Moulding Young Animators: The Mac Kerman Way
by Ajay Shukla
posted on 08-23-2019
I came across this gem through a friend of mine and was instantly hooked on to it because it was done by students aged 12 to 17, with no drawing or animation background, within a week of picking up Adobe Animate.
I promptly connected with Mac Kerman, a veteran animator of over 10 years who tutors young animators, essentially school students, at an organization called Saturday Academy, in his spare time. Mac turned out to be a fun, quirky, and affable guy, very approachable and hence a person who would go along well with kids. And yes, I wish I could carry off that pink color with as much élan as he does.
I spoke to him, and here is an excerpt.
Hi, Mac! Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hello there, my name is Mac Kerman, I am a 10-year animation industry veteran. I’m currently working as an animation director at Titmouse Inc. I have had the pleasure to have worked on shows for such companies as Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Brothers, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon.
Can you tell us a bit about the Saturday Academy classes and your association with the organization?
I first used Adobe Animate nearly two decades ago, when it was still called “Flash MX.” In the summer of my eighth-grade year, I signed up for a weeklong animation class with an organization called Saturday Academy, an after-school art and science program that’s been enriching young minds in the Portland, Oregon, area since 1983. Up until taking this class, I had created several shoeboxes worth of flipbooks created on Office Depot notepads, but without the myriad of expensive equipment needed to capture and record these, they didn’t do much other than gather dust in my closet. That’s a large part of what made this Saturday Academy class so exciting. Learning Adobe Animate blew my young mind and opened an entire world of creative opportunities to me. It eliminated all previous barriers to creating my own cartoons and gave me the ability to become a one-person animation studio with nothing more than a computer and a lot of patience.
Needless to say, I was thrilled when the opportunity came up nearly 20 years later to return to that very same Saturday Academy class and help inspire the next generation of animators! The class I teach at Saturday Academy has students that range in age between 12-17, and class size is capped at 12 to keep a solid student-to-teacher ratio. The students come from all sorts of backgrounds. Animation being a blend of art and science, the course attracts both the artistic oddballs as well as the nerdy tech enthusiasts — and everything in between. It’s a regular breakfast club.
How do you go about these classes?
I always warn parents how intensive this weeklong course is. Not only are the students expected to learn a brand-new professional software program, but they will also be learning an entirely new artistic medium as well. I often explain to parents on the first day, “It’s like trying to write poetry in a language you’re still learning, so best to have their favorite snacks waiting for them at home after class.”
The first couple of days are spent going over the basic functions and layout of the program, as well as the core artistic principles of animation, such as squash and stretch. The first days are often filled with frustration as students are pushed out of their comfort zones. However, it all becomes worth it when we get to my favorite moment of the class, usually around the end of the second or third day is when you can tell things start to click for the students. When things start to make enough sense, they can comfortably navigate the program and start to figure out things on their own. This is also comically frustrating moment because it’s so much harder to keep them on task after this!
After this point, the students are comfortable enough with the program that it’s time to let them flex their creative muscles with a less structured, more open-ended assignment: the “Exquisite Morph,” our big group project that will be shown to the parents at our end-of-class screening on the last day.
In animation, an Exquisite Morph is a film that daisy chains the work of a bunch of different animators together into a perfect loop. To start the class, each student creates a single drawing of whatever they like: a cat, a block of cheese, an airplane, etc., and passes their drawing to the person to their right, and receive a drawing from the person on their left. They then have the entire rest of the class to animate their drawing, morphing into the next drawing in the chain over the course of at least five seconds. This assignment is always a bit of a nail-biter, as, for it to work successfully, every student has to complete their assignment or the chain is broken. Luckily so far, the students have a perfect track record with this.
Here’s another Saturday Academy Exquisite Morph from 2018:
After making it through the Exquisite Morph, we usually spend the last day of class working on an assignment of the students’ choosing, focusing on any areas of interest that they have, or revisiting old assignments to revise them with the new skills we’ve acquired since the early days of the class. It’s amazing to see how much improvement a student can show in animating a bouncing ball both artistically and technically in a mere 72 hours.
I don’t expect after a week-long summer class every student is going to dedicate themselves to animation like I did. What I would like to think is a valuable takeaway for all students is the experience of being challenged — of learning a new language (Adobe Animate), then writing poetry in it (animation!). Being taken out of your comfort zone, working through the frustrations of the first few days in class where nothing makes sense, and then having everything click! That is a takeaway every student in the class gets to keep, no matter how serious they are about animation (and if you ask me, some valuable life experience for learning new skills).
It chokes me up a little thinking too hard about it, I only hope I get to do it for another 20 years at least!
Great to talk to you and to get to know about the class. How can folks get in touch with you? And where can they get more information about the Saturday Academy classes?
You can get more details about the classes at https://www.saturdayacademy.org/. You can get to know more about me at the following sites:
I’d like to hear if you have a unique experience teaching young animators. You can always reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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