Animation students “own” new short

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BYU’s Center for Animation is made up of students from two colleges and a variety of skill sets, yet they are, in a real sense, a family.

“Everyone is super gifted,” said Dan Clark, student director and co-producer of the team’s current project, “Owned.” “It’s an awesome group of impressive people, not only in what they do here, but in their personal lives. They’re not here for the fame or recognition; they really believe in the project.”

Feeding off this energy and respect for each other, the center has made quite a name for itself, impressing industry recruiters with its feel-good, six-minute shorts and consistently racking up awards. In fact, in the past ten years, the animation and computer science students who work together to produce the films have won 12 student Emmys, four student Academy Awards and several other awards from various film festivals.

Such a high reputation for excellence can be intimidating, but the students working on “Owned”¬†are up to the challenge.

The semester before production, the students gather to pitch their ideas for the next short. These ideas are filtered by the faculty, and the finalists are brought before the students. The senior class will then spend the next year working on the winning idea.

Next, the student teams are formed and the student directors and producers chosen by the students, with guidance from the faculty. Wesley Tippetts, co-producer of “Owned,” is the mastermind behind the short. “Owned” is about a record-holding gamer named Jeff who, after losing his title to an unlikely opponent, changes his outlook on life.

After losing to an unlikely opponent, Jeff, an expert gamer, gets a new outlook on life.  Photo courtesy of the BYU Center for Animation
After losing to an unlikely opponent, Jeff, an expert gamer, gets a new outlook on life.
(Photo courtesy BYU Center for Animation)

Tippets has worked on five of the past student films and works mostly on the creative side, while Clark handles the administrative details.

“We’re not the directors,” said assistant professor Seth Holladay, “we’re just the mentors guiding the project … it’s about the students.”

After the student leadership has been chosen, the rest of the students find their niche on the project and begin to work through a pipeline that imitates the process of the professional industry, including storyboarding, 3-D rigging, animation, effects, lighting and rendering.

“It’s something the industry is generally very interested in … that they can work with other people and still get things done on time,” Holladay said, who has impressive industry experience himself, having been an effects artist for Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E” and “Up” and a technical director for “Cars.”

The project team is made up of both animation and computer science majors, who work together to make the film a success. The animation students focus more on the artistic side, rigging animation and building models, while the computer science students focus more on the programming and technology facets of the pipeline.

According to Holladay, the two tracks have always been partners in the animation process, but the center has only been a direct collaboration between the visual arts and computer programming departments for about a year.

Holladay explained each track has its own specialties, but both are crucial to making the project a success.

“We love making beautiful things, but we also think technology is fascinating,” said computer graphics supervisor Ethan Estrada, explaining how the two emphases are able to work together so harmoniously.

The year-long process to produce one six-minute short involves more than 30 students who rig, animate, build models and program.  Photo courtesy of the BYU Center for Animation.
The year-long process to produce one six-minute short involves more than 30 students who rig, animate, build models and program.
(Photo courtesy BYU Center for Animation)

“Owned” is scheduled to be finished by the end of October, at which point the student team has planned to run the Provo Halloween Half Marathon in celebration. The students and faculty are very proud of this project, which they consider to be their best short film yet.

“We keep pushing students to push the envelope further … the industry is constantly changing,” Holladay said. “They’re still, in a sense, inventors.”

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