Animation Program Development: From the Drawing Board to the Classroom

Jeff Larson - Art, Animation, Media Arts at Balboa High School/ CAST ACAdemy, San Francisco

Building a Program Foundation (Beginning)

Animation is an incredible and challenging medium of expression. Animation has a long deep history, that is intrinsically tied to traditional art, cameras, motion pictures, computers and technology, storytelling and advertising. Examples of animation surround us everywhere, on both big screens and small screens. Animation is "Visual Communication", and as such plays a strong role in a wide range of careers and fields, from statistics and the use of data visualization, to architectural models and walk through, from medical imaging and modelling to game design and entertainment. As such animation has broad appeal to our students and is worth incorporating into our schools and curriculum. Whether you are incorporating a unit in a computer skills course, or a stop motion project in a science class, or implementing a multi-year course sequence as part of your district's CTE (Career Technical Education Program) there is much to consider in planning and decision making.

12 Principles of Animation

Squash and stretch



Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Slow In and Slow Out


Secondary Action



Solid Drawing


Traditional vs. Digital

A major consideration when incorporating teaching animation will be what form of the medium do you want to work with. What would you or your instructor be most comfortable with. On one end, traditional stop motion techniques are the quickest and easiest to get familiar with, or find the resources to use in the classroom. From apps on phones, tablets, and desktops, stop motion software gives both teachers and students the place to explore and learn about the essential of working with a frames, timing, and a wide range of materials, from clay, cutouts, objects, and drawings.

6 Weeks/Unit and Lessons

If you have mainly worked with stop motion techniques on projects, and perhaps included hand drawn materials as a part of that, you may be ready to move forward and expand into the the realm of more advanced 2D animation production as a full course offering. If so, you will want to start to research and investigate possible software choices, more advanced animation drawing techniques and concepts, and possibly find a course or training you can take to get familiar with some of the more technical aspects of 2D animation. In some of the sections below you will find links to additional books and resources you will want to research and practice with.

One to two Year Program

It is possible to move directly into the world of 3D animation production, but spending a good deal of time working with 2D techniques, equipment, and software, will make this jump a lot easier. Additionally, from an educational and foundational perspective, a student who learns animation principles and techniques in 2D will still be in a good position if they choose to move forward and advance their learning in 3D.

Two/Three/Four Year Programs

3D animation is a daunting and challenging medium for expression. Technically challenging just from a software mastery standpoint, artistry and expression are even more challenging. The work of 3D animation that most of us see in movies, games, and advertisement, is the culmination of years of personal and group efforts. If you are ready to offer 3D as a part of your class or course offerings, you will need to again research and consider what software you feel most comfortable teaching and have access to. You will probably want to acquaint yourself with curriculum and projects associated with that specific software. You will probably want to get training yourself, either online, in-person, or some combination of both. And while 3D modelling and animation techniques are similar across platforms, each software has it's intricacies, strengths, and deficits. From an industry perspective, what 3D software an employee knows is usually not as much a concern as the creative content and ability of the employee, as the software can be learned. So, from a teaching perspective, any exposure or opportunity to learn and work with 3D software is a big plus, as it just puts a student further on their path of what is likely to be a life long learning process.

Regardless of what animation projects or approaches you decide to take, or however much time you end up dedicating to it in the classroom, the big take away should be that students end up aware and inspired creatively, and see the connections and possibilities to further explore on their own, or in courses or programs at colleges and universities. 

Project IDeas and Options

  • Bouncing Ball/Secondary Actions/Wing Cycles/Walk Cycles
  • Visual Poems
  • Flip Books
  • Public Service Announcements/Social Issues
  • Humorous Shorts/Sight Gags
  • Motion Graphics/Bumpers for TV and Film
  • Animated Infographics
  • Stop Motion Music Videos
  • Special Effects for Video Productions
  • Commercials for School Events or Activities
  • How to Lessons for Science
  • Historical Events
  • Large Group Productions
  • Game Design Assets (Characters, User Interfaces, Props, Backgrounds)

Resources for Curriculum

Resources for Traditional 2D Animation Equipment and supplies and Software

CAST Academy's Animation Program at Balboa High School San Francisco

Animation/Media Arts Lab
Media Arts 1
Industry Standard Studio

Animation Section 1 (First Year)

In the first year of the course students learn the fundamental skills and technical knowledge to produce 2D animation in a studio based setting, including drawing, pencil testing, scanning, inking, painting, use of various industry standard software. Students learn about the various roles in the profession, the production cycle, and the wide application of the animation skill set.

Animation Section 2 (Second Year)

In this course students build on the foundation animation skills learned and developed in the first year of the course. This year continues to have students work in production teams on a wider variety of projects and on a quicker production cycle. Students also learn more advanced animation graphics production techniques and effects using Illustrator, After Effects, and Cinema 4D. There is a pronounced shift from character driven animation work to broader motion graphics and communications, with an emphasis on the social and business functions of visual communications.

Cinema 4D Modelling and Animation

Animation at a glance

Walt Disney Family Museum
  • Sketchbook: Assignments and Drawings every week/all year.
  • +16Weekly assignments each semester done in red/blue/graphite
  • Elements and Principles of Art/Design
  • Cartoon History/Animation History (ongoing)
  • Fundamental Drawing Skills
  • Human Form/Figure/Movement
  • 12 Principles of Animation
  • 7 Steps for Animating a scene
  • Basic Drawing Procedure for Animation
  • Production Work Flow/Job Responsibilities in the Studio
  • Career/Technical Awareness (ongoing)
  • Building and Developing your Portfolio
  • Arts and Entertainment Industry Overview
  • Careers and Professions in Arts/Design/Technology
  • Economic Contributions to Local, State, National Economy
  • Model Sheets/Turnarounds/Layouts/Character Development
  • Movement and Timing
  • Time Sheet/Pencil Test Procedures
  • Foundation Animation Assignments
  • Learn Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator/After Effects/Animate/InDesign + more
  • Layout/Design
  • Character Development
  • Scriptwriting/Storyboarding
  • Digital Dialogue and X-Sheets
  • Audio Recording and Editing
  • Scanning/Clean-up
  • Compositing
  • File Management/Networking
  • Color Theory and Application
  • Digital Ink and Paint
  • Animatic as framework for Animation
  • Video Editing
  • Exhibition, Promotion, Publishing and Distribution
Visual Effects

Industry Sector

Purpose The Arts, Media, and Entertainment (AME) Industry Sector is a California Department of Education (CDE) program designed to identify and develop curriculum, standards, instructional resources, and assessment strategies for teachers, students, guidance personnel, curriculum planners, and administrators. Leadership in the AME Sector is fostered through partnerships with a variety of media and entertainment industry partners and key representatives from the California Community Colleges, California State Universities, and the University of California Postsecondary Education systems. The program identifies tools, resources, strategies, activities and standards to assure that students are offered challenging, relevant academic and career-related experiences. Through on-going implementation of high quality, standards-based programs, students may access a range of sequential courses of study developing skills in Design, Visual and Media Arts, Performing Arts, Production and Managerial Arts, and Game and Simulation Design pathways, as well as focused in-depth study of specific AME Sector careers.
Intro to Working with Cintiqs + Photoshop +Character Design

Related Careers

  • 3D Modeler
  • Animator
  • Art Director
  • Film and Video Editor
  • Flash Animator
  • Graphic Designer
  • Stop Motion Animator
  • Video Game Designer
  • Animation Director
  • Background Painter
  • Cartoonist
  • Character Animator
  • Character Rigger
  • Color Key Artist
  • Compositing Artist
  • Concept Artist
  • Digital Painter
  • Director
  • Effects Animator
  • Forensic Animator
  • Inbetweener
  • Independent Filmmaker
  • Key Animator
  • Lighting Technician
  • Mathematical Modeler
  • Render Wrangler
  • Storyboard Artist
  • Texture Artist
  • Visual Development Artist

Course Objectives/Industry Alignment

My program provides students with a solid foundation and introduction to traditional/digital animation techniques, an overview of industry related software, and is modeled on a studio production arrangement. Students learn about the various roles and responsibilities needed to work together to create and maintain large projects. Students are given multiple opportunities to pitch and present ideas, rough projects and final projects to industry professionals. Additionally our program includes a business plan project that introduces students to aspects of planning, promoting and executing a profitable idea/product. Students develop a portfolio of work that they can share with prospective employers or school programs, which demonstrate their working knowledge of the skills sets in creative industries.

Industry Partners and Institutions we work with: Adobe Inc., San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bay Area Video Coalition, Walt Disney Family Musuem, San Francisco Mime Troupe, WalMart.com, XYZ Creative Agency


Working with Wacom/Cintiqs

My course is taught in a lab of 35+ up to date iMacs that have just had the current versions of Adobe CC 2017 installed. I have the use of and access to audio recording equipment, green screen backdrops and studio lighting. Additionally in the last two years I have added a poster printer, and photo printer. This year my lab was also funded and received 35 industry standard Cintiq 13HD screens for use in graphics and animation production.

My course curriculum, lessons, and projects are aligned to curriculum and outlines for a two year animation course sequence that is hosted on the CTEOnline web-site. This curriculum was developed by myself and a dozen other CTE instructors under the guidance and review of the CA Department of Education, and is aligned to CTE standards for AME and Common Core.

My students should be aware of proper set up and posture of working in sitting conditions in the industry, but do to space and furniture limitations, we are not well situated. My classroom/lab is slated to undergo renovation for electrical and internet wiring this summer, that will hopefully address the dated structural limitations that currently force me to have an assembly of extension cords running across floors. Old lighting was recently fixed to repair flickering and outages in a good portion of the space

Labor Market Survey

Quick Facts: Multimedia Artists and Animators 2014 Median Pay $63,630 per year $30.59 per hour Typical Entry-Level Education : Bachelor's degree Work Experience in a Related Occupation: None On-the-job Training :Moderate-term on-the-job training Number of Jobs, 2014 64,400 Job Outlook, 2014-24 6% (As fast as average) Employment Change, 2014-24 : 3,900

Articulation Agreement with City College of San Francisco

I recently completed and am awaiting final approval of my courses articulation agreement with City College of San Francisco, that will allow students who complete both courses with a “C” or higher, the ability to take a test, and submit portfolio and be able to get credit for and bypass foundation digital design and broadcasting courses.

Students also have the Dual Enrollment options while in our program and can complete and earn certification for Broadcast Foundations.

Student Involvement with Industry Board and Supporting the Students

At present students have had little if any involvement in our Advisory Board meetings. I know it has been mentioned before, but to my knowledge they may have attend one or two meetings in the last couple of years. Student representatives could share experiences, and ongoing student perspectives. Our district does host an annual CTE Showcase event where students and programs host tables, display work, and industry partners attend, visit, and review work over the course of the evening.

Industry partners have and are able to provide classroom speakers, field trips, job shadows, and mock interviews. The members have only provided a handful of actual internships (difficult ask that is in growth and development with district CTE staff). Additionally members and industry have provided inside and outside of class project review, input, feedback, and mentorship. Members could also support and sponsor student/leaders involved in CTSOs.

Student Project Examples

Adobe Spark(Voice) Promotion

Thank You!

Have Any questions or want more Resources??Contact INfo: jlarson.arted@gmail.com


Created with images by 3:19 - "Storyboard" • Magic Madzik - "35/366: Anima 2008" • vancouverfilmschool - "VFS Classical Animation: Digital Ink & Paint" • VFS Digital Design - "Stop Motion (Dec '11)" • vancouverfilmschool - "Digital Character Animation Campus at VFS"

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