2017 News Stories

‘Animation Gets Real’ at Summer Camp for Students with Disabilities

Group photo of VSA Florida Animation Camp Participants

During VSA Florida's 'Animation Gets Real' summer camp, students with Autism or related disabilities travel to the USF campus to learn about the art of animating their own movies and musical scores. 

(July 28, 2017) — A summer camp where students learn how to make their own animated films may be an entertaining experience, but when VSA Florida hosts the camp, it’s meant to be more than that.

At “Animation Gets Real,” the students are learning a life skill that could launch them into a creative career path.

During the camp, students with Autism or related disabilities travel to the USF campus to learn about the art of animating their own movies, and creating their own musical compositions on iPads to pair along with it. 

Student presenting iPad music creation at closing showcase

A student presents their iPad music creation during a showcase at the end of the camp. 

VSA Florida is a nonprofit organization that works to provide, support and champion arts education and cultural experiences for and by people with disabilities. The organization is headquartered at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus under the USF College of Education.

This is the fourth summer this camp has taken place, and many students participating in the program are returning due to their experience in previous years.

Wendy Finklea, Director of Programs for VSA Florida, said the program provides students the opportunity to explore a creative pursuit in animation and filmmaking while making lasting friendships alongside their classmates.

“There are many, many benefits,” Finklea said. “Not only is this (camp) an opportunity to learn a life skill, but it’s a social time for (the students). Many of these students don’t feel comfortable in social situations, and this is an opportunity for them to learn together at different rates and in different ways.”

Students participate in a variety of activities throughout the week. Hosted in the iTeach lounge in the College of Education, students have access to animation software that allows them to get a hands-on experience with developing their own creations. In the beginning of the program, students are learning how to storyboard their own projects and what it takes to compose their own musical score.

But within a matter of days, the students are deep in the creative process of mixing beats, animating their scenes and capturing their character’s voices in the recording studio. 

Instructors of the camp are USF School of Music Professor Clint Randles, PhD, and Dani Bowman, an animator who has Asperger’s Syndrome Disorder and is an example to students of how they can turn the skills they’re learning throughout the week into a career path. 

VSA Florida Animation Instructor Dani Bowman works with a student as they create their own animation movie.

VSA Florida Instructor Dani Bowman works with a student as they create their own animation movie.

Bowman has been teaching animation courses for five years and founded her own company, Danimation Studios, in Los Angeles. Her recent work includes a public service announcement she animated for Autism Awareness.

“I am so happy that my students made some amazing animation,” Bowman said. “However, this is only the beginning. This is an introduction to animation.”

At the end of the week, camp participants and their families joined together for a showcase of the week’s accomplishments. Students played their musical compositions alongside Dr. Randles, and had their short animation clips premiered for everyone to see.

Ultimately, the camp is a learning experience and so much more for the students who attend each year — and it’s something that those participating will remember for years to come. 

“What makes (the camp) unique from other experiences is we’re dealing with exceptional people,” Finklea said. “This population has many gifts. We don’t understand all of them, but to give (the students) every opportunity is imperative… By giving this unique population the opportunity to excel and feel comfortable in learning, they will continue to move through life using these small experiences we’re able to offer them.”  

Visit VSA Florida’s website to learn more about the Animation Gets Real camp.

About the USF College of Education:

The USF College of Education is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (formerly NCATE), and is fully approved by the Florida Department of Education. The USF College of Education is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top 100 programs in the nation, as well as in the top 30 for online graduate education programs. The USF College of Education has more than 51,000 alumni who are making a difference in the lives of children each day.