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“Eyrie” by David Wolter

Here’s a Cal Arts student film from this past year’s producers show that really impressed me with its storytelling. Obviously I wasn’t the only one impressed. David Wolter just started work this week in Dreamworks story department.

  • Great storytelling. Ending really solidified it for me!

  • This. was. incredible. Amazing on SO many levels…

  • Mattchew

    I love animation, comics & stories that are tinted with surrealist elements & visual metaphor! Great Job David, well done!

    Now tell us when Nelson Boles film Little Boat will be online, and what David Ochs, Skyler Page & Vitaliy Strokous are working on next!

  • eeteed

    he told a lot of story in that little time, and told it very well. i went from hating the kid to liking him. i felt for the sheep, and was surprised at the end.

    i can’t wait to see what he does at dreamworks!

  • Wow, nice work David. Great little story, well told.

  • Bren

    This is what they don’t teach you at schools like Animation Mentor, or any school for that matter. Personal story is what’s missing from the majority of 3D student animation reels & films these days. 2D is great because you can get down to business much faster and make more and learn more from that. Many 3D student films are super slick, with amazing production values, but being too busty with all that technical stuff and the fine polish they miss the boat where it really counts.

    3D Film – congrats, you’re a marvelous animator and technician

    2D Films – congrats, you’re a marvelous animator and film maker

    Generalizing here yes I know, but I think that there’s a point in there somewhere if you don’t mind the strong opinion.

    • I have to say I agree with you. All the samples I see are 3D exercises or 2D films – with stories.

    • Bren

      I meant *busy not busty

      With T & Y together on the keyboard that typo is as inevitable as it is hilarious.

    • Sam

      Quite true, although you kind of also have to understand why this happens.

      3D Students are being forced to focus on one thing and only work towards it while in school. And my personal experience was that for a 3D film they (the teachers) always wants us to make a simpler easier film, because of the amount of technical work that would go behind it to make it look ‘finished’. The 3D animation polishing level was what count for recruiters.

      When I was in school, I always had to fight with my teachers about making a more complicated story for my film. There was a limitation of 2 or 3 characters and 2 or 3 minutes at most. I asked my coworkers, they told me the same thing, their school expect them to have simpler stories for their films too.

      Missing the boat, though. I may have to disagree a bit. Because I enjoy simple story 3D films too. It didn’t matter what kind of story they have, they just have to be entertaining.

      • Bud

        Simple, short films with simple stories focused on CHARACTERS are the hardest to do—and the easiest to avoid working hard on. All the detail and polish from a technical point of view won’t help you there. But a strong character and story will. And they call them short films for a reason. 1 or 2 characters, 2 minutes. That’s all you need. There are some great 30 second commercials that do more than even this film less time (not picking on the wonderful film).

        In a nutshell, your teachers are right.

      • Sam

        Have you seen Kiwi? It’s an extremely simple short film, but it sure heck received huge response from the audience around the globe. It doesn’t have much expression, but it has some pretty neat poses. That’s the kind of polish animation I am talking about. Polishing is where it takes your work further. I have to be frank, David’s short film is great, but the animation is not finished. If this was done in 3D, trust me, it wouldn’t get half the huge response on Cartoon Brew. It’s way easier to get away in 2D with rough animation and key frames, but I have never seen anyone done it with 3D, and if you can show me an example of a rough crappy 3D animation short with strong story, I would like to see Cartoon Brew feature it for once.

        Of course, my teachers are right. In order for 3D students to get the work done, the limitation was needed. But at the same time, you need to realize what we are comparing here.
        A 4 minute short film with 5 characters (considering if you duplicate one of the sheep), done by 1 artist in a year’s time, with bird wings to rig and cloth to create, effects to simulate and lots of compositing and rendering work. Try getting a 3D artist student to do that and see what they tell you. The limitation these 2D artists are getting isn’t anything compare to what the 3D artists gets. And 3D artists always have to consider every aspect of the work.

        The 3D students spend more time on the technical side of making a film than story, which can’t be helped. Learning 3D as a beginner can be tough. The Calarts students have more time spent on stories. They are also extremely talented, I’m in no way downplaying the Calarts student’s talents, but to compare the 3D people’s story skill to a 2D artists story skill is quite unfair. It’s just different and that one should even be thankful that studios brought them together to work together. Not to diss how 3D animators can’t do stories and thus they are less of an ‘amazing artist/ filmmaker’ compare to the 2D people.

      • sheeple

        it’s not “quite unfair” or “fair” as you said, it’s just different.

        In 3D you’re concentrated more on the technical, on making puppets, rigging them, setting deformers, texturing, lighting, etc.

        2D relies more on your shots, pacing, and story. If you can combine both, then you’re pixar. otherwise, you just don’t have the time to do both well.

    • Jay

      The real is question is this level of storytelling required in today’s 3d animation industry? We all *wish* it was, but realistically studios hire animators for their technical skills in animation (used to service the story) and not their ability to write an engaging story.

      David told an amazing story with his animation and was hired as a story artist, not an animator. If he had animated this story in 3d with the same rough animation many here would not be praising it (even Jerry only praised the “storytelling”).

      Schools today focus on training animators to get jobs as animators, and the reality is a reel with superb animation but containing “exercises and dialogue shots” will get someone hired quicker than a reel with an engaging 4 minute story with rough animations.

      • Bren

        But what would you rather work on?

        Tests, demos & character studies or a Story?

        @1:40 – 2:10

        “What’s the story?”

        “Oh it’s just kinda a character study.”

        “John, no matter how short it is it should always have a story, a beginning, middle & end.”

        Even John Lasseter wouldn’t be who he is today if he hadn’t taken that advice & applied it to his work back then.

        And therein lies the rub.

      • Sam

        My answer to that is simple, I would love to work on a story in a team, along with talented 2D story people and more other 3D artists that can help make it happen, people who are brought together by studios or a team. Sharing my 3D knowledge and skills to bring a good final product at the end.

        It makes me wonder if anyone has any idea the amount of ‘technical’ work that goes behind 3D. I can draw a character in a split second, but it would take me at least 2 or 3 days or so to get a simple character model done, that’s not including the rigging yet.

        And to say 3D artist’s short tests have no story.. I beg to differ. There are amazing 3D tests on 11 second club, the ones with musics or sound effects, tells a lot of stories in a mere 10 – 11 second test. And recently there was a post feature here, Jorge Ruiz’s crying little girl’s test, tells a lot of stories too. But that’s how far you can go with only few seconds to showcase your work. You shouldn’t generalize every 3D works you seen, because there are some that are really good ones out there that stood out, that you may not have seen.

    • Animation Mentor Grad


      Sorry, as a CG animator and an Animation Mentor grad I have to disagree.

      I’ve seen some simply brilliant short films to come out of Animation Mentor with just as much focus on character and story then the best 2D films.

      Sure, some are more like technical exercises (nothing wrong with that), but so are a lot (dare I say MOST?) of the 2D student films that come out of somewhere like CalArts. They are made to show that they can animate so a studio will hire them.

      One of my BIG pet peeves is people treating CG like it’s some kind of inferior form of animation. It really really bugs me.

      Neither animation method is “better” then the other. In the end, it’s all animation and whether the film succeeds or not comes down to the story and how it’s told. It’s either good storytelling or bad storytelling, regardless of what medium you utilize whether it be hand-drawn, CG, Flash, stop motion etc.

      Regarding the tech issue: there seems to be this stereotype that CG animators are all tech nerds who don’t think about story, character, motivations, etc. which is completely untrue and unfair.

      I personally couldn’t care less about the technical stuff. I see it as a means to an end… something I HAVE to know in order to animate, but nothing more. Many of the AM grads and teachers I’ve talked to feel the same way.

      Anyway, hope this post made sense.


    Very moving and entertaining!

  • very nice… touch of the carlos castandeda about it I thought.

  • This is really great, indeed.
    I agree with Bren above. Storytelling is very difficult and you don’t really learn that in school.
    Congratulations David, Dreamworks is lucky to have you in their story department and I wish you all the best there.

  • Absolutely top notch. Gorgeous, insightful and portrays real character growth.

    Probably the best student film I’ve seen since Pete Doctors.

  • Silence Dogood

    Holy Mackerel! That is excellent. Hope we will see more from this guy in the future.

  • Frank Ziegler

    Just curious, but what program did he use on that?

    • My guess is paper, Photoshop, and After Effects. Looks really good too! Looks like a lot of work went into it..

      • David Wolter

        I used TVPaint – its this great french program that’s really been taking off at CalArts lately.

      • The Gee

        So the pencils are digital then? That is what I suspected.

        If your short is any example, I’ll probably keep an eye for who and what studios might be using TVP. Annnd, now that I remember, Mirage came before TVPaint. So, I’m sorta familiar with it.

        Good job on the short and congrats to you, btw.

      • Marco

        Tvpaint is best software for digital hand drawn animation (Way upgraded since Aura and Mirage version). The lastest TVP is really great.
        With the large cintiq and custom pencil brush you have the feeling to be at an animation table. Better than vectorial Flash or Toonboom animate anyway.

        Great movie by the way :)

  • burkiss

    Congrats to David Wolter on a great film . Enjoy the Cartoon Brew love while you can because now you’re working at DreamWorks the trolls on this site will be lining up to s**t on everything you do.

  • Outstanding David! Great pacing and wonderful little story. Congrats on Dreamworks and good luck!

  • Sky

    Great storytelling but since when do Caucasians possess such Native American mojo?

    • Gerard de Souza

      I assumed the “old man” was of idigenous ancestry. I guess we can project whatever explanation which is part of the magic of this storytelling.

      • Bud

        It’s based on Pagan myths.

    • anonymous

      lighten up,ok?!

    • Why not? European literature is full of myths and fairy tales about shapeshifters, beginning with ancient greek mythology.

  • Bravo. Bravo.

  • Left me with my mouth open…then I said some profanity.
    I LOVED it. Thank you David!

  • Congrats David! The film is amazing.

  • Wow, that was just amazing. The story and pacing kept me on my toes, and the ending was just fantastic and completely unpredictable (while making perfect sense too).

    I only hope he keeps this level of top-notch storytelling going at Dreamworks.

  • MarkT

    The story was told with a great skill, with character transformations (emotional and other), surprises and dramatic tension. But the plot doesn’t make much sense… If it was about teaching the boy to start caring and become better at protecting the sheep from birds of prey, the last bit shows it was all rather unnecessary.

  • ekuska

    Ive seen plenty of student animations.. this is one Ill remember. Nice work.

  • dbenson

    Just watched this at the office, with sound off. Later will run it with sound, but it comes across beautifully with visuals alone. Too many films — live action as well as animation — just try to look pretty or striking while leaving the real work of character and story to the soundtrack.

  • That was very well done. No dialouge, superb storytelling, and a little trippy to boot. I liked it a lot.

    Poor baby sheep..

  • bob kurtz

    david- you did good.

  • hatorade

    I like this so much, I hate it.

    What do they put in that Valencia water?

  • Absolutely brilliant on every level!

  • Glowworm

    I totally didn’t see that twist coming. I figured the boy would either finally kill that hawk or not have the nerve to kill it and let it go. The twist made the film extraordinary.

  • AaronSch

    That was wonderful. The storytelling is far more mature than I would expect from a student film. I believe Dreamworks made a good hire. I look forward to seeing more of David Wolter’s work in what appears to be a very bright future. These student films along with animation history are what makes Cartoon Brew required daily viewing.

  • Very cool!

  • pjd

    that was great!

  • wgan

    one side question since David Wolter now joined the Dreamwrosk, i’ve heard somewhere that all the employee’s relevant works (character design, shorts etc, even those done in spare time) are considered the property of the studio, is that true?

    • Mattchew

      Wow, I hope not.

      They’re hiring you, not buying your soul.

    • Bud

      No. There are forms they sign to spell out ideas an employee had prior to working. Every studio does this (well, most, and most certainly all big studios). It’s to protect the employee as much as the employer, and I always advise seeking private legal counsel to review this info. The Animation Guild can help with this as well.

  • Dcollard

    I didn’t like the twist at the end.
    Those sort of “tests” in stories really rub me the wrong way for some reason.

    That aside it was really a good piece.

    • The Gee

      Well, up until the twist at the end, did it work for you?

      It is fairly solid as storytelling goes. All in all, it is a well-told interesting story.
      No chase scenes, no scatalogical humor nor is it off-kilter for the sake of it.

      • Dcollard

        Oh yes. Other than the twist, I loved it.

  • James Ciambor

    Beautiful vignette the majority of Cal Arts students aren’t on par with this in terms of narrative. The biggest problem is just because your a proficient draftsman doesn’t mean you have narrative ability David Wolter has both. His layouts are just breathtaking and and minimalist style is how the west should be displayed. The the grandfather is especially well constructed the boy has a compelling personality and is cocky but ambitious. A narrative about a grandfather simulating an abduction to make test the boy and see how he might react and how responsible he could be.

    The problem is that much of the Cal Arts student shorts are in the same style as Miyazaki and Disney. Wolter has a distinct charm and narrative ability that one could only possess from the heart. I think he would have been perfect for the unfinished production of My Peoples if anyone has read Disney Lost and Found. Dave could perfectly fit the directors chair there because of his ability to successful convey the American Folklore style.

  • Baron Lego

    I really enjoyed that! Nicely done, Mr.Wolter!

  • Megan Nicole Dong

    Wow!! I’m so glad I finally got to see this! Fantastic job! :)

  • Jim

    Best part is slamming the sheep’s head with the gate, perfectly quick setup for the boy’s character.

  • Impressive. Thanks, Mr. Wolter.

  • The start really set up the boy’s character well, and you really cared for the lamb- classy work!

  • Rick Kowal

    Absolutely magical! I agree with Jim above regarding the little sheep getting its head slammed in the gate-it really wanted to see where the boy was going to go.

  • Anonymous

    David has the distinction of creating a truly engaging narrative seldom seen in the industry. Not even Cal Arts students can hold their own against this many of them hopelessly try to emulate Myiazaki and Disney and don’t tell stories with a distinctively different nor unique style. Wolter obviously derived many of his influence from American Folklore which is quite a culturally rich artistic style that has been long neglected.

    The problem is just because your a proficient draftsman doesn’t mean you have the ability to tell stories. Wolter would have been a perfect fit for My Peoples in case anyone has read Disney Lost and Found. The un-produced film has a strong narrative, contrasting characters, and beautiful conceptual art. Not to be unrealistic but they should bring the film back into production and assign him the directors chair.

  • great job david!!!!!!!!!

  • Paul N

    First and foremost – terrific short. A non-animation friend forwarded it to me a few days ago, which speaks volumes.

    Now, as to this notion that 3D students don’t learn story because they’re buried in the technical – utter horseshit. Not every 3D student does their own rigging/blends/MEL scripting. This kind of nonsense is akin to saying that 2D students don’t learn story because they’re busy learning how to draw in perspective.

    If there’s a lack of story in 3D student shorts (and I disagree strongly with that notion; at the very least it’s no more true than the lack of story in 2D shorts), it’s the fault of the curriculum at the school, not the burden of learning the technical aspects of working in 3D. There’s no reason that story can’t be taught alongside the technical aspects of 3D. Hell, I do it all the time…

  • Paul Fierlinger

    I disagree that every story must have an arch, consisting of a conflict, climax, and resolution, which I assume everyone means by saying a beginning, middle and end. It’s a tired and true formula for sure, but not the complete truth. There are many other ways to tell a story well if one abandons formulaic thinking. Just one example: all a well told story needs is to be full of surprises, from start to finish.