Novato Teacher Inducted into UC Irvine Hall of Fame

Howard Gersh brings college-level animation training to Marin School of the Arts at Novato High School

Novato…Novato High School Digital Art & Animation Teacher Howard Gersh was honored by the UC Irvine Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) on March 2 as the newest member of their Hall of Fame. Gersh, a teacher at Marin School of the Arts at Novato High School, is a digital animator whose credits include blockbuster films like “Star Wars” and “Forrest Gump.” Today he passes those skills on to students using cutting-edge film and animation software and techniques that are breaking new ground in how students learn and create.

The UC Irvine‚ School of ICS, honored Gersh on March 2 for his significant impact in film and education; bringing distinction to the school through his work in major films; and for his role as a mentor and trainer of the next generation of animators.

“It’s amazing to see what these students can accomplish. I am blown away,” he exclaims. “They are using state of the art technology and doing work far beyond their years. I’m having so much fun with them, it hardly feels like work sometimes.”

An outwardly quiet man in a pea coat and glasses, Gersh is humbled to be recognized by his alma mater, but it is clear from his resume that the honor is well deserved. He began as young digital artist fulfilling a dream to work on a “Star Wars” film. He realized the dream when he broke into the industry as a lighting animator on “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” (1977). Gersh continued working with Industrial Light and Magic and Disney as a digital lighting specialist; his credits include “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Pirates of the Caribbean” (2003), “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004), and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005), among others.

Now, he’s excited to be passing on his skills and bringing new technology to the students at Marin School of the Arts (MSA) at Novato High School. He has leveraged his connections in the film and tech world to encourage donations of industry software like Maya and Mudbox, as well as virtual reality technology. With these tools, students are creating content that goes beyond entertainment. Marcus Belingheri, a junior, is leading a project to share MSA student artwork in a virtual gallery. The VR Gallery will be part of the school’s April 28 Showcase gala and will significantly improve how patrons view and interact with student animation and digital artwork.

“I’m really proud and excited about the work Howard is doing with our students.  He’s engaging with them in an area they’re really interested in and excited about.  This is a great example of how teachers are supporting Novato’s youth in acquiring the skills in our Graduate Profile that we know is vital for the success in college and career,” commented Jim Hogeboom, Superintendent of the Novato Unified School District.

Belingheri led his student team in a preview of their work to tech industry leaders at XR in EDU, a January 30 gathering of tech leaders and educators at Autodesk in San Francisco organized by the Marin County Office of Education to examine how immersive technology can enhance student learning at high school and college levels.

“I felt they were impressed with the fact we are using VR and that we can do more with the technology. I felt proud of what we made,” Belingheri said.

And while Gersh is happy with his past accomplishments in helping to create some of the most memorable and fantastic images to grace the silver screen, his current work with students makes him just as proud.

“The dean and assistant dean (of ICS) visited my classroom in December and they mentioned to the crowd (at the induction ceremony) how impressed they were. They couldn’t believe my students were in high school, they thought they were college students,” Gersh said.

While at the George Lucas visual effects division, Industrial Light + Magic (ILM), Gersh worked on the Viet Nam war memorial crowd scenes in the Academy Award-winning “Forrest Gump.” His work on “Pirates of the Caribbean” included lighting the photorealistic Davy Jones character and his crew of computer-generated pirates.

In addition to sharing his knowledge with students at MSA, Gersh also teaches college-level digital artists and animators at The Academy of Art University.