TNJN Spotlight: Sophomore becomes only UT animation major

Through College Scholars, John McAmis became the only animation major at UT.

John McAmis sits at the Golden Roast and sketches people. Ryan McGill//TNJN

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Paper. Pencil. Imagination.

That’s all John McAmis needs as he presses his sharpened pencil to his sketchbook. He sits at a coffee shop and studies the people. As he draws, he tries to capture their facial expressions and hand gestures, essential aspects of human life he needs to recreate as an animator.

“I, one hundred percent believe that animation is the closest that humans will get to real magic,” McAmis said.

Through the College Scholars program, McAmis became the only animation major at UT. He started out as an architecture major his freshman year even though animation was his true passion.  But a session with his advisor changed everything.

“I just broke down and confessed I’ve always wanted to do animation even though I knew it wasn’t realistic,” McAmis said. “But the advisor stopped me there and told me about the College Scholars program and we kind of went from there.”

John never leaves his apartment without a pencil and his sketchbook. Ryan McGill//TNJN
John never leaves his apartment without a pencil and his sketchbook.
Ryan McGill//TNJN

After being accepted into College Scholars, McAmis was put in charge of making his curriculum, which included independent courses where he had to make his own syllabus. His advisor, a cinema studies teacher and local filmmaker Paul Harrill, then looks over the syllabus and approves McAmis’ schedule.

”With John putting together his own course of study he sees that he’s really responsible for learning, that an education is something you claim,” Harrill said.

This education includes classes on what McAmis believes to be the essentials of being a good animator. Classes on subjects like drawing, computer science and filmmaking.

“Nobody on UT’s campus really knows animation, but Paul knows filmmaking and I think that’s really useful,” McAmis said. “Not many animators know filmmaking techniques.”

While filmmaking proves to be useful in animation, McAmis firmly believes that drawing is the most important skill an animator needs.

“I did a lot of drawing when I was little,” he said. “I used to have this massive collection of those art set briefcases with the crayons and the crappy paper. But I let art fall to the wayside for a while until high school when I picked it up again. So, it’s funny that my life actual came back to art, and it was completely unexpected.”

Unexpected until he realized his goal of being an animator after a lecture from his dad.

“My dad would say you need to find your passion,” McAmis said. “You need to enjoy your work so, I thought about that a lot and I came to the conclusion of, you know I would really like to work for Pixar, in any aspect really. I can sweep their floor, I didn’t care what I had to do, but I knew I wanted to get there.”

The drive to work for Pixar fueled his ambition but didn’t stop him from exploring other aspects of animation.

“I mean I love Pixar and hopefully they are my future employer, but I’ve been trying to broaden my scope of animation,” McAmis said.  “As I kid, I didn’t know what Dreamworks was or what Pixar was, but I knew that I liked ‘A Bug’s Life’ infinitely more than ‘Antz’ so, even as a child I had this pull towards Pixar because their stories were more appealing to me.”

Pursuing animation was a journey that McAmis knew would be difficult. Especially when working on a project disrupts his tea time at 4 p.m. or forces him to stay awake past his scheduled bedtime.

“I love staying in my comfort zone, so it’s really just a matter of me challenging myself. I know it’s going to be hard. I mean you work on a film for five to seven years and the payoff is a 90 minute film.”

McAmis applied for a job as a caricature artist this summer at Dollywood to challenge himself to become better at drawing.

“Caricature relates so much to animation, and when I got the job I couldn’t not do it,” he said. “I’m getting paid to draw, and I get to ride roller coasters.”

No matter what these next two years at UT bring for McAmis, he knows that choosing animation was the best decision.

“I believe that we’re just a small blip in the universe,” he said. “There have been people to make their blips brighter than others and I don’t want to be some famous person winning Oscars or anything, but I do want to make something meaningful and make my blip a little brighter.”

Edited by Maggie Jones

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