Animation has been a regular feature of Hillside’s program for over 30 years. Robin Walz, who taught at Hillside in the early 80’s, began teaching stop-frame animation using a Super-8 camera and black-and-white film. His class was so popular that when he was about to leave Hillside, I asked him to show me enough about animation to be able to continue the program. We soon acquired an ancient Bell and Howell hand-crank motion picture camera, which could be used for shooting frame-by-frame animation. We shot our animations on 16mm film, exposing 100-ft. rolls and never knowing how things had come out until the whole roll was developed. The results were often thrilling, though there were also many heartbreaking failures–whole movies, filmed at 24 frames per second, in which the lighting or focus might be way off, or the film threaded incorrectly in the camera…And then there were the difficulties finding a camera repair person when the cranky thing broke down!
Finally, in about 2003, Jean suggested that it was time to take the the animation program digital. He and my brother Chris Brown helped me acquire the combination of camera, computers, and software that got us off the ground and into the digital age. The learning curve was a steep one for me, but the benefits have been amazing–most of all, the ability to see problems during the filming rather than only weeks later. Animation is so labor-
and time-intensive that it makes a huge difference to be able to see each shot as it’s framed and taken. And it’s very easy to add special effects, audio, and titles to movies. We currently use iMovie and Macintosh computers to put the movies together, and can use frames taken by just about any digital still camera.
Though we use computers to assemble our movies, Hillside animations tend to employ classic techniques such as drawing, claymation, and pixillation of objects and human actors. I try to help my students focus on plot, humor, and personal creativity rather than complex programming and digital techniques. They’ve achieved some amazing results, especially in the increasingly numerous cases in which students have worked over several years to develop their ideas and technique. Animation is a great way to learn collaboration, and a wonderful opportunity for more experienced students to share their skills with newer animators. It’s an art form that requires real discipline and patience, but can bring an enormous sense of achievement.
Kathy Frugé-Brown, Artist-in-Residence