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News . Feature Stories . Enamored with Storytelling: Q+A with Animation major Morgan Sylvester


September 11, 2015

Enamored with Storytelling: Q+A with Animation major Morgan Sylvester

1.) What's your earliest memory of making art?
Art has been a near-daily part of my life for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of my childhood are of finger painting or coloring with crayons with my mom. We made all kinds of stuff, and would usually play music or a film while we worked.

2.) Did you take a lot of art classes in high school?
Actually, our high school didn't offer very many different art classes, and each year more were cut. I took a general art class, a ceramics/sculpture class, and an "advanced" art class which was really the same general art course I took as a freshman. None of them were all that great. However, I did participate in a pre-college program at a local university, where I did photography and printmaking workshops, and that helped me begin to see what the experience of an art college would be like.

3.) Why did you choose to attend an art + design school?
I chose to attend an art and design school because I felt it was the soundest choice for a specialized education for animation. Obviously people can do art without going to an art school, but I feel like the entire experience is really, really different from anything else. I think the most significant difference is in the faculty; it is so, so important to make connections with people who are active and current professionals in the industry, who are passionate and want to explore along with the students. Personally, I came here because I knew I would need an intensive technical education; I had never animated or used Adobe programs, and I'm not someone who learns easily on my own, from tutorials and such. I needed this kind of education. Having been here, I can very confidently say that I would not have made the same progress or have gained the confidence and comfort that I have if I had chosen a different path.

4.) What made you choose CIA?
The thing that really made me choose CIA was the fluidity of the majors, and the potential for collaboration with the other schools in University Circle. I liked that students could go into workshops led by other departments, and learn skills they might not have access to within their major environments. I like that Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Institute of Music are close enough that we can take classes there, or join their activities and meet other students and have opportunities to work together. The student-to-faculty ratio is small enough to have close, one-on-one instruction and our student community is really close. Our student body is small, but if you want the experience of a larger campus you can join CWRU campus activities, or even rush in the Greek system. It's all about opportunities to make connections, and they're pretty abundant if you look for them.

5.) What made you choose your major?
I chose Animation for my major because I am absolutely enamored with storytelling, and for me, it was the most interesting medium I could use to do that. It combines everything I love the most; music, drawing, writing, acting, sculpting, film, etc., and it combines them in the most incredibly lush and innovative ways to produce something that is beautiful and unforgettable. It's the most exciting thing because it is actually a limitless medium; any story, any image conceivable can be produced and shared. Animation is really something that gets me fervently, passionately excited. Aside from the subject matter of the major, animation at CIA is super exciting to me because it's like this steadily-growing family of people who all get excited about the work that everyone else is doing, and our community is really collaborative and fun so we're constantly inspired and excited because other people are doing cool stuff, and we want to make cool things too and talk about it with them.

6.) Is having your own studio important to your education?
Having a personal studio is so important! Our major is really collaborative, and we are in a computer lab, but the fact that we have designated spots and machines is so vital to our education. It would actually be impossible to do our work without that there; I can't imagine trying to get everything done without our studio computers and everyone there for support. Interaction with classmates is a given; you can't animate alone! I think our studio setting is really quite special, because it is so much fun and we are so close. Of course, animation can be really taxing and time-consuming or stressful (even painful if you forget to take breaks!) however the support of classmates and instructors makes it so much more fun and easy to deal with. There's always a lot of smiling and laughing around the monitors; it's just so fulfilling to get to do something you love and discover new things and overcome bloopers when you're doing it with good friends. Everyone's there to help everyone else and do what they love; it's a really positive atmosphere.

7.) How are your relationships with CIA faculty different than your relationships with your high school teachers?
Our faculty is, in my opinion, the most significant element of our education. My relationships to professors here at CIA differ greatly from those to my high school teachers, and rightly so. Our instructors are great mentors and teachers, but the care they show extends further. This is the best experience I've ever had with teachers, because they are so dedicated and personable. They're a big part of the fun, too! They're all really awesome at what they do, but also as down-to-earth, kind, and dorky as the rest of us. (So talk to them and ask questions! It never hurts!) They're very patient and only want to help. Many really consistently stay late to help students after class, or talk about industry stuff. The professors are definitely actively part of the studio community; the atmosphere is definitely professional, but their excitement, willingness to help, and friendliness makes it more comfortable, so students learn how to be relaxed and confident in a professional environment. I think getting to build those close connections to instructors is something that is really invaluable, and it's nice because it also helps students adjust to professional standards and build confidence as professionals themselves.

8.) Tell us about your internship?
I currently have a Student Artist Residency at Judson Manor, which is a nice retirement community in the area. Basically, my roommate and I teach art classes each Sunday and are involved with intergenerational programming at the Manor. Our job is to teach and interact with residents outside of classes in exchange for housing. It's changed my life for the better, and has opened a lot of doors for me. My roommate and I are the first CIA students to participate in this program, but there are also several Cleveland Institute of Music Resident Musicians as well who we've had the pleasure to meet and speak with. I get to meet a lot of extraordinary people there; it's really a huge privilege to get to work with them and get to know them and hear their stories. We learn a lot all the time! I wouldn't have had this opportunity if I wasn't a student at CIA; I would never have known about the opportunity if not for my former professor Barbara Chira and the Dean of Students, Nancy Neville. In addition to that, I previously worked as a teacher's assistant in the Pre-College program here at CIA, and that really prepared me to teach classes to people with different skill sets. Classes and critiques at CIA have been a big part of the development of my confidence and comfort as a professional, and I think that emphasis on professionalism is something that aids my work at Judson, and everything else I do. In addition, much of the other professional work I've done I found through the connections I've made at CIA. Now, I feel very well prepared and only excited about my future as a working artist and I look forward to what will come.

9.) What one thing about the CIA experience surprised you the most?
I think I was most surprised at the community of CIA; it's not that I expected it to be bad, but it has been so great. I love it, a lot. Before college, I was always told to expect a really cutthroat kind of competition among my peers, however, that's never been the case. There is competition, but it's not like anyone is trying to get ahead of anyone else; it's more that you just get really excited and inspired by the things people do, and it drives you to better yourself and your work and do cool things too. It's been an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere, and a really great kind of environment to foster and develop creative minds so they know how to cultivate their own success. Also, it's a little silly but since it's such a small school, I'm constantly surprised at how I'm still always meeting new people.

10.) How do you like Cleveland?
I really like Cleveland. No city is perfect, but University Circle is a pretty safe area and Cleveland is packed full of a lot of interesting little places and things to do (especially when it comes to the arts!). It's nice because it's a walking city; I like that I can get around on foot or by bus/train if needed. It's very freeing! I'm from a small town in Indiana, so I really appreciate the freedom of being able to walk out of the door and go somewhere without needing a car, and I appreciate all of the options and the culture this place has developed. There's a lot to explore, and it has a lot of character in it's own right.

11.) What would you say to a high school student considering attending CIA?
Live in the dorm your freshman year; it's a really good way to integrate into your class and make friends fast. Don't freak out about major selection or your portfolio, and don't doubt yourself so much. You've got this. Talk to financial aid and the other offices! They can help you with pretty much whatever you need. Make sure you sleep. Take care of yourself and your health first; your profs WILL understand. You must take care of yourself. Don't take critique too personally; everyone has to go through harsh critiques sometimes in order to learn and move forward. It will only make you a better artist. Do things that interest you! Chase your dreams and allow yourself to get really passionate about what you like and what you do. Don't worry about being a starving artist; that's a myth. Don't get too intimidated by other people or other artists because everyone's a pretty big dork in the end. Don't be afraid to be a little dorky, too. Remember that someone will see your stuff and think you're pretty cool. You can do this! Have a lot of fun! Thanks for reading, I hope this helped a little bit. c: Good luck!

Above: Morgan Sylvester at Judson Manor, where she has a Student Artist Residency.

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CIA alumna Josette Galiano’s passion lies in exploring behavior and designing immersive experiences. Fittingly, she’s a consumer insights analyst at @NottinghamSpirk​ and a designer at Florette by Josette​.

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