2007 CalArts Student Films

Last week I checked out the CalArts Producers’ Show, the year-end screening where the best student films from the school year are screened theatrically. I hadn’t been to the show in three or four years so it was nice to see things with a bit of a fresh eye. Sad to say, but the overhwelming impression I got from this year’s batch of films is that CalArts is increasingly a school that is coasting along on its reputation than on the quality of work its current students produce. That hard-earned rep will expire sooner than later if they continue in this direction; CalArts needs to recognize that they no longer have a monopoly on teaching character animation and must significantly up their game if they wish to stay on a par with all the other animation schools around the globe. I’ll attempt to expound on the school’s problems in-depth at some later time, but for the moment, I wanted to focus on some of the positive individual achievements from this year’s crop of students.

A number of this year’s CalArts student films are turning up online and I’ve posted four of the better ones below—Off the Wall, Siren’s Melody, One Last Song and This World.

Among the films that aren’t posted online, a few honorable mentions: Them Their Eyes by Mario Furmanczyk featured the most competent Disney-style character animation, Captain Scratchy Beard by Brigette Barrager offered the most distinctive sense of character design, Slum Noir by Jahmad Rollins stood out for its mature storytelling vision, exciting animation and hardcore draftsmanship skills (I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his future work), and Nicole Mitchell’s Zoologic was easily the strongest overall film, and one of the few shorts in the program that displayed a solid understanding of how to stage a gag, pace a story, and give the audience a payoff.

Off the Wall Episode 1: “Lady Troubles” by Alex Hirsch

Siren’s Melody Lorelay Bove

One Last Song by Dimitri Frazao

This World by Noel Belknap


  • Radrappy

    This is a disheartening read especially since our graduating class this year was one of the strongest to come along in quite a while according to the faculty. I was a freshman in the character animation program this past semester and was impressed with what I saw at the producer’s show(though admittedly I’ve only seen maybe 4 in total). I am anxious to hear your critiques on the school in general.

  • Dave

    I actually found all four films to be charming and inventive. Some rough edges, yes, but I’m impressed. I think I laughed at the first film more than Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

  • intergalactic

    You can watch a nice selection of last years Producers Show here if you interested, I imagine they’ll post this years lot soon.

    http://fv.calarts.edu/

    Congratulations to my buddies Nick, Lorelay & Nicole!!!

    Best of luck to all of you on your amazing adventures in animation.

  • Hulk

    I graduated CalArts in 03 when most of this years seniors were freshmen. I wish our class had our shit together HALF as much as this class seems to. We’d be well on our way to ruling the world right now. (I blamed the second rate faculty at the time but maybe it was us) That Alex Hirsch kid is a friggin GENIUS! He will go far in life. I’m sure he’s heard that a million times but make me a million and one. Congrats CalArts class of 07′.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    As far as films that stand out, Off the Wall Episode 1: “Lady Troubles� was the one I liked best. As far as CalArts itself, the school is legendary because of its beginnings, yet you never hear about animation programs at places like Rowland, which put out more than its fair share of animation talent.

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    I haven’t seen the show, but Amid, I think it’s interesting that the ones you chose to post could have been included in your book. I liked them, I look forward to seeing the others.

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com ZekeySpaceyLizard

    That bit in “One Last Song” where the narrator quickly mentions “also he fell off a cliff” makes me laugh EVERY single time.

  • David Fain

    The real problem with this year’s show wasn’t so much with the films as the selection and sequencing. The show was too long and included a number of incomplete and mediocre pieces that weren’t bad, but definitely weren’t 100% successful. I think the school’s program would have come off better overall if 30 minutes had been trimmed.

    That being said I’ve already contacted a number of these students about employment opportunities.

  • Will Finn

    Wow, I have to disagree with this harsh appraisal. I didn’t go to CalArts but I’ve seen a lot of shows over the [many] years. This year for me was a particularly strong and enjoyable show. I can think of past years that were absolutely interminable and this year in particular showed a wide variety of sensibilityand style that has in my experience, been almost typically lacking in years past. I can honestly say I enjoyed this group’s work far more than most of the Academy Award shorts contenders this year.

    Some of my favorites (in additon to the excellent ones you posted) were :

    -Kim Slate
    -Leo Matsuda
    -Will Kim
    -Rick Foutain
    -Darrell T. Watson

    I look forward to seeing what they do in the future and will be cheering them on.

  • http://gavinscartoons.blogspot.com Gavin

    That was fun Amid. “Lady troubles” was pretty funny, limited animation and simple but it had me laughing. I don’t know anything about Cal Arts and I usually hear bad things about the school, but it looks like they were all having fun with their projects. Also on a positive note, it sounds like theres at least more 2D animation going on then at mine here in San Francisco. Out of a 2 hour program of the spring show, there was only about 15 minutes of 2D. At this point, I get happy to see anyone animating 2D. Fun post, thank you!

  • http://www.shaneprigmore.blogspot.com Shane Prigmore

    Don’t forget “FRANKENRAD” by Erik Fountain for technical Disney style animation in a student film this year (or any year). The animation was pretty incredible.

  • amid

    Will Finn – I think it’s important to view these films in the context of work that other schools are turning out, not just previous CalArts shows. For films, I never expect much from CalArts because unlike other schools, the emphasis is on character animation, not filmmaking. But when the animation is of consistently low quality as well, that raises serious questions. So what exactly is their focus, I ask myself?

    Steve Segal – It would be hard to find films in the program that don’t belong in my book. Three of the four I mentioned which aren’t online are fairly non-designy, but there’s no denying that, for better or worse, there’s a strong design-bent at the school.

  • David

    Why does it look like all or most of these are done in flash? what happened to teaching traditional animation, or animating traditionally at least? oh well.

  • Will Finn

    Amid – I do see a lot of other reels from other schools and while I agree some of the European schools have some awesome stuff (Gobelins, CFT in particular), I still stand by my appraisal of this show as strong one. A lot of the Euro schools benefit from entire groups working on a single short, which may account for the advanced polish, but most of the CalArts ones I evaluate in a different context, since most of them primarily represent the work of a single artist.

  • Relevan

    When you do the evaluation of CalArts, could you also talk about what animation schools are doing well right now? Well, US schools. Gobelins tends to kick everyones’ ass because they have teams rather than individuals, we know.

    I wonder if the advantage to CalArts is that it makes you work on every aspect of the animation rather than sticking to just one part you’re good at.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com Robert

    When I went to school it was quite a faux pas to pronounce “timbre” as “timber”, almost as bad as pronouncing “Bach” as “batch”. Another sign of the decline of western civilization.

  • http://gagaman.blogspot.com GagaMan

    Going downhill from where they once were or not, I’d love to go to a college like CalArts, when compared to the one I’m in now that simply couldn’t care less about animation and leaves us to fend for ourselves with no one with any actual skills in the subject to teach us. =E

  • http://ryandonoghue.blogspot.com/ Ryan Donoghue

    There always seems to be so much talk of Calarts losing their edge, or the students not living up to potential. People said we had a strong class when I was there. I’ve talked to people from years before my time and they felt their class was strong. I used to watch all the old producer’s shows while I was a student there and I try to make it to the show every year since I’ve graduated. For me, it seems, that the level of work always has a curve, from entertaining to not so entertaining. I don’t think there was this magical time when every student film was a masterpiece. In the 80′s a lot of the films were tests of Disney characters. Every year there are a few that stand out, a bunch that are good, and more that are bland.

    So my view is that the gems from the past are the few that stood out and it seems to color peoples opinions about the program from an earlier time.

    Basically I think because of the name “Calarts” the films get judged too harshly, when honestly every year there is something new and interesting to see. Every year I see what the students are doing, it inspires me and makes me wish I could have that time again to make another film.

  • Dave

    Frankly I thought there was more joy, originality and love of animation in the four shorts here than in that awful trailer of Bee Movie just a few posts back, or Shrek 3.

    While having teams might be better for a short film and make it more ‘professional’, would it be as good for the student himself?

  • j Nate Lowe

    When I went to school it was quite a faux pas to pronounce “timbre� as “timber�

    I just wanted to point out that the creator of that film (Dimitri Frazao) is from Brazil, and English is not his first language.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com Robert

    “I just wanted to point out that the creator of that film (Dimitri Frazao) is from Brazil, and English is not his first language.”

    The narrator sounded pretty comfortable with english, though. But timbre isn’t really an english word anyway, it’s borrowed from french.

    It’s still an entertaining short, none-the-less.

  • http://shiyoonkim.blogspot.com Sean

    hey check out some of these great films that couldn’t make it in to the show.

    http://5films.blogspot.com/

  • X ANIMATION

    dude, before you pass judgement on the whole school just after having seen the producer’s show, you should come check out the CalArts Experimental Animation Showcase next year. It’s always the night after the Producer’s Show and it’s much easier to get a seat. If you’re looking for inventive designs and innovative and personal storytelling along with really cool animation (that’s not all only hand-drawn), go check out that show. It’s CalArts students, but we’re a different breed.

    2006
    http://film.calarts.edu/main/streaming/2006/expanim.html

    2005
    http://film.calarts.edu/main/streaming/2005/expanim.html

  • Johnson

    I am a recent graduate from Cal Arts, and I think in general, that animation/film making anywhere can be an easy hit or miss. Some may love it, some might hate it. I’m not that crazy about alot of stuff that comes from our school, but there are always a few good ones that make it worth being there and seeing the work. To comment on our class being the strongest, i don’t believe that to be true, because from my observation, a different faculty member says that about every class every year. We do however have alot of strength in particular areas, but so does every class coming in every year. The dynamic is just different. I do appreciate the light shed on other schools using teams, and cal arts working on an animated piece solo. It does make a huge difference in making something look polished and finished. I loved my experience there whether cal arts is on top or not, i left with valuable knowledge and good friends, and I will still continue to rep the school……I”m Out!!!!