Non-Fiction Film

Visualizing American Art History:

Experimental Animation and Its Mentor, 

Jules Engel (1909-2003)

“It is not what I give to a student that is most important, it is what I don’t take away.”

— Jules Engel       


A non-fiction feature film focused on the critical history of an experimental art form and the power of an artist-mentor-educator to transform its creative practice.

Jules Engel (1909-2003)

Visualizing American Art History: Experimental Animation and Its Mentor is a non-fiction feature that tells the story of the power of higher education to change the face of art history, one student at a time. Recognized as one of the most important figures in abstract animation and modern art, Jules Engel’s invaluable contribution to the animation industry in its early development (Fantasia, Bambi, and UPA) and to the art of animation that influenced over three generations of students is captured in this documentary.

Experimental animation grew up in California in the shadows cast by Hollywood and was established a discipline in the first higher educational institution in America to create an academic track for the study of animation as an art form, California Institute of the Arts.  In 1969 CalArts appointed Jules Engel the Founding Director of the Animation Program.

What is it that distinguishes experimental animation, you might ask? Generally speaking, experimental animation is a timing-based art form that grows out of an exploratory relationship to an idea or concept, material or process — as would any experimental art form such as painting, sculpture or choreography when created by an individual. [Dill]

Jules would say, experimental animation is art “because it was made by a human being” … in other words, animation that is created for personal expression.

Teachers provide powerful legacies by their influence on students, from early childhood education through post-graduate studies, either negatively or positively, across the humanities and the fine arts. While skills, techniques, and career choices are worthy motivators for arts education, higher education is called higher education for a reason: to foster a language of critical thinking. This is a film that portrays higher education as it is meant to foster critical thinking within a creative practice grounded in the humanities. The intellectual (i.e., research) serves an essential role in experimental thinking (i.e., intuition) when engaged simultaneously in the creative act … within the arts and within the humanities.

Engel is an acknowledged Early California Modernist who created unceasingly until his death at 94 years old. A role model for the quintessential artist and mentor, Engel’s students today are important leaders in the animation industry, in independent filmmaking, and in arts education. These include … to name only a few amongst hundreds over three generations from California to New England and internationally … the likes of:

Glen Keane (Walt Disney Studios), Henry Selick (Coraline), Ellen Woodbury (Lion King), Eric Darnell (Madagascar), and Mark Kirkland (The Simpsons), Steven Hillenburg (SpongeBob), Jorge Gutierrez (El Tigre), Peter Chung (Aeon Flux), Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda and More) are only a few amongst hundreds of artists in the animation industry who were students of Engel.

Independent Animation Artists and Educators:  Amy Kravitz, Steven Subotnick, Joyce Borenstein, Sky David, Kathy Rose, Christine Panushka, Joanna Priestley, Isabel Herguera, Sheila Sofian, and Janeann Dill, amongst generations too numerous to cite here. Remember  as well, these educators, in turn, have two or more generations of students who were educated and mentored within Engel’s legacy. Visualizing American Art History: Experimental Animation and Its Mentor presents an inspired educator who has done his part to evolve art history and an educational philosophy of artist-mentorship to evolve arts education!

Visualizing Art History: Experimental Animation and It’s Mentor, Jules Engel is not only a documentary feature, it is part of a larger biographical project by Dr. Janeann Dill that includes a (DVB) Digital Video Book, and interactive website and television production. Engel’s Biographer. One of Engel’s students, Dr. Dill earned her Ph.D. in Media Philosophy, MFA in Experimental Animation, and MA in Fine Arts: Painting and Drawing. Dill is the Founder of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Art and Creative Intelligence (ThinkTank), and The Institute Productions, Boston.

Check out the social network buttons at the top of page (right) and the links listed below (here) to help support this film!  Independent filmmaking is expensive and this film needs your financial support for its completion. Engel was deeply supportive of the Biography Project and wanted to see the whole of the project realized.

Donations may be designated as tax-deductible for fundraising purposes (or not) and you determine pledge amount you want to contribute … this is to encourage students, entrepreneurs, lovers of animation, and Angel Donors to be an integral part of this production at any level of support.  DONATE-CONTACT

Social Media, podcast and publication links referencing the project & The Institute Productions: (Most read on AWN.Com)
THINK TANK:  Institute for Interdisciplinary Art and Creative Intelligence


Janeann Dill is the Producer-Director-Animation Artist, Educator and Scholar for this film.

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