AET Lecturer in Digital Art Shares More Than 15 Years of Teaching Experience to Engage Students

2-D animation professor Neal Daugherty discusses his experience in art both inside and outside of the classroom.

Neal Daugherty is an artist currently teaching AET production courses that cover 2-D animation, working with Adobe Creative Cloud and a digital practicum that focuses in game concept and elements. His work outside of the classroom includes visual arts, graphic design and printmaking. Daugherty has worked with Nike and had his work featured in exhibitions, and he runs his own company called Misunderstood Technologies and is a part of a multimedia band called Death and Astronauts. We recently caught up with him to talk about his work.

Could you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background?
I have an M.F.A. in experimental print making from LSU. I also have a master’s in graphic design and a lot of work in art history, so I lecture quite a bit on that. I was first hired here to teach digital foundations, a course that never existed before in the College of Fine Arts. Essentially, it went into the basics of Adobe Creative Cloud. That started in 2003. Until 2015 we had four sections, and we were serving 1,200 to 1,400 students, so we’ve had a good run with that. Since 2015 I’ve moved over to the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies, to teach Foundations of Digital Imaging and Digitization. I also teach Intro to 2-D Animation, and our Summer 2017 course is Digital Practicum, which is a simulated studio on how to make game concepts and game elements like cut screens, load screens, sprites and all the things that go into the conceptual and artistic aspects of a video game.

I’m also a visualization program director for CAET. I do quite a bit of the administration and how our programs are getting put together.

What are some projects you’ve done or experiences you’ve had that you are most proud of? Why?
I’d have to say one of the highlights is working with Nike on several promotional campaigns both as a motion graphics artist and as an art director. Having some of my prints shown overseas was always a highlight, especially since I got to do the touring. I also have my own consulting design and instructional company called Misunderstood Technologies. One of my favorite things, though, is teaching. It’s just what I like to do.

What do you cover over the course of the semester in your classes?
AET 306 is the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator, and then we go into video editing in Premiere and After Effects for animation. We even use Blender to add a 3-D element into their learning. AET 325 is one of our really popular courses, and it’s an introduction to animation. We go from in the beginning learning how to make a flip book, all the way up to making a final project, which we take one month to make. We do seven assignments that are all geared to how animation is built, and then we assign a large creative project in the end—hopefully tying together some techniques with the technologies that they’re learning in class. We’ll also be having an advanced 2-D animation class that will be offered in Spring 2018.

What do you hope students take away from this course?
I’m proud of the fact we have such nice work coming out of our foundations classes. Even though the students are all different skill levels when they come in, I teach individually. I still make sure I look at the individual and try to get them up to the same plateau of the other students, and it’s been successful for the last 15 years. I’m very proud of being able to convey something like Adobe Creative Cloud software to everyday uses. It empowers people. We focus on putting knowledge to creative projects, and we use what we call a blended classroom. We have to be beyond cutting edge with the technology we teach, so we’re constantly having a set place to go. We look for the best kinds of tutorials that can help a student at the same time in a classroom setting to impart that knowledge and have them confidently work with these new programs. We cover a good portion of Adobe Creative Cloud, and it’s a very rewarding experience. The best part about it is after these students come out, they actually have things to show from what they’ve learned rather than just “do this and there’s your answer.” We are literally making projects. Something that they can be proud of and empowered by. It’s one of my favorite things. Their success is my success, and their challenges are my challenges. To me every student is a potential colleague, and that’s how I like to think about it. I have students from nine years ago who still ask me questions about technology, and I gladly answer them because they’re my colleagues.

Besides teaching, you are also working in your field. What kinds of projects are you working on outside of the classroom?
Being trained as a classical print maker was kind of restrictive in some ways, so I’ve really used Photoshop to become a digital print maker. That type of work is hand in hand with everything that I’m doing. Photoshop on my computer is constantly open. I never close the program because I use it so much.

Lecturing on contemporary art, digital art and the Internet with modern culture is something that I lecture professionally to both corporations like Samsung, General Electric, but also to institutions and universities. So I do a bit of lecturing on how this digital culture is affecting arts and entertainment. Again, I’m also a person who’s constantly looking at new technologies, new ways of imaging, and even recently, a lot of my work is centered around the idea of glitch—breaking down or finding the broken pieces of this perfect technology that we would consider digital. It still has its fallacies in some ways, and that’s what I’m looking for in my own work. How can we talk about broken parts of digital files? Do they have a new way of being interpreted? I’m trying to look at those parallels in a digital arena as it applies as we try to work with it.

I’m also a musician, and I’ve been using technology, many controls and a lot of programming to actually do interactive performances. I’m in a music group we call Death and Astronauts, which is a collaboration of programmers, musicians and artists. We’ve been showing now for about two years.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in following a career path in digital arts or music?
Always know that there is more you can learn. Work with people rather than always making them your competition. In today’s environment, having several people to work with or networking among a group is really the key to success. Even though in today’s industry we have independent studios, it’s very novel, but at the same time you still need to be connected to the work around you. Never lose a connection between other people and your own work. To me, Art and Entertainment Technologies is a great way to have a new discussion. In my opinion, art is the most powerful voice. The beauty of entertainment is that it takes art to new avenues and new people.