Phillip Kieffer ’19 brings his talents back to PCA&D in a pair of Center for Creative Exploration classes

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Monday, September 13th, 2021

PCA&D is thrilled to welcome Phil Kieffer back to campus this fall to teach a pair of classes in the College’s Center for Creative Exploration. An award-winning animator and artist, Kieffer is a 2019 graduate of PCA&D’s Digital Media department, now Animation & Game Art.

cropped headshot Phil Kieffer

Phil Kieffer

In the CCE program, Kieffer will be mentoring two classes: Character Design (for Pre-College students, on Tuesday evenings beginning Sept. 21) as well as the Adult Enrichment class Digital Painting: Fantasy Landscape, which runs on Wednesday evenings beginning Sept. 22.

Though the age groups differ, Kieffer says there are many similarities in how he approaches class instruction. “Every class is different,” he says, “but I still come at it with an eye for detail, and a focus on encouraging creativity and communication.”

Let’s take a look at the specifics of what students in Kieffer’s classes can expect:


Art by Phil Kieffer

Character Design: Visual Storytelling 

For parents who aren’t familiar with what this is, can you describe character design? 

PK: For me, character design is the art of designing the visual language for a character for the purpose of driving a story forward. You want to create a character that the audience can relate to, or experience a reaction to. We are designing characteristics, and communicating them visually to show off the character’s personality. 

What kinds of projects should students expect to be working on? 

PK: The types of projects I work on with my students always revolve around a creative prompt. For example, one of my projects is to craft a monster design. It’s open-ended enough so that the students don’t feel constricted, yet there’s this limitation of the character having to be classified as a “monster.” I like to give my students a jumping-off point to get their natural creativity flowing immediately. 

The class description states that students will learn to create unique characters across a variety of media, including animation, illustration, comics, and video games. How do characters different within those different genres?

PK: The techniques and information I go over in this class are meant to be applied to any medium, but I do address how character design differs based on medium. A character meant to be drawn hundreds of times over the course of a 2-minute hand-drawn animation is realistically going to have to be less complex, and have more streamlined shape language than a character meant to be in a comic book.

… I ask my students what mediums they’re interested in on Day One, and try to keep that in mind throughout the course of the class, tailoring my critiques of their work to what they naturally gravitate toward, or what types of characters they hope to design. 

You can see the full lineup of Fall CCE classes and workshops for Young Artists, Pre-College, Adult Enrichment, and Adult Professional, here.

Artwork of Monkey King and environment by Phil Kieffer

Monkey King and landscape


Digital Painting: Fantasy Landscape

The Center for Creative Exploration has had lots of requests in the past for a class like this… why do you think that is?
PK: I think it’s because the idea of painting a “fantasy landscape” is an intriguing idea. Landscapes already have the potential to evoke abstract feelings in us that can’t simply be expressed through words and mixing that potential through the genre of fantasy expands the creative possibilities of these landscapes. 
What can students in this class do with their landscapes after the class is over? 
PK: As an animator, I naturally have a use for any landscapes I paint, as I can use them as environments for my animated characters. This same idea could be applied to comics, video games, and illustration. I’ve painted winding hills and forests that were repurposed as background art for a game. It’s fun for my students and me to think about the possibilities, and how what they make can become part of an even bigger story.
What do you love about teaching? Is your approach different depending on if it’s an adult or pre-college class?
PK: I love being able to work through new concepts with my students. Things about a medium they haven’t considered before that explain why a certain shape works, or a certain way of animating a character comes across as more believable. I like those little moments in our critiques where we’re adjusting an aspect of a project ever so slightly a couple times ’til something clicks into place and visually communicates more effectively. 
Do you think your time at PCA&D influences how you teach (or even why you teach)?
PK: My time at PCA&D was pretty influential on how I teach, seeing my teachers do their thing. I’ve made mental notes of projects that I thought were crafted well, and helped myself as a student think outside the box more. I think the projects where I was given a loose prompt, and asked to come up with multiple iterations of an idea stimulated my creativity the most, and you can see that directly reflected in my teaching. This coincidentally is my favorite part of teaching!
Click below to watch Taking Fright, an animated short by Kieffer and classmate Noah Miller ’19, Digital Media that last year won “Best Original Concept” honors at the Jane Austen International Film Fest in England.