Animation team produces film for autism awareness

China animation 1.jpg

MTSU animation team with a statue of Confucious in Qingdao, China. (back, left to right) Clayton Smith, Mahkayla Grogan, Associate Professor Kevin McNulty, July Daugherty and Professor Guanping Zheng. (front) Angel Agee and Ryan Barry.

It all began in October 2016 when Kevin McNulty, associate professor in the Department of Media Arts, and Guanping Zheng, director of the Confucius Institute, were invited to Qingdao University of Science and Technology in Quingdao, China, to participate in an animation film festival to raise autism awareness.

The program, spearheaded by Qingdao’s University’s Dean Yang, included four countries with animation and media programs: the U.S., Germany, South Korea and China. Each team had to produce its own animated film using any medium. McNulty handpicked five students to create an animated short that demonstrated the challenges of autism. His team consisted of junior Ryan Barry, senior Angel Agee, senior Clayton Smith, senior Mahkayla Grogan and senior July Daugherty.

China animation 3.JPGDuring spring 2017, the team met weekly to discuss creatively the idea and map out the story and design. The students received credit as an independent study through the Media Arts course 4900 Individual Problems. The group did research on autism and found inspiration through an interview of a woman and her autistic son. The boy became the team’s inspiration for the main character, Esmond, in the film they entitled Sensations.

The students studied external stimuli processed differently in those with autism, including eye contact, noise, light, touch and stimulation in general. In the short film, these external forces are personified as creatures Esmond encounters and overcomes through “stimming,” a repetition of physical movements or sounds that often relieve pressure to those with autism.

McNulty, Zheng and the students then traveled to China in May 2017 to finish their films. Sensations screened alongside four other submissions from different countries.

China animation 2 “As a nondialogue film, showing things verbally might not cross culture barriers,” says McNulty, “but it does gets past the language barrier.”

After the screening, the group went on several cultural exceursions, including a tour of a Taoist temple, a hike up a Laotian mountain and, of course, a visit to the Confucius statue.

MTSU has been officially invited to participate in next year’s exhibition, with topics under discussion ranging from autism to the environment to the elderly. Qingdao has also invited more than 20 new schools to participate, including those in the countries of the U.S., China, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Thailand and Malaysia.


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