Independent Study on Animation Impress at School Meeting

Last Monday, during the school meeting, George Nguyen ’23 presented his topic on animation for the Independent Study Program. The Independent Study Program, a signature program at Northwood that the Peak Pathways Program will replace in the next school year, is a year-long, honors-level course offered to rising juniors and above. As the name suggests, the Independent Study Program is a student-led learning experience where students design their course, do their study, and present their findings during the final school meetings or at a symposium.

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The process of applying for an Independent Study begins the year before, in which students brainstorm for their topic of interest, then present an outline of what they want to accomplish to the Independent Study Committee. Post-approval, students will use the summer to prepare the plan for the upcoming school year.

Once the school year begins, students are connected to a mentor in their field of research. George and his brother, Tam, were linked with Dave Palmer through Mr. Spear. Palmer, a producer with 25 years of experience in TV animation, is known for his role as creator of Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues and The Backyardigans. Palmer and the brothers held a weekly meeting on Fridays.

Outside of weekly meetings, the twins’ work schedule is flexible during the week. However, they aim for nightly 2-3 hours of animation during the weekdays. During this period, they work on creating backgrounds, characters, and storyboards, as well as studying the animation process. The most considerable portion of work was actually spent revising and iterating after the initial design burst, according to George.

One of the difficult challenges with pursuing a student-led course is time management. “Sometimes, I had to do 100 to 200 frames a night,” said Tam. “Sometimes, I get bored or tired, and I miss a day, which piled up the schedule rather quickly.” He also mentioned what it meant to him. “I learned when to draw the line and know my limit better,” Tam added.

In contrast, one interesting discovery Tam made while designing the storyboard is how it should be approached. “At first, I would draw the frames from start to finish for a scene; then, I learned how he drew a storyboard from my friend. Now, I start by drawing the first, middle, and last frames, and then I would draw the frame in between them and keep repeating that,” Tam explained, “Doing it this way gave the characters more structure, and I made fewer mistakes, which meant less time spent redrawing.”

When asked about their favorite part of the process, George replied, “I enjoyed the drawing aspect of it, especially when I get in the flow of drawing the motion and seeing how everything works out.”

“I enjoyed assembling all the parts together, namely the background and the animation,” Tam remarked.

The end result of their studies will be a 3-to-5-minute-long animation, respectively. The framerates fluctuate from 12 frames to 24 frames per second, depending on the scene.


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