SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ –  At South Plainfield High School, a class offered for the first time this year has students learning and applying many STEM-based skills and techniques used in the animation industry.  

Since September, students in Jaclene Santone’s new animation class have been gaining hands on experiences on how science, technology, engineering, and math are used to make animated characters and movies come to life.  

“This unique experience in a high-school setting incorporates modern technology used in the animation industry [and allows] students…the experience early on to learn techniques and skills mostly only available after high school, Santone told TAPinto South Plainfield. “Having the ability to use these animation programs at South Plainfield High School gives students the opportunity to use this technology before college, possibly impacting their choice of future career plans in this type of field.” 

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Currently there are 13 students in the animation class, which is open to 10th through 12th graders who have taken the required graphic arts 1 prerequisite. Students started the year making a hand drawn ‘flipbook,’ created animated 2D cartoons of themselves and their pets, and collaborated on a Claymation project.  

The students also individually create a 3D character in Autodesk Maya, an animation/modeling software program, and, once the 3D model is complete will be able to wear a motion capture suit and apply physical motion to their characters.  

At a board of education meeting Feb. 13, senior Kelly Gorman, who plans to pursue a career in veterinary technology, demonstrated the Rokoko Motion Capture Suit and how it works with the program to record her movements and animate her character.  

“It’s so much fun,” Gorman said in response to Superintendent Dr. Noreen Lishak’s question about how she liked the class. “That’s really fun to see,” she added pointing to her animated figure on the screen displayed during the board meeting. “It’s cool to see your name up on a screen and your body moving that character.” 

By the end of the school year, said Santone, the students will take their 3D character and design a 3D environment, creating a movie trailer for their animations. They will also have the ability to create a portfolio that includes their 2D, 3D, and motion graphics creations and showcases their original designs, animations, and video production. 

“This unique experience in a high-school setting, incorporates modern technology used in the animation Industry, allowing students like Kelly, the experience early on to learn techniques and skills mostly only available after high school,” she said. “Students like Kelly are able to experience the artistic side of the program and apply it to the science of animation.” 

Although animation class was not offered when she attended South Plainfield High School, Santone said she always had an interest and went on to earn a degree in media arts from Platt College in San Diego and San Diego State University. For 12 years, she worked in the entertainment industry for Nickelodeon, and created animations on projects for Disney, Thomas The Train, Curious George, Sesame Street, and Arthur. Additionally, since 2015, she has worked as a freelance graphic artist and video editor for News 12 NJ and has taught at her alma mater since 2017. 

“When I learned that an applied technology position opened at South Plainfield, I was inspired to create this course, and bring animation to South Plainfield,” Santone said. “The student’s are very talented and it is rewarding to see them improve their skills in the applied tech programs. I love working with them - they have quite the imagination. It is inspiring to hear and see their stories come alive, and rewarding to have brought this experience to them at South Plainfield.” 

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