Each month, this series will feature an interview with a member of the Digital Pedagogy and Media team. Broadly, our team has expertise in instructional design and pedagogy, multimedia production, and animation and narrative storytelling. We all have interests and expertise that we bring to the team, including the use of digital tools for instructional purposes, negotiating digital identities, studio models for teaching and learning, universal design for learning and inclusive design, digital language pedagogy, digital privacy and self-defense, and more. If you have questions, connections, or would like to partner with a Digital Pedagogy and Media team member on a project, please get in touch!
Introducing…. Daniel Houghton, Animation Studio Producer
How did you get here? What types of education and experiences did you need before starting your job?
I went to Middlebury College as an undergraduate student, graduating in 2006. I worked in New York City on film and TV productions for a while and then found my way back to Vermont eventually back to the college teaching film production and animation. Now I focus primarily on computer animation and run the Animation Studio at the college.
I find that a bit of persistence and a bit of clarity about those things you really love are enough to carry you through most work experiences. Working on what you love and pursuing what you love communicates to those around you that they should do the same. And since I primarily work with undergraduate college students, this seems to be a useful mode of engagement.
What does a typical day/week at work look like for you?
Most days and weeks I’m working with students either in an intro class or in an upper level studio environment on the production of short animated films. At its deepest level this work is mostly the work of community building. There is certainly plenty of technical logistics that I and students figure out together. And there is a lot of discussion about the creative process. But mostly I find myself encouraging everyone in the Animation Studio to care about some aspect of the project we have on the table. I’m asking them to care for the sake of the project, for the sake of the community in the room and for their own sake. I believe all three of those things can be accomplished in any given sit down.
Describe a project that you’ve been working on
Most recently we finished a project called Estrellita “Little Star,” a short animated film about the wonder of childhood and the horror of family separation as we see it intensifying on the southern border. (An image of a scene from the film is at the top of this post.)
Vermont has a significant population of undocumented farm laborers milking the dairy cows that dot the pretty landscape here. And the repercussions of the national debate about immigration and agricultural work are affecting the lives of people working here. Vermont isn’t the border state that most people imagine when they think of immigration issues in the US, but those same national issues have a real and lasting impact on real people living here. The project was an attempt to both make a compelling short film and to meditate on that the topic of immigration while we worked.
“Middlebury animated film ‘Estrellita’ depicts family separation in Vermont” Burlington Free Press
What is one common misconception about your work?
People seem aware that animation takes a bit of time to produce, but they often seem surprised to learn exactly how much time it really takes. Often that discovery is accompanied by a laugh and a playful question asking why would anybody in their right mind ever bother to make animation if it takes such a ridiculously long time to produce.
What about your job gets you excited to come to work every day?
Getting a chance to practice storytelling, a discipline that takes a lifetime to master, is a perpetual thrill. And getting to do so with excited young people just starting out on their storytelling adventures makes the practice quite rewarding.
Digital Pedagogy and Media team pedagogical vision statement
We believe that learning communities are built on a foundation that recognizes the humanity of teachers and students, and that learning works best when the diversity of learner backgrounds and experiences are acknowledged, respected, and welcomed; that learners need to be safe, cared for, and confident in order to fully participate in any learning experience. When these needs are met, learners can be invited out of their “comfort zone;” we believe that a playful approach can mediate the space between safety and risk. When learners are supported to build expertise and take ownership over their own learning, we believe that learning is identity-changing. These beliefs guide us toward intentional design of learning spaces that are inclusive, equitable, supportive, authentic, and generative.