Aniboom 4 Sesame Street Awards Finalist Tony Dusko

Where are you from and where do you work (city, studio, or home studio)?
I am from Reading, Pennsylvania, USA. I work in my home studio, however, my entire animation system is very portable. This way I can animate anywhere. Working full time as a school teacher, I need a portable system so I can animate any time and any where since my art time is often limited. I once made a film at school between parent-teacher conferences! I even recorded the voice track right there in my classroom while waiting for a parent.

When did you first become interested in animation?
I first became interested in animation in grade school. They used to give us these thick tablets to write on and I would get as many as I could and make these animated flip books. I wish I still had one of those.

What do you like about animation?
When used effectively, it is an extremely good communication tool. And teaching children is all about communication. And if my films are also funny, then that is certainly a bonus. Additionally, once you see your drawings come to life, it is hard to go back to a static image. It really is like magic to me.

How did you get started in animation?
I have always been interested in art and felt confident as an artist. My father is a painter and I grew up surrounded by art. I studied painting and drawing in college while also becoming certified as a school teacher. I remember my first year of teaching: I would use my art skills to draw a lot of crazy characters during lessons to keep things interesting. I would even put my drawings on little cards and give them out to reward kids for doing great things. Then I began to wonder what would happen if my characters could move. Would my students be even more engaged? So that next year I had a class that had trouble getting quiet when they lined up for lunch. I was getting tired of always telling them to get quiet so I made a grilled cheese character and animated him to tell the kids to be quiet. The jaws of my students dropped to the floor as they stared at the projector screen. They couldn’t believe their eyes. One thing was certain; they lined up quietly that day. I then started making more film. I have films on many social and academic topics and will often make a film based on the current needs of my students. For example, one year I had a class that was always spreading rumors so I created my film, “Rumors Hurt” to show them the pain that a rumor can cause. I now use my animations as little interstitials between lessons throughout the day, sort of like how the fit them in on Sesame Street and MTV between live action. I have since placed many of my films on my website and Youtube channel so other teachers can use them. I call the collection of films, “Notebook Babies”. I get thank you notes daily from teachers all over the world for making my creations available to them. I love those emails because I know other students are also benefiting from my hard work.

Did you have any kind of formal training?
In the beginning I was self taught but then I found out that a professional animator was living only an hour away from me. His name is Paul Fierlinger and he has made over 700 animated films, including many Sesame Street classics from the 70’s and 80’s. You might remember his famous “Teeny Little Super Guy”. I couldn’t believe it! Here was the perfect person to talk to about improving my own educational animations. So I emailed him and he invited me to come down for a visit. He was intrigued by the fact that I was a teacher creating custom animations for my students. Paul has since become my teacher, mentor, and friend. I have learned so much from him about, not only the techniques of animation, but also the business, and commercial aspects too. I consider myself very lucky to have this friendship. I often feel like an apprentice to a master as in the days of the Renaissance. And although my work looks nothing like his, this is, in fact, what Paul teaches; to be an original and to draw what you know. I know kids and I draw for kids. I do have formal training in drawing and can draw classically. But what people don’t understand is that I draw like kids and for kids. Children see my work and instantly connect to it because it looks like something they could draw. And it does inspire them to draw. Holy cow, it makes them want to draw. To inspire creativity in our youth is such an important thing and animation is a great motivator for my students.

What works of animation, comics, film, or books inspire you and your work?
I have always been inspired by the classic animations that appeared on and the Children’s Television Workshop on shows such as Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and 321 Contact. I also am a big fan of independent animation. I like animation that is done by one or two people where there is a preservation of originality and style that so often gets lost on big animation teams. But my work is also very inspired by the art of kids. There is something in children’s drawings that I am always trying to achieve in my work. It is a freedom, a randomness that fades as kids grow into adults. And even in the things kids say there is so much humor if you can write them down quickly enough. My best ideas come from when I am in the classroom with my students. There is a real creative energy around fifth graders.

What techniques did you like using in your animation?
I do frame by frame hand-drawn animation without any special effects. I often like to start a character with ink and paper when I get an idea, however, I will then take the drawings into a tablet PC. Yet I still draw everything by hand, just directly on the computer screen with a special pen. And by using a piece of software called TVPaint, I have all the tools of a traditional animator right in a portable computer.

What attracted you to the Aniboom 4 Sesame Street Awards?
If I could pick one place where I would like to see my animations most, I think it would be on Sesame Street. That show was such a part of my childhood and continues to influence my educational films today. My animations are kid-tested in the classroom so I know kids like them. And when I saw the ad for the contest, I wanted to show Aniboom and Sesame Street everything I had. I would be very proud to have a film on this great show. A show that, after 40 years, continues to maintain a level of integrity so often lost on other children’s programming these days.

What’s your favorite holiday?
My favorite holiday is now Father’s Day.

What is your ultimate dream?
My ultimate dream is to work in my pajamas and to live by the sea.

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