School of Art, School of Dance

When the University of Arizona calls, you answer. 

School of Art MFA candidate Woodlin Latocki had only just begun to dip her toes in the world of animation when the “higher ups” approached her about working as an animator on the newest addition to the university’s Wonder campaign.

Latocki has always considered herself to be a “pen to paper” kind of artist, but an interest of hers has always lied in the world of animation. She began dabbling with animation for fun when she was an undergraduate student.

“I had always been a fan of animation,” Latocki said. “In the beginning, I just went in with my dinky little tablet and digitally colored, added lighting, and just enjoyed playing around.”

This “play” is what allowed Latocki to fall into the professional world of animation on a happy accident.

>> Woodlin Latocki’s website
>> Wonder makes Taylor Bradley move

Woodlin Latocki illustration
Woodlin Latocki, Sunrise, Lake & Minnehaha, drawing, 2020

Student animator brings ‘Wonder’ video to life

“Earlier this year, I enrolled in an animation class just kind of for fun and to experiment with it in addition to my other work,” Latocki said. “And then early in the semester, my instructor asked me if I would be interested in doing a high-profile animation project.”

“I don’t have any educational or professional background in animation,” Latocki said. “But these kinds of opportunities don’t often just present themselves in that kind of way, so I said yes!”

The University of Arizona’s Wonder campaign focuses in on what drives ambition and curiosity within us. The videos peek into the worlds of different students in the Arizona community. Everyone from quantum mechanics scientists to policy and politics students share what wonder means to them. In the current campaign features six videos, all animated. The first five were created by professional animators; Latocki is the only student animator.

The upcoming installment, expected to drop very soon, focuses on School of Dance alumnus, Taylor Bradley (BFA ’15), who is currently performing in both Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE Le Reve – The Dream in Las Vegas. Animating Bradley proved to be a challenge for Latocki whose artistic endeavors typically lie in the realm of place and environment. 

This is a behind-the-scenes look, shot and edited by Latocki, documenting Woodlin’s Wonder process.

“It is a stark contrast from what I do in my own work,” Latocki said. “My work is usually void of figures, but in working on this project, I have had to focus a lot on the motion and figure of a dancer.”

Because of their intricate and advanced movements, animating a dancer is anything but simple.

“It has certainly been a process of learning by doing,” Latocki said. “I have been being introduced to new techniques and new technology throughout the process.

One of these techniques is called rotoscoping, an animation technique used to draw frames over real video footage. It creates a very realistic action.

“I was given dance footage by Taylor Bradley himself,” Latocki said. 

She has worked tirelessly on rotoscoping Bradley’s dance videos to bring them to life via animation.

For the Wonder campaign, Latocki used a ‘grid’ to show Taylor Bradley’s dance movements.

Along with rotoscoping, Latocki was also introduced to other programs and technologies. One of those included learning to perfect her drawing technique on an iPad. Contrary to popular belief, the transition from pen and paper drawing to iPad drawing is smoother than you might think.

“It’s all about the pressure and the angle of your pencil,” Latocki said. “Of course, you are working on a very hard, smooth surface, so it took me a little bit of getting used to, but it is pretty true to your typical pen on paper process.”

And while it may seem like a completely different branch of artistry, animation is rooted in the same kind of art that drawing is.

“Drawing is a huge part of my regular work, and this is drawing. It is taking drawing to another level with the language of motion,” Latocki said.

Woodlin Latocki headshot

The pipeline from animation class student to animator on a high-profile project would not have been made possible without the help of mentors. 

“My professor, Nicole Antebi, was a guiding force in helping me organize the tools that I could use,” Latocki said. “I have also been working in tandem with the ad agency 160over90 and their in-house illustrator and animator.”

Latocki says that anyone can get involved in animation. All it takes is the initial jump. 

“Jump in. Open up photoshop, open your frame timeline, and just start playing around with it,” Latocki said. “Don’t get stuck in the mindset that there is a perfect way to go about animation, because it is just one of those mediums that every artist has their own techniques. It’s fun to find your own.”

As animation continues to be on the rise, Latocki hopes that consumers of animation remember the humans behind it all. 

“Behind everything you see there is a motion graphics artist or an animator or an illustrator that is putting it all together,” Latocki said. “It has been a really cool experience to be the one behind the scenes putting it all together.”

The Wonder campaign continues to do its job and inspire people across the globe. Latocki hopes that the new installment will invite viewers to take a look at Bradley’s story and to challenge their own definitions of “wonder.”

“The way that Taylor describes wonder is something that I also latched on to the concept of trusting the unknown in your creative journey, your professional journey, and your journey as a person,” Latocki said. “I hope that when they watch the video, people get to thinking about what wonder means to them as well.”