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Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

At annual student artwork showcase, Graphic Arts Department honors recently deceased instructor

‘Visual fiesta’ closes with a dedication to Tony Claar, animation instructor
Tony+Claar%2C+an+animation+instructor+at+Laney+College%2C+passed+away+at+74.+%28Photo%3A+Li+Khan%2FThe+Citizen%29
Tony Claar, an animation instructor at Laney College, passed away at 74. (Photo: Li Khan/The Citizen)

At a “bittersweet” Graphic Design Showcase on Dec. 14, the Laney College Graphic Arts Department celebrated student artwork while honoring the memory of animation instructor Tony Claar, who passed away just days before. A portion of the event was dedicated to Claar and his work.

Janice Domingo, a Graphic Arts major and longtime Peralta student, said the event was held to showcase “what a community college is capable of.”

“People hear ‘community college,’ they think limited resources,” Domingo said. “But look what has been accomplished with what we call limited resources.”

Student artwork from different Graphic Arts classes was displayed in every corner of the graphic arts laboratory in room A-153. Rows of Mac computers displayed short digital animations created by students taught by David Santamaria, the department’s new full-time Instructor and Co-Chair.

The event was the Graphic Arts Department’s sixth annual showcase of student artwork. Graphic Arts Co-Chair and Instructor Daniela Nikolaeva said the tradition was born out of a desire to bring attention to the department. 

“We needed a party, we needed to make some noise to get people to notice us,” Nikolaeva said during her introductory speech.

This year’s theme, “Art Party,” was selected by students in Nikolaeva’s Applied Graphic Design class. The festive event was complete with music, disco lights, and refreshments. Nikolaeva encouraged guests to utilize the dance floor and photo booth, and to post photos on social media. 

This was the first time the department celebrated in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic shook up college operations. No showcase was held in 2020, but in 2021, the department held a virtual showcase on Kumospace, a platform for hosting virtual events that simulates a real-world space for attendees to roam around in.

Feeling “bittersweet,” Nikolaeva was still happy that so many friends and family had come to the event. “I can see the smiles on my students’ faces […] It just kind of reminds me why I’m here and why I do this,” she said.

Remembering Tony Claar

The Graphic Arts Showcase closed with a tribute to animation instructor Tony Claar, who passed away in his sleep that same week. He was 74. Friends said he had been looking forward to the event.

Tony Claar pictured with his cartoons. (Graphic by Tony Claar. Source: Facebook)

Claar joined Laney College Graphic Arts Department over 10 years ago. Together with Nikolaeva, he developed the college’s Graphics in Motion Certificate. Claar taught his students how to animate frame-by-frame, both with a pencil and paper and with Digicel Flipbook, a software that mimics the traditional hand-drawn animation process. 

In 1975, Claar received a Fulbright Scholarship Award to study animation at Zagreb Film in the former nation of Yugoslavia. (Zagreb is now located in Croatia.) The studio is known for its highly stylized animated shorts that were often experimental, abstract, and ripe with cynicism.

Claar adjusts the pose of a clay character of the set of 1998 children’s TV show Gumby Adventures, in Sausalito, California. (Source: LinkedIn)

Claar worked in the animation industry in the 80’s and 90’s before transitioning to teaching. As an assistant animator, he worked on children’s productions such as the movie The Chipmunk Adventure (1987), which was part of the Alvin and the Chipmunks media franchise, and the TV show Gumby Adventures (1988), where he did stop-motion clay animation. Later, he contributed storyboard work to Disney TV’s Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers (1989)

Claar’s work can also be seen in adult-oriented productions such as Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World (1992), a film that combined live-action footage with 2D hand-drawn animation. While working for the now-defunct San Francisco-based media giant Colossal Pictures, Claar animated a one-minute short for Stick Figure Theater, a recurring series of shorts featured on MTV’s late-night animation anthology Liquid Television (1991). The short was a stick-figure parody of 1950 film noir thriller D.O.A (Dead or Alive).

At the Graphic Arts event, Claar was remembered through his animations. A compilation of some of his professional work was shown to attendees, as well as a few of his own cartoons, or “Claartoons.” His bright and whimsical style can be seen in Amy’s Trip (2017), a short film he created to demonstrate different animation techniques to his students. His most recently completed short film, Tropical Chill (2023), depicts a man resting happily on a deserted island and hiding in a bush at the sound of a ship’s foghorn.

Friends of Claar remembered him as “playful” and “humorous.” His death came as a “shock” to them. Even at 74, the animator had many plans for future projects. He and Nikolaeva had talked about working on a movie together, writing a book on animation. This summer, they had been planning a trip to Zagreb to attend the city’s annual film festival

Domingo, who had taken Claar’s beginner animation class, praised his skills and his ability to inspire students to animate.

 “His honest-to-goodness truth [was that] you don’t have to be digital if you don’t know how to be,” Domingo said. “It all just starts with a piece of paper and pencil. And anybody can do anything with that.”

Sean Douglas, a longtime friend of Claar who knew him through his Buddhist practice, came to the showcase in honor of Claar. Asked to describe his friend of 30 years, Douglas replied thoughtfully. 

“Complicated. Contentious. Humorous,” he said. “Sensitive.”

“Very sensitive,” Nikolaeva added. “But good friend. Loyal friend.”

“Yeah, he was a good friend,” Douglas agreed.

About the Contributor
Li Khan, Editor in Chief
Li Khan is the Editor in Chief of The Citizen, and a member of the CalMatters College Journalism Network. She believes in the power of student media to keep educational institutions transparent and accountable. She's particularly interested in analyzing how changes to higher education policy trickle down from the Capitol to colleges and their constituents. Li holds a degree in Computer Science from The University of Texas at Dallas and hopes to incorporate that knowledge into data-centered reporting projects. 
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    Terri BerryFeb 14, 2024 at 9:55 am

    You rock, Li Khan!
    Thank you for this article.
    Tony Claar is truly missed.

    Reply