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James Baxter: Bringing Animation to Life

Sarah Eubanks is a senior in the Department of Cinematic Arts, a B.A. student with a concentration in Animation. As such, she is uniquely equipped to comment on our recent First Mondays guest, acclaimed veteran animator James Baxter. Mr. Baxter presented to a sold-out crowd that had gathered from near and far (in some cases, from hundreds of miles away!) by demonstrating how to create an original character and animation in one sitting. At the very end, he pressed "play" and a short, endearing cartoon followed.

James Baxter with a visiting group from Coast Union High School in Cambria

Hi! My name is Sarah Eubanks, I am a senior in the Animation program at APU. I have been to quite a few First Monday events within my years being a part of the Cinema department, but this one in particular was probably one of the best First Mondays I have yet experienced. James Baxter came to campus and did a live animation demo/ talk about his career in the industry and it was absolutely phenomenal.

Sarah Eubanks, immediately left of Tony Bancroft, on a visit to Disney's Burbank studios

Anyone who knows me knows that I have been interested in animation for a while now, but just this last year with the start of the new Animation & Visual Effects program is where my passion for animation really blossomed. James has animated characters on movies that I have watched since before I can remember, and who knew these films would have impacted me as much as they did! Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Prince of Egypt, and Spirit—and so many more films that James had the opportunity to be a part of—inspire me immensely. I have really loved 2D animating and understanding how much time and craft it takes to make something or someone move around through multiple drawings There is this sense of nostalgia and awe in being able to make characters come to life. To me animation is just magical.

When Tony Bancroft told our animation class that James Baxter was going to be animating for us live, our class was very excited, but this night was more than I could have asked for as an animation student and artist myself. James asked the audience to pitch ideas of what he might animate. The audience agreed on the idea of a squirrel throwing an acorn grenade. Frame-by-frame, and drawing after drawing, it was so cool to see the process of someone so highly admired in the animation industry bring that squirrel to life. James started off with just scribbles of a form and then, suddenly, it was the cutest squirrel I had ever seen! The character was consistent in the drawings when he would flip back and forth through the frames. You could see the stretch of the squirrel's body when jumping and the "squash" in its face when the squirrel bites off the cap of the acorn. The poses were so clear and the message was easily communicated to us as the audience. The drawings were appealing to behold and it just made you want to keep watching for the next drawing or in-between he would do.

James told a beautiful story through this animation. While animating, he answered a lot of questions and two things he said in particular stood out to me. For one, James was asked something along the lines of, what do you do when you feel stuck doing the same old things or become unsure if this what you want to do anymore? James answered that he had felt that way towards the end of working at DreamWorks because he was doing the same characters and nothing was very intriguing, but he would always go back to animating small things like this squirrel. He talked about how much he loves animation, it’s what makes him happy and that’s what gets him out of that unsure feeling. The way he said this was so genuine that you could feel the truth of his words. Animating is what James loves that’s why he does it, and that stuck with me. It stuck because I have been trying to figure out my own path in animation. I’m also starting to get pieces of my portfolio together and I’m constantly drawing, but I’m not sure what it is I want to call mine in the animation industry. James’s answer that he just loves animating made me smile, because I love animating and I know a lot of my classmates do as well. I go crazy over seeing drawings move at 24 frames a second because it is magical, fun, difficult, challenging, tiring, amazing, and so much more.

The second thing James said that stuck with me was the brief mention of how working on an animation is a done with a team people and is a collaborative project. There are so many people that help out and contribute to the animation process: storyboard artists, character designers, concept artists, layout artists, painters, riggers, animators, effects artists, and so many more. I know I want to be a part of a team of artists that create something amazing. When I was a freshman and sophomore helping out on production sets for friends’ projects in the Department of Cinema, no matter how crazy or stressful it was, whether it was a bowling alley in Redlands in the middle of the night or behind West Campus, my favorite part was being there with people and making something with my friends. Those memories I cherish. James just touching on that topic brought me from my first year at APU to now, my last, where I will soon be a part of a new team of artists out in the world of animation creating something spectacular.


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