"The world is an amazing place."
This statement shared with SHS students certainly finds truth in the animated environments created by Andy Harkness, a Starkville High School Class of 1991 graduate and award-winning animator and art director. Harkness shared about his experiences and work during a visit to three Starkville Oktibbeha School District campuses this week.
Harkness visited Starkville to promote his newest children's book, "Wolfboy is Scared," published this summer by Bloomsbury Publishing. The book is the second in a series that began with "Wolfboy" about a wonderfully illustrated character who almost mistakes his rabbit friends for lunch.
In addition to community book signing events, Harkness stopped by to read both books to first grade students at Sudduth Elementary and West Elementary on Monday. He also shared examples of his animated work as an award-winning art director for Disney and Sony Animation where he contributed to popular movie favorites like Mulan, Wreck It Ralph, Moana and others.
Reading 2 Succeed, one of the SOSD grant-based literacy programs housed at Discovery Center, purchased a copy of "Wolfboy is Scared" for each first grade student in the district to take home, and Mr. Harkness signed copies to be donated to each library.
As a part of his visit to the district, Harkness also spoke with high school students in the College and Career Readiness and Teacher Preparation classes about his journey from Starkville High School to a career in art and animation. He highlighted the impact of former SHS art instructor, Nelle Elam, who stopped by the school to hear him speak. (Harkness is pictured with Nelle Elam and her husband, William Elam.)
He reflected back on Mrs. Elam's advice to "believe in yourself" as he talked about obstacles and the ups-and-downs he faced during his path to discovering his passion and finding success in a field he enjoys.
"It's very, very important that if you've got a passion for something, whether it's art, music, being a doctor or an athlete, that you listen to that inner voice," Harkness said. "You know better than anybody what your passion is. There's only one reason that I got to do all the things I got to do. I believe a lot of people around me gave up, and I never gave up."
Harkness described how he earned his first job at Disney studios and also walked students through his own innovative and unique process of illustration. He shared video examples of how he uses clay, virtual reality and digital applications to create the vibrant artwork that has brought Wolfboy to life.
He also encouraged students not to shy away from working with others as they explore their interests because much of his work on movies involves a multi-layered level of collaboration.
"What I've learned in my career is that everything is collaborative," Harkness shared.
He says that in his work as an art director and production designer, he was able to find the most creative results by "learning to work with people and get the best out of them."
Harkness answered questions, gave students feedback about their own creative projects, and left the high schoolers with an important piece of advice: "This is an exciting time. Keep working hard and keep learning. Never stop learning."