In 2017, School of Photographic Arts and Sciences Associate Professor Meredith Davenport invited me to join her in Pristina, Kosovo to observe the Peace and Conflict Study Abroad Program and consider running it the following year as an animated documentary class.  I received an RIT FEAD grant to cover a portion of my week-long travel in July, as well as support from RIT Global.  Working with School of Film and Animation Associate Professor Brian J. Larson, who had also been invited by Professor Davenport, we formed a connection with the Anibar Animation Festival. The festival, in its eighth year of programming, was started by a group of young (teenaged!) Kosovars wanting to “break civic apathy through cultural activism.” A bond was formed.

In 2018, after developing the course BASECamp (Balkan Animated Storytelling Exploration) with Professor Larson, we traveled once again to Kosovo with eight students to assist the Anibar Animation Festival with preparation for their August event.  Our involvement included screening program design and reviews, a public mural advertising the event, and artwork within Anibar’s theater championing the goal of 50/50 by 2020 (ratio of women to men in the animation industry.) In March of the following year, after a semester-long production advised by me and Professor Larson, the students screened their resulting film How We Went: Our Trip to Kosovo, along with their visual journals from the trip, at the Bevier Gallery at RIT.

150 lbs of VR equipment arrives safely at Jusuf Gervalla Cinema

Four months after the students’ exhibition I found myself yet again on a plane to Kosovo, this time flying with 150 lbs of computers and VR hardware needed to run a five-day VR workshop during the Anibar festival.  Sponsored by the US Embassy (link to interview), I was joined in Peja by fellow Americans and Rick and Morty Directors Matt Taylor and Bryan Newton. The VR workshop was open to local Kosovars as well as the general public during the festival, and was very well received, so much so that I helped arrange for Anibar to secure their own VR equipment after my departure.

And now, in keeping with what has become tradition (minus the travel) Anibar Artistic Director Petrit Gora invited me to create the film trailer for this year’s festival, which, as COVID19 altered plans worldwide, is now themed Humans/Heroes. In June I completed the minute-long animated short that is scheduled to screen during the festival in August 2020.

mari jaye’s teaching statement

Tell your own story, and you will be interesting.
-Louise Bourgeois

As a teacher of storytelling and animation, I maintain that self-responsibility—owning one’s narrative— is integral to the learning process. When students can own their stories, as well as their mistakes, disorientation, and apparent dead ends, they are often on the soundest path to creativity. This applies not only to how I want my students to learn, but also to how I approach my own role. In an industry that requires discipline and manual labor, I aim to instill in my students the ability to work thoughtfully, purposefully, and fearlessly, never resorting to an assembly-line mentality. I want each individual to be well versed in the fundamental principles of animation, and to then discover for themselves the countless ways in which those principles can be applied and expanded upon. I encourage them to get themselves into trouble and to then draw on what we’ve learned in the classroom to generate solutions.
Anything is possible in animation, but it can be an exacting medium. There are definitive elements that must be in place for things to work. As it takes a lifetime to explore the nuances of movement, I focus on embodying a particular concept, not rote memorization. I have students observe and act out movements before I show them the “rules” for how they’re drawn. I believe that after struggling with a principle they will not only better understand the conventional solution, but will also see the strengths and weaknesses of their own attempts. This ensures that they are never simply mimicking, but rather making conscious choices based on the tools and lessons they’ve been given, and on their own unique mind at play. I encourage them to not fear mistakes and to trust that failed attempts can often be just as beneficial as successful ones (and that one often leads to the other). Being active agents in their own learning solidifies otherwise abstract concepts, and I continually seek ways to support it. My recent PLIG grant will make possible a reference library of student-generated slow-motion movements that other students will be able to access for years to come.
While my assignments value flexibility of approach, I believe that clear deadlines and objectives are an important part of education, especially within the context of the animation industry. Exposing students to this side of our practice is the reason I created the SOFA New York City Trip, where they hear from producers and directors and professionals alike that what we do in the classroom is not happening in a bubble. I consistently provide students with a set of parameters and checkpoints which allow them to simultaneously gauge their progress, observe each other’s solutions, and, most importantly, understand the endless ways a given problem can be solved. Peer review occurs verbally in person or written through shared, live-updated Google documents. At the beginning of a class critique, I often hear them say something like, “I didn’t know if I could get it to work, but I did!” Within the structure of the classroom’s objectives, it’s vital that they’re able to claim ownership of their accomplishments.
My involvement in projects like NarRITives (a grant-funded collaboration between RIT’s Museum Studies, Journalism and Film programs), Mayor Warren’s What’s Good Rochester? (a city initiative to highlight residents through City Hall’s media platforms), and the Balkan Animated Storytelling Exploration (BASECamp) course is a testament to how important storytelling is to me. I model for my students these ways of engaging with stories, and encourage them at all turns to speak with their own voice while providing opportunites for others to do the same. I speak openly and candidly about perspective to dispel the idea that there is a default narrative.
I consider animation to be nothing short of magic, and as a teacher of animation I have a front row seat to this incredible show. I work to ensure that my students understand the tools and tricks of this craft, that they trust in their ability to find creative solutions to their work, and that after their mistakes and failures, they realize what interesting stories they have to tell.