Friday, August 12, 2016

Discover the World of Communication at American University

In July I taught two classes at American University's very extensive summer program for high school students, Discover the World of Communication at their Washington, D. C. campus.  Professor Sarah Menke-Fish founded the program and has been the director for over 20 years. I taught for the second two-week session with nineteen courses offered, including Advanced Scriptwriting  and Video Production, The Film Intensive,  Broadcast Journalism, Media for Change, Speaking for Impact and Nature Photography. My classes were Graphic Design and Animation. I was very impressed with the program and want to make sure teachers, parents and students are aware of this opportunity for future summers.

I had not spent much time at AU in my many years living in the area. It was a delightful surprise to discover this beautiful campus. Our classes were held in McKinley Building pictured below.

My Graphic Design class met from 9 to 12. This course was an introduction to the basic principles of design and composition and two cornerstones of design software, Illustrator CC and Photoshop CC. Important concepts I wanted to emphasize were that designers are problem solvers and the process they use to solve problems. I shared with them this infographic from Josh Cass at that visualizes some ideas we had discussed in class. I especially appreciated that sketching & conceptualization is the largest circle. The students worked on paper first for each assignment.

After the students got up and running on the basics of Illustrator, their first real project involved Historical Referencing. They were to study posters from both the 19th century Art Nouveau era and the movie posters of 20th century designer Saul Bass, two very different styles. They selected a favorite of either group and then used it as inspiration for their own poster design. Step one was to do composition studies of their selected historical poster. We got some great results. Caroline Marcus was inspired by Saul Bass to design this poster.
Poster design: Caroline Marcus
The students designed logos. Their first task was to dream up a company as a client. Interesting how many wanted to design a logo for a game company. As the week progressed I asked them as a designer, what would be their dream job. At the time they didn't know this, but their work for week 2 was to follow through on creating/designing their ideal project. Rachel Kogut's final project were these designs and promo for yoga attire.

Final Design Project: Rachel Kogut
The students projects reflected a wide range of interests including designing albums, furniture, characters, logos and Youtube graphics.  I enjoyed working with all of the students. My experience has been that kids that want to take classes in the summer are motivated and come ready to work. That was certainly the case with all of the students who attended both classes.

It was nice that a number of the Graphic Design students were also in the Animation class that met from 1pm to 4pm every afternoon for that two week session.

The Animation class revolved around the software Animate CC which is the reincarnation of Flash Professional. I have found over the years that this is an excellent tool for introducing students to the principles of animation and getting some great results. I was very pleased with the work these students did during this course. Only one of the 13 had any experience creating animation.

I love to start my animation classes with a question: what does to animate mean? I get a variety of answers and this time someone did say to bring to life, which is the answer I'm after. As an animator I find this such an exciting way to start an animation course. As animators we get to create our own universe and bring it to life, what could be more fun.

We talked about the AnimateCC interface, the timeline, keyframes, etc as well as getting up and running on the drawing tools. First projects include bouncing balls and a wall building exercise to explore copying keyframes and adding content.  Neil Mancuso went wild with this one.

Neil was the only student who had experience as an animator and with Flash/Animate. His final project really demonstrates his skill.

A text-based animation exercise is something I find an excellent way to introduce students to symbols in AnimateCC. It's also a way for me to learn more about them by their choices of lyrics or poems. Stacey Wheeler's was particularly well done.

Another standout sample from the course is this humorous final project from Koury Gilmartin. The idea of using lined paper as a background came together at the end and really sets this off as a clever little animation reflecting a level of self awareness.

One of the students, Stacey Wheeler is headed to RISD this fall. Her work was an inspiration to all of us. This is her final project for the course.

These are just a few of the projects produced in the animation class. I put together an 8 minute complication video below for the final presentation for parents and friends the morning of the last day of the session. The video includes best work from every student screened for their presentation.

If you know high school students interested in digital media production, please contact Discover the World of Communication to learn more about this program. It's a great opportunity for kids to test the waters and scholarships are available.

Post script
I really appreciated the time I got to spend with the students. Icing on the cake for me as a gardener was the beautiful campus. Every morning at 8:30am when I walked from the bus stop to McKinley, I was greeted by these gardens.

American University campus
Very large hibiscus flowers abound on campus.
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