In a series of 53 drawings, a quirky, orange monster with blue horns waves his clawed tentacles and then explodes in a confetti-like burst.

Thornton, complete with a uni-brow and yellow eyes, is the creation of Southern Oregon University professor Miles Inada, who teaches courses in animation, digital design, comics and picture books.

Thornton's personality comes to life on a sprite sheet — a sequence of animated images used in video games — displayed in "Shapes of Curiosity: SOU Creative Arts Faculty Exhibition." The exhibit runs through March 11 at the Schneider Museum of Art, near the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Indiana Street on SOU's Ashland campus.

The diverse exhibit includes animation, drawings, video, prints, sculpture, photography and installations. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.

Inada is collaborating with Adam Callaway, also an SOU instructor, to create creatures for a video game. Two of those inventions are included in the exhibit.

"The pieces on display are more like toys," Inada says. "They are little experiments with what we could do with characters. It's a way to get to know the characters and their personalities, what they want and how they walk and move."

He uses a pen on a computer to hand-draw his digital creations. 

"You still end up doing as much work as with traditional animation. You're just doing it on a computer," he says.

Inada will lead three comic book-making sessions at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon Saturday, Feb. 11, in Room 101 of the Marion Ady Building near the Schneider Museum. The sessions are part of Free Family Day activities in and near the museum from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

"Comics are immediately satisfying and expressive — versus animation, which takes a lot of work for a tiny result," he says. "Comics are a great way to get started. You can get your ideas down quickly."

Inada said Free Family Day participants will learn how to use words, layout and images to advance a story.

"In comics, the drawing needs to tell the story. You have a different criteria than if you're just making a painting," he says.

SOU professor Cody Bustamante, another artist with work in the exhibit, also combines words and imagery. His mixed-media pieces on paper and paperboard are inspired by Herman Melville's classic novel "Moby Dick."

" 'Moby Dick' has always been a source of inspiration for me because it's so rich with metaphors and deals with all kinds of aspects of human behavior — from Captain Ahab's maniacal pursuit of the whale to the mob mentality of the crew at times," he says. "Lots of artists have referred to 'Moby Dick' because it is such a rich novel. There's the terror and sublime beauty of the ocean environment. People are out in the ocean by themselves in dangerous circumstances. The ocean makes humans feel small."

Bustamante discovered a 19th century ink stamp of a whale used in whalers' logs. When a whale was killed, a person on board would stamp a silhouette of a whale, then write in the number of barrels of oil extracted from it.

"The stamp was really beautiful and elegant. I carved my own stamp from an eraser. I've been experimenting with it by using the image of the whale repeatedly in clusters and rows," he says.

One piece has dozens of whale images stamped in a long row, with numbers written inside like "69," "103" and "92."

Whales were hunted nearly to extinction for their oil, which was used to light lamps, and to make products such as soap and margarine.

Also in the exhibit, associate professor David Bithell has fashioned an intriguing, high-tech installation that mixes sound and light. 

Visitors who go through a heavy, black curtain into a side room will see stationary aluminum discs and a small white light bouncing around like an errant pinball machine ball. The light appears to be pinging off the metal discs, creating random musical notes.

"The light is not actually causing the aluminum disc to vibrate. A striker hits the disc," Bithell explains.

Creating the illusion that a small light is causing the metal to ring out required Bithell to write software that controls computer messages sent to each aluminum disc.

"It's a minimal form of artificial intelligence," he says. "The computer decides what to play and how loud."

The aluminum discs appear to glow, but they are actually illuminated with spotlights.

Bustamante says he is enjoying the mix of art forms in the faculty exhibit, which was curated by Kelly Worman.

"The artistic accomplishments of the faculty are pretty amazing," he says. "It's invigorating to encounter that. We get so busy we only see each other's work every few years. It's exciting to see how accomplished my colleagues are — from traditional to really on the cutting edge."

Other artists in the exhibit are Garrick Imatani, Kyle Peets, Max Reinhardt, Margaret Sjogren, Robin Strangfeld and Summer Ventis.