Animation for Career Development and Teaching the School Curriculum

"They can create the assets and then explain the whole concept related to the subject matter. Storyboard Pro is used as a tool to make teaching simpler and more engaging." — Shawn Sullivan, Sheldon High School

Animation for Career Development and Teaching the School Curriculum

Sheldon High School deserves the spotlight for many reasons. Located in Sacramento California, the school offers its 2 340 students stimulating academic programs in order to prepare them to be responsible, productive, creative and employable citizens who effectively communicate in a culturally diverse and technologically based society.

  • In the class
  • In the class

Implemented in 1998, Sheldon's Animation and Game Design Program and its K9 Studios enable students to develop artistic skills that can lead to college admissions and lucrative careers. Fully equipped with Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Animate Pro, their lab puts in students' hands and creative minds powerful technology to undertake their projects. Students can access five animation courses that provide hands-on projects, allowing them to develop the necessary skills to pursue their education in the field. Strong partnerships with career professionals at Disney, Pixar and Cartoon Network provide mentoring and internship opportunities for students.

Led by Shawn Sullivan, founder of the animation program and animation teacher at Sheldon/K9 Studios, the popular program keeps growing and its achievements have drawn a lot of attention. Already a recipient of three awards from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), the Academy granted them an Award for Merit for the production of David Garibaldi and his CMYKs music video in 2013.

K9 Studios recently received a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to produce three to five minute animated short films with direct instruction and participation with professional animators and artists throughout the entertainment industry. This film will be created by forty-five high school students and will be screened at movie theaters in the San Francisco Bay area and Los Angeles to gain maximum exposure. Austin Madison, alumni of the program, and working at Pixar's Story department, will work with the students using the Toon Boom pipeline and will bring colleagues from Pixar. "The philosophy of my class is to provide real world learning opportunities in the area of animation education. It doesn't get bigger than this," stated Shawn Sullivan.

Shawn and Austin work out the calendar and organize how the students will submit work to the professionals to get their feedback. The grant will cover fees, travel expenses, production costs, as well as the premieres in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The film should be completed by the end of the 2013–2014 school year.

Shawn Sullivan is a remarkable teacher whose passion for animation and teaching goes beyond the line of duty. Such a dedication led him to oversee the whole animation portion of the curriculum for the State of California, working with Career Tech Ed, which is connected to the California Department of Education. He completed two modules, Digital Animation and Advanced Animation. Both are published online at and teachers from all over the United States and beyond can download it for free. The first module is designed for teachers who are beginning to teach animation, covering the first step of production up to editing. It includes the whole lesson, assets and video clips. The second module offers a full-blown lesson plan on how to deal with character design and the animation walk cycle. Teachers can select what works best for their classroom and program. "I wrote the lessons not specific to any technology as the goal was to cover the animation concepts. However, Toon Boom software can easily be integrated to deliver the lesson," explained Shawn Sullivan.

  • In the class
  • In the class

Shawn understands how much animation can also be effective in teaching subjects other than art and gaming. In that context, there are two additional curriculum-related initiatives in which he is involved. The first one is with Kristen Couchot, a fellow teacher who works at Calvin High School, a continuation high school, which caters to hard time graduating students as well as helps with credit recovery. Shawn introduced her to Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. With her 9 year-old daughter in tow, she quickly realized, based on his reactions, how appealing the tool could be for learning. "As a teacher, we tend to get in the way as the tool and approach are very natural to the youth," explained Shawn. The presentation was such a success that Kristen wants to develop a general science project. Previously, students received a hand out and had to identify the water cycle. Now, they will design the hand out in Toon Boom Storyboard Pro. "They can create the assets and then explain the whole concept related to the subject matter. Storyboard Pro is used as a tool to make teaching simpler and more engaging," he added. One of Shawn's students will help create a library of assets for her classroom. This is part of the community service students need to perform in their first year. "This is a real world experience for him as he is hired by the science teacher to create an asset library of 300 items to start," Shawn said.

The other curriculum-related initiative involves teaching teachers of all subjects how animation can be integrated in English, Math and Science classes. Shawn used Flip Boom All-Star and his son was actually showing the teachers how easy it was to use the tool and apply it to learn anything. "My kid never saw Flip Boom All-Star before and right away he was up and running. Teachers tend to get intimidated at first but when they see a kid do it so easily, they buy the idea," he concluded. So far, Shawn presented to three groups and the response has been very positive.

Shawn Sullivan is a true ambassador for animation and Toon Boom is honoured to have him as such a dynamic and committed supporter. His work at Sheldon/K9 Studios and within the broad educational community calls for nothing less than red carpet kudos and many award recognitions.

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