Industrial Design sophomores are tuning in from around the world for Matthew Bird’s popular course on the history of everything.
FAV Goes Virtual
Educators around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in strikingly nimble ways, using digital tools like Zoom, Dropbox and various project management software to connect with students at home and offer meaningful virtual learning opportunities.
Nowhere is this sudden shift in pedagogical practice more challenging than at art colleges like RISD, where hands-on material investigations and state-of-the-art studio equipment are vital components of the overall experience.
“The faculty has really risen to the occasion,” says Film/Animation/Video Department Head Sheri Wills. “Every single member of the department has been committed, caring and incredibly resourceful.”
Wills points out that the medium in which she works can be translated more easily into the digital domain than say Glass or Ceramics, but the standard laptop doesn’t have the capacity to handle the large files FAV students typically work with. And instead of using high-end cameras and other specialized equipment, students working from home now need to tell their stories using smartphone video cameras and DIY workarounds.
“State-of-the-art equipment is just a small part of what’s important about being a student in RISD’s FAV department.”
Animation instructor Gina Kamentsky has developed one such workaround: what she calls the “Dirt-Cheap Down-Shooting Stand for Wayward Animators,” a handy tool made out of a cardboard moving box. Using her step-by-step PDF tutorial—complete with images and drawings—RISD animation students around the world are now putting it to good use.
“It holds a mobile phone and allows you to shoot flat art, under-light the work or not and change the height of the camera,” explains Professor Amy Kravitz, longtime head of the animation track. “It’s just a beautiful way to supply students with a stable, workable animation stand.”
“With the simplest of tools, we can still make meaningful art and find the truly important parts of the creative process.”
Kravitz teaches junior- and senior-level animation classes and says that the transition has probably been toughest for FAV students using stop-motion animation and puppetry. She worked with Wills and other members of the department to contact each student, determine exactly what was needed and then ship out the necessary equipment on a loaner basis, giving priority to the needs of graduating seniors.
“Provided that everyone is healthy and in a good place financially, we can see this remote learning situation as an opportunity to let go of the vanity and the luxuries and really delve into the center of the work,” Kravitz says. “With the simplest of tools, we can still make meaningful art and find the truly important parts of the creative process.”
“Another unexpected positive is that students are all learning how to work on their own outside of studio.”
Wills concurs with that notion, adding that “state-of-the-art equipment is just a small part of what’s important about being a student in RISD’s FAV department. This situation is pushing all of us to consider and better articulate the principals we’re trying to teach in each class—the ideas that transcend equipment.”
Most requirements for FAV classes remain unchanged. Students still share work in progress and comment on one another’s projects, study professional films assigned by their professors, and share ideas, thoughts and concerns.
And holding classes online encourages every student to take part in discussions and to be accountable for their comments, says Kravitz.
“Another unexpected positive is that students are all learning how to work on their own outside of studio, which is what we want them to do after they graduate,” says Kravitz. “We want them to be artists for life.”
Juniors and seniors are also working toward completing a final piece, which they’ll share sometime this spring via online film festivals. (The virtual senior show will run May 27–30, and the junior show has yet to be scheduled.) And, as always, outside critics from the professional film and festival worlds will be invited to view and critique the work.
“What we lose is that great sense of community when everybody comes together in the auditorium,” says Wills, “but what we gain is that people all over the world can join in.”
“I think a lot of good things can come out of this.... In many ways it’s bringing out the best in all of us.”
And seniors in the Open Media track—who generally produce sculptures, installations and performances rather than single-channel pieces—will share their work online via multimedia portraits that include images of the artists at work in the studio and documentation of their final projects as well as work they completed as sophomores and juniors.
Department-wide events—like a basic typography workshop led by Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Ramon Tejada to help students create more polished title sequences—will simply move online. And Wills is working with Assistant Professor Max Porter 03 FAV to shape a meditation workshop for students (to be taught by Porter’s friend Yael Shy, senior director of global spiritual life at NYU).
“It’s something students need right now but also something we’ve been talking about for a while,” says Wills. “The pressure on college students is pretty intense, and at RISD in particular people drive themselves really hard.”
Kravitz also ponders the unforeseen benefits this kind of universal reset might have on RISD overall and on higher education in general. “I think a lot of good things can come out of this experience in addition to the tragic ones,” she notes. “In many ways it’s bringing out the best in all of us.”