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January 17, 2006

ILM, Pixar Animators Create Online School

Courtesy of TechWeb News

Some heavy hitters in Hollywood animation have built an online-only character animation school that builds on the concept of social networking, interactive teaching and timely feedback.

Called, the school springs from the creative minds of Bobby Beck, Shawn Kelly and Carlos Baena, whose combined credits include Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Star Wars. has invested nearly $1 million to build a social network where students from 37 countries can study character animation with 54 working artists from Pixar Animation Studios, Disney Feature Animation, Sony, Blue Sky Studios and others, according to Beck, co-founder, whose credits include Cars, which Pixar is scheduled to release this summer.

Beck and co-founders Kelly, an animator at Industrial Light & Magic, and Baena, an animator at Pixar, have set out to bring back character animation artistry.

"We first teach students to observe the world with new eyes," Beck said. "Today's animators struggle to reach the excellence found in character animation created during the golden age, much of it developed by Disney."

At all course work is done online. School instructors are called "mentors," who hold live weekly student question and answer sessions. Students complete the course work. The digital files are upload to one of six 3.0 Gigahertz Dell dual-Xeon Power Edge Servers running Microsoft Windows 2003.

The site offers online classes, buddy lists, instant messaging, training videos and journals. Web cameras are used to create video messages. But the most impressive tools are used by mentors to create video critiques for students to view at their leisure. Another is a proprietary tool built by's software developers that allows mentors to draw on top of the student's drawings, frame-by-frame to critique the work.

Randy Wilson, artist and animator at 7 Studios, a Los Angeles company that creates gaming software, chose for the mentors, because I "want to learn from the best," Wilson said in an e-mail. "As far as I could tell, these are the best willing to teach others their trade."

The 18-month accredited program cost more than $14,000. The program boasts that it has already placed several students at Disney Feature Animation, Blue Sky, Rhythm & Hughes and Electronic Arts.

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