Animation and the Joy of Learning

By Chad Stewart

November 2016

One of the most heartbreaking things I see as a teacher, parent, and animator is young people putting so much pressure on themselves that they lose the joy that attracted them to an art form (or activity) in the first place.  As a young animation student, I was drawn into a sequence of excitement, opportunity, achievement, and comparison (to those more advanced than myself), and then to insecurity and frustration.  Each time I saw someone’s animation, I had to know if I could do better – if I could be more valuable (as if becoming more adept at a certain skill had any bearing on who I was or my value as a person).  But, I continued to put pressure on myself to understand complicated concepts instantly and execute them effortlessly.  Little by little, that pressure robbed me of the joy I felt when animating.  And it continued not just through school but well into my career until finally I couldn’t keep up with it.

After four years working for Walt Disney Feature Animation in the late ’90s, I found myself cleaning out my desk and saying goodbye to the job that had been my dream since 6th grade.  While I had talent, I couldn’t draw or animate as well as the other artists there, some who were my age, but many who had been animating for decades.  And instead of approaching my position with a humble curiosity, I had withdrawn into myself, hoping that I could somehow pull some animation off on my own that would “Wow!” those around me, which of course, I couldn’t.  As a result, I found myself without a position on the newest film, without the opportunity to learn from those who had so much more skill than myself, and without the desire to continue animating, a process that had always fascinated me as something I truly loved to do.  What had I done wrong!?  I had expected to learn too much too quickly.  I had attached my character and self-worth to a skill that took thousands of hours to master.  I had abandoned the joy of learning.

I finally did give up putting that unachievable pressure on myself, and I have enjoyed animating in the world of film over the last 26 years, although I still feel it sneak up on me every once in a while.  Now, I see the pressure in new places – the eyes of my children and my students.  I think with the technological advancements today, it makes it even harder for this next generation.  A world of information and opportunity is at their fingertips.  Almost everything is effortless…and yet, there are still things in life that are truly hard to master: growing up and maturing, learning to interact with people, knowing thyself, and, in the case of my students, animation.  When the movie goer watches an animated movie, years of work from hundreds of people is ingested in a couple of hours.  Unfortunately, students will sometimes expect the same level of skill and expertise from themselves that they see on the screen.  I make it a point to always take the pressure off an assignment.  Each of them is at a different point in their journey.  Each is valuable.  And it’s getting them excited about the journey that is the real key.  Then, doing something wrong becomes a fantastic opportunity to learn – it’s not a discouragement, but rather a moment to build momentum.  If we embrace failure and mistakes as the catalysts for understanding and disconnect them from our value as people, then we have a learning model that is powerful and enjoyable!  At least it was that way for me.

Online – LIVE Animation and Drawing Classes

Taught by a Former Disney Animator

Chad Stewart brings his vast experience in animation to school age students from ages 11-18! He has worked for Disney in the past and has over 27 years of experience in the feature animation world in 2D (hand drawn) and 3D (computer). Just to name a few of his projects, he’s worked on Polar Express, Emperor’s New Groove, Tarzan, and the Smurfs movies. He has been a traditional animator, a 3D animator, and has supervised other animators on multiple films. He and his wife have 8 children and are nearing the end of their homeschooling journey! They began The Animation Course about 3 years ago, and it has been a highlight of their life as they work to bring the wonder of animation to many students and families! Classes fill up fast – so reserve your spot soon with a $50 registration fee.  We have live spots and recorded classes, so there are options available for many different needs.

Our live and recorded classes – with grading – are $300.

Levels 1 & 2 Animation cover the principles (beginning and advanced) of animation
Levels 3 & 4 Animation cover story boarding and producing a student film
Level 1 Drawing covers the concept of “how to see” and some techniques of drawing
Level 2 Drawing covers the techniques for character design

Please send inquiries to or check out our website: www.theanimcourse.comKayla can also be reached by phone at 661-755-5775.

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