Describing it "as a blessing" to the many aspiring animators in the country, lecturer and co-ordinator of the University of T&T's (UTT) Department of Digital Media Studies, Camille Selvon-Abrahams, lauds the college's Diploma in Animation as the only programme of its kind to be offered in the English-speaking Caribbean. "Our students have an opportunity to do something that would have otherwise been impossible since it is the only programme (at university level) in the English-speaking Caribbean in so far as animation is concerned," she said. Selvon-Abrahams, who specialised in animation at Goldsmiths University of London, said the two-year programme which began in 2008, was on the verge of welcoming its fourth cycle of students in September with the short-term aim of having it evolve to the degree level.
"We're hoping to have a Bachelor's programme within the next two years. It's already in the works, it's just that it has to be validated and go through the process," she added. Selvon-Abrahams said UTT's training was "not chalk and board" but "very much problem- and project-based." She stressed on the rigours of a programme that involved principles of animation, drawing from observation, cultural conceptualisation, editing and scriptwriting. One student, Shannon Francis, said this about the programme: "One of the things about animation is that to complete it successfully, you need to have passion. Many people come in but not everybody makes it to the end." Selvon-Abrahams told the Sunday Guardian while they "started with 25 students," they had "lost about ten because not many of them can handle it." "We don't cut corners. This is hard work and they (students) understand this from the beginning," she added.
Platform for animators
Upon her return to T&T in 2002 as a trained animator, Selvon-Abrahams noted that "there were no platforms for others coming up" and decided to create an animation festival-Animae Caribe-as an avenue for young artistes to showcase their many talents. "It's a platform to get our young people who want to look at animation as an option and for those who want to broadcast their own work so that they can have an avenue. "It was about creating a platform for people who are in animation and for those who want to get into it," she said.
Referring to all her students as "pioneers" in the field, Selvon-Abrahams took pride over the fact that over the last three years (since the programme's inception), "an average of ten animated shorts a year from T&T" was screened at Animae Caribe-a feat she described simply as "beautiful." She said while the road had been a tough one to trod over the years in T&T, things were "changing dramatically" and many of their animation students were able to attract jobs in advertising agencies and production companies where their expertise was often sought after. "We (UTT) are called for our students. Employers call and make requests for animators to work on projects and we would recommend certain students depending on their capabilities," Selvon-Abrahams added.
Ready to believe...
Despite these opportunities, animation student Shane Young Sing expressed great apprehension functioning effectively as an animator in T&T, attributing his fears to the negative reception of one 15-second animated short he aired for a local audience whom he said appeared to be more accepting of western culture than our own. "One time I showed one of my projects to a few people and I incorporated our local dialect and while they were very much into the visual aspect of it, they hated the voices (dialogue) and they were Trinidadian. That scared me," he said.
He added: "It had me thinking whether we were ready to believe in ourselves because it would be very sad to realise that my own country doesn't want me when all I want to do is this." On a more promising note, class representative Avinash Jagassar, who is currently "working on a comic book utilising local superheroes," said his intention behind the concept was not self-seeking but geared towards creating a brand both he and his classmates could identify with and be proud of. "I want to have my classmates help me with the different forms of artwork since it was not intended to be any personal money-making venture for me. I just want to get us out there so that even if the book flops, I can still say that we did it our way," he said.
Principles of animation
In describing the complexities of animation, Young Sing identified an animator's major challenge: "We have to meet the same frame count as is seen on television in order for people to accept an image of a slap for instance, so we need 24 drawings to make one second of motion just to get that same smoothness that we see on TV. "Or, we can split that in half (down to 12 frames per second) as is seen on Tom & Jerry. "So it doesn't matter what you draw, even if it is not the best portrait ever, once you can get it to move at certain frame counts that we are accustomed to registering, you've got a lucrative animation."
He said the number of frames depended on the speed of the animation which he said could be limited by a "quick motion" process called smearing where the transition between frames appear more distant as though in a gap movement or "motion bur." Soon-to-be second-year student Kyle Stephen informed the Sunday Guardian that there were "12 principles of animation" that they followed, some of which consisted of concepts involving "timing, spacing, secondary movement, lighting and other things that bring about a realistic feel to the animation." He said while there "is the lazy man approach" where the gesticulations of animated characters are limited to "mouth movements," if "quality work" was to be achieved, "you have to go the long way."
"I animated the traditional way (pencil to paper sketching) but I go to the computer (using the graphic tablet technology) afterwards to do a lot of touch-ups and draw though I still think the old way gives the animator a closer connection to his work," Stephen added. Despite this, he praised the graphic tablet for its time efficiency, precision drawing and realism as it provides "a feel as though you're actually drawing on several frames or sheets of paper which can then be played out in digital sequence like a movie." Samantha Farmer, the lone female student interviewed, cited her own preference for the traditional type sketching, in that while "it takes a lot of trees (paper) and patience," such "may work well" where computer technology may be difficult to operate or pose certain restrictions.
The boom of toon
Future animator Hosanna Sookra, who identified the two digital software programmes utilised in their animated creations-Toon Boom and Auto Desk Maya-said it was also possible to animate quite effectively with home-made alternatives like PhotoShop and Windows Media Player. Toon Boom, which is used by most graphic artistes for 2D animation (the traditional style), drew Sookra's interests in ways he never imagined since he had been initially drawn to the programme through his fascination of 3D gaming.
"I love video games and always wanted to create my own but I've found myself opening up to 2D a lot more than I thought I would," he revealed. According to his colleague Stephen, Auto Desk Maya, on the other hand, allows the 3D animator to "go through every detailed step to build what he sees and even what he cannot see," with an interface that "allows him to put in real life textures which can be imported from the Internet." Young Sing added: "It is very important for artistes in 3D to not see an object or character as a whole but rather as a circle, a square, a rectangle and a polygon here and there, just waiting to be put together."