Animation transformation: A lively new lab space for student animators


A wide-angle view of the new student workstations and full animation lab classroom.

The newly renovated animation lab boasts a sleek design and the latest in industry technology. (Photo: Todd Rosen)

By Kenna Caprio

April 7, 2021 — “Beautiful. High-tech. Student-focused.” Those are the words Justin Shaw, assistant professor of animation, uses to describe the newly renovated animation lab.

Located in the Dreyfuss Building on the Florham Campus, the lab reflects the latest in industry standards and is a major milestone for the School of the Arts, says Robin Barkley, professor of film and animation and director of the M.A. and M.F.A. in animation.

A workstation for a student animator, complete with two computer monitors, including a drawing tablet.

Student workstations are now outfitted with a drawing tablet, to make design work, including digital sculpture, drawing and painting, more efficient. (Photo: Todd Rosen)

“It feels very professional inside, just like an animation studio,” says Barkley. The technology has been updated — students now have access to Wacom drawing tablets and two 3D printers, plus standing desks and collaborative workspaces. There’s new lighting, flooring and a new sound system. Faculty members teach on new high definition monitors, especially useful for showing students detail work and lighting techniques. Just outside of the lab, professors can display student work on a large digital monitor in the hallway.

“When I first saw the lab in person, I was in awe,” says Joseph Bird, BA’19 (Flor), a graduate student in the animation program. He started snapping photos to post on his social media. “Our work requires powerful resources and the old lab was aging. We needed better specs for the job. I spent a lot of time in the old lab, and being in the new one is like coming home, in a way. It’s good to be back after almost a year.”

The animation lab reopened for classes this semester; students taking specific courses have access to the lab.

Currently, Shaw teaches Character Design in the in-person/hybrid format, with just seven students in the classroom at a time. At the beginning of the semester, he says, he only had two students come for in-person instruction. But now demand is high, and he’s created a rotating schedule to accommodate every student with a desire to work in the new lab.

A close up view of the two new 3D printers in the animation lab.

Students now have access to 3D printers. (Photo: Todd Rosen)

“It’s an amazing experience to have taught in the old lab and to now see that space transformed,” says Shaw. “The energy there motivates both the faculty and the students.”

A generous gift from donor Krystyna Doerfler made the updates to the animation lab possible.

Student animators participated in the redesign, too, by creating character art for the lab walls.

Nina Sorce, a Florham Campus senior majoring in film and animation, contributed Scorbunny, a white rabbit-like Pokémon. She originally created the likeness for an assignment last year where student animators had to simulate hair and fur in a project. Her favorite thing about the updated lab is the larger workspace; Sorce says she needs room to focus, to brainstorm, to compose.

All of the elements combined — the reconfigured space, the updated technology and the professional vibe — enhance instruction and the overall academic experience.

“It’s a state-of-the-art experience. I went in a few times during construction,” says Barkley. “The first time I walked into the completed lab, I almost cried. The transformation is overwhelming.”

When it’s safe, she says, come visit to get the full impact.

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