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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Animating Dreams: The ACME Animation Program

High school students draw on the expertise of professional cartoonists in an online mentorship program. Read the article.
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Animating Dreams: The ACME Animation Program (Transcript)

Student 1: Hi, Lennie and John.

Man: These students from Birmingham, Alabama and Los Angeles, California, are collaborating with their professional heroes on live TV.

Teacher 1: Well we had some questions on this, Lennie, because he's getting comments. We kinda wanted to get your take on it, okay?

Man: Part of an innovative program called Acme Animation, this twice a month teleconference offers students instant feedback on their animation projects from some of the top pros in the basis.

John: This is something we used to keep in mind at Disney a lot. If we had a character like this, a side view could show that really nicely. Now--

Man: The Acme Animation program was founded in 1996. Teacher Dave Master realized that the evolution of new technologies could transform the teaching of the art form. But his initial efforts met with resistance.

Dave Master: We came into schools that didn't have computer technology and if they did have it, they didn't wanna use it for the arts. They were using it in computer classes. The arts have been considered a frill, even though arts and entertainment is the second largest export of the United States right now, and it's a multi multi billion dollar industry, and that there are so many jobs and so many ancillary fields in the arts.

John: Okay, wow, we're really impressed by your clear poses. Made us laugh over here. That's great. And usually, that's the hard part--

Dave Master: What we're really trying to do is get kids to understand that there are many ways to communicate. There are studies that show from eighty to ninety percent of most people's information comes off of screens, whether it be computer screens or TV screens or movie screens. We're trying to get kids to not just be consumers of that, but to be educated consumers of that kind of material, and also, at the same time, creators of their own material.

Student 2: We weren't sure if we should add something.

Man: Every other Tuesday, Acme mentors gather at various studio sites and are connected to schools across the country via teleconferencing gear that includes digital projectors and laptops to run animation sequences.

John: Okay, you're gonna have to make that clear so the audience will understand it, because you don't want--

Dave Master: We have principles in animation that over the last 200 years have been developed, that enable a student if they learn them, to better convey their creative ideas. To learn these principles takes time, so it goes from a bouncing ball, which has about 80 percent of all the physical principles and timing that a student will ever have to learn in their entire history, and it's all wrapped up in that little ball, bouncing and squashing and stretching, with inertia at the top, and slowing down, decreasing speed, increasing speed. All of the things that they're gonna do when they create characters in whole films are all wrapped up in that little bouncing ball that they learned in the beginning when they start. So the design principles and the composition principles and the principles of good storytelling, music, are all brought into animation.

Man: To progress in the course, Acme students must demonstrate their grasp of basic animation principles in exercises like the bouncing ball, the leaf drop, and the brick fall.

Lennie Graves: This is very good. That's excellent. Another thing you might do is have the brick teeter at the top before it falls. See, what you do in animation is, you set people up for what they're about to see. Then you give them what you set them up for.

Man: Since not every new animation student can participate in live teleconferences, Acme has adapted their mentoring model to the web.

Jennifer Cardon Klein: And the student will put their file in here, and they do a little bit of an explanation about what they were trying to do.

Man: Now anyone anywhere in the world can upload their work and get answers to their specific questions.

Jennifer Cardon Klein: And she wants to know, are the poses and timing working well? And, you know, what else should she fix?

Man: Jennifer Cardon Klein learned animation in one of Dave Master's high school classes. Now, as a professional animator and mentor, she's helping others along the career path.

Jennifer Cardon Klein: What do you think about the overlap that--

Animation really is a craft and unless you have a mentor student relationship, you really cannot fully learn that craft. And that's how I learned my craft. That's how all the best animators that I know and best film makers that I know learned their craft. So for me to get in the position as a mentor and be able to pass on what I know to a student is incredibly rewarding.

James Lopez: I actually give them a step by step kind of guide as to how they might be able to fix their own scene.

In addition to written responses, mentors like James Lopez can upload their own sketches.

James Lopez: You know, animation is such a visual medium. You can't really just type out what you wanna convey in text.

You have to do it visually, I think. So I will actually, you know, draw it all out, you know, as simple as I can do it.

And, you know, it's like they say, a picture says a thousand words.

Lennie Graves: Harry, this right here is just a little polishing that you have to do.

To get exposure to professionals that can tell you the reason things that happen, that can express the potentials and the principles behind things happening.

If I had something like that when I was a child, it would have meant the world to me.

Student 1: I'm privileged to actually have someone that's working with Walt Disney and other companies like Warner Brothers and all those cool companies, to actually take their time out and help us with our artwork. And it's actually helping me in my science class as well, the bone structures and different types of bones we have to learn.

John: Okay, so you're showing us your character designs?

Student 3: Yeah.

John: Now the type of character you've got there, kind of like a high school bad boy, he's going to put all his weight on one leg, right? Probably cross his arms, cock his head to one side and give us a little bit of an attitude.

Man: Educators see benefits of the Acme program that go beyond learning how to draw.

Teacher 1: If it looks like this, a circle--

Camilla Avery: They seem to do better when they know they're preparing work that professional people will take a look at and give them comment on. So it's very helpful in the classroom. Also, working toward deadline, in their personal lives, I think that it's really affected them, that the know the urgency of a deadline. It's matured them in that sense, that they know, "When I put my work out here, this represents me."

Teacher 1: Tilt it this way a little bit. There you go. All right.

Greg Rankin: I think any time a kid is interested in something at school, there's some draw for him, that he or she really wants to be a part of, I think they start taking a little bit more responsibility for their own action.

They show a little bit more initiative. They don't wanna miss school and they develop their language skills, their technology skills, even their math skills. And sure, that has a spill over effect.

Dave Master: We have students doing mathematics projects. We have students doing historical projects, literature projects.

Animation is a vehicle to get across the major ideas, the big ideas of our civilization, of our world.

Teacher 2: Okay, we'll go to Carver High School in Alabama.

Greg Master: We have made it possible that a professional can spend a few minutes a week to actually mentor a kid, somewhere, in a distance city, who had the same dream they did and who has no opportunity without that mentorship.

And really, that's the magic of this new technology.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • J.B. Letchinger
  • Eric Snyder
  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • Orange County Department of Education
  • The ACME Network
  • DreamWorks Animation

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