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Valencia Researches Childhood, Animation Connection

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Karissa Valencia’s childhood included thoughts and actions centered on what she read and what she watched.

“Some of the first drawings that interested me, thanks to my Dad, were comic books. I thought the stories were really in-depth; the details, too, were in-depth. As for animation, I was a Disney child of the 90’s. I watched all of those films growing up. ‘The Lion King’ was one of my favorites. I always wanted to draw it and redraw certain scenes.”

Both activities stimulated Valencia’s creativity and affinity for animation in multiple forms at a young age. It served as a source of inspiration and fed her curiosity. Years later, Valencia (pictured, at right), who’ll graduate in May as a University of San Diego Communication Studies and English double major, has devoted some of her time at USD to research animation’s early development as a children’s media genre and its continued rise in illustrating one’s childhood.

Valencia gave a presentation of her work on Wednesday to members of USD’s Bridges Academy, which connects senior community members ages 55 and up to USD through educational lectures with USD faculty, staff, alumni and students.

Valencia, a McNair Scholar who is attending Syracuse University in July to begin a master’s program in Radio, Television and Film, discussed cartoon characters with video excerpts of Felix the Cat and Genie the Dinosaur during her talk. She also offered insight into such well-known animated stories as “Pinocchio,” “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland.” She reflected on the research of characters and gender roles, subject matter in story lines and how characters evolved from their inception in the 1920s to a more family-friendly manner in the 1950s.

She spoke of the importance of Disney’s presence and how its technological advances with sound and color aided animation’s evolution. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was the first animated feature-length film. “Silly Symphonies,” a series of animated shorts, earned Academy Awards. Valencia shared a brief clip of one of the shorts, 1932’s “Flowers and Trees,” which was the first film done in full-color Technicolor.

Valencia said her research topic was a good fit because she combined elements of her two USD majors into one project. She expressed gratitude to USD professors, Visiting Assistant Professor of English David Cantrell and Communication Studies Department Chair and Professor Kristin Moran, for their guidance.

Asked what she enjoyed learning most from her research, Valencia noted, “that people underestimate animation. Something I really enjoy is that animation takes on two interpretations: what they look like and what they say to us. We don’t acknowledge it all the time. The things that come out of it can apply to so much more than what we give them credit for.”

Looking at the foundation of animation has given Valencia plenty of perspective on the current state of this multi-billion dollar industry. She continues to monitor the current genre, noting the popularity of long-running animated TV shows such as “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons,” and the respect that animation commands, including films such as “Avatar.”

“I think people are just pushing more and more toward their interaction with animation, such as the whole 3-D phenomenon,” she said. “People want to be with these cartoons. It’s an escape from reality. The future for animation is that it’s definitely going to be around. It’s not going away.”

Valencia has long had interest in creating her own animated characters — “I think about it all the time,” she stated — and combining her passion for creative writing, knowledge gained from film and media studies courses and her own research, she’s eager to get started on the next chapter.

“I’m so excited,” she said about graduating from USD soon and jumping right into the one-year program at Syracuse in July. “There are professors who wrote ‘Tarzan,’ and ‘Pocahontas,’ people who’ve created these memories for children like me who grew up on them … and now they’re going to be my professors. They know all about children’s media. Another professor I want to work with does media literacy, taking things farther outside the narrative to see what’s really being said.”

It’s a childhood dream that’s quickly becoming a grown-up reality for Valencia.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Undergraduate research is an opportunity that’s open to all USD undergrad students. A record 200 research projects will be featured at the April 18 USD Undergraduate Research Conference in UC Forums.

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