Burroughs High debuts college-level animation class

Nearly 20 students this week participated in the first-ever animation class at John Burroughs High School taught by a Woodbury University professor to give juniors and seniors an introduction to the industry.

The beginning animation class will have students start with paper and pencil exercises," "It's the best foundational learning tool," said Dori Littell-Herrick, chair of animation at Woodbury University.

They will eventually move on to work on computers.

Littell-Herrick said she was approached by Peggy Flynn, Burbank Unified's visual and performing arts coordinator, about bringing the university's animation curriculum to Burroughs High.

"I thought, why not?" Littell-Herrick said this week. She enlisted adjunct professor Lee Crowe to teach the class.

Years ago, the two women worked together on the Disney film "The Little Mermaid" as assistant animators. Littell-Herrick worked on Ariel and Crowe helped animate King Triton.

When Littell-Herrick was starting out in the industry, she said animation degrees were few and far between.

"You learned by apprenticeship," she said. In comparing the present day to back then, today's high school students have grown up in a visual culture, she said, and part of the value of the class comes with teaching them how to communicate visual messages.

"Learning to tell a story visually in this way is really a skill that they can take into almost career they walk into," she said.

The 15-week class meets twice a week for 2 1/2 hours at a time, and give high school students college credit on a Woodbury University transcript.

Littell-Herrick said it will give students formal training that she sees some students lack when they enter college.

"Every year I have taught animation, the students that have come in have been more prepared," she said. They're eager to show her their sketchbooks filled with character designs, and knowledgeable about software they have downloaded on their own.

"But they don't have any formal training," she said. "So they're kind of spinning their wheels."

Burroughs High Principal John Paramo said the school district has also invested in about 20 light tables worth about $500 each, so students can sequence their work. Software and other materials have also been purchased.

The class will be offered again in the spring, Paramo said.

For students pursuing an animation degree after high school, the class will be invaluable.

"It's really a huge endeavor. I'm complimentary of our district for thinking outside of the box… When they leave here, they're already ahead of the game," he said.

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