The course will be team-taught by associate professor Jason Roche, from the department of communication studies and associate professor Andrew Papa, from the department of theatre.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity because it teaches a skill that is so foundational to our work—collaboration. Professional voice actors need to understand the technical and creative side of animation in order to fully embody their characters, vocally and physically. By collaborating with communication studies students and learning from them—and by having communication studies students learn from our theatre students—they can all grow in their craft and artistry,” said Professor Papa.
“It’s the perfect combination,” said professor Roche. “All the students will leave the class with marketable skills in animation, audio production, and video editing. And they’ll have something tangible to put in their portfolios, whether it be for acting jobs or production jobs.”
The class will hold a special screening of finished projects at the end of the semester.
Professor Roche first discovered Character Animator in May of 2021. He was preparing to teach two asynchronous online summer courses and was looking for new ways to spice up his video lectures.
“I call it ‘teacher vs. TikTok.’ There are so many videos to watch or games to play. It’s a constant battle to keep students’ attention, especially for online teaching. I thought animation might help,” Roche said.
So he started making brief animated segments using Character Animator. Students loved it. And Roche, a documentary filmmaker and video producer, was hooked.
“It’s a whole new outlet for creativity. I was constantly thinking of fun things to do with it.”
He loved it so much that in July of 2021 he gave a presentation about Character Animator to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities Communication Conference. In December he gave presentations to a symposium of high school video teachers from around Michigan, then to a group of high school students.
They were all impressed with the animation, especially the quality of the lip-synching function and the ease of using Character Animator.
“For anyone who already edits with Premiere or After Effects, it’s something you can pick up in a day or two,” Roche said. “And it adds so much to your video projects.”
When he went back to face-to-face teaching in the fall of 2021, Roche continued to use Character Animator to spice up his lectures. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
But the puppets included with Character Animator were limited. “You can only use the same characters so often,” said Roche. “Students start to get bored seeing the same blue caveman or the same wizard over and over again. I had already downloaded all the free puppets I could find online, but I still needed more variety.”
He found the variety at ElectroPuppet.com, which includes a large number of puppets, all with pre-programmed triggers for smooth, natural motions.
“ElectroPuppet had just what I was looking for. The characters are cartoon-realistic, not overly exaggerated or grotesque. And they’re diverse. And they’re always adding more,” Roche said.
After receiving a university grant to purchase the puppets, he found himself creating more and more animations, and not just for classes.
“I made a short, animated film for my wife for Christmas – a spoof of a Hallmark Christmas movie that tells the story of how we met – loosely. I was so excited to give her present on Christmas morning I was like a little kid. I’m glad she liked it!”
Professors Roche and Papa are looking forward to some excellent student projects at the end of the semester. They promise to share the links.