Animation students bring monsters to life for 4- and 5-year-olds

Animation students bring monsters to life for 4- and 5-year-olds

By University Communications
June 9, 2014
Instructor Dave Beck with his students and young clients.

Photo: Instructor Dave Beck with his students and young clients.

University of Wisconsin-Stout is known for involving its students in real-world projects and hands-on activities, even if the “hands” are very small.

Dave Beck, School of Art and Design, took his students out of the classroom and into the small but quite real world of early childhood education at the campus Child and Family Study Center to complete a course project.

In his intermediate 3D animation class, Beck assigned 15 students majoring in entertainment design-animation or game design-art to meet one-on-one with a client to create an animated character, in this case to bring a vision of a monster to life.

Much to the students’ surprise, the clients were 4- and 5-year-olds in the 4K class at the center.

“Working with UW-Stout’s Child and Family Study Center just made complete sense to me, as many of my students will be creating content for a younger audience after graduation, and this is the perfect way for them to get a glimpse into how imaginative the young mind can be when given the opportunity to express itself through art and creativity,” Beck said.

Monsters come to life

The students, with input from the child clients, infused each monster with a personality and a history. Where does it live and come from? What does it like to eat? Is it noisy or quiet? What color is it? How many legs and arms does it have? Can it talk?

In a month’s time, the monsters were finished and ready to be unveiled. The children and some parents saw for the first time the completed animated creature in its monstrous glory. It was a festive event with juice boxes and fruit snacks for all. Each child also received a poster of his or her monster.

Together, the child client and his or her college student presented to the class the original drawing and its transformation to a moving and talking creature.

For example, the group was introduced to Sam, a monster with 12 eyes, two bodies and five legs. Sam was created by Christian, whose mother, Megan Loga, came to watch. She said Christian named his monster Sam because it was the only word he could read and spell. It’s his favorite word. Sam’s animator was Jake Mairet, of Madison.

Lolly, created by Sophie and animated by Kalan Tix, of Osseo, Minn., is a girl and a good monster, Sophie said. Some monsters were male, some female and at least one was both. Lolly is part centipede and part cat. She has purple hair, likes to eat macaroni and ride her bike. Lolly purrs and can only say one word: Mommy.

Other monsters included Sigaly, who shoots lizards out of his arms; Hooky, whose face is mostly lips; Crabby, who is green and, well, crabby; Saka, who in her black dress is scary; Spotty Monster, who lives in a cave and has cavities in his two mouths; Funny Pet, who is a combination of horse and deer with a large heart attached to the side of his body; Goopy, who is both male and female with five eyes and no arms or legs; and Sally, who is a boy and likes French fries.

To see the animated monsters and original drawings go to To watch a video interview of Beck and student, Eric Seidl, go to

Making of a monster

The monster-making process started like any creative project might, with a brainstorming session between child client and college student about the monster’s appearance and habits.

“There were no rules or expectations for the drawings,” Beck said, whose daughter Eleanor is one of the children.

Unlike the fictional Dr. Frankenstein, who created his monster in a ghoulish lab filled with frothing test tubes, the children were left to draw their monsters the old-fashioned way with paper and colored markers. The drawings were collected, and the art students picked one image to work with in the animation lab.

Maggie Keenan, a UW-Stout alumna with a bachelor’s in early childhood education and a master’s in education, is the instructional specialist in the 4K class. From her observations and daily interaction with the youngsters, she dubbed the project a success.

“The children thoroughly enjoyed creating their monster and were excited to see their completed monsters move and make noises,” she said.

“They didn’t have any limitations, so it was a very open-ended art project for them in which they could each express their creativity,” she said.

Each Tuesday, they asked if their “college friend” was coming that day to work on their monster with them, Keenan said.

Ian Pommer, a game design and development major from Stillwater, Minn., was excited about the project. “I was interested to try my own hand at recreating a child's drawing,” he said.

The experience was not without challenges though. “Being so young, my client, as well as my classmates' clients, did not have as concrete of a design in mind that would be ideal from the concept stage and into production,” he said.

The college students used some of the techniques and software in an animator’s toolbox, such as character design, modeling and texturing with a digital sculpting program called Pixologic ZBrush, rigging, animation, lighting and rendering in a program called Autodesk Maya.

“This was the first time we’ve done this project, and I’m happy to see that it was a complete success, for both our little clients and my animation students, Beck said.

“Just as in the entertainment industry, a designer will have a client who has a specific vision for their idea, and it is up to the designer to help the client reach that goal, regardless of the obstacles presented to them (or how young they are!) ,” he added.

The Child and Family Study Center serves as a laboratory school and observation site for early childhood education and related majors at UW-Stout. This semester 78 children are enrolled; 20 percent are children of international students, faculty or staff. The ethnicities represented include Saudi Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Bangladeshi, Ethiopian, Nepali and Hispanic.

For more information about the university’s art and design programs, refer to School of Art and Design.