I attended a couple year-end animation school screenings yesterday in Manhattan–one for NYU students and the other for School of Visual Arts students. The focus of this piece today will be on the latter school, which are called the Dusty screenings. School of Visual Arts has the largest animation program in New York. They presented forty-five thesis films last night. The films were a mixed bag, as most school programs are, but the gap between poor and well done was wider than usual, partly because of the size of the program, but also because the bad films were really bad and the good films were jaw-droppingly spectacular.
The weakest of the bunch made your eyes pop out. It made me angry to think how somebody could have just spent four years of their life and $150k, and not understand the first thing about filmmaking, storytelling, drawing or animating. (To be fair, I had the same reaction for many of the works at NYU’s screening so the reaction is not exclusive to SVA.) The bottom line is that something is clearly wrong, either with admission standards or instruction.
On the other hand, the good films coming out of SVA are outstanding. In a few cases, the films exceeded the quality of anything I’ve seen recently from schools like CalArts and Sheridan, which are considered the North American standard-bearers in traditional animation instruction. The most unique thing about the SVA films I saw is that they don’t rely on conventional student cliches like copying Disney-style expressions or Fifties-style character designs. These students have found their own groove and are exploring personal styles of movement and design not often seen in student films; their inspiration seems to come less from Milt Kahl and more from indie comic artists and illustrators along the lines of Ghostshrimp, Jordan Crane and Tom Herpich.
I was unable to sit through the entire four-hour screening, but I think I caught some of the most solid entries, which included Cat by Peyton Skyler, Metromorphosis by Mikhail Shraga, Juxtaposed by Alex (Wager) Myung, The Chicken Prince by Ioana Alexandra Nistor, and Fantastic Plastic by Lev Polyakov.
Another entertaining short, Metal Boot by Paul Villeco, has already been posted online:
There were two films in particular that floored me last night. The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9 by Jake Armstrong (first image below) and Singles by Rebecca Sugar (second image below). The visual inventiveness of both these films, and their sophisticated marriage of design and animation, was absolutely mindblowing. If Rebecca and Jake represent the future of hand-drawn animation, then the art form is in safe hands.