By Maureen Selwood

Maureen Selwood is the director of the CalArts Experimental Animation. In this article, she takes us on a comprehensive retrospective of the program history and shows us its more relevant students.

This retrospective of the rich history of the Experimental Animation Program allows us to look at how the development of authorship begins with a young artist. Various graduates have left the program with highly individual pieces of work that have created a foundation for their skills to be later demonstrated in industry successes. This program aims to highlight some of these works while including some works that show current films by a new generation. It often surprises viewers just how unique and personal these early works are when the industry successes become well known. This showing lets us go back and see some highlights.

The Experimental Animation Program at California Institute of the Arts started thirty-two ago with a handful of students under direction of Jules Engel. It began as a program designed to help the student establish oneself aesthetically and evolve at a form that speaks of a personal vision. In the early 1970’s across America, universities and colleges were developing an approach to teaching the arts in an academic environment. Cal Arts was alone is setting up a program in animation. There was no set curriculum and a fresh new ground was created that allowed for new creative approaches towards animation.

These early students created a body of work that established the foundation of the program to be a leader in the work done by students since then. Over the years the program has grown to encompass the many directions that independent animation includes. Mirror People by Kathy Rose is an early example of the individual working as a student under the guidance of Jules Engel yet remaining independent and serious as any artist working outside the academic situation. This early work of Kathy’s helped to give Cal Arts a presence internationally. Kathy came to animation having worked and studied as a dancer. She did remarkable seminal works as a student and went on to do installation and performance work using her education to help lead her into the direction that integrated her talents.

The studio system of the industry of animation in Los Angeles co-existed with the bubbling ferment of new ideas at Cal Arts. As a student, Eric Darnell who created Filter Gallery was experimenting with the physical material of film and the avant-garde inspired by the films of Stan Brackage. How wonderful to discover that the freedom to develop such a unique vision could also encompass an approach such as the computer technology as the feature, Antz and an ability to communicate with a wide audience. The depth of understanding of the experimental techniques that Eric Darnell worked with helped to establish a confidence with the computer technology of his feature work. It especially showed others that sometimes the student knows where he is going and the teacher stands as a witness to a process contacted when needed. Assimilate new animation techniques.