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Animation Program Makes a Big Splash at Festivals

 “It’s a monstrous amount of work to produce within the allotted time. The majority survive with a very professional film that serves as a calling card and crowning portfolio piece and, if lucky, a festival darling.”

That’s Ric Heitzman, departing Professor of Animation, reflecting on the boot camp that is “capstone season.” As it happens, the season just past was positively jammed with festival darlings. (More about that in just a bit.)

While capstone projects are labors of love throughout the School of Media Culture & Design, the senior capstone animated film is a distinct rite of passage for BFA students in Animation. As Professor Heitzman explains, each senior is required to make an animated film or be part of a team that creates a film – an undertaking that extends across both semesters.

“It’s an extremely rigorous task to make an animated film in whatever medium the students choose – stop-motion, 2D hand-drawn, 3D CGI, or any mix thereof,” he says. “Some combine live action and animation. Animated product is usually made by armies of artists, story people and post-production effects miracles. The process involves developing storytelling skills both with visuals and the written word.”

Populating an animated film is akin to fabricating a new world: seniors develop characters with voice, design and acting. They call on storyboarding skills, along with perspective drawing and layout skills. They design characters in 3D, enlisting posing, lighting and animating skills — even set-building skills if stop-motion is the medium of choice. Students have been known to work with professional voice-over actors to craft characters, drawing on local talent from within the industry.

Over the course of 30 weeks, the active ingredients are identified, combined and brought to life: color, design, timing and effects — backed with an original sound design and music track —    convert the disparate elements into a relatable story. “Most importantly, seniors graduate with a complete understanding of the depth of what it is to be in the animation industry or work as a freelance animation artist or writer,” Professor Heitzman says. “They emerge knowing how to make an animated film,” which can stand alone or be paired with game, television, online and/or music video animation.

So as the curtain goes up on a new academic year, it’s worth taking a moment to review some of 2018’s festival darlings from Woodbury Animation:

  • Brandon Swofford, “Gold Winner – Best Short Animation” at the Queens Palm International Film Festival for his 3-minute film, “Happy the Angry Polar Bear,” a rhyming animated poem. Says Professor Heitzman: “Fantastic writing, sound design and 2D hand-drawn animation.”
  • Wes Taimuty, recipient of an “Award of Merit” in the documentary short category from the “Impact Docs” Documentary Film Festival for his 9-minute documentary, “Iron Sails,” about an important Civil War naval battle. Wes combined 3D CGI, stop motion and after-effects animation.  
  • At the Palm Springs International Film Festivaland Comic-Con 2018 San Diego:
  • Chris Castillo:Vigilante (2 minutes), 2D hand-drawn animation. A commentary on the #metoo movement, with a female vigilante heroine and a physical abuser who has a more than passing resemblance to Harvey Weinstein.
  • Tucker Joneson and Andrew Hill: Hero (3-minutes), 2D hand-drawn animation. A man dreams of the day when he can make a difference as an action hero.
  • Dani Bowman:The Audition (2 minutes), 2D hand-drawn animation​.  A group of would-be clowns audition for a spot under the big top.
  • Madison Shafer:Sasquatch Out! (2 minutes), 2D hand-drawn animation​.​ While lost in a cellphone, a hipster finds himself stuck in a world he never imagined.
  • Sean Casey: Fly! (2 minutes), 2D hand-drawn animation​.​  A small disabled young bird’s grandfather helps him to fly.

For those keeping count, the program generated 10 screenings at international film festivals, which includes several students in multiple festivals. As Professor Heitzman says, “that’s an amazing number of screenings for one class!”

Learn more about the Animation program