Animation Educator of the Year Dana Lamb Excels at Drawing Out Talent

When Dana Lamb, recipient of Variety’s Creative Impact in Animation Education award, reflects upon his 28-year tenure as professor at Cal State Fullerton, he is struck by how the department came together in its early days to create an arts program that was innovative, cutting-edge and indicative of a future that was ripe with promise and possibility.

“Animation was really struggling for a lot of years, and when I got out of (Cal State Fullerton) in ’75 after graduating, it was in disarray — everybody was struggling to make money, ” says Lamb, now the university’s professor emeritus, entertainment art/animation & internship coordinator, visual arts department.

“In the ’80s and in the ’90s, animation started to kind of come back into its own,” he continues. “ ‘The Lion King’ came out, and ‘Little Mermaid,’ and suddenly there was this resurgence of interest in building feature films because they were starting to grab the hearts of the public and they were selling tickets. The studios were raiding each other and the recruiters were traveling all over the world to find people who could draw well. Our program was really young and up to that point we had only one animation class. But we had all this drawing talent and as a result, we were positioned to really take advantage of the rebirth of this new era of animation.”

From the beginning, says Lamb, the school was committed to building partnerships with members of the industry in an effort to match graduating students with jobs.

“At the time, Dave Masters, who would become a recruiter and developer of talent in our program, was teaching animation at a high school nearby and he was getting all these awards and getting kids hired right out of high school,” says Lamb, who has won awards from both the Los Angeles and New York chapters of the Society of Illustrators.

“And so our faculty went over to his program and looked around,” he recalls. “We realized he was mentoring, he was teaching, but the real strength of the program was bringing in professionals constantly to work with the students. So our foundation was based on what the industry was looking for.”

The school partnered with Disney and DreamWorks. “We have a very aggressive internship program where we get our students out there working in these studios,” adds Lamb. “That’s really been the key.”

But even in an industry that’s seen tremendous technological growth over the past two decades — the transition from 2D to 3D being the biggest game changer — Lamb maintains that it’s still story and content that drive the imagery.

“Things change so rapidly in terms of technology and taste,” says Lamb, “but here’s my personal take: as far as talent goes, as far as training our students goes, it really goes back to the content.”

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