I was awarded a five and a half week Fulbright grant to teach animation in northeastern China in the city of Changchun. I was hosted by the Jilin Animation Institute (JAI), one of the very few private institutions that concentrate on the arts in China.
As an animator, director, author and teacher, I was excited to share my knowledge with a completely different cohort of students. I was assigned a dedicated interpreter (“Jane”) to teach my classes and special projects. Changchun is not a tourist destination and there was very little English spoken throughout the city of 7 million. JAI arranged their curriculum so that one particular class could be assigned exclusively to a visiting instructor for an extended period of time. I taught exercise workshops in the morning and then we worked together as a team to create an animated (pixilated) film in the afternoon. Pixilation is the art of animating people photographically using animation principles.
We took the script of one of the students and turned it into a 4-minute animated film. I assigned specific jobs to small crews within the class. I was so impressed with the skills of these students to build a whole life-size set mimicking a poor one-room Chinese abode with the most rudimentary of material and tools. Under my direction one crew made an animatable flower, which was featured in stop motion in the film. I directed the lighting and animation with small groups following closely along and another small crew did all the post-production on our film.
My day-to-day experiences were full of revelations of life in China. I had a private room in one of the dorms and ate at one of several cafeterias. There was wonderful food offered every morning on the streets right outside of the dorms with unusual calls and whistles from the vendors. One morning when I arrived to class I was asked by “Jane” to come with her to the front lobby of the school. When I arrived there were about 25 faculty lined up across from about 80 students. I was asked to say a few words, on the spot, to the students as they were about to graduate. Without thought, with my American sensibilities, I told these students to not wait for work to come to them but to be inventive and create their own career paths based on their creativity and drive. I was never sure if that was appropriate or not, but I am sure my hosts were not surprised.
I discovered so much about this wonderful culture and nation. The day before I flew-out I was hosted by my class and teachers at a wonderful dinner. There was a huge “lazy susan” in the center of our table with endless delights and I had to try everything. We laughed, toasted and the students sang songs for me. This experience reminded me how connected we all are across the globe and that our friendships will endure.
Tom Gasek – Fulbright to China 2018