With 2018 looming, it’s time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. For animation graduates across Brisbane, the adrenaline of completing their final year projects have subsided, the celebrations have come to a close, and the reality of job hunting is starting to set in. Time to upgrade that showreel, fix the portfolio, call on studios. Rinse and repeat.
Many years have passed since I’d experienced the trial by fire that was the grueling final year of animation studies but I still remember the lack of sleep, the lack of proper nutrition, the lack of hygiene. I chatted to the staff and students across Griffith Film School, Queensland University of Technology, JMC Academy and SAE Creative Media Institute about all of these issues and then we got around to discussing their graduate students’ studio projects. Here is a wrap up of some of the animation talent coming out of Brisbane.
(Note: With trimesters, online and part-time studies, not all of the animation graduate showcases happen at the end of the year. At the time of writing, QUT was still preparing for their showcase. With this in mind, all the films I discuss are from the 2016/2017 slate of graduate animation students.)
In early November, fifty animation students, their family, friends, and staff from the Griffith animation and games department showcased their works at the GFS Cinema. It was an impressive display of nine 2d and two 3d short films, as well an exhibition of digital artworks.
Head of Animation Peter Moyes is confident of the production value in this year’s cohort.
‘We have essentially twelve production weeks. The students were initially very anxious about trying to pull it off… . But they rallied and worked their butts off… the completion rate of the films has been incredibly good…Essentially we have 100% completion rate. That’s something to be proud of.’
Kid Phantom: Homework produced and directed by Rye Elms, Jacob Mackay and Karis Spencer won the overall Best Animation Production for the evening. The animated film is a spin off from the popular Kid Phantom comic by Frew Publication House. The partnership between GFS and Frew Publications was facilitated by Dr Paul Mason, who is the illustrator for the comic series and supervised the film production. Co-director Jacob Mackay said that his grandfather was a fan of the original Phantom comics.
‘It was surreal to work on an established IP, especially one as famous as the Phantom. My favourite part was watching the character design change through slight iterations. Having feedback from Paul… watching the whole project come together was something I’ve honestly never experienced before, seeing something to this scale to completion.’
The animation programme at Griffith has trained many auteurs but in the past few years, has had an increased focus on technical production and industry. This is evident in the selection of films on display.
Shoelace Serpent by Aleister King, Ali Barat and Wil Hughes set the bar for 3d post-production using Pixar’s Renderman to produce a visually stunning work. I’ve never been one to fully appreciate 3d materials. Their shiny surfaces feel over polished, the metallic gleam seems cold and hostile. I’ve always preferred 3d works that have the textural qualities of 2d animation. However, both the 3d films in this year’s line up, The Shoelace Serpent and Reef Madness by Daniel Kenafake and Casrina Fullgrabe impressed me with the quality of lighting and rendering.
The story is about a witchling who tries to remove her freckles with a simple potion which of course goes terrifyingly wrong. This is the witching hour at its creepiest. Hong channeled her inner Svankmejer and then wrapped it up in anime cuteness. With works like Hong’s, it is clear that the animation auteur is still thriving at GFS.
Students from JMC showcased their work at the Martini Awards held at the Judith Wright Centre in September. Daniel Springall’s Caesura Affettuouso won the Best Animated Film and was selected for the Melbourne International Animation Festival earlier this year. Everyone should stop reading right now and take an four minute break to watch this poignant film.
The piano music is composed and performed by the talented Kyle Landry. Another outstanding work is Crunch, a solo vfx project by Matthew Alexander completed in one term.
Watch this film after Caesura Affettuouso. It’ll cheer you right up.
JMC’s animation prograhas alwasy seemed to be more focused on 3d animation. Lecturer Bree Kettley discussed with me the way the course is tailored specifically to the needs of the film and television industry.
‘What they are teaching at JMC is relevant in the industry… every year for Professional Practice, we go on a tour of Liquid (animation studio) and Spunge Games. What we find is one, we are using a lot of the same software and two, when they compare the work of the the junior people there, they are often surprised by how much they already know… in that way, JMC is providing a pretty comprehensive and solid foundation for students to come out and be employable.’
Animation students at SAE Creative Media Institute exhibited their works alongside games, film and web design students at their end-of-year showcase Synergy. The event was aptly titled given the range of animation student works from the traditional 2d short film to a trailer for a concept game using motion capture..
The Crystal Curse is a 3d short film by Brooke Willis, Isabelle Fernandez, Josiah O’Keefe. When the talented thief Elauriel steals a crystal that is cursed with bad luck, she has no choice but to return it to the enchanted forest guarded by an ancient golem.
At over four minutes, this work is an Herculean effort for three student filmmakers. I thoroughly enjoyed this fun journey and I’m a big fan of Fernandez’s faerie-rings and crystal clusters (I also lined up for an hour to see the Enchanted Garden light show at Roma Street Parklands this year).
I was surprised to find many animation students chose to work on environment designs and game cinematics for their capstone projects. Animation lecturer Martin Buckingham spoke to me about how the major studio subject works, ‘We have always had the reputation for being games orientated… and the capstone project is an opportunity for them to do what they want. If their aim is to graduate and work in the games industry, the equipment is there…’
Some stand out work I saw during the evening included:
The Wizard’s Tower by Andrew Vesotsky
Ol’ Buttermilk Sky by Shannara Thomson, Isabella Britton, Montana Bittner and Toni Giacopelli
And Betrayal by Harley Prior-curry, Hayden Graham and Lachlan Duffy
Student projects were modelled in 3ds Max, animated in Maya and rendered in Unreal Engine. 3d lecturer Steve Britton said that although Unreal Engine was originally used in games, it is increasingly used in films for its powerful rendering capacity and photo-realistic finish.
Another notable project is Echo, a trailer for a game concept by Dylan Marcer, Anthony Farruggio, Aiden Krummel and Kelvin Tse.
I was thoroughly impressed with the animation students’ experimentation with motion capture and look forward to more innovative work like this coming out of SAE Creative Media Institute.
The future is bright for animation graduates of QUT with the recent success of their student films.
Will Robson’s Twin Beaks is a playful short film about two lazy seagulls perched on a pier fighting beak and claw for the last chip. It beat out a field of nearly 3,000 to an Official Selection for the inaugural Palm Springs International Animation Festival and won Best Animation in the Tertiary Student category at the SAE ATOM Awards this year. I’d assumed the success of his film would have opened doors for him in the animation industry but Will assured me there was plenty more work to be done post-graduation. He spent about a month after graduation cleaning up his film, there were some call backs for work opportunities in Melbourne and Sydney which was heartening but it wasn’t until he applied at Liquid Animation eight months after graduation, that he landed his current as a junior animator. I ask him how he’s reconciling moving from independent filmmaker to studio animator.
‘I really enjoy starting a whole new world…And there is still some creative control. You animate the scene with your own creative flair. I enjoyed directing at a student level but there’s quite a gap once you go in the industry, so I’m learning to direct from the ground up.’
One Small Step (directed by Sarah Rackemann) is a quirky little story about what really happened when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. I managed to catch up with Sarah to chat briefly about her film.
Me: So what are you most proud of on your project? I mean, asides from that it been featured in fifteen film festivals internationally. And that it won the Best Screenplay award at Freshflix Film Festival…I’m sorry, did I just steal your answer?
Sarah: I think …just finishing the overall rounded story. From years prior we were shown a lot of animations and they weren’t exactly fully rounded stories… we were pretty set on getting something that made sense. I kept the designs simple so that the acting has no talking. The astronaut doesn’t even have a mouth… it’s all in the body language.’
Me: How did the animation lecturers help you achieve your film?
Sarah: Have you met Sorin Oancea? (laughs)
Me: Yes I have. (laughs too). (Then we both stop laughing simultaneously in case he hears us).
Sarah: He was the supervisor and gave creative direction for the third year projects. He pushed us a lot… he pushed the story to make it the best it could be.
Sadly, this wonderful film is still doing the festival circuit and is not available online but Sarah has generously offered to share her film privately if you email her
(I’ve seen it. It is hilarious. You should email her now.)
So that’s my wrap up of the animation graduate showcases around Brisbane. Every year, I’m always impressed by the burgeoning talent and the quality of homegrown productions. I’m certain that I’ve missed a lot of emerging animators that deserve a mention. Have you seen any graduate films that we need to know about right now? Please share a link with us in the comments field below.