TSB takes artistic approach to teaching animation

A small school in an unlikely place, the TSB School of Animation, is training students in animation using a more artistic approach....

A small school in an unlikely place, the TSB School of Animation, is training students in animation using a more artistic approach.

Based in Oshawa, just east of Toronto, in the Toronto School of Business, the two-and-a-half-year program puts a heavy emphasis on character animation, treats the computer like a tool and focuses heavily on fine art.

Since its genesis in 1996, the school has been operating as a pilot project, taking in only five students at a time for a 30-week course, but, according to one of the school’s instructors, Darlene Lazdins, the program is almost at capacity for the fall, with 15 students signed up for the mornings and another 15 for the afternoons.

The program kicks off with an all-art course consisting of traditional figure drawing, composition and design, color theory, acting and storytelling, storyboarding, traditional animation principles and digital photograph manipulation.

‘This is an art,’ says Lazdins. ‘It is not a technical issue. It is the art of seeing movement and storytelling through the human body. The computer is a tool; it’s learned as an aside to execute the work. The real work is the creative thinking and the visualization, and that is something we teach.’

In the next component, students learn their way around the animation software (now Alias|Wavefront Power Animator, but the school will be switching over to Maya), studying the tools of the computer, moving into the principles of animation and going through traditional exercises such as creating the pendulum and the bouncing ball, and executing them on the computer.

After completing the basic moving objects in animation studies, students begin animating characters and do an up-close study of the human walk cycle, something Lazdins says is very complex and often taken for granted. Following mechanical movements, the focus shifts to emotional poses indicative of a certain psyche or personality, and students learn to animate how a person reacts to objects and other people.

‘All the traditional things in 2D and 3D sculpture have the elements of time added to them,’ says Lazdins. ‘We teach [the students to] see and think about the world around them so they can animate and give life. That’s what this art is.’

Peter Hudecki, senior 3D animator at Nelvana, visited the Oshawa school recently to share some words of wisdom on character animation, filmmaking and storyboarding. He believes what makes the program unique is that the instructors could teach it regardless of which software package is used.

‘[The instructors] concentrate on personality and acting on the screen using characters. Typically, from other places, you will see very high-rendered, slick, special effects-driven-type projects, and the last thing that tends to come off the screen is a really good character performance,’ says Hudecki, who has been in the biz for more than 20 years. ‘[The instructors] understand lighting, shading, texturizing and modeling to some extent, but they are low priority.’

TOPIX/Mad Dog animation director Richard Rosenman says the school’s focus on artistry is very important, especially with life drawing, because it is essential to know how the human body is built and composed when it comes to translating it into a cg character.

‘A little abnormal’ is how Doug Campbell, vp and digital effects supervisor at Stargate, describes what is going on at the TSB School of Animation.

‘[The school is] concentrating on animation, not just pretty pictures,’ says Campbell. ‘[The instructors] are teaching animation techniques in their classical form. Other schools are teaching students how to model and make a nice-looking still image, but they aren’t really teaching the basics of how to make [an object] move.’

The school was started by Elly Gotz, an engineer entrepreneur and business designer who owns three branches of the Toronto School of Business. He became intrigued with the art of animation in 1995, did some research and, one year later, opened the school in Oshawa.

Lazdins, along with Gary Chapple, is responsible for running the show. Lazdins has a background in fine art and started as the school’s art teacher, while Chapple was part of the first class at the school. Over the last three years, the two have taken over, and, through working with industry people, have learned the issues of the craft.

Neither of the instructors has had formal training in animation, but, according to Lazdins, this has not hindered their ability to teach others to be high-quality animators.

‘The artistic issues of observing, whether it’s a painting or listening to a piece of music, being perceptive to the communication and reacting to it, [they're] the same regardless of the [medium], and that has been a big part of learning how to train people as animators.’