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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
The Library as an Animation Resource
by Shannon Muir

It wasn't until I spent a bit of time unemployed that I really spent serious time at my local branch library. Though aware of where it was located, the building was closed for renovation when I first moved into the neighborhood. After it re-opened, I found myself just too tied up in work to stop by and check out the facility until finally boredom of my own four walls drove me to find places I could cheaply go.

On my first visit, it struck me that I had actually been ignoring of a valuable resource for non-artists to learn more about animation. I'm not meaning the history of the medium -- though that's certainly not bad to be aware of -- but depriving myself of access to information on many areas of the industry. Los Angeles even has a system that allows me to browse the library catalog from the comfort of my home, put books on hold for pickup, and if the books are not available at my branch I can request that they be taken from other locations and sent to my nearby branch for checkout.

The following list of suggestions is geared toward the American readership because those are the only library systems with which I have familiarity. See how this compares to your country if you are elsewhere in the world.

> Depending on your library system's offerings, and on how much competition there is to read them, you may be able to peruse industry publications such as ANIMATION MAGAZINE, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, or VARIETY without needing to subscribe to them. Though these should be easiest to find in major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and New York, you might find them in other areas depending on a variety of factors (including whether or not there are film schools in the area).

> If you want to write for animation, you may be able to check out books on animation screenwriting depending on the size and stock of your library system. There really weren't any books on the market until in just the last few years with any animation information, so this is really a recent option.

> Take a look at the videos -- and DVDs if your library has them yet -- that are stocked on the shelves. When I visited my local branch library here in Los Angeles, I truthfully was surprised to see then-very current titles such as BOB THE BUILDER or DORA THE EXPLORER (the latter offered on DVD, I believe). What will take a little more time is what you can learn from observation and research. Are there older animated titles that the children themselves request Mom or Dad to get, versus the parents picking them out? If you don't see any of this firsthand, see if you can get one of the librarians to spare a moment (which, given the small staffs these days, may take several visits to actually accomplish; these good people are often overwhelmed). Perhaps they can give you insight as to what are their most popular checkouts, particularly the perennial favorites. Even if demand is such you can't check them out directly from the library, locate copies of these shows or movies and analyze them. Discover what factors make them so appealing to a wide audience for the long term. You can bring this lesson to bear whether you work on serious pieces or comical ones. The keys are universal themes and characters that resonate with the audience, and the discovery is finding ways to communicate them effectively.

> See what animated properties have spun off into childrens' books and gauge the book popularity by how many of the titles are checked out.

There are some areas where a library is not useful for the non-artist, which is not the fault of the library but something that arises out of a lack of materials on the market. Practically no materials exist on honing skills for non-artists interested in animation careers other than writing, with the exception of one book on the market (at the time I'm writing this), though there are some areas such as post-production where materials geared for live-action can be utilized.

At least consider visiting your local library every four to six months and assess these resources to get some glimpses into what appeals to the animation audience.


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Shannon Muir is known in the animation industry for her work as a production coordinator for Nickelodeon's Invader Zim. She also served as a Production Coordinator for Extreme Ghostbusters and a Production Assistant for Jumanji: The Animated Series. Muir is an accomplished writer and often participates on panels or as a guest speaker at conventions like Comic Con International.

Muir moved to Los Angeles in 1996 from Cheney, WA (population approximately 8,000), knowing she wanted to be part of the animation business. Since then, she's never strayed far from making that dream reality, whether it be actively working on a production or writing articles about the industry.

You can email Shannon Muir at shanemuir@aol.com.

All editorialized columns, including this one, that appear in Digital Media FX are not necessarily reflective of the opinions of Digital Media FX, its partner sites, and its advertisers.

This story and all content are ©copyright 2001 - 2004 by Digital Media FX and may not be reused for any purpose without expressed written consent of Digital Media FX. All rights reserved.

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