BYU animation peaks at perfection for final film ‘Ram’s Horn’


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The mountain peak where the characters in “Ram’s Horn” meet and journey together through the course of the film. (BYU Animation)

BYU animation seniors collaborated to make the animated short film “Ram’s Horn,” which has been nominated in the final three to receive a 2015 College Television Award, formally known as the Student Emmy.

The initial idea for the film came from BYU animation student Ethan Dean, who pitched the idea among several other students’ ideas. The students voted, and Dean’s idea was selected as the concept.

According to director, Jenna Hamzawi, the story of “Ram’s Horn” explores the adventure of an overly confident and slightly oblivious mountaineer who sets up to conquer the curly tip of a massive mountain. On his journey he unexpectedly runs into his rival and his rival’s lovable offspring, who teach him how to set his priorities straight.

Hamzawi said this year the crew wanted to raise the stakes of the film with the help of “Wile E. Coyote” creator Chuck Jones.

“He’s a master genius of animation, timing and pacing,” Hamzawi said. “We really used him as our mentor and someone we wanted to live up to.”

Hamzawi said some of the major mentors to give additional feedback and advice to make the best decisions possible included animators at Pixar and Blue Sky, as well as Genndy Tartakovsky (director of Sony’s “Hotel Transylvania”) and Chris Buck (director of “Frozen”).

Hamzawi said they wanted to take the “tooniness” to a whole new level and pay homage to Jones.

“We wanted bright colors, ‘squash and stretch’ and fun appeal to the characters,” Hamzawi said. “We really took it to new limits. I feel like this film is a success in that regard, and we did what we set out to do.”

Hamzawi is a senior animation student from California, who was one of only three female directors at BYU to direct the final student-animated film.

“We rarely have girls as directors,” Hamzawi said. “I just really wanted the film to do well, to open more possibilities that gender has nothing to do with it. Creativity can come from anywhere — a film can be successful no matter who is driving it.”

Hamzawi said being the director of the film sometimes took up to 50 hours a week but was a great learning experience.

“It was a roller coaster,” Hamzawi said. “It was learning not only about the pipeline and the process of feature filmmaking, but it was also learning how to be a leader.”

Hamzawi said through being the director of the film she has learned more from her failures than from her successes. She believes her leadership role has provided her with knowledge of how to handle certain situations in the future.

She said the biggest lesson she learned from her experience as a director is how to work as a team instead of by herself.

“The most important thing I learned in animation is that it’s not all about you; it’s about the team,” Hamzawi said. “Maybe you’re making those final decisions, but they’re (the crew) making those decisions come to life and making it tangible. So it’s everybody’s film.”

Producer and technical director Garrett Hoyos, a senior BYU animation student, agreed with Hamzawi on the importance of learning teamwork in animation.

“Ram’s Horn” director Jenna Hamzawi previews the work done on the character of “Papa” in the animation lab.

“Knowing how to work with people is probably the biggest thing,” Hoyos said. “A lot of other programs you work on your own, but this program we are forced to do the hard thing — which is to work together. It’s pretty much what sets us apart.”

Hoyos said working on the film gives students important real-world experience.

“Without the film, our program would be pretty much nothing,” Hoyos said. “It’s the thing that prepares everyone to get a job and hit the ground running as soon as they are in a professional position.”

Dallin Cheung, an animator on the film, from Tianjin, China, said one of the challenges the animators faced on the film was making the snow look realistic.

“When we started off the film, we knew we wanted our snow to look really good, because it was going to take place on the top of a mountain,” Cheung said.

Fellow animator Jeremy Oborn got help from mentor Seth Holladay, a BYU computer science professor, to overcome the challenge of making the snow look less like slushy water and more like powdery snow.

“We took an existing fluid simulation method and added our own stress calculation step,” Oborn said. “We introduced a state-of-matter transition that gave the snow a misty, vaporous quality when agitated.”

Another challenge the animators face is feeling satisfied with their final product.

Jarom Neumann, a BYU animation student and editor on the film, said animators tend to be highly critical of their work, even when it is finished.

“It’s easy to be over-critical of yourself,” Neumann said. “It feels good that it actually has some good qualities, even though we are super critical of it and see all the things that we could have done better. It never goes away.”

Neumann said it is rewarding to see the final product of “Ram’s Horn” after all the hard work and time the animators have put into the film, and he hopes to continue with a career in animation.

“Being able to create things and create stories that inspire people is just something that I’ve always found fascinating and something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

To view the trailer for “Ram’s Horn,” go to

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