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Animator leads students to draw on their ideas

Animation Jam

Students work on short cartoon sequences with characters from the show O.K. KO! at Sunday s Animation Jam at the offices of Cartoon Network in Burbank.

(Courtesy of Cartoon Network)

As a young animation student in New York City, Ian Jones-Quartey had to improvise in his quest to break into the business of cartoons. He cold-called studios all across the city until a door finally cracked open, beginning a career that has included creative roles on such popular Cartoon Network shows as “Adventure Time” and “The Venture Bros.”

Now based at Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank, Jones-Quartey has made a point of offering advice and encouragement to another generation of animation creators. On Sunday, the network hosted its first “Animation Jam,” drawing teams of students from several local animation schools to work on the Jones-Quartey-created “O.K. KO! Let’s Be Heroes.”

“It’s a world where everyone is a superhero,” Jones-Quartey said of the title. “Our main characters are three kids at a convenience store for superheroes. They have an evolving fun world that’s filled with different characters, bright and colorful.”

The three-day “Animation Jam” began with a Saturday reception for students at Cartoon Network, followed by intense creative sessions all-day on Sunday. In a first-floor meeting room at the Cartoon Network’s tower of offices, undergraduates huddled around computer screens and sketch pads. Half-empty soda cans and snacks piled up as characters were brought to life, one frame at a time.

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The students had come from a variety of schools, including USC, CalArts, Laguna College of Art and Design and California State University, Fullerton. Also in the room were young animators from New York’s School of Visual Arts, the alma mater of Jones-Quartey. Each team was tasked with creating a 15-second piece from brief scenarios printed on slips of paper.

One read: “Enid kicks Darrell’s head back over to Boxmore, with unintended consequences.”

At one work station near the door, a student had a character bouncing from the floor to the ceiling, getting his head stuck, legs dangling. The student was from Exceptional Minds, the Sherman Oaks animation and special effects school for young people on the autism spectrum.

The day’s finished collection of films was screened Monday in the main lobby of Cartoon Network Studios for an audience that included animators from several network shows.

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“There’s a lot of animation being made right now,” said Jones-Quartey. “When you put together TV networks, the Internet, independent animation, movies and online shorts and things for mobile games, there’s so much out there right now. It’s easier to create art and get it out there. I tell students, you should be making your own ideas, come up with your own thing, and put them out there. People will find you.”

He’s also active on Twitter, where he receives a lot of questions from students looking for expert advice. “I’ve always been real interested in helping those people along, and help them get interested in making a finished piece of art. It’s something I really feel passionate about.”

I’ve always been real interested in helping those people along, and help them get interested in making a finished piece of art. It’s something I really feel passionate about.
Ian Jones-Quartey

It was the Cartoon Network Studios’ ongoing shorts program that led to the creation of “O.K. KO! Let’s Be Heroes.” His short cartoon “Lakewood Plaza Turbo” was an early take on the idea. But instead of turning it into a series, the studio chose to first develop it as a video game, and invited 200 professional game developers to a “Game Jam” in Portland, Ore.

They brought sleeping bags and created 48 proposed games during a single weekend. “O.K. KO!” launched first as a mobile game and a series of animated shorts online.

After that successful collaboration, the studio began contemplating how to expand the process into other areas. Jones-Quartey suggested gearing an “Animation Jam” for students.

It fit the creator-based Cartoon Network Studio’s underlying philosophy, said Rob Sorcher, chief content officer. “It starts as an artist-driven studio. The artists are actually leading all the story-telling, which is pretty unusual for TV animation today.”

The studio’s creative atmosphere can be seen in the main lobby, where original art lines the walls, and several cartoons in progress are plotted on bulletin boards. Right beside the elevator, Sorcher has rows of removable Etch A Sketch drawing toys mounted — placed there in case an artist has sudden inspiration to draw.

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The urge to share in that creative flow was part of the idea behind “Animation Jam.”

“Doing it with students and setting it up in this way really makes it a community event, and giving students a chance to work with animators who are pros. They get to experience a little bit of Cartoon Network Studios, which they love — and these animators, who they admire,” Sorcher said.

“And it continues the story of collaboration.”

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Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveAppleford


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