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Animating Against the Clock

by Art U News

By Cristina Schreil 

Just minutes before 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, nearly 50 students spread across 11 teams were poised and prepared in the basement of 180 New Montgomery. They had computers, notepads, and snacks at the ready as they gazed at a streaming video on a big screen. Aubry Mintz, the head of animation at Cal State University Long Beach and the founder of the 24 Hour Animation Contest, announced the 2019 theme: “Family.” 

With that, things erupted. Students dashed to spaces throughout the building. The contest began.

The marathon-esque competition, which students at the Academy of Art University School of Animation and Visual Effects (ANM) charged into this year with its largest batch of teams yet, has a mighty premise: teams of five have 24 hours to conceive and create a 30-second animated film based on a theme. The contest started as a way to brace college students for the rigors of an animation career—and teach teamwork, smart scheduling, and story craft. This year’s co-sponsor of the Academy’s participants was the newly formed Women in Animation Club.

“It really teaches them real-life skills in terms of how to work with different people,” said Daisy Church, associate director of 2-D Animation and the on-site coordinator for the ANM contingents. This experience is a great way to forge connections that often lead to jobs, she said. Her organizing began long before, in motivating students both onsite and online to sign up. For the first time, ANM teams comprised of online student participants. On Friday, Church streamed online students into the main basement workspace so they could feel connected to onsite participants. Also for the first time, ANM had stop-motion animation teams. 

Church offered tips—limited as it could be under contest rules. She advised simpler concepts and sticking to schedules. “Know when to work something through and know when to cut it and move onto something else,” she offered. 

Around 6:30 p.m., the stop-motion workshop beside Church’s office buzzed with activity. “When you have such a short amount of time to do something, it forces you to work smarter. That’s the biggest thing that I try to instill in my students,” Church said. 

Days after, Church reflected that each room had distinct energy levels ranging from energetic to sleepy. Ultimately, every team completed a film. 

Two teams—BidiBidi BomBom and Busy Friday—placed in the top 20, 10th and 12th, respectively, out of 291 entries across nine countries. 

“I feel very proud to have worked with these guys. They were all great team players with good spirit all through the 24 hours,” exclaimed Wilma Miranda, team captain of BidiBidi BomBom. “We learned that taking on a project with a positive attitude, leaving your ego behind, being able to work around disagreements and keep moving forward with production are all essential elements of having a good work ethic and being a good collaborator.” Their team’s film focused on a rejected high school student taking his grandmother to prom. “Families have differences, sometimes fights, but they can also be present in moments of joy, sadness, success, and in our story’s case, rejection,” Miranda said.

Photo by Mateo Tayamen.

After the contest, students reflected on similar challenges: proactive self-caring and budgeting time were top takeaways. 

Team Sub D Visions created a 3-D film. Bella Martinez, team captain, said one of the teammates excelled in making a production schedule. “The biggest challenge through the night was probably figuring out the story. Once our team felt comfortable with it, it was more about grinding through the hours (especially around 2-3 a.m.) to get it done,” Martinez wrote via email. They finished with time to spare. “Seeing our little short from story to the final version was awesome.” 

Monica Ramsey, team captain of Beans n Soup, participated last year. Then, they were too ambitious with the story. This year, they knew better. “It just went really, really well,” Ramsey said, beaming. They relied on caffeinated soda and quick naps. Besides a small hiccup where power momentarily shut off around midnight, they charged forward. “Last year we only had scratchy line work and there was no real cleanup and coloring, but this year we actually got it to clean and to color.” 

Even teams with less than ideal experiences reaped rewards. Sammi Kay, team captain of stop-motion team CherryBOMB and the president of the Academy’s Women in Animation chapter, entered the contest to bolster her reel. She said the contest tests her skills: “Can I animate under duress? Can I come up with solutions under extreme duress?” They ran into technical difficulties, however, with one teammate who was an online student. Her biggest regret, however, is sleeping. It compressed their schedule. “I finished at 3:40 … bless my little teammates’ souls, they were pulling files as I was animating,” Kay said. They were down to the wire. “We were all in front of the one computer that was rendering the one complete film. We were screaming at it,” Kay recalled. Then, disaster: their film reached organizers at 4:01 p.m.; they were disqualified. 

Still, Kay is looking on the upside: “It’s a learning experience.”

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