Why More High Schools Need a 2D Animation Program

"The only other program I've ever used is Flash, but I prefer
Toon Boom; it's so easy to learn and great for animation." — Holly Cheng, former Franklin High School student

Why More High Schools Need a 2D Animation Program

High school classrooms are often characterized by heavy eyelids, distraction and butchered Shakespeare. For a digital generation raised on the Internet, a chalkboard leaves them bored. Student attention is a scarce resource that must be earned by engaging, creative course material — like animation.

Animation programs in high schools are a rapidly growing academic area that bridges student interest and professional demand. Fortunately, thanks to technological advancements, they are also more accessible and affordable than ever. By teaching future-proofed, industry-leading digital solutions like Toon Boom software, secondary schools can offer creative career-oriented courses (and certification) in a blended learning environment and streamline students into studios ready to hire them.

Franklin High School's (FHS) animation program has brought its pupils awards and attention, while maximizing their artistic potential. Located in Elk Grove, California, it has three courses at any given time —two Animation 1 sections and a combined Animation 2 and 3— each with approximately 36 students and 126 hours of class time, spread over 90-minute periods. The school recently upgraded its computer lab with new iMacs and the latest versions of Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Harmony.

A Franklin High School student using Toon Boom software.
Source: Brad Clark.

Using leading technology and software is only one way FHS invests in helping students turn cartoons into careers. It also has an articulation agreement with Sacramento City College's animation program, which allows high schoolers to earn free college credit towards introductory animation courses. Students are additionally prepared for the post-secondary and professional worlds through project-based learning and real client work.

Not only will a high school program like FHS's benefit students' careers, but also teachers' through professional development and certification. Toon Boom provides training and materials to ensure any instructor can learn and lead an animation class, regardless of their background.

Toon Boom also makes it easy to give youth the engaging education and blended learning they want; all an institution needs is a computer lab. From there, the syllabus, curriculum and course materials are provided. Additionally, the Toon Boom Learn Portal is a free online resource for both students and teachers, whether it be for facilitated learning during class time or as a reference during independent study.

Animation and video production teacher Brad Clark has overseen Franklin High School's program for the last eight years. Using project-based learning, his students begin with the principles of animation in Toon Boom Harmony. Assignments include a bouncing ball, a flour sack and rotoscoping based on reference footage of each class member dancing, which then gets cut into a music video.

The final Animation 1 project is titled 'The Fall', involving a person walking off a cliff and coming to a unique ending. Students demonstrate that they can design an original character, create a walk cycle, turnaround and lip sync their voice to that protagonist. Additional course material includes daily lessons on the history of animation, which cover selections from Jerry Beck's 50 Greatest Cartoons among other topics.

"The goal is to expose students to the tools, techniques and occupations involved in animation, visual effects and game art," says Clark. "While learning the software, students gain a comprehensive overview of the principles of animation. Additionally, by the end of the first course, they have a college-level overview of the history of animation."

Second year students create a 30-second Public Service Announcement (PSA) aligned with one of several contests Franklin High School enters annually. This includes a number of regional and statewide competitions, one of which is sponsored by the local public access channel, allowing pupils to pick from three different nonprofit or governmental agencies that serve as real-world clients. (See more of the PSAs on Franklin High School's YouTube page.)

These organizations have existing public information campaigns that provide the general content around which the PSAs are built. The clients then select the top student work for broadcast on the public access channel and for use in their social media outreach. The youth can also choose other contests with topics like tobacco, suicide prevention, driving safety and school attendance.

At the beginning of the term, Clark instructs his students to use the Toon Boom Learn Portal to get familiar with Storyboard Pro and encourages them to explore its free resources for questions. From there, they draw references on paper and input them into the storyboarding software before recording their audio tracks. Then, they start to animate in Harmony for the finished product.

"For this 30-second animation, they go through the entire production process of working for what is essentially a real client — it's a great experience," says Clark. "One of the things I think we're going to see is more high school classes realizing [PSA contests are] a great assignment for animation students."

The PSAs not only enrich students' learning with practical experience, but impart the values of storytelling and social good. FHS student Holly Cheng married the two concepts to massive acclaim in her Caged Bird animation for Directing Change, a program and film contest whose mission is: "To educate young people about critical health topics through the medium of film and promote social justice by changing conversations in schools and communities".

Cheng's 60-second animation was twice as long as most of her classmates, though the extracurricular time was ultimately well spent. Created last year in Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Animate Pro (prior to FHS's upgrade to Harmony), it tackled the taboo topic of mental illness in the Asian-American community.

"Caged Bird was very personal; a lot of friends of mine struggle with Asian families and having mental illness," says Cheng. "It's something that impacts my friends and life — I wanted to make something people could relate to and raise awareness about it."

She continues, "The only other [animation] program I've ever used is Flash, but I prefer Toon Boom's interface. It's so easy to learn and great for animation."

Her short went on to win the top prize in Directing Change's Through the Lens of Culture category, as well as innumerable other awards including: National Television Arts & Sciences National High School Production Award, first place in the Public Service Announcement category and the Festival Most Creative Award at Walt Disney Family Museum Teen Animation Festival International (TAFI), and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Regional High School Award of Excellence, among many others.

Having graduated from Franklin High School last spring, Cheng is now a freshman at University of California, Santa Cruz in the Art and Design: Games and Playable Media program. Her experience at FHS is emblematic of the advantages of high school animation programs.

Namely, not only can they bring reputational returns for the institutions and students involved, but the ease and fun of learning Toon Boom software enables pupils to produce award-winning, artistically driven work. In turn, this gives them creative, career-oriented future-proofed skills that will benefit them long after graduation.

Want to start a 2D animation program with Toon Boom at your high school? Reach out to Philip Greenstein at pgreenstein@toonboom.com.

Banner image source: Holly Cheng via Franklin High School YouTube page.

About Franklin High School

Franklin High School (FHS) is a secondary school in Elk Grove, California. It runs a three-course animation program that teaches the essentials of Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Harmony. FHS animation students have won awards at both the local and national level, including the National Television Arts & Sciences National High School Production Award and National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Regional High School Award of Excellence, among others.

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