Visitors can try their hands at sketching their favorite cartoon characters.
Visitors can try their hands at sketching their favorite cartoon characters.

The Animation Academy: From Pencils to Pixels opened on Feb. 15 and will be running through May 10 at the Wilbur D. May Museum, 1595 N. Sierra St. The exhibit includes different interactive stations where visitors of all ages can take part in activities like stop motion editing, 3D printing and photo booths, among many others. The exhibition covers the history of animation dating back to the 1910s and all the way through the present day. It’s a traveling exhibit, meaning it will visit many museums around the country, but it has found its home in Reno for the spring.

The first few weeks since the opening have seen plenty of interest from different visitors, including school tours and tons of Reno residents. Kids can practice sketching famous cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse. The museum also offers sketch classes to help perfect the drawings for each participant. The stop motion editing station allows each visitor to create their own stop motion film, while the art in motion hand drawing station lets imagination run wild as a simple lift of the hand makes any drawing come to life. Visitors can create their own image by using their hands to draw without actually touching the screen. Mirroring helps the station see the person drawing and tracks their movements in order to make the picture.

“I know my son really loved getting to make his own characters, and it’s nice getting to see all the photos later to remember the day,” said Leanna Cross.

The exhibition’s historical features include a booth with a video playing the history of cartoons. From old Saturday morning cartoons to more recent ones like SpongeBob SquarePants.

“The picture stations are really the best, especially since you can just email them to yourself and print them out later,” said visitor Terri Sjostrom. “It’s so funny watching the kids and my friends just hovering their hands in front of the screen.”

On a recent day when school children came on a fieldtrip, many of the kids agreed that the photo stations were the best, along with the sketch stations.

There are also stations dedicated to the origins of Gumby and The Simpsons characters. The shows demonstrate the true distance animation has come over the years. An episode of The Gumby Show, “Hidden Valley,” is played in a small booth where people can see how Gumby was created and the transformations he went through in his popular years. The Simpsons, being the animation marvel it’s become over the years, have a station dedicated to them as well, presenting the ways it’s changed animated television.

Samantha Szesciorka, assistant curator at the museum, said all ages can enjoy the exhibition because of its educational and nostalgic experiences.

Cartoon characters like the Simpsons and Gumby play a large role in the exhibition


“Older ages will feel the nostalgia of seeing the old Saturday morning cartoons, the ones kids won’t even recognize,” Szesciorka said. “And for the kids we still have characters they love like Scooby Doo and SpongeBob.”

The museum blends the informational parts of the exhibition with different examples of creativity, creating an interactive tour of entertainment. Other features of the exhibit include light boards that demonstrate the ink and paint color theory that helped the invention of many different famous cartoons we’ve all grown up with over the years. Also, right near the entrance of the exhibition is a voice acting station where people can guess the famous voices of characters throughout animation history.

Each station, while encouraging plenty of use, helps kids learn about what has gone into the creation of some of their favorite characters. The lessons they learn help them gain an appreciation for the shows they watch every day.

“The exhibit is fun, informational,” Szesciorka said. “It’s been received really well since its opening from everyone who’s had a chance to visit, so we really encourage anyone who’s interested to come and give it a look as well.”

Students from Round Mountain Elementary School came to visit the museum recently, taking time to record their trip and each experience at every station. The teachers helped students create their own pieces of animated art and even got in on the fun as well, with plenty of adults playing the characters of Scooby Doo in the photo booth.

The kids also got to take the sketch class and try their hands at the many different seven-step character drawings and other lessons.

The creative wonder of animation stretches back over a century, leaving enjoyment for generations that still exist today. And, so far, the reviews have been positive for the exhibition that allows visitors to experience the wonder hands-on while also learning about the stories behind the characters that helped shape their childhoods.

“We want them to be able to see what helped make the animations they love and remember most,” Szesciorka said. “It’s educational nostalgia that a lot of people have loved so far.”

The likes of Walt Disney and Chuck Jones and many others are celebrated all throughout the museum for their work in animation and the wealth of characters they created. The video station teaches people all about how these imaginative minds worked on and perfected the creation of so many famous characters like Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog. The Animation Academy: From Pencils to Pixels helps shine a light on the tremendous amount of work that goes into animation, now and when it first began—from hand drawing to 3D printing.

“Older ages will feel the nostalgia of seeing the old Saturday morning cartoons, the ones kids won’t even recognize.”

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