Published 12:00 am Monday, August 6, 2007

By Sarah Hall
Salisbury Post
Characters are coming to life in Jackie Black’s basement.
In what appears to be an ordinary townhouse, Black’s “iToon Studio” is up and running. She has been offering a Kid’s Cartoon Academy this summer, with clay animation workshops for students age 7-12.
Participants in the week-long sessions build characters out of clay, create original stories for their characters, then use digital technology to film an original short movie.
During most of the year, Black says she is “Jackie Black, mild-mannered art teacher” for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
But in the summer, she turns into Animator Woman, and shares her knowledge with young people.
Black holds a B.A. in fine art from Virginia’s Hampton Institute (now Hampton University). She was born in Winston-Salem but moved to Salisbury with her parents at age 3. After graduating with an art degree she lived in Durham, then Winston-Salem, working a variety of jobs. She eventually made her way back home to Salisbury. She began teaching for Rowan-Salisbury Schools though lateral entry, obtaining licensure by attending Greensboro College’s alternative licensing program.
Even though she had put off teaching for a long time, once she started, she discovered she loved it.
Recently, four young future animators gathered in Black’s iToon Studio. They decided what type of character they would make, then busily set about forming their character’s skeleton with pipe cleaners and foil.
Girls in the group had artistic aspirations for their characters. Brianna Troutman was making a singer, and Tacora Crump’s character was to be a dancer.
The sports-minded boys, Joshua Endicott and Rochelle “R.J.” Hamilton, were crafting football players. R.J. was making a quarterback and Josh, a running back.
When they completed their figures’ framework, they were ready to apply the clay. They chose colors, flattened out pieces, and wrapped the pieces around the framework, first making the bodies, then legs with feet, arms, hands, and finally heads.
Black explained that the modeling clay animators use has some oil in it, and never dries out or hardens, so the characters remain flexible and moldable. The students discovered how the colors of clay could be mixed to make more colors. Black kept reminding them to clean their hands, to avoid unintentional color-mixing.
“Let’s talk about proportion,” Black said, eyeing the somewhat unbalanced forms taking shape. She explained to the children that proportion means the size of something compared to the size of something else.
She pointed to the dancer taking shape. “What do you notice about the length of the arms compared to the length of the legs?”
Black waited for Tacora to ponder the proportions, then said, “Let’s give your dancer longer legs.”
R.J. left a long piece of pipe cleaner for his quarterback’s neck, giving it a somewhat swan-like appearance.
“You satisfied with that neck?” Black asked him, letting him make his own decision, as the foil head drooped.
R.J. bobbed his own head in imitation of his character, and said he liked it that way. Black gave in, but R.J. discovered later when he tried to make his football player stand that the drooping head was a liability.
As the students worked, Black encouraged them to think about the personality of their characters.
“What kind of singer is she?” Black asked Brianna. “Jazz singer? Rock and roll? Hip-hop?”
That will affect how the character is dressed and posed.
Meanwhile, R.J. and Josh decided football players should be dirty and grass-stained, so they rubbed brown and green clay on them.
R.J. was the first to finish his figure, so he carried him to a table where the camera was set up, connected to a computer equipped with stop motion animation software, including an “onion skin” feature that allows the animator to see a translucent view of the current drawing as well as the prior one a bit dimmer, and the one before that.
Black says that her work with children has been greatly enhanced by the software that is now available and accessible to everyone. Anyone can do this with their home computer. She wants to add more equipment as her classes get larger.
“I’m starting small and letting it grow,” she says.
Producing stop motion animation is a time-consuming process. It takes about 12 frames to produce one second of animation, so the process requires patience. The students need to return to do the camera work, but Black filmed R.J.’s football player for a brief demonstration of the process.
Unfortunately, the quarterback’s proportions, such as his aforementioned neck and uneven feet (one is size 13 and one is size 6, according to Black) made standing impossible. They decided to make him a center instead, posing him in a three-point stance.
If there is enough interest from students and parents, Black is willing to continue offering these sessions even when summer is over.
For more information about future workshops, call Jackie Black at 704-630-6695.
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Contact Sarah Hall at 704-797-4271 or