By Greta Chiocchetti
School of Animation and Visual Effects (ANM) graduates Hank Chang, Yixuan Wu, and Penpicha Jingjungvisuti created movie magic in 2019 when the Academy of Art University’s Studio X program took on an exciting project: creating visual effects for the award-winning Spanish-language musical drama, “I’m No Longer Here” (“Ya no estoy aquí”). No strangers to tight deadlines and industry-standard quality expectations, the Studio X artists worked closely with the film’s director, Fernando Frias, and producer Gerry Kim to polish its vivid, arresting shots.
This fall, their hard work paid off when “I’m No Longer Here” was nominated for “Best Special Effects” at the Ariel Awards, a prestigious accolade recognizing the best of Mexican cinema. The ceremony, given annually since 1946 by the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences, is considered to be the Mexican equivalent to the Oscars. The film won 10 Ariel Awards, including Best Picture.
“I was so excited—just being able to see my work in the film on Netflix was already so cool,” said Jingjungvisuti, who graduated in 2019 with a B.F.A. and now works as a compositor at Ingenuity Studios. “But being nominated in an awards show—and one that’s so important—was amazing.”
Led by Director of 3-D Animation & Visual Effects Catherine Tate and Studio X Head of Production Sasha Korellis, students had six weeks to complete 37 shots—a tight timeline that more closely aligned with that of a professional studio than an average university course.
“Some [shots] were easier than others, but it was quite a challenge,” said Korellis. “The students brought their team together and all committed to making it happen. Their motivation and drive were all self-made.”
For this project, Studio X’s contributions were mostly “invisible”—the visual effects work isn’t obvious as viewers watch, which helps to create a cohesive, believable suspension of reality.
“I can’t get over how great it looked,” said Kim. “It looked incredible on the big screen, and I was just so blown away at the type of work that [Studio X] did.”
The film tells the story of Ulises (Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño), a teen who is forced to flee Mexico—and leave his Cumbia dancing street gang—for the U.S. after a run-in with a cartel threatens his life at home.
When he lands in a bustling, colorful neighborhood in Queens, New York, Ulises, who doesn’t speak any English, struggles to relate—even to the other Spanish-speakers around him. It’s a story about the profound isolation that comes with the loss of home and community, but also about Ulises’ refusal to assimilate. It’s a stereotype-shattering account of what migration can look like, and one that humanizes perceptions of people classified as “other.”
“It kind of reflects my feelings—I came to the U.S. from Taiwan,” said Chang, who graduated from the Academy in 2019 with an M.F.A. and now works as a digital compositor at FuseFX. “You miss your hometown so much—your family, your friends, things that you’re familiar with.”
Tate initiated the partnership between Studio X and the “I Am No Longer Here” crew, seeing its potential not only to be aesthetically beautiful and entertaining but to make a positive impact on the industry.
“Being a visual effects supervisor on a film that’s very story-heavy, that has some emotional impact, that might be socially-conscious, rather than just having pure entertainment value, is hugely appealing to me,” said Tate. “And working with all these different filmmakers from all over the world, along with the diversity of our student body—I feel like we have something super special and that we’re actually breaking ground, we’re even moving further ahead than the industry in terms of working with real-life people and stories.”
“I Am No Longer Here” (“Ya no estoy aquí”) is available to stream on Netflix.