Teacher brings animation classes to region

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Animator Mary Maio demonstrates the process of creating animated movies through Adobe Flash. (Photo CAMERON RASMUSSON

SANDPOINT — For an animator, the moment when all the drawings are complete and the characters come to life is a magical one.

That’s the feeling that drives Mary Maio. An artist and animator who recently won two awards at the Sandpoint Film Festival for her animated short “Madness in the Air,” the thrill of seeing life in her artwork is all the motivation she needs.

“I feel like I’m making this person come back from the dead,” she said. “Because of that, it’s easy to fall in love with the characters you draw.”

No wonder, after all the effort that goes into a project. At four minutes and 30 seconds, “Madness in the Air” required more than 7,000 frames of hand-drawn animation. It’s a skill set that requires the artistic ability to make quality drawings, the sensitivity to imbue those drawings with emotion, and the story-telling ability to send the viewer on a compelling journey.

“An animator has to be an actor, an artist, a storyteller and a director,” Maio said. “All of these things are important.”

She’s learned those principles over a long career. After earning a master’s degree and teaching certifications, Maio went to work several high schools and organizations while producing work for outfits like Discovery Education.

Maio aims to pass on all these skills in a third round of animation classes through the Arts Alliance this year. Starting this Tuesday and running until Dec. 18, the classes will focus on the aspects of drawing, story boarding, acting and Adobe Flash software essential to the animation process.

The animation classes take students through a step-by-step process, starting with flip-book animation and working toward the skills necessary for a full Flash animation like “Madness in the Air.” In fact, many of her students contributed to the project by designing story boards or offering visual ideas.

At the very beginning of a project, students use a flip-book to draw a series of images in light blue pencil. These drawings lay the groundwork for the final product, which uses dark pencil with an aim on injecting weight and emotion into the artwork. Maio teaches students the principles of pose, mood, weight and tension, which all add up to drawings with the illusion of life.

When it comes to finding students right for the class, the requirements aren’t at all stringent. According to Maio, the sessions are best suited for teens and adults, but there isn’t any level of drawing proficiency required. All students need is the motivation to draw their hearts out.

To that end, Maio also teaches elements of acting in her class session. By using dramatic games and lessons in miming and acting, students learn how to harness their imaginative power and inject it into their drawing.

According to Maio, animation is not only a rewarding form of self-expression — it’s also a potential career skill. Several different industries need talented artists, with animation specifically being useful in fields like video game design, advertising and filmmaking. Nevertheless, it’s the thrill of achievement and creation that keeps animators coming back to their work.

“You feel so excited when that work comes alive in the fourth dimension,” Maio said.

The upcoming animation classes will be held Tuesdays from 4:30-6 p.m. at the Arts Alliance headquarters, 518 Oak Street. The five-week session costs $35. To register, go to www.sandpointartsalliance.org or call 265-2787.

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