Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Animated Thoughts: Attitude of Gratitude, Part One

I received a call in February from a student at R.I.T. He was making the rounds, calling alumni for donations. And while I wasn't able to give at that moment, I assured him that in March, I'd have a check sent out to R.I.T. for the Erik Timmerman Memorial Scholarship. But one of my statements surprised him greatly. When this young man asked me what I thought of my time at R.I.T., I simply stated that it was the greatest three years of my life before or since. Y'see, it was at R.I.T. that I grew the most as a human being. It was at R.I.T. that I met four people who would have a profound effect on my life--two during my time there and two afterwards.

I almost didn't go to Grad School. My grade in my major was a solid 3-point-something. However, my overall GPA was closer to 2.5-ish. But I had been working on little animated films with my friend ChuckBill and had written some short stories, all of which I sent on to Erik Timmerman. The story he told me when I started grad school was that there was some serious debate as to whether or not they would accept me in the M.F.A. Computer Animation program. Given my grades, the board wasn't sure that I could handle the workload--especially given that I'd be moving from a semester system to the high-pressure quarter system that R.I.T. uses. But, as Erik told the story, he said to the board: "I've talked to this guy and read some of his writing, he can handle it. Let him in." And I was accepted to the roller coaster ride that was grad school.

(Erik Timmerman, circa 1988)
Erik Timmerman was the first 'father figure' in my life who believed in me. Erik made me feel like I could accomplish anything. He was loud, in your face, and bombastic--but he never gave me any reason to think that he didn't love me, didn't believe in me, didn't think that I couldn't accomplish anything I put my mind to--and I loved him for it. Erik was honest with me about my failures. When I was overreaching, he'd tell me so and then would help me bring my imagination back into the scope of what my skills could accomplish (with just a little extra above the bar so I would reach higher, stretch, and grow both as an artist and as a person).

As I approached graduation, Erik paid me perhaps the greatest compliment he could have--he pulled me into his office and said that he was going on sabbatical for medical reasons. R.I.T. was looking for someone to take over for him while he was gone and he said that I should throw my name into the ring. Well, I'm ashamed to say that I never did. Although I knew the material, I didn't think that I was experienced enough to teach his classes. Erik said he understood and smiled at me in that way that he always did, the way that communicated, "you might not think you're ready now, but I think you are, and I think that when you're realize that you're ready, you're going to be excellent."

Erik once told a classmate of mine that Spring was a sad time of year for him. As Elouise would later write in her blog, Erik said that "Every year, all these students leave...and I am still here. I don't think they remember me."

Erik was the man who taught the first animation class at R.I.T. He was the man who started the computer animation graduate program at R.I.T. And he was the man who gave many students a chance to live their dreams. One day, Erik may well just be another name on a memorial brick and a footnote told to students on their first day in the animation program. But his presence will continue to be felt by future generations of animators who graduate from R.I.T., whether they knew him or not.

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Photograph from Andrew Davidhazy's Retired Professors and past colleagues from the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT webpage.