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Enroll now for Comic-Con Museum's Animation Academy

Comic-Con Museum is unveiling its new headline exhibit, "The Animation Academy: From Pencils to Pixels."

"The Animation Academy" offers an education in the history of animation, from hand-drawn cels to stop-motion to computer-generated images. It even pays tribute to legendary Disney voice actors such as Bill Farmer.

"For the last 36 years, I've been doing cartoons and movies and television shows with such characters as Goofy, one of my favorites, and his pal Pluto. Yes. I get paid to bark," Farmer said with a smile.


You can also hear his voice as part of the "Animation Academy" exhibit.

"This is a very interactive exhibit where you learn about the history of animation," Farmer said. "Some pioneers in animation you may not know about. There's a lot of hands-on things where you can actually animate things and learn the process. And it's all that behind-the-scenes stuff that you may not know about that really is intriguing about this exhibit."

Troy Carlson, CEO of Stage 9 Exhibits, which designed the show, has been obsessed with animation since he was a kid making Super 8 movies. His favorite endeavor was a stop-motion film about a pirate battle that he shot in the family fireplace.

"Because in the pirate battle, the town was going to burn down, so I used the fireplace as a safe place," Carlson said. "I built my town. The pirate ship came in, a fire started, and the town burnt down. And I think that was all I got out of my two minutes of 8mm film."

But it is that passion for making film and appreciation for artists that inspired him to make the exhibit.

Saturday morning cartoons have a kind of altar at the Animation Academy.
Comic-Con Museum
Saturday morning cartoons have a kind of altar at the Animation Academy.

"I wanted to pay tribute to the pioneers," Carlson said. "From the early years on up to the early computer animation and show the process of animation and show all the work that goes into it and kind of deconstruct the process of animation so that it's a very hands-on, engaging exhibit where people can make their own stop-motion movie, they can draw their own characters, they can learn what goes into making an animated film."

The exhibit is as much about showcasing the history of animation as it is about letting people get an opportunity to trace an animation cel or try to make a stop-motion animation or manipulate panels in a storyboard.

One of Carlson’s favorite spots is the stop-motion studio, where they actually made a Gumby film after 50 hours of meticulous animation.

"One thing we want to showcase in Animation Academy is that you don't have to have fancy sets," Carlson said. "So the sets that we use for this were made out of cereal boxes, and we made the shingles out of cereal boxes. Just use your imagination and you can create your own animated film."

Carlson wants the exhibit to show both how easy it is to experiment with animation as well as how much craft and time it takes to actually complete a project. I attempted to make just a couple seconds of stop-motion animation and immediately realized I started with the figure not in the best light and would have to start all over again if I wanted it to look good.  

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

The exhibit features Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering photographic work of studies in motion (his work is referenced in "Nope") and some gems of early animation such as Windsor McCay's charming 1914 "Gertie the Dinosaur."

You can also find exhibit space dedicated to Chuck Jones, Ray Harryhausen and Saturday morning cartoons. 

Animation seems to have universal appeal.

"Because it's heightened reality," Farmer said. "You can do things in animation you can't do in real life. It's kind of like a dreamland. And it's the thoughts and ideas of all these animators without the rules of physics interfering."

But the exhibit does try to explain some of the magic behind animation. Take a massive camera set up to shoot single frames of animation.

"We're so lucky that our smartphones have so much technology in them," Carlson said. "You can shoot your own film with them, but, going back just 30, 40, 50 years, you needed humongous pieces of equipment like this to photograph each cel individually, and everything was very mechanical."

The six-foot Zoetrope device at the Animation Academy.
Roland Lizarondo
The 6-foot Zoetrope device at the Animation Academy.

There is also a 6-foot 3D Zoetrope that shows how a pre-film device produced the illusion of animation. This device has rings of action figures from Pink Panther to the Simpsons, arranged in circles in which each figure advances the movement of the previous one.

"I think there are 10 lines of animation and, in each one of those lines of animation, there's either 14 to 17 frames of animation," Carlson said. "When the platter spins at about 25 miles an hour, there's LED strobes that will match the speed of the zoetrope and flash at the exact time. So, when you watch it, your mind is filling in the gaps, and you're getting the illusion of movement, and it looks like these characters are actually moving — when really it's what a motion picture or an animated film boils down to: the illusion of movement."

Think back to those flip books you might have had as a kid and it's the same basic idea.

If you want to learn more about animation, or see if you have the patience to make a stop-motion film, then you’ll want to enroll at the Animation Academy. It is set to run through the fall of this year. The museum will also be providing classes in drawing.

In addition to the Animation Academy, Comic-Con Museum also just opened Cover Story: Five Decades of Comic-Con.

Cover Story: Five Decades of Comic-Con