SCAD’s animation department has found a champion of a chair in Chris Gallagher, who assumed his new role last summer. Through this column, I invite not only animation students but the entire SCAD community to listen in on my animated chats with Chris.   

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A lively discussion ensues during a recent class session for “Analog,” a course part of SCAD’s “Three-Film Initiative.” Image credit: Emilie Kefalas.

Besides the obvious acronym, it could be argued the “C” in SCAD stands for “collaboration,” because, here, it is valued more than at any other design-focused university I know. That golden word has guided multiple departments in common initiatives to mix creative juices from other disciplines, and it’s certainly been the guiding light of the Collaborative Learning Center.

In the classroom, however, it’s rare that students, particularly animation students, get to experience and exercise that collaboration beyond, say, a CLC. Chris has seen that change through the university’s 3-film initiative, a multi-quarter plan to bring together various majors for unique projects.

I know that sounds nearly identical to a CLC, but instead of creating a final product for a specific company, students enrolled in the animation production course have total creative freedom and do not have to report to anyone besides their professor. And Chris.

The class, according to Chris, is part of SCAD’s “Three-Film Initiative,” the idea and plan to create three films driven by collaboration between each of SCAD’s global campuses. One is a film with production split among multiple campuses, another is a film that combines visual effects and animation. This animation-centric one is the class Chris shows me.

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Students give feedback on “dailies” presented in a unique production-driven animation course. Image credit: Emilie Kefalas.

This particular course is working on a project called “Analog.” The class is made up of 2D, 3D and stop-motion animators as well as illustrators, sound designers and dramatic writers. The film’s original story was written by a SCAD Atlanta student, and students from Savannah’s dramatic writing program rewrote and revised it.  

“We’re running it as a full-blown production class,” Chris said. “It’s not every student fighting amongst themselves. It’s everybody working to push the story forward, which is fun and unique. We actually had a SCAD alumni who now works for Disney come through as our alumni mentor two weeks ago, and he sat in the class and afterward he said he was absolutely blown away. It was the best class he’s ever sat in in his entire life. He wished they had classes like that when he was a student here.”

Chris said the course is based on the core philosophies he learned while at Disney. The idea behind the class is to use it as a “test” to see how he and the department want to change the program’s curriculum to get back to the heart of what animation is and can be.

“We create awesome stories driven by character performance pushed forward through technology,” Chris said. “This class is the first of three classes that we’re doing. This quarter, we’re doing the conceptual and pre-production class. Next quarter I have two professors for the two courses. One is teaching the character performance class and one is teaching the production class.”

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Students explore ideas for their in-progress animated film. Image credit: Emilie Kefalas.

We pop in during a Monday class in a closed-off Montgomery Hall classroom. Somewhere between 16 to 18 students sit at a long table with their attention on a monitor at the front of the room.

A student stands next to the monitor, narrating the action appearing in storyboards onscreen. At this point in their process, the students are creating a short animated film with a script written by dramatic writers, storyboarded by sequential artists, animated by (guess who) animators and that’s not even including the illustrators who contributed concept art to set the mood of the story. The energy in the room is infectious, and I don’t mind observing quietly in the back with Chris.

After the students finish going through their “dailies” (story updates), the professor acknowledges Chris, who enthusiastically provides a few words of feedback. I can’t help but comment to Chris how the course is unlike any other in the animation program mostly due to the fact class time does not consist of students working in their own little worlds at individual computers.

“It’s not one person does everything,” Chris explains. “It’s everyone works on the whole thing to push it forward. Nobody’s saying, ‘This is mine and this is yours.’ It’s ours. We’re working together to make sure our piece is awesome.”

By Emilie Kefalas.