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Three Student Screenings: CalArts vs. USC vs. SVA

I’ve been to three student screenings in the past week: the USC and CalArts Experimental showcases in LA, and the School of Visual Arts showcase in Manhattan. Every screening had its usual share of spectacular, average and unwatchable, but this post isn’t about the quality of the films. Rather I wanted to talk about the lengths of the programs.

The USC screening was around 90 minutes with no intermission. This was long but tolerable. The CalArts Experimental program was just over ninety minutes with a fifteen-minute break in between. This was an enjoyable experience. (Even better, I hear the CalArts Character Animation Producer’s Show runs around sixty minutes nowadays. Perfect!).

But then, last night, there was the SVA animation department screening (their computer art department is separate and has a different screening) . This screening was over four hours long and no intermission. To put that into perspective, that’s longer than Gone with the Wind, and believe me, most of these films were no Gone with the Wind. Needless to say, I survived only a fraction of them.

It boggles the mind as to what the school was thinking when they arranged a screening of forty-two shorts. Screening forty-two animated shorts in a row is a bad idea even if they’re not student films. Sadly, it’s also a disservice to the very students that the screening is supposed to be promoting and celebrating. The excessive length guarantees that only a handful of professionals from the animation industry will attend. That’s why the most effective year-end school screenings, especially those that are open to industry professionals and media, are heavily curated affairs that showcase a school’s best efforts. There is a time and place for showing all of the films, and that is typically a more private affair for the students themselves.

SVA dropped the ball in one other big way. Whereas both USC and CalArts rewarded audiences with food after their screenings, SVA sent home the exhausted audience on an empty stomach. Unlike other schools which offer food after every student film screening, SVA hoards its food for a fancy invite-only party that follows an awards ceremony for the entire film department. Thankfully, I had already treated myself to Chipotle in the middle of last night’s screening so it didn’t really matter. But unless they reduce the length of the program to a more sensible running time, I’ll certainly think twice about attending in the future.

Share your experiences of student film screenings in the comments.

  • Erin Siegel

    This year was undoubtedly the best year for food I’ve attended for USC’s “First Frame”. That chicken was delicious!
    Oh and the films were cool too (but damn that meal, mm)

  • CC

    I can’t comment on those screenings, but ECUAD just had their graduation show and it was also 90 minutes (no intermission). It felt fine- any longer though…

  • hannah

    The SHSU animation fest was nice and short this year (of course it’s a much smaller program). They served coffee before hand, which is a smart idea.

  • The Flea

    SVA allows just about anyone into their school. That’s the problem. Other school’s animation departments (from what I’ve personally seen) are significantly smaller than SVA’s. More students = More films. When I say they allow anyone, they allow ANYONE! The spectrum ranges between “Oh Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ! What HORROR” to MAGNIFICENT!!!!

    Frankly, they shouldn’t have let ME in. . or at least not just yet. Instead of allowing me to waltz right in, they should have rejected me, told me where I needed to improve and suggested that I come back with a more honed portfolio. Instead of animating well, I focused on learning how to draw & design. I was always 2 steps behind. Like most colleges, SVA just wants your money. . .but they couldn’t give two sh*ts if you’re a good artist or not.

    I guess if there’s anything I learned from this experience, it’s that I can learn lots on my own. I’m not currently working in animation, but I still love the art form and I’m still honing my own craft. But yes, I agree, SVA needs to show their students and staff RESPECT!!! Good post! =)

  • Hotara

    Cal Art yearly tuition 38k.
    SVA 15k.

    No wonder there is no food at the screening D:

    The animation department is underfunded. Even with 15k per person, the tuition money goes to somewhere else instead to providing students with the real resources they need.

    • boop

      sva is 30k a year

      • Hotara

        I stand corrected :)

      • I was a Computer Animation major, and if memory serves me correctly, tuition was 35k.

    • lola

      Yeah it’s a good 30K unless you have the Rhodes scholarship (which barely anyone has I think). Most of the money goes to the film department and animation gets left behind in the dust.

    • snip2354

      SVA’s elevator in one of their faculty buildings runs like a snail, can only hold about 10 or 12 people at a time, and DOES-N’T GO TO THE SE-COND OR THIRD FLOORS. You need to take the stairs! Why have an elevator with the numbers 2 and 3 on its leaderboard if it doesn’t even reach those floors!? It’s been that way for 5 years! The bathrooms are decreped and the drawing rooms look like they haven’t been cleaned in 30 years.

      Yeah, they want your money.

  • If it means anything. Starting with next year’s SVA thesis films (my class) theyre putting a 4:30 cap on all films. So no more 7-11 minute struggles, and theyre making a point to only screen completed films. So hopefully that thins out the crap and run time.

    The underclass screening is more upsetting though. It’s a six hour ordeal and EVERYTHING is shown. It really suck though because you have the jerks who just see their own film and leave, and dont both waiting for other classmates whose films may be at the end of the 6 hour screening. Personally, I’ve sat through it all 3 years so far, and while i usually regret seeing alot of it, theres always a gem or two that im glad i saw.

    • Limiting the students’ films to 4 1/2 minutes is a bad idea… How about they show a SELECTION of the films, instead of all of them? (Which it sounds like they do). I know that at CalArts, not everyone’s film gets into the show. Many are left out. Which is unfortunate in ways, but… at least it equates to a selected, watchable program.

      • Yeah, I agree. It makes some sense because you have kids who never finished a film in their 3 years at the school, and they give themselves these 7 min projects that turn out like crap (this was especially the case with last year’s graduating class), so at least they have a limitation to work with.

        On the other hand, you have someone like myself who has completed a film every year, with enough time to spare, and I’m more than comfortable with a project over 5 min. In fact, the film i was planning on making for thesis was intended to be a bit longer, but now im trying to adjust it to this new limit.

        It would be nice to have a screening that sifts out the crap, but at the same time, I’d hate to be that one kid who dedicates 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars, but isnt the best of film makers, and gets booted from the show despite not being a slacker.

      • lola

        I agree that not every film should be shown. Instead of treating the screening as a professional thing they gear it towards parents who want to see their baby’s work up on the big screen (even if it sucks). And putting the show on mother’s day? Ugh.

  • Kate

    There’s a new rule for next year’s SVA animation thesis films: nothing longer than four and a half minutes. After last night, I totally understand why. The show needs to go on earlier in the day or they need an intermission. Some of my friends were scheduled towards the 10:30pm block and I’m glad I got to see them, but after four hours, I was wondering if I should have waited until the films went up on Vimeo.

  • As one of the students that both attended and was involved with the screening as one of the participants…I agree wholeheartedly.

    I don’t know if it’s a budgetary thing or otherwise, but I think this event would benefit VERY well from having at least a 30-minute intermission at the halfway point of the film. Food would be a nice bonus too, though I wouldn’t say that’s a requirement. If anything I’d say that’d be beneficial for the parents and families that accompany them.

  • Cannot comment on this screening other than to clarify that the screening that is being discussed is NOT the work from SVA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Vfx department. The best animation each year comes from the SVA Computer Art department.

    SVA Computer Art would always serve food, wine and snacks to our guests! Visit to see our work.

    • Rob

      SVA has a computer arts department?

      • Stewart

        Yes indeed, SVA Computer Art is the best kept secret at SVA. Their chair knows all his students. They present all there work each year and post the best on their own website. You should check it out. Dreamworks, Pixar, Digital Domain, Blue Sky, Framestore and everyone else does.

  • Teacher from years back

    When I was teaching at calarts, years ago, I tried to enforce a cap on all the films. 1st yr, 1 min… No dial, 2nd year 2 min, 3rd year 3 mim, 4th year – unlimited.. I was really pushing hard to make it that if films were longer than that, then they wouldn’t be allowed in the show. Although school is a time to experiment, it’s also a time to learn to work within limitations… At least for those that may want to work in the industry. Most importantly though, is to allow as many of the films to actually be screened. There is an open show at calarts where anything goes- probably more than 4 hrs long…fine… It’s goal is to showcase all, while the producer show is there to showcase the exceptional. But that’s why the prod show concept works.
    Calarts does many things right, and they should be copied in many ways- the producer show and it’s rules is one of the most important ones to emulate.

  • Kev

    Good GOD! I graduate from school a year ago and now I’m hearing THIS?? C’MON SVA, HAVE SOME DIGNITY!!!

  • “Thankfully, I had already treated myself to Chipotle in the middle of last night’s screening so it didn’t really matter.”

    Phew! What a relief!

  • Rini

    The problems with the SVA Traditional Animation Department is it gets neither the funding nor the resources provided to the Computer Arts dept. And the school is absolutely committed to keeping the departments separated. So traditional animation is being left behind as the computer arts dept flourishes.

    I graduated several years ago and I totally agree with the authors account of our film festival. It’s a disaster. It went on forever and most people left after their film.

    I will disagree with the above comment that the computer arts dept has superior work. There were a lot of talented people in my class who did some really great work. There is more to animating then learning software. SVA needs to find a better balance.

    • There is more to animating then learning software…true, unless you want a job, a career an education?

      • Rini

        Not sure I get your point. The only way to get a job is to only learn software programs and not bother with any basic animation skills? I was saying a combination is needed.

        I learned the basics at school, taught myself the programs and have been able to get work.

      • Caresse

        Rini, I recently graduated from SVA too, majored in Traditional Animation, supplemented that with classes in the Computer Art Department and am also gainfully employed now doing motion graphics.

        In my experience, the Traditional Animation department has brilliant teachers and definitely teaches real fundamentals to animation that the good student can apply to any medium whether it be hand drawn or CG.

        But the Computer Art Department does a way better job at preparing people for the real world.

        For one, it is its’ own department, allowing students to fully explore all aspects of Computer Art before choosing a specific concentration (game design, animation, motion graphics.) Whereas the 2D Department – as a subset of the Film Department – makes you pick before second year between Traditional and Stop Motion instead of teaching basics of both and encouraging experimentation. I’ve seen amazing traditional and stop motion shorts come out of kids from the Computer Art Department because they are allowed to experiment.

        Also, computer art theses are collaborative – mimicking the real world, where you have to work on a team, and reducing the number of final films while increasing the quality. Computer Art kids get to explore their strengths while 2D students are not given a chance to express whether some might be better producers for example.

      • Caresse

        And it’s not like the school pulls out money from a magical Money Pool – the Computer Arts kids pay more, and aren’t allowed to get anything lower than a C.

        And learning programs can supplement your understanding of how a Traditional animation process works. For me personally, I’m better with computers than pencils and for the first 2 years of Traditional Animation I felt like crap until I took a Maya course and a world of possibility opened up to me.

        An “Animation” department should (and I thought it would) represent the full gamut of what you can do to make things move.

        Even if you don’t want to be a coder or a rigger or don’t want to use guide layers in Flash – knowing how it can be done benefits you in your personal and professional work.

  • I’m attending USC in the fall for animation….. At least they seem to have OK screeings. Next Spring when my film is apart of the program, things will be better!
    But seriously,4 hours is insane! Wherent ppl saying they wanted the last Harry Potter movie to just be that long, and not split it up? That’s Insane too!

  • This really is unfair to everyone. The Audience has to sit through all of this! The students at the end , even if they have good work, wont get as big of an audience. That’s just to bad. Did they scatter the quality of the films or did they put all the good ones first?

    • Rini

      If it’s the same as when I graduated it was based on the order the films were turned in.

      • J

        I can tell you for sure that wasn’t the case this year…..

  • Billy Batz

    Cal Arts has the open show 6 hours(all films) then the Producers show 1 hour(best of).

  • Liam

    Did anyone go to Woodbury’s student screening?

  • iluvhatemail

    Another reason CA is better than NY. That and USC has a chick-fil-a across the street

    • rub some more salt in THAT wound, why don’t you.

      • The chicken at the USC had a delicious salt rub. The chocolate fountain was a nice touch as well.

  • SVA is a for-profit college, and sometimes it shows. The other departments only put the best into their thesis shows, though, so I wish the animation department didn’t have such an everyone-is-special attitude. I think the first order of business is to separate from the film program entirely, so we can have a department head who actually cares enough about animation to make the program as good as it can be.

    And while I don’t think a merger with the computer art department is the best idea – the main reason I trekked across the country to go to SVA in the first place was because I wanted a school that was really focused on 2D animation – I don’t think the programs should be as separate as they are now. I took the basic Maya-for-non-computer-art-majors class this past year, and I learned a lot and found it very enjoyable even if it’s not what I want to do all the time, but now there’s nothing else for me to take in the same line.

    SVA’s animation classes and faculty are just so ridiculously amazing, I think it’s a great shame that they’re not better organized into the animator-creating machine it has the potential to be.

  • Hooo boy, try a Sheridan screening, then! If you paid tuition, your film screens…125 films from traditional animation, and probably 30 or 40 from the CG grad programme. Two intermissions, I believe.

  • Lib

    One of the problems SVA would face if they ever decide to make a screening showing only films worth of it is that they would end up with just three or four projects and a fifteen minute long show.

    That’s almost as bad as having four hours full of train wrecks, because in the end they would be delivering the exact same message: not enough students graduate with the minimal skill set to create a decent shortfilm. This leads to bad reputation for the screening, the program and the school, and ultimately it also affects rather unfairly those few students that are actually making great work.

    And really, the only way they can fix that is by being way more strict with their admission process. Because it’s definitely not a teaching approach problem or even resources. It’s the fact that some kids there start from such a low level that not even all the money in the world, best technology and mentors could transform them into filmmakers in four years.

    • Whole-heartedly agree. While there are some professors that are a bit more forgiving (not just in animation, drawing teachers too), I agree, in the end its really about the students capabilities.

      As someone who received a high portfolio score, it really upset me in my freshmen year when I found out that some of my classmates couldnt even draw let alone animate; and yet i had to pay the same tuition they were paying. And this problem is not fixed when you have professors who have the strange notion that theyre not allowed to critique the students who clearly have no artistic abilities.

      So what happens is you have a set of students who are self-disciplined and/or actually requested advice from teachers and therefore have better work; and then you have a larger set of students who go through the four year program without any proper criticism, thinking what theyre doing is both up to par and acceptable, and come the time where they actually have to produce a professional piece of work, they cant do so.

      Personally, I’ve enjoyed my last 3 years in the animation program at SVA, because I’ve taken advantage of what I’m paying for and ask for advice. But I truly wish the admission process was stricter because there’s times where I dont feel i need to do as much work because I know my roughs might be better than some kids’ finals. It may sound smug but its a sad truth.

  • Honestly, i am pretty upset over the decision to only show “finished films” and to only allow films up to 4 and a half minutes from here on out. Those potential employers in the audience will be looking for great animators, character designers, storyboard artists etc. And an unfinished film can have beautiful boards or beautiful traditional animation and an employer for animation would notice this. Beyond this the screening is a night for the students and as such it should celebrate all of the student’s work. SVA Animation students are being restricted and held back for being more ambitious when that should really be celebrated. Give us a second screening if the films are running too long in the end but everyone deserves their work to be screened in the end I feel. It is understood there will be long films, bad films, unfinished films at student screenings, this is commonly understood. Just give animation a second screening, how many does live action film have? like 3 or 4?

    • Screening unfinished films is an embarrassment for the school and the student.
      Why should poor time management and/or laziness be rewarded?

      • The screening should be about the students not the school, its a night to show their work which they deserve to be shown. If a student personally requests to have their work not shown that is different. But every student has a right to show their work in the end I feel.

        We have thousands of film festivals for picking and choosing which films are good and which are not, student screenings as the name entails should be created for the students first and foremost

      • Here’s the thing. It’s still school. Yes, it’s ‘art’ school, but you still have to complete assignments on time, do your homework and get decent to good grades.

        I attended University of the Arts in Philly. In our Senior year you were expected to complete an animated short film, no limit on time but you did have teachers there to guide you, tell you if you were biting off more than you could chew, etc. In order to pass the class and graduate, you had to complete the film. Students who did not, didn’t get to screen it and didn’t get to graduate till it was finished (the few who didn’t, wrapped up the film over the summer and eventually received their diploma).

        It’s a school. You get homework, tests, book reports, projects, etc, etc, etc and you are expected to complete them all or you don’t pass. If a kid writes half of a paper, he/she doesn’t get a passing grade. So why should a student who makes half a film get to screen it and graduate?

        Life is about passing or failing and young adults need to learn that just as much as the rest of us.

      • Brian.
        There’s a big difference between picking what is good and what isn’t and picking what has been completed and what hasn’t.

    • Vegastar

      I don’t work in animation, but from my experience as an art director I can tell you that unfinished work doesn’t get you a job. You assume that employers are artistically trained and that they can see greatness in an unpolished product, which is not true. Even if they could, the fact that it isn’t finished doesn’t speak highly of the work-ethics and time-management skills of the animator. It’s great to have talent, but delivering work on time is equally important.
      And lastly, some unfinished work may show a lot of promise, the comment you’ll get from people is “It would have been awesome if it was finished”.

  • akira

    honestly who cares who had the better snacks??… tell us who had the better films

    you sound like the kind of guy that will hype a dreamworks film just because they give you the VIP tour of the place

    • The snacks could be what gets a student a job. Let’s not forget that animation is a business.

  • evan

    This applies to festivals as well. Anything more than 10 films just becomes tedious no matter how great the individual films are. And by the time you get to the 9th or 10th film you’ve forgotten most of the other ones and can’t focus because all you can think of is getting out.

  • Sarah (with an h)

    I went to the screening on Sunday, and enjoyed most of the animation this year, as opposed to last year. ::shudder::

    But yes the screening is way to long. I think the best solution is to either split it into two, two hour screenings the same day with a very long break in between. Like the first set starts at 4 and goes to 6 and the second set starts at 7 and goes till 9. That way people who came to see their family/friends work can go to either screening, instead of awkwardly leaving in the middle.

    Or start it earlier in the day like 4 with a few 15 minute intermissions in between. Again this makes it easier for the awkward exits.

    Also the other problem is its on a Sunday and it starts at 7 and ends at 11pm. I know a bunch of people couldn’t go because it ended so late and they have work the next day. Its a little ridiculous.

    And snack would be appreciated, but personally I could care less. Its New York theres several places to eat around the area, and if the audience is aware that they are going to a 4 hour screening they should probably stuff their face ahead of time. I know I did.

    Ps. I mean “stuff their face” in the nicest way possible.

  • Perhaps SVA should hire an event coordinator. Problem solved.

  • Sarah

    There’s a not-so-famous school having it’s animation screening this week, if you are interested. The Concordia Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal on May 12th. More info here:

  • Chris Robinson

    welcome to my world.

  • food doesn’t really make me like animation more.

  • SK

    Unfortauntely, the SVA Animation program doesn’t have good people running it. I have a lot of friends who went to NYU and loved working with John Canemaker who is the head of their department. When I graduated from SVA Animation I can’t say a single student I graduated with even knew who ran our department. If you accept everyone into an art school and have no standards there is no way to compete with the West Coast schools. Even with good students and faculty I can’t see SVA ever getting better with inefficent people in charge. This is another reason why SVA Computer Art might be stronger, because they have a person running it that is intellegent.