Robin Starbuck

BA, Salem College (North Carolina). MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Post-Graduate Certificate, New York University Tisch School of the Arts. An award-winning filmmaker and artist who produces experimental nonfiction films, installations, and animated media for theatre and opera, Starbuck employs a mixture of documentary and reflexive film styles in her work. By working in a nontraditional form, she strives to create a cinematic space in which the world is perceived rather than known. In response to her work, viewers are invited to interact with what they see on the screen and to create meaning by reflecting on their own experiences, ideas, and truths. She has exhibited works at the Boston Center for the Arts, The Walker’s Point Art Center, Milan Biennale, Indie Open in New York City, Anthology Film Archives, Deluge Contemporary Art & Antimatter, Collected Voices Chicago, XVI Cine Pobre Cuba, the Madrid Film Festival, the Ethnograpfia Film Festival in Paris, The Stockholm Experimental and Animation Film festival, and other festivals, art centers, and galleries in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Most recently, her film, How We See Water, was nominated for four international documentary awards at the X Short Film Festival in Rome. Starbuck is currently an active member of the Women in Animation Association. She is a professor of Experimental film and Animation and the current Chair of Filmmaking & Moving Image Arts. SLC, 2003–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts

2D Digital Animation: Short Narratives

Open, Seminar—Year

In this class, students will develop animation and storytelling skills by focusing on the process of creating animated short films. Participants will develop and refine their personal style through exercises in story design and assignments directed at translating ideas into moving images. Digitally-drawn images (with the option to include live action and photographs) will be assembled in sync to sound. Compositing exercises cover a wide range of motion-graphic features, including green screen, keyframing, timeline, effects, 2D space, layering, and lighting. Exercises in the fall will provide students with a working knowledge of the software Harmony by Toon Boon. The fall semester, taught by Robin Starbuck, includes instruction exercises in all of the production steps required to produce a short, animated film of one-to-three minutes. These include the basic principles of animation, color and visual design, story development, continuity, motion, timing, frame-by-frame digital drawing, and rotoscoping. The spring semester, taught by Scott Duce, will involve the hands-on production of a single, short, animated film or PSA by each student. The Toon Boom software will be used for the students’ animated film production in the spring. Harmony is a creative, efficient software used in the film and TV animation industry. No prior drawing experience is necessary.

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Advanced Independent Studio, Animation

Advanced, Small seminar—Year

Prerequisite: one animation or storyboarding class

This is an advanced independent-study class for experienced animation students who wish to invest time in producing a refined animated film or a hybrid animation/video film for their portfolio. Participants should be committed to the preplanning and production of an animated work over the course of the academic year. Students will work independently, with regular individual conferences.

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Experimental Animation: Materials and Methods

Open, Seminar—Fall

Animation is the magic of giving life to objects and materials through motion. Whether through linear storytelling or conceptual drive, a sense of wonder is achieved with materials, movement, and transformation. Combining digital processes with handmade techniques, this class helps students hone their design skills to create short works that communicate through simplicity. The emphasis of the class is on process and concept, starting with a series of workshops intended to enhance student's skills in idea generation, concept development, and material animation techniques. The class includes instruction in a variety of undercamera, stop-motion processes, including: cut-out paper animation, sequential drawing, sand, after-effects motion graphics, simple object animation, and green-screen performance for stop motion. All aspects of progressive movement are covered, especially the laying out of ideas through time and the establishment of convincing motion. The course includes instruction in basic design techniques, material manipulation, movement and timing, color, and concept development. A brief foundational study of the history of experimental animation is introduced through viewing animated film work of artists from around the globe. During the semester, each student completes five short animated films, ranging in length from 30 seconds to two minutes. Students are required to provide their own external media hard drive and to purchase some additional art materials. Software instruction includes AfterEffects, Adobe Premier, and Dragonframe. The aim of this course is to explore freely with materials in order to trailblaze fresh narrative and aesthetic possibilities in animation. Final projects may be executed as animated or hybrid films or as animated video projections for installation or performance. Collaborations with music, dance, or theatre students can be established at the incentive of individual class participants.

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Not for Children: Alternative Animation, 1960–present

Open, Large seminar—Spring

This seminar course will take the form of a screening and discussion seminar, designed to provide an overview of auteur animation based on alternative writing and the relationship of form and style to content. We will examine various forms of animated films produced between 1960 and the present, with some time spent on the history and cultural crosscurrents within which this work was produced. The class will survey a wide range of work from a diverse selection of artists, including Oscar Fischinger, Lotte Reiniger, Renske Mijnheer, Stacey Steers, Karen Yasinsky, Adam Beckett, Christine Panushka, Chris Sullivan, William Kindridge, Lius Cook, and many more. The focus of the class is on animated film forms alternative to commercial animation; hand-drawn, cell-painted, cutout, stop motion, pixilated, puppet, and, more recently, CGI independents. In most cases, artists retaining control of their own work—unlike the battery of decision makers in commercial studio systems—will be the guiding factor in selecting work for review. As a class, we will look for aesthetic consequences and structural differences within the auteur system vs. an animation studio’s divisions of labor. All students are expected to fully participate in discussions during class meetings. Animation production will not be taught in this class; however, creative conference projects in studio arts, writing, media, and performing arts will be encouraged. Students will be expected to conduct research outside of class; to deliver a class presentation on an area of personal interest related to the social, political, and art movements in the experimental animation genre; and to complete a conference project or paper.

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Radical Strategies: Experimental Documentary

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we examine the experimental documentary form as political/social/personal discourse and practice. We take as a starting point avant-garde documentary production and explore this in the manner that theorist Renov defines as “the rigorous investigation of aesthetic forms, their composition and functionm,” and in which, “poetics confront the problematics of power...” Throughout the semester, students will produce a series of experimental film exercises while simultaneously researching and producing a single, short, experimental documentary film for conference work. This class acquaints students with the basic theory and purpose of experimental film/video, as compared to narrative documentary formats. Instruction will include critical methodologies that will help establish aesthetic designs for a student’s own work. In the class, we will survey a wide range of avant-garde documentary films from the 1920s to the present, with the central focus being student’s options for film production in the context of political and cultural significance. The various practices inherent in experimental documentary film speak to a range of possibilities for what a movie might be. Within these practices, issues such as whose voices are heard and who is represented become of crucial Importance.

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Previous Courses

Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts

2D Animation: Environmental Stories

Open, Seminar—Year

In this class, students develop animation and visual communication skills by focusing on the process of creating animated films based on visual explorations of environmental studies in the broadest sense. All of the production steps required to produce a short animated film are demonstrated and applied through technical animation exercises in the fall term, with instruction including: idea development, visualization, character development, continuity, timing, digital drawing, rotoscoping, and compositing. Spring semester will involve the production of a single, short animated film (1-2 minutes) by each student or team of students. Participants will develop and refine their personal style through exercises in animation production and assignments directed at translating ideas into moving images. Two-dimensional, digitally-drawn images (with the option to include live action and photographs) will be assembled in sync to sound. Compositing exercises cover a wide range of motion-graphic features, including: keyframing, timeline effects, 2D space, layering, and lighting. Films produced in the spring semester can approach environmental concerns from a number of directions: philosophical, poetic, scientific, political, or story form. The direction that each film will take depends upon the student’s own interests, research, and information that they bring to this class. No prior drawing experience is necessary, but participants should enter this class with an interest in creating a film that engages issues in society and the natural world in some manner. This course provides students with a working knowledge of the software Harmony by Toon Boon and AfterEffects by Adobe.

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2D Animation: Short Narratives

Open, Seminar—Year

In this class, students develop frame-by-frame animation and short-storytelling skills by focusing on the process of creating animated exercises and shorts. Instruction includes story development, visualization, character, continuity, timing, digital drawing, rotoscoping, and compositing. All of the production steps required to complete a short, animated film are demonstrated and applied, in the fall, through exercises that aim at the production of a final short, animated film by each student, or team of students, in the spring semester. Participants will develop and refine their personal style through exercises in story design and animation fundamentals directed at translating ideas into moving images. Digitally-drawn images (with the option to include live action and photographs) will be assembled in sync to sound. Compositing exercises cover a wide range of motion-graphic features, including: green screen, keyframing, timeline effects, 2D and 3D space, layering, and lighting. Working in frame-by-frame animation, students will be provided with a strong working knowledge of Harmony Premier, a creative, efficient, digital software used in the film and TV animation industry. The method of working for students includes digital drawing on a student’s own computer or digital tablet. The teaching system for this as an online course includes small (3-4 students) online group meetings, alternated with one-on-one individual conference meetings with the professor. This system allows students to form community groups while also providing each person with the opportunity to progress according to their own creative interests. If the class meets on campus, we will continue with class meetings and individual conferences. Students must have access to an internet connection and a reliable computer able to handle media software. Course requirements: 1T (min.) media external hard drive and a digital drawing tablet. Software and online meeting system TBA. No prior drawing or animation experience is necessary. 

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Advanced Collective in Animation or Experimental Media

Intermediate/Advanced, Small seminar—Fall

This collective for advanced animation and experimental media is for students seeking to work on independent-study projects or to acquire credit for fieldwork in those disciplines. The group will first meet weekly to establish guidelines and schedules for projects; then, the class will serve as a gathering place to report on project development and/or the progress of an internship. Weekly meetings provide a framework for research, development, and collaborative assistance toward an advanced project that may take the shape of a short film or professional experience in an internship. Led by a team of filmmaking and moving-image arts faculty, students will be interviewed during registration to evaluate their proposed projects or research. The week-to-week structure of the collective will be tailored to meet the needs of individual projects/groups as the semester progresses. The collective is open to experienced animation and experimental media students; both individuals and group projects are invited to apply to the class. Interested students should come to the interview prepared to present a project proposal or an internship already secured.

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Avant Doc: Experiments in Documentary Filmmaking

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will examine experimental documentary form as political/social/personal discourse and practice. We take as a starting point avant-garde documentary production and explore it in the manner that theorist Renov defines as “the rigorous investigation of aesthetic forms, their composition and function” and the manner in which “poetics confront the problematics of power....” Throughout the semester, students will produce a series of experimental film exercises while they simultaneously research and produce a single, short experimental documentary film for conference work. This class will acquaint students with the
basic theory and purpose of experimental film/video, as compared to narrative documentary formats, and to critical methodologies that will help establish aesthetic designs for their own work. In the class, we will survey a wide range of avant-garde documentary films from the 1920s to the present, with the central focus being student’s options for film production in the context of political and cultural concerns. The various practices of experimental documentary film speak to a range of possibilities for what a movie might be. Within these practices, issues such as whose voices are heard and who is represented become of crucial importance.

Faculty

Digital 2D Animation: Shorts

Open, Seminar—Year

In this class, students develop animation and short storytelling skills by focusing on the process of creating animated shorts. Instruction includes story development, visualization, character, continuity, timing, digital drawing, rotoscoping, and compositing. All of the production steps required to complete a short animated film are demonstrated and applied through exercises in the fall term, aimed at the production of a final short animated film or PSA by each student or team of students in the spring semester. Participants will develop and refine their personal style through exercises in story design and assignments directed at translating ideas into moving images. Digitally-drawn images (with the option to include live action and photographs) will be assembled in sync to sound. Compositing exercises cover a wide range of motion graphic features, including: green screen, keyframing, timeline effects, 2D and 3D space, layering, and lighting. Exercises will enable students with a working knowledge of the software Harmony by Toon Boon. Harmony is a creative, efficient software used in the film and TV animation industry.

Faculty

Experimental Animation: Materials and Methods

Open, Seminar—Spring

Animation is the magic of giving life to objects and materials through motion. Whether through linear storytelling or conceptual drive, a sense of wonder is achieved with materials, movement, and transformation. In this class, students will learn the fundamentals of making animated films in a hands-on workshop environment in which we are actively creating during class meetings and labs. The class will include instruction in a variety of under-camera, stop-motion techniques, including: cut-out paper animation, paint on glass, sequential drawing using pencil and paper or chalk boards, sand animation, and simple object and puppet animation. We will cover all aspects of progressive movement, especially the laying out of ideas through time and the development of convincing character and motion. The course will cover basic design techniques and considerations, including materials, execution, and color. We will also have a foundational study of the history of experimental animation by viewing the historical animated film work of artists from around the globe. During the semester, each student will complete five short, animated films ranging in length from 30 seconds to one minute. Students are required to provide their own external hard drives and some additional art materials. Software instruction will include AfterEffects, Adobe Premier, and Dragonframe.

Faculty

Experimental Documentary: Theory and Practice

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will examine experimental documentary form as political/social/personal discourse and practice. We will take as a starting point avant-garde documentary cinema and explore it in the manner that theorist Renov defines as “the rigorous investigation of aesthetic forms, their composition and function, and the manner in which poetics confront the world.” This class will acquaint students with the basic theory and purpose of experimental film/video documentary, as compared to more commercial documentary formats, and will introduce critical methodologies that will help participants both understand the discipline of experimental documentary and establish aesthetic designs for their own work. We will survey a wide range of avant-garde documentary films and readings, from the 1920s to the present, and pair those with the student’s own film production. This course recognizes the importance of developing filmmakers being cognizant of the fundamental theories of experimental film, as well as their gaining corresponding experience in the basics of alternative forms of film production. Throughout the semester, students will produce a few experimental nonfiction shorts from several aesthetic approaches. Within this practice, issues such as whose voices are heard and who is represented become of crucial importance. This class will be equally balanced between viewing, reading about, and analyzing films and producing and editing short films with simple tools. The online class offers an opportunity for a rich engagement with experimental film forms while also allowing participants to produce nonfiction film exercises that examine issues of the world from both personal and more objective perspectives. The teaching system for the online course includes small (3-4 students) virtual group meetings, alternated with one-on-one individual mentorship meetings with the professor. That format will allow us to form community groups and also provide the opportunity for students to progress according to their own creative interests. Students must have access to an internet connection and a reliable computer able to handle media software.  If the class meets on campus, we will continue with class meetings and individual conferences. Course requirements: 1T (min.) media external hard drive

Faculty

Experimental Film and Animation

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Whether dealing with abstraction or narrative sequence, experimental films reflect the unique vision of their makers. While most forms of animation serve the particular needs of commercial media, the inclusion of animation in experimental film has the ability to deconstruct an idea or movement and reassemble it in a new way. This course introduces the concepts and practical study of stop-frame animation production as it relates to both sequential and nonsequential narration, movement, space, and time. In a series of short, independent, and collaborative projects, students will learn the techniques and materials necessary to explore a variety of experimental and hand-animation practices and to assemble this work with live-action film/video. The central focus of this course will be on concept development and material exploration for the completion of several short, hybrid films. Students will work in both film and animation and learn to composite this material for the production of their work. A variety of frame-by-frame animation techniques in under-the-camera destructive and constructive animation—including sand animation, paper cutout animation, and abstract drawing for animation—will be taught. Through technical instruction, readings, discussion, screenings, and experimentation, we will seek to refresh, extend, and redefine traditional modes of hybrid media production. The aim of the course is to explore freely with materials in order to trail blaze fresh narrative and aesthetic possibilities. Final projects should be professionally crafted and may be executed as experimental films, animations, or video projections.

Faculty

Experimental Hybrid Film: Video and Animation

Open, Seminar—Spring

Whether dealing with abstraction or narrative sequence, experimental films reflect the unique vision of their makers. Focusing on the concepts and practical study of hybrid experimental film, students will shoot their own footage, produce animations, and, if they wish, later integrate that with found footage. While most forms of animation serve the particular needs of commercial media, the inclusion of animation in experimental film has the ability to deconstruct an idea or movement and reassemble it in a new way. Through a series of short, independent, and collaborative projects, students will learn the techniques and materials necessary to explore a variety of experimental and animation practices and to assemble that work with live-action film/video. Students will work in both film and animation and learn to composite that material for the production of their work. The central focus of the class will be on concept development and material exploration for the completion of several short, hybrid films. A variety of frame-by-frame animation techniques in destructive and constructive animation—including object animation, motion graphics, and digital drawing—will be taught. Through technical instruction, discussion, screenings, and experimentation, we will seek to refresh and extend traditional modes of experimental cinema production. The aim of this course is to explore freely with materials in order to trailblaze fresh narrative and aesthetic possibilities. Final projects will be professionally crafted and may be executed as experimental films, animations, instillations, and/or video projections. Experience in film or animation would be beneficial but is not required. Course requirements: 1T (min.) media external hard drive.

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First-Year Studies: Media Sketchbooks

Open, FYS—Year

In this course, students will develop work that aims to challenge audience perceptions of traditional filmmaking while retaining “audience reading” of a film’s message, intention, and meaning. This is a production and research class, where the development of experimental fiction and nonfiction film is covered from the conception of an idea to the finished product. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with nonconventional techniques for image creation, either individually or in collaboration with their peers. We will explore technical, conceptual, and aesthetic approaches to constructing art films with directed shots, cinéma vérité, animation, performance art, and free-media montage. Emphasis will be placed on producing innovative and creative films in the experimental genre. This is a solid introductory course for students who are interested in film and want to get their “feet wet” in film during their first year at the College. Students will participate in technical production modules and exercises in which an exploration of modes of experimental film and video will be covered. Focus will be on an exploration of structure and format, as well as film’s relationship to story, poetry, and experimental text. We will review the work of professional artists’ films and read theoretical texts as they apply to artist film production. The class will also function as an editing workshop with critique and feedback. Visiting experimental filmmaker labs will be an important part of this year’s class.

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Secondary Currents: Experimental Film in Place

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

This course is part of the Intensive Semester in Yonkers program and is no longer open for interviews and registration. Interviews for the program take place during the previous spring semester.

This production seminar explores, in depth, the rich world of moving images as artistic expression. Students participate by completing a series of exercises and projects supported by lectures, discussion, and screenings. We explore moving-image forms and styles that blur the boundaries between narrative, documentary, and abstract filmmaking. There is, by definition, no formula for this kind of work. Rather, the course introduces the language and techniques of film production alongside strategies for the use of film, performance, and audio design as a means to creatively examine our relationships to place. We direct our concerns to an investigation of our relationship to the legends, histories, topographies, politics, and language of place in its broadest context. Assignments are geared toward generating an ease and familiarity with one’s engagement with place as a media artist. Over the course of the semester, we look at and analyze the pioneering work of many experimental artists, including Gilliam Wearing, Doug Aiken, Pipolotti Rist, Seoungho Cho, Mike Kelly, Shana Moulton, Ragnar Kjartansson, and others. Labs and screenings are designed to introduce the tools and technology necessary for each project. A major component of the course is the ongoing analysis and critique of each other’s work.

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