University animation class bring a little motion to Towson Commons

Phil Davis, a professor in the electronic media and film department at Towson University, lectures during a stop-motion animation class held in Towson Commons on Feb. 20.
Phil Davis, a professor in the electronic media and film department at Towson University, lectures during a stop-motion animation class held in Towson Commons on Feb. 20.(Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana)

It may not be the full-time tenants that many have been longing for, but passersby in downtown Towson will see a bit more activity inside of Towson Commons on Monday mornings this spring.

Towson University is holding a stop-motion animation class in one of the building's vacant storefronts, taking advantage of the open space at the center to build sets for short video projects.


"They're building the classroom, and they're building the studio," said Stuart Stein, chair of Towson's Department of Art and Design.

"It's not like a typical class," he said. "It's not even like a typical animation class."

Over the course of the semester, students will build their own sets and create short videos by moving the pieces incrementally within the set to simulate motion.

Once the construction of sets and the animation process gets under way, Towson residents will be able to peek in the store's windows and see what the students are up to.

"We want people to see that something's going on, just walking by on the sidewalk," Stein said. "It's the whole idea of getting a presence in the downtown area as well."

That presence has been welcome for local leaders, who are thrilled at the idea that there's something happening inside one of Towson Commons' many vacant storefronts.

"I'm so glad to have some paper coming down off Towson Commons and have some people in the building," said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.

The Feb. 20 session was the fourth class of the semester, but just the second inside the storefront, which is next to Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar.


The idea for the class — and for using the space at Towson Commons — actually came about last fall, after Stein saw the animated film, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." He said the school offered similar classes or portions of stop motion animation, but not the actual course.

His department teamed with the Electronic Media and Film department to form the class, but realized logistics on campus would make it hard to pull off.

"You're basically doing these really large tabletop sets," Stein said. "You build small-scale sets on top of that. The big question then was where?"

University classroom space would have required the projects to be taken down, and there wasn't enough space available to allow them their own permanent classroom. But Towson Commons, where the art department has collaborated in the past for a gallery, presented a chance for the sets to be left undisturbed.

Stein and university officials met over lunch with the property manager, Genny Hardesty, and she was intrigued.

The company ultimately gave Towson use of the property both rent- and utility-free for the semester.


While the university's presence in the building has been long-rumored, Sedonia Martin, public relations manager for arts and culture at Towson, said there are no further plans to pursue space in the building.

On Monday, remnants of the effort to turn the space into a workable classroom were littered about the room.

In one corner, empty boxes that once contained rolling stools awaited disposal. Across the room, boxes from the plastic folding tables that double as workstations for the class' four groups lay cluttered on the floor.

But in the back, class was in session, as co-instructor Phil Davis demonstrated the animation program they will use with a projector onto the blank gray wall. Despite the lunchtime bustle of Pennsylvania Avenue behind them, the students remained fixed on the lecture.

"This is a fairly focused group," Sujan Shrestha, assistant professor of Digital Art and Design and co-instructor with Davis, said. "Students who are here are motivated to be here."

Once the sets are built and the project is farther along, Stein hopes they can be displayed by the window and ultimately, shown off in a gallery setting to the community.

The class, which is co-run by the Department of Art and Design, Art History and Art Education and the Department of Electronic Film and Media, features students with a variety of backgrounds from both departments — including interests in fine arts, jewelry, ceramics and sculpting, as well as film and 3D artists, Shrestha said.

David Alger, a senior from Germantown, and his group have tables set up in the back room. Group members said the story was focused on a sewer-dwelling troll who eats a magical piece of fruit and undergoes myriad changes.

To pull off an idea like that, they will have to utilize the extra space Towson Commons provides, he said.

"Usually in the studio, you don't get a lot of space," Alger said. "Here, we have this whole room."

Alger said the students' unlimited access to the space would be an asset once the projects get under way.

"We have 24/7 access, which works for us because the project's going to take a lot of time to do," he said.