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An Animated Beginning

Michael Henley '14

Visiting HIES on Sept. 9, Michael Henley '14 spoke with AP art students about his work in storyboarding. 

As a freshman at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School, Michael Henley '14 had his sights set on going to college at the University of Southern California. With that goal, he took seven AP classes, made the dean's list and the headmaster's list multiple times, swam on the varsity team all four years and served as president of National Honor Society. As a junior, he received the Alice L. Malcolm Headmaster's Award, which recognizes a rising senior who best exemplifies the philosophy of the school. 

Always with an interest in art, Mr. Henley took as many arts classes as he could during his time at HIES. In a notable achievement, he created an original animated film starring varsity wrestling coach Stacey Davis. The film had a greater impact than Mr. Henley expected. 

"I had just learned animation software a few months prior, and what started as a dumb idea ended with a 3-minute film that I got to show to the whole Upper School," he said. "The laughs and thunderous applause that followed were really amazing to hear at 17, and it's what sparked my first thought of 'Hey, maybe I should try to do this with my life.'"

He earned acceptance to USC, where he studied business administration with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and marketing, and a minor in animation and digital arts. He was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and founded an animation appreciation student organization on campus. In the last year of his animation minor at USC, Mr. Henley wrote, storyboarded, animated and edited a short film called "The Adventures of Erik & Derik." He continues to work on this concept/story. 

After graduating from USC, he worked as a marketing and sales associate for a digital commerce company but after realizing his passion lay elsewhere, he decided to pursue his love of animation and started taking storyboarding classes at Concept Design Academy in Pasadena, Calif., where he was able to learn storyboarding theory and practice from animation industry TV directors. He has been working in storyboarding as a freelance artist and hopes to land a full-time job with a studio soon. 

Visiting HIES on Sept. 9, Henley spoke with AP art students about his work in storyboarding, which has experienced increased demand. Because some studios outsource their animation projects to Asia, the storyboard – a set of still drawings that explain the visuals of a show or movie – is an important guide for the animator to be able to complete the project. 

"In sending ideas to a foreign entity, the story needs to be clear," Mr. Henley said. 

He advised students who are interested in animation to continue to develop their drawing and composition skills. He also said that planning art projects plays a larger role than some might think. 

"You can keep winging it but eventually you'll want to start planning to create good art," he said. 

Lesson from AP art teachers Judie Jacobs and Katie Arnold as well as teachers Quinton Walker, Kacey Michelsen, Meredith Many, Patrick Allegra and Gerard Gatoux have continued to influence Mr. Henley post-college and in his professional career. Now Facebook friends with his former teachers, "it was great to come back and talk with past teachers on an adult-to-adult basis," Mr. Henley said. "They taught me about the amazing opportunity I had as a student of HIES and how to utilize that opportunity."