“You’re artists who are using animation to express something versus you are simply animators.” - Joel Frenzer, Animation faculty
We recently sat down with SMFA Film + Animation faculty member Joel Frenzer. We wanted to get a better understanding of what Animation is overall, but more importantly, what it is as a discipline at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Turns out, it’s a lot more than one would think, especially at SMFA.
Just for some background, what do you teach and where were you trained as an animator?
I teach a few different courses, which include Animation 1: Techniques and Sound; Animation 2: The Completed Short; Animation 3: Advanced Projects; and Directed Studies. I focused on animation in my undergrad days and received my MFA in 2010.
Do you get involved with other projects outside of the classroom that keep you engaged with the animation community?
Actually, I do, quite often. I have an animation podcast that I do once a month with a partner of mine, and I like to keep involved with freelance projects. I also get pretty involved with various animation festivals, including the Ottawa Animation Festival, one of the largest one in the world. This is also something I really encourage my students in, and over the last three years, we’ve taken a group from SMFA every September. They love it, and it gives them such a different perspective on what animation is overall.
What do you think most people think of when they think of animation?
People typically look at animation as cartoons; at least that’s what they think of here in the US. Internationally, however, it’s much different, and animation is considered a fine art. Countries such as Canada and France are the leaders in animation, and they view it as so much more than just a cartoon; it’s an art form, and a way to express oneself in a very personal way. What I tell students who attend the festival in Ottawa is, “You’re artists who are using animation to express something versus you are simply animators.” Going there allows them see what animation means to the world, and students start to understand that it’s much broader than they really thought.
Plus, it’s a great networking opportunity.
That sounds like an incredibly valuable experiential learning opportunity, what else makes the program unique?
The SMFA program is based on the Cal Arts experimental grad animation program at the root, but ours is designed for undergrads, mixed with Harvard’s animation model and use of digital tools. SMFA’s program is a fantastic hybrid that works for the School and the students, especially given that we have no majors.
The focus is essentially on who are you as a person and how you express that through animation. There’s an emphasis on unique conceptual pursuit; frame by frame movement; and the content is coming uniquely from who people are. It’s a form of personal expression where you get all of the technical acumen as well.
Our program is therefore also different from technical animation schools. We showcase all aspects of animation and animation techniques, analog through digital. We use historical and contemporary examples of animation to understand all of the devices you can use to invent.
What do you tell your students on the first day of class?
I lay the groundwork about what animation is. I ask them has anyone ever done animation before and they say I like claymation, or anime or Southpark. What they realize is that there’s much more to learn and master than they thought, and that gets people excited about their own ideas. I talk on the first day about getting your work into festivals and how important that is (like Ottawa). There are films in festivals that are 5 seconds or 30 seconds, which is amazing. There’s even an Academy Award nominee, “Fresh Guacamole” by PES, that is only 1:30. When students start to realize this, it opens up a new world, way beyond claymation or cartoons. They realize animation is kind of like a magic trick.
What other courses can students take within Film + Animation that might complement your classes?
There are a lot, actually, and the education provides a really solid foundation to a number of different things in the industry, from production, to direction to sound, and much more. But the primary classes we recommend are Sound 1, Video 1, Film 1- 3, History of Animation, 4 Moving Image Artists, and Performance 1. If had to recommend a concentration in animation, I might suggest Animation 1, 2, and 3 as the core to teaching students a variety of animation techniques, including sound design specific to animation; how to be the author of an animated short; and how to promote your work plus seek employment. This, plus our more elective classes: Stop Motion, Animation Integration, Drawing for Animation, Collage for Animation make for an extremely well-rounded understanding of animation.
What is the best part of the program, in your opinion?
That you can learn to be the author of your own short piece, learning all of the parts that are involved, including shooting, editing, sound, etc. Basically, you learn everything that it takes to produce, and you can take that out into the world. This goes with what I was saying before about students realizing they are artists who know how to use animation, from all aspects, and that’s extremely valuable for a future in this profession.
Speaking of the real world, what do some students go on to do with this knowledge/skill?
We’ve had students win major grants and scholarship for their independent animated shorts, as well as become leaders in the commercial animation industry. Five recent grads work at Titmouse Animation in Hollywood, animating on a number of Cartoon Network shows, including Superjail, China IL., and Motor City. One recent grad has even directed special animated segments for the NBC show Community. Other students have found similar work in Boston and NY in graphic design studios and film festival planning. They’re really prepared to do any number of things.
What piece of advice would you give your students?
Get as much experience as you can, and always network. If you can get an internship while in school, or even after you’ve graduated, be the best intern in the world. You never know who or what can happen in life, but being in the industry in any way is extremely valuable.
What would you being doing if you weren’t doing this?
I’d be a Muppet. (Joel may or may not have said this.)
I can see that. Thanks, Joel!
Film + Animation on www.smfa.edu
Contact Abigail Child or Joel Frenzer for more information.