Singing for Arts in Education; Supporting Muscular Dystrophy

Neil Brewer, Professor, poet and songwriter

If you’ve been to school, have siblings who annoy you, or want the arts to be integral to the curriculum, meet Neil Brewer, whose album The 8 O’Clock Bell, came from a poetry book of the same name that prompted Former First Lady Barbara Bush to say, “I love this book.”

Brewer’s day job is educating college students who are training to become teachers and his specialty is showing them how to creatively incorporate arts into the core curriculum. A poet, musician and songwriter, Brewer uses an arsenal of creative talent to bring students, teachers and the public he performs for to think in new ways, and he does it in ways that are so entertaining that they often don’t notice they’re learning. When not teaching, Brewer takes his songs and presentations on the road to promote book and music sales, then he donates 100% of the proceeds to The Harvard Stem Cell Institute to fund research to end muscular dystrophy.

His 8 O’Clock Bell, has been called, “a delightful journey through the life experiences common to all of us.” And his sibling smack down song, Three Kids in a Car from his Neil Brewer and Friends are Back in School album, is now a Night Mill Productions animation.

Neil Brewer spent the first twenty years of his teaching career in 5th and 6th grade classrooms, and has drawn from that journey with students on many occasions in various written forms. For his epic thematic adventure, The Travels of Harmon Bidwell, Neil received The Christa McAuliffe Fellowship.He teaches graduate and undergraduate education courses at Indiana University Southeast in Indiana.

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Learn medical animation: XVIVO

Michael Astrachan, President and Creative Director, XVIVO LLC

XVIVO art and animation

How did you get started in medical animation?

While I was in school at UConn I started airbrushing t-shirts and started selling them at craft shows and then at malls. All the time I continued to study and did the airbrushing and t-shirts for ten years. I also sold at fairs, like the North Haven (Agricultural) Fair. After ten years, I was totally burned out from being on my feet all the time and from the fumes. So, about 15 years ago, I started pursuing computer animation, which was a young field at the time.

To find clients, I began calling video production studios and small agencies. I became friends with a lot of people I was working with and for some unknown reason I started to get a lot of medical clients. So with medical, I just followed it and taught myself and consulted with others to learn what I needed to know. While doing all that, I also continued my art training.

What differentiates you and your company?

One thing that differentiated me was that I didn’t have a fear of failure or of trying new things. I always believed I’d figure out what I needed to know. It’s one of the things I think can be a big problem for people, which is that they look at something new and think, “I don’t know how to do that,” and then won’t push themselves to learn. Then they blame the rest of the world for not being able to get ahead with what they want to do, but if they open their minds they might find that there is an opportunity that they are missing.

When I started in animation, I was married, had a child, and had to learn a whole new career. To succeed, I knew I had to make myself visible and indispensable – whether I was working for myself or for someone else. The first job I had, I started out as an intern and did just this, I worked weekends help to get the company awarded some jobs and I was quickly hired and went on to become lead animator. As always I pushed myself to do new things and improve my work.

Now, with my company, XVIVO, we continue that tradition by looking for ways to make our process more efficient. After projects we do postmortems to see what we could have done better. We constantly review, reexamine and evolve our processes.

Are there opportunities you’d suggest to people entering the field?

Medical animation is a growing field and great for those who are good artists and have an interest in science. You need good composition, editing and design skills as well as good training in traditional art and painting. I think that having a solid foundation in art is good for anything visual – illustration, working with images, website design, etc.

People interested in pursuing this field can look for specialized graduate programs, and there are some undergrad programs out there as well.

What networking tips would you recommend to find opportunities in medical animation?

Networking is so important. The Association of Medical Illustrators, is a great resource for those wanting to learn about the field. It’s the place where you can meet others who are doing similar work and it is a great resource. To find business, you’d want to look at medical ad agencies, video production agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. Interning is a good way to go, but know it can take a couple years to break in.

My advice to people pursuing the arts is to work hard, stay focused, look for new opportunities and don’t get discouraged. Don’t be afraid to approach people and sell yourself. Making connections is what it’s all about.

Michael Astrachan has been involved in the visual arts for over twenty-five years and is one of the founders of XVIVO LLC, a leader in the field of scientific animation.  As president and head of the creative team at XVIVO, Michael brings to animation a sophisticated knowledge of artistic naturalism, grounded in strong technique. Michael draws upon his extensive fine arts background and leads his team to develop visually compelling animations of scientific content. XVIVO was recently selected by The International Academy of Visual Arts to receive a 2012 Communicator Award. XVIVO clients have included Amgen, Bayer, Disney, GlaxoSmithKline, Harvard, HBO, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, NOVA, PBS, Smithsonian, TEDMED, and Yale University.

8 Networking Tips for Artists: Scott Daros

Scott Daros, Animator/Illustrator

What networking tips would you give to someone just starting out?

  • Ask for introductions from professionals in your field.
  • Get into art shows.
  • Meet people face-to-face. I’ve also had tons of luck networking online.
  • Make a website! You MUST have your work online.
  • Don’t be ashamed to show off.
  • Create a blog and update it regularly.
  • Join and be an active member of sites that discuss your area of expertise.
  • YouTube, Vimeo, Behance, LinkedIn are great sites for networking, getting feedback, and sharing your work.

How did you set prices for your projects early on?

I asked other illustrators and animators who were more experienced. There’s also a great book called Pricing & Ethical Guidelines that will give an artist an excellent idea of how much his or her time is worth.

What was the best advice you got when starting out?

Make time to keep up with the artistic projects you truly enjoy. Getting paid to be an artist is great but it can be exhausting and frustrating. It’s important to still do the creative things you did for fun before you decided to make it a career. After a long day of animating I like to sit down and draw some silly comics.

Any resources you’d recommend to others to learn about animation?

I’d recommend both StopMotionAnimation and AnimateClay.

Scott Daros is a stop-motion animator for the Adult Swim television series Robot Chicken and the CollegeHumor web series Dinosaur Office. Before moving to Los Angeles, he earned his BFA in Illustration from the University of Connecticut where he dabbled in animation prior to graduation. His subsequent job in a local advertising department got him interest in stop-motion animation, and he went on to work Michael Bannon who founded his own stop-motion studio, “Wreckless Abandon”. While helping Bannon create animated advertisements, Daros was taught “everything he needed to know” about stop-motion animation to go out on his own. 

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