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I LOVE animation and teaching

by | Sep 18, 2012

ILM Panel

It’s been way too long since I had the time to chime in here, but I’m really excited about something and can’t help myself!

So, there are a few things in life that I love. Any of you who are long-time readers and read my old posts (or the first two e-books) know that those things include my family, animation, teaching, fried chicken, comic books, and movies.

The most important is family, and THEN fried chicken, but frankly it’s a pretty close call. Just after chicken, duking it out for third place on the Shawn Kelly Love List, would be animation and teaching.

You know that old saying: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach?” Well, here at Animation Mentor, we set out to prove that saying is a bunch of baloney, and I think over the last 7 years, we’ve done a fantastic job of putting those words to rest. If there’s one thing we’ve proven, it’s that there IS a select group of talented animators who can both “do” and “teach.” We’ve proven that with the right teaching conditions and the right curriculum, it’s possible to put some of the best currently-working animators in the world in front of the most passionate animation students in the world, and the results have been magic.

I’ve written A LOT about my love of animation, but it remains the most magical art form in the world for me, and getting to be a part of it on a daily basis is a blessing. I don’t know how to else to say it. Animation is the ultimate storytelling medium, and the journey of being an animator is the journey of being a lifelong student of literally everything. EVERYTHING. Each movie has its own challenges, and beyond that, each character is unique, and each shot with that character will require its own necessary studies.

One second you are learning everything possible about some crazy military vehicle you will have to turn into a giant killer robot, and the next day you are studying amazing parkour moves frame-by-frame, and the day after that you’re learning about how airplanes work, and the day after that you are at a ballet to study the mechanics of graceful movement. And this never ends! EVER! How awesome is that?

And going to dailies and seeing monsters and robots and creatures and characters being brought to life by my impossibly-talented co-workers at ILM is just about the most creatively inspiring thing I can imagine, not to mention the inspiration I get from seeing our students learning and growing and reaching for the stars!

How could I not love animation?

Now, I would never say that I’m among the best of the “Those who can, do” group, and I’m also not going to claim to be the best teacher in the world. I’ve had more than my fair share of success as an animator, but I’m far from the best and still have so much to learn that it sometimes just seems like an impossible mountain to climb. I’ll be an animation student until the day I die, no matter how old I get or how many movies I have under my belt. I think I’m working on my 22nd movie right now, but I’m learning just as much as I did on the very first one (Jack Frost…sorry).

As for teaching (“Those who can’t, teach!”), my experiences with Animation Mentor and in the industry in general have provided me with a lot of opportunities to teach, and it’s something I love almost as much as animating! I’ve done a lot of lectures for Animation Mentor, I’ve taught university classes, I’ve traveled to the other side of the planet to help new animation departments get up and running, I’ve had the chance to teach seminars both internationally and here at home, and I’ve exchanged about ten gajillion personal emails with many of you. But you know what I’ve never ever had the time to do?


I’ve never mentored at Animation Mentor. I helped design the curriculum, I helped start and create the school from scratch, I helped recruit mentors, I helped figure out how the mentors would do what they do, but I’ve never mentored myself!

(Wait – that’s really confusing to read. “I’ve never mentored myself.” I don’t mean that I will be my own mentor or that I’ll be teaching myself anything. I should say “I’ve never BEEN a mentor myself!”)

Finally, as we move into our 8th year, the stars are aligning and I’ll have a bit of time to get to dive head-first into mentoring a course for our Animals & Creatures: Master Class. It has me so excited, that I had to write a blog post! Ha ha.

You see, I love to teach. LOVE it. Again, I’m not claiming to be the best animation teacher in the world (in my life, it’s been Wayne Gilbert), but there are few activities that are anywhere near as fun, challenging, and rewarding as sitting down with someone and teaching them something. I do feel like I’ve soaked up a lot of knowledge over the years from my peers and my mentors and am excited to get the chance to share that knowledge in a more intimate setting.

Teaching larger classes or multi-day seminars is a total BLAST, and is a completely different beast to tackle, but I’ve also really missed getting to spend some quality one-on-one time with students and helping to guide them through the oh-so-treacherous obstacle course that leads from blocking to final animation, so I’m really looking forward to January (when I’ll begin mentoring) and hope to see some of you there!

Of course, I plan to spend most of the time talking about the best ways to eat fried chicken, but if you guys want, we can talk about animation too. 😉

Oh – and just to throw it out there, I’ll also be participating in a webinar soon with some of the best ninjas from ILM (check out our photo, we DO have pretty awesome ninja poses, I have to say!) where we’ll be talking about how to take your demo reel from “good” to “holy moly, we need to hire that person right now!” Hope to see you there!!

– Shawn

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