BYU animation program prepares students for industry



courtesy of Conner Gillette
Ten, a monk in Tibet, works to overcome his fears in a scene from BYU’s recent animated film “Taijitu.” (Conner Gillette)

BYU’s Department of Design’s animation program has received a great deal of recognition since its beginnings in 2000. The program’s animated shorts created through the Center for Animation have received 19 Student Emmy nominations since 2004, as well as receiving Student Academy Awards and being featured at film festivals like Sundance, Annecy and Cannes.

The BYU experience adds additional coursework animation students’ peers at other art schools don’t have.

Animation Area Head Kelly Loosli said BYU’s required generals and religion classes, as well as students’ service in church callings, differ from art schools and take time away from artistic development.

“When you add the BYU component to it, it takes a long time to be a BYU student, so then to try to do your artistic development at the same time, that’s really hard,” Loosli said.

The extra course work causes the animation program to run differently than other schools. Instead of individual projects, students collaborate on one big project, mimicking the way the industry works.

Loosli said the students dabble in film or gaming projects during their sophomore and part of their junior year. The second half of their junior year and their entire senior year is spent focusing on the Center for Animation’s project. Each year’s project is student-run and student-oriented.

Students submit story ideas for the coming year’s project, which are then narrowed down to seven or eight finalists. The program faculty and students meet together to hear the final pitches and vote on the story idea. Johanna Taylor pitched this year’s film, Taijitu.

Taylor came up with the idea for Taijitu in her first storyboarding class in the program. Classmates Dylan Hoffman and Conner Gillette helped refine Taylor’s idea to create the final story about Ten, a Tibetan monk, who learns how to change day to night and overcome fear. Hoffman later became Taijitu’s producer and Gillette became the director.

Throughout the project, animation students collaborate with other students in computer science, illustration and music. Students work meet competition deadlines starting in January and then continue to refine the film for other festival and competition deadlines.

Loosli said he and the other faculty members are there to keep the students on track. Taijitu Art Director Emma Gillette —who married Conner Gillette — said the program is very self-taught and teamwork oriented.

Nate Edwards
Animation students Conner and Emma Gillette married while working on the animation program’s recent film Taijitu. (BYU Photo)

“Our teachers, for the most part, let us figure out how to accomplish projects on our own,” Emma Gillette said. “I think that forces us to become self-sufficient, which is really important in an industry that is always changing and developing new technology.”

Conner Gillette said the program is filled with students who are problem solvers. He said the program is great because everyone is willing to help each other.

“Everyone is very willing to share their secrets, even if that secret will set us apart from the others,” Conner Gillette said. “Everybody genuinely cares about the success of others and that helps everyone rise together.”

Loosli said the nominations the films receive bring recognition to the program and the students.

“It shows the industry that these guys are good, they know how to work in group environments,” Loosli said. “And it shows a lot of things that are hard to measure that studios want to know.”

Kelly Loosli
From Left: Nick Evans, Nathan Allen (back), Johanna Taylor, Michael Schroeder (front), Conner Gillette, Emma Gillette, Joseph Wang, Dylan Hoffman, Charles Hilton, Greg Walker and Sarah King attend the 38th College Television Awards on May 24, 2017 at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood, California. (Kelly Loosli)

Taylor said working in a team environment has helped her resume.

“Thanks to Taijitu, I’ve worked on a team that creates production-quality work using the same process big studios like Disney and Pixar use,” Taylor said.

Several students in the program got internships and jobs for big animation companies like Pixar, DreamWorks and Disney, in part because of their work on Taijitu. Hoffman even left Taijitu a few weeks early to start work at Disney.

Taijitu isn’t currently available to watch on the internet, but the program’s other animated films can be seen by visiting the Center for Animation’s website.

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