An award-winning artist and educator, JDP “Pell” Osborn is founder of LineStorm, a unique animation curriculum used in schools in greater Boston and beyond to inspire creativity in students and put the power of animation right into their hands. He headed a nationally recognized animation company, MotionArt, before becoming deeply interested in education after spending four years in Nepal. When he returned to the United States, he pursued his master’s degree at Lesley, enrolling in the apprenticeship program in conjunction with the Shady Hill School. His goal was to turn his talents toward helping students of all ages explore the possibilities that animation inspires.
With his Lesley master’s degree in Middle School Education in hand, he founded LineStorm in 1995 to bring both traditional and digital tools into the classroom. “What I’m trying to teach is a range of approaches to problem solving,” says Osborn. “The actual animation is only half of what we do. The other half is figuring out what to animate and how to animate it. It can be very hard work. With the emphasis on standardized tests like the MCAS, kids aren’t being trained to think critically.”
(The Animated Trillion Dollar Alphabet video is an example of Osborne's Edwards Middle School students' animation.)
LineStorm’s individually planned programs can be as short as an hour or as long as 15 weeks, depending upon his client’s schedule and the complexity of the project. Osborn heads to schools, colleges, museums and companies with a miniature animation studio, complete with traditional and digital tools including lightboxes, pens, paper, reference images, and, at the very end of the process, a computer.
“One of the things I love about creating animation is that it’s almost like a scientific inquiry,” say Osborn, who applies systematic principles to the creative process. “The kids are testing and narrowing down ideas, discarding approaches that don’t work and coming up with new ideas that they don’t even realize they are working toward. When a student says, ‘Hey! I can do it this way!’ I know we’ve hit the mark.”
Osborn believes that “ there is a diminished quality of experience and result when we let computers do all of the work for us.” He prefers the very personal, hand-drawn aspects of animation from the 1950s when he was a child. “Computers do a lot of great things, but there is nothing like getting your fingers dirty when you are creating art.” For example, one of Osborn’s current classes involves 11th graders animating scenes from The Odyssey. “I tell the students I don’t want to just see the Cyclops. They have to show where he lives, what he eats, how he stands up and sits down,” he explains, “and they need to show these aspects clearly and efficiently.”
But in a world in which technology reigns supreme and children have no concept of the pre-digital era, how does Pell Osborn convince them to slow down and spend hours doing work by hand that software can generate in minutes?
“What I’m teaching them has to do with making decisions,” he explains. “With computer animation, the program you use often dictates the decisions you make. The computer drives the decisions. As educators, we often wonder about what kids remember and why. I try to inspire fascination — with their own skills, and with the possibilities that they think are beyond their limits.”