aren't going to college, perhaps get a job.

My question is:

Does anyone know if there is a standard format for how animation portfolios must be done? I'm thinking maybe the students just do a 4 minute comercial sort of thing. Can anybody help?

Jan 19, 11 10:31 pm

Um, forgive me if I am missing something large, but how can you be teaching Animation and Digital Graphics if you don't know anything about animation?

Jan 19, 11 11:28 pm  · 

I'm also a little curious why you chose to teach animation and graphics if you don't have a background in animation.

My opinion would be that 4 minutes is way too long to keep the attention of most employers or college admissions boards. I think once your students actually put together an animation, 1 minute will start seeming pretty long.

There are a lot of animation demo reels online. Have you tried google video? Below is a link of a random demo reel for architectural rendering. I don't mean to advertise and have no affiliation with these people, but I think this is the sort of thing you would want if you're trying to sell architectural rendering and animation.

Or are you teaching something more like flash animation?

Jan 20, 11 7:58 am  · 
Sarah Hamilton

To answer your questions, I'm currently going through my Student Teaching part of the teacher certification program. Architecture - the course I actually want to teach, is under the Career and Technology Education umbrella, and so is animation. Animation is the class that happened to have a willing mentor teacher, so that is where I am.

When I say animation, I mean the kids are mostly working to create 2d and 3d (in the sense of toystory, not avatar) animations. Only one of the kids actually builds architectural type models, and he is actually pretty awesome. I'd hire him.

Since I don't know much about the programs, I thought teaching a portfolio lesson would be best. Otherwise, I will need to bone up on a subject like Timing, and even then, I'd only know that one thing.

I'll check out that link when I get home. Thanks.

Jan 20, 11 9:34 am  · 

You really should go buy a book or two on animation. There are fundamentals that come well before any software.

It really makes no difference if you are aiming for Avatar, Toy Story or How to Train Your Dragon - they all follow the same techniques.

My advice (as someone that creates animations, professionally):

1. Decide what you are teaching
- Animation - then understand storyboards, keyframes, camera techniques, lighting physics, fundamentals that were born long before computers

- Portfolio - not sure what you mean by this...? A showreel? Do you know what a showreel is? If not, then I'd skip animation/software altogether.

2. Objectives - what are you hoping they will learn? Clearly, they can't learn something from you that you do not know (well), so what do you want them to get out of it?

3. If you do decide to try to 'wing it' I'd really spend all your free time learning, otherwise you'll be wasting everyone's time.

There is TONS to learn, from camera motion to character movement to story lines to editing to technology. It is a complex profession and not something that you can learn in a few months.

4. Kid's knowledge - my guess is that they already know far more than you do, or could know. If they are making things in 3D then they are probably watching youtube videos, 'how we did it' DVDs, etc.
My nephew, at 10, is using SketchUp and watching youtube videos on how stop action videos are made! Amazing!


1. Stick to design fundamentals, teach some composition/graphic rules (this is assuming you know a lot about these fundamentals)

2. Save everyone's time and make sure you are teaching something that you really understand, have used for years, etc.

Sites to review:




Again, there is 'animation', there are motion graphics, and a million variations and specific professions in between. This is not a 'learn in a month' type of career path.

Jan 20, 11 11:33 am  · 
Sarah Hamilton

Trace, thanks. I get what you are saying, and yes, the students know way more than I do because they've been taking the class since August. Students are using lightwave 3d 9.6, and anime studio 7. The other classes have just started illustrator. I have to teach a 4 week lesson to all the students, regardless of their software.

I do not know what a show reel is, but if you do animation, what do you show during an interview to get a job, or to get into college? That's really what I was thinking. These are high school kids.

I won't be teaching animation in the future, I'm just here for 15 weeks, and only four of that am I actually teaching my own lesson. I know I'm severely lacking in the animation knowledge area. I just learned what keyframes are yesterday!

Jan 20, 11 1:44 pm  · 

here's a better link to someone in animation rather than architecture:

Since they are doing animations, they need a medium that moves in time, which probably means DVD. I would guess the students already know what they've done, so a portfolio (or showreel) would just be a matter of them picking their best stuff and video editing.

I'm pretty sure software isn't going to matter at all, except if you're going to be teaching video editing then pick a video editing program to learn. Like in the above example, an animated pencil sketch is just as good (or better) as something from 2d or 3d animation if that's what the student is interested in.

Perhaps your mentor teacher can explain a bit more about what the kids need. It sounds like you're working with a very broad base in a very specific industry, but that may be appropriate for high school. However, a portfolio for animation is likely going to be quite a bit different than what we've done for architecture.

Jan 20, 11 2:32 pm  · 
Sarah Hamilton

Curt, that's what I was thinking. I wonder if animators have an archinect - animatect, maybe?

Jan 20, 11 2:51 pm  · 

Whoa. It's weird to see Sarah outside of safe confines of her personal blog (a.k.a. thread central).

Go easy on her trace. Outside world is scary.

I think there's plenty an architecturally trained instructor can bring to a an animation class. It's easy to master a tool and produce flashy looking results, but substance often lacks.

Back to the original question. Try experimenting with different formats. Get them to do an exercise where they need to explain their video by using only 6 video stills on a single piece of paper. Get them to interpret each other's videos using this method. Have fun with it. The position can easily be so much more than a babysitting position that's becoming more common in public schools.

Jan 20, 11 3:48 pm  · 

Another fun idea:

Get them to design a DVD cover for one (or a series) of their videos. How do you capture the essence of their project in one definite image? How do you emphasize the strongest points of a piece and do it in a graphical format.

You should even have mini-crits at the end of the exercise where the class discusses the effectiveness of each cover. Also this would provide instant portfolio material.

Jan 20, 11 3:55 pm  · 
Sarah Hamilton

Thanks, Rusty. I do venture out when needed.

Jan 20, 11 5:09 pm  · 

"Storyboards are graphic organizers such as a series of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence, including website interactivity.

The storyboarding process, in the form it is known today, was developed at the Walt Disney Studio during the early 1930s, after several years of similar processes being in use at Walt Disney and other animation studios."

Also of note are style boards:


Jan 20, 11 7:46 pm  · 

I had my nephew sketch a storyboard, it was great fun! He has been obsessed with those YouTube stop-motion lego flicks.

Not hard, it is like a diagram for video. Style boards take it to one more level by adding visuals (this is what a lot of motion firms will create to pitch for a job).

I'd suggest going that route. HUGELY useful and kinda along the lines of what process architects, or any good designers, go through - concept through diagram through production.


1. Idea
2. How to make idea? Why Idea?
3. Sketch storyboard
4. Production strategy
5. Final output

PS - forget DVDs, huge headache. Stick with drag/drop things like YouTube (also, they can show off to their friends, watch on their phones, etc.)


You could study up on cinematography and talk about 'space'. That one, though, is a pretty large undertaking (although infinitely fascinating - I recall studying Lynch in undergrad, great, great experience).

Jan 20, 11 7:52 pm  · 

I like blank ones the best.

I wonder if any architects use storyboards to tell a sequential story.

Jan 20, 11 7:57 pm  · 

What Trace says sounds really good. I am not an animator. But I am teaching myself how to use some of those tools and I get his points. That is another deep, mature universe of knowledge and skill.

At the same time, you didn't give much info on your own background. So for arguments sake, I'm assuming your CAD background doesn't include the tools or methods you would use for making animations or maybe even polygon and subd modeling. If so, the basics might be helpful for you to get a better sense of what these tools do and how they are used.

I have found this website to be a very good, quick reference for understanding the basics of subd modeling, of rigging, both in general and with respect to specific software.

Since, you mentioned lightwave, I looked and there is also a video on there in twelve parts about making a short animation in lightwave.

Jan 20, 11 8:28 pm  · 

the portfolio and reel from a professional animator & x architect... on the motion page, check out 'lemon drop kiss'

Jan 20, 11 9:12 pm  · 

If you want to drop some names, you could tell them that Joseph Kodinski, formerly of KDLAB, directed his first Hollywood file - TRON 2.

Not a bad start and quite something for an 'architect' (he went to Columbia).

Jan 21, 11 9:26 am  · 
vado retro

just be very animated when explaining that you know nothing about animation. wave your arms around a lot like those sports analysts on t.v. and do imitations of bugs and daffy. oh and foghorn leghorn!

Jan 21, 11 11:26 am  · 
Sarah Hamilton

Vado, I don't think these kids would get the joke! I don't know that they know who bugs and daffy are, let alone foghorn leghorn.

Jan 21, 11 11:53 am  · 
vado retro

well they sound about as sharp as a bowling ball.

Jan 21, 11 12:14 pm  · 

lol! that visual just made my morning!

Jan 21, 11 12:19 pm  · 

The standard in art school admission these days for both film and animation is a maximum of a three minute clip, and the expectation is that if nothing compelling happens in the first 30 seconds, it will be turned off at that point. That may sound draconian, but the average FVNM committee has to watch about 120 such videos, and discuss the candidate's total package, in a day.

Jan 21, 11 10:39 pm  · 
zen maker

Sounds like my teacher, who was teaching webdesign class but had no clue how to put a website together, I and couple of other students ended up teaching ourselves...a waste of $2100, now have to repay these student loans for the next 30 years...all $100k of them, thanks college for ruining my life!!

Jan 22, 11 12:36 am  · 

freaky fast spam bumps!

Nov 3, 13 2:13 am  · 
Sarah Hamilton
WTF? I forgot I even made this thread. Thanks for the blast from the past!

Oh, and it's all going swimmingly!
Nov 5, 13 8:20 am  · 

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