Bridging the Traditional and the Innovative: A Conversation with John Losacco

For John Losacco, who returns to the Interactive Arts and Media Department this year as a newly-minted full-time faculty member, the path to the future of game animation lies in the basics.  

Take his Drawing for Animation course, for example, which provides students the opportunity “to dig into the philosophy of animation, the theory, and to explore what the different parts of drawing animation can do…in a way that is not explored as much as it should be.” This class allows Losacco to emphasize to students the importance of building the bones of their art before layering in the muscles and skin. 

“When you are an industry professional,” says Losacco, “you need to know this stuff”–this “stuff” being the basics. “I look at tons of reels and can tell if a student knows the fundamentals or not. I can teach you how to animate but there needs to be a good bedrock of fundamentals.”  

And he definitely knows a thing or two about forging a successful career in the industry. Prior to joining IAM as an adjunct faculty in 2016, Losacco received his BFA in Media Arts and Animation from the Illinois Institute of Art and worked as an animator for Play Mechanix for 14 years. There he collaborated on classics like the Big Duck Hunter series, Terminator Salvation, Alien: Armageddon, and Minecraft Dungeon. 

Since his first 2D Motion for Games course 6 years ago, Losacco’s approach to teaching has been two-fold: preparing students for successful careers in their chosen field while encouraging their innate interests and styles.  

Losacco has noticed that “a lot of students don’t have a real idea of what it’s like to work in the industry,” so he decided to teach with keen attention to students’ strengths, weaknesses, and grasp of fundamental skillsets. “The approach was if I hired you, what would I want you to do, and what would I not want you to do? It was a really good chance for me to build that idea early!”   

At the same time, he’s eager to nurture students’ individual creativity and passions. He especially enjoys teaching Intro to Traditional Animation for this reason. “I get to get them [the students] at the beginning and see what they’re interested in and focus on that. I want to build off what is exciting for the students!”   

But the basics and traditional industry-preparedness are only the tip of Losacco’s pedagogical iceberg. He’s also thrilled to be part of the department’s push toward curricular innovations in terms of game design for VR/AR platforms. 

“Really understanding how game design is going to VR and how we can adapt that and how we can make changes in that field is so fun!” And luckily for Losacco and the rest of the faculty, IAM gives them “a lot of freedom” when it comes to exploring how best to teach and create toward this future. 

Speaking of the creative process, Losacco shared two key pieces of wisdom on igniting inspiration. 

“Keep your brain moving and do a bunch of different stuff! I keep telling my students to take a break from their work and do personal stuff because it can be a great way to reinvigorate the creative flow, so that when you get back to it your work will feel brand new again.” 

And when constructive procrastination fails? Embrace the inevitability of failure itself. 

“This is a trial-and-error industry,” says Losacco, “and the faster you fail, the faster you can take what you learned and use it on the next project. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid if it doesn’t work out great. Try it again.”