Students use computers — and their imaginations — to bring to life pirates walking on ships, pumpkins talking, oranges getting bruised and balls bouncing in the ACME Animation class at Ethel Dwyer Middle School in Huntington Beach.
The class, which is taught by Leroyce Hernandez, instructs beginning and advanced students on, of course, how to use computer software to make cartoons, but also on how to prepare for and execute a presentation, as well as give and receive feedback.
"The best thing about the class is getting to work with partners, and seeing other people's animations is pretty awesome," said student Sapphire Brilliant, 13.
One of her projects features an orange rolling off the top of a refrigerator and bouncing, causing the skin to bruise. She also made a Halloween cartoon featuring a singing pumpkin and colorful costumed characters.
Though she enjoys art, and even took some art classes, they just never stuck. But Sapphire, who is also a teacher's aide, loves the animation class.
"The cool thing is you don't even have to be good at drawing to create animations. They can look cool anyway," she said.
Most projects, she said, take roughly two to three days to complete, though sometimes students are given a week to a week and a half.
One of the most fundamental parts of the class, according to Hernandez, is similar to learning to write: the revision process.
"I always tell the students you never get it right the first time," she said. "Even professionals don't get it right the first time."
That is why the students go through various steps with their projects. The first part of the process is the creation, followed by an informal presentation, where students pitch their ideas to two peers.
"They tell the students what story they are trying to tell through the animation, and then the students comment on whether that was conveyed and what they can work on to improve," Hernandez said.
The students take the feedback, revise their work and then schedule and give a formal presentation. Their classmates then critique that presentation.
"The students follow a three-step process during peer review," the teacher said. "They comment on something they like, then something that could be improved, and end on a positive note."
Sapphire said the students are great about giving feedback.
"Everyone is nice about it," she said. "It may be scary the first time you present, but after that it is a lot of fun because everyone gives feedback."
For the final step, the students post their work on the ACME Animations website, where it can be peer-reviewed by students and teachers from all over the country, as well as by professional animators.
The program, which dates to 2007, is unusual. Few middle schools have one.
Hernandez, who also teaches computer literacy, was talking with a teacher from another school who was involved in the program. She decided to reach out to bring the program to Dwyer.
ACME provided her with teaching materials, as well as a training workshop.
The class uses two computer programs, Toon Boom Studio and Pivot, the latter of which is a free.
"This class gives the students skills to pursue careers in animation and computer gaming," Hernandez said. "And for those not interested in working for Pixar or DreamWorks, attorneys hire animators to animate accidents for their cases."
Mason Williams, 13, a teacher's aide and advanced student, was never good at drawing but liked to craft stick-figure scenes.
"I tried the [animation] class, and I really liked it," he said. "It helped me progress with my drawing, and I like making cartoons."
His work featured a man walking, and even for something so simple, it was easy to tell the amount of work that went into creating it.
"I am thinking about heading for the medical field, but I would continue to do it for fun," Mason said, adding that he did find animating for attorneys an interesting avenue as well.
He said he enjoys being a teacher's aide and taking the class for his second year.
"From the teacher-aide point of view, I really just enjoy helping people," he said. "Most of the people in this class are my friends, and I want to help them get better and better so they stay interested."
The student in him finds it rewarding too.
"I like making cartoons and seeing what I can come up with — it is the best feeling," Mason said. "Plus Mrs. Hernandez is the best teacher."