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Animation Spring Awards: A Celebration of Student Skill

by Art U News

By Isabella Cook

On Friday, May 12, the School of Animation & Visual Effects (ANM) at Academy of Art University hosted a virtual presentation of its annual Spring Awards, where the department’s crème de la crème gets a much-deserved moment in the spotlight.

ANM encompasses a wide range of creative, technologically advanced, and industry-specific skill sets, the likes of which can be seen in most modern forms of media. From video games to film and television shows, the use of animation and VFX can be found in almost everything.

At the top of the show, 3D ANM Executive Director Catherine Tate greeted the audience, sharing that the department’s annual show is “where we acknowledge the best work of the year.”

Students across 23 categories—both winners and runners-up—were recognized for their outstanding work produced during the past school year.

“To the winners and runners-up, congratulations,” said 2D ANM & VIS Executive Director Nicolás Villarreal. “To all the students, we celebrate you, your passion, and dedication to your craft.”

Cryptids and collaboration

While the theme of this year’s ANM Spring Awards was technically cryptids and cryptozoology, it may as well have been collaboration and industry preparation. Over 200 people tuned in to watch the show and celebrate the Academy’s standout ANM students.

“I think it went really well this year,” said ANM Editing Coordinator William Ziegler. “It’s hard to say how much because the themes are so different and participation is always so different, but we had the highest number of collabs [yet].”

Along with the collaborative efforts between students within ANM, work was done with students from the School of Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media, lab techs, faculty, and more. Even more impressively, these student collaborations were done entirely remotely.

“It makes me so excited to have that worldwide community of students,” said Tate. “And I think the potential is great to continue to grow globally in that way.”

A look at Zhengjie Lai’s winning VFX lighting piece.

The Spring Awards recognized students in 23 categories (introduced by ANM faculty), highlighting the wide variety of talent throughout the department. 

Among the winners was Davis Forge, who won for his compositing work on “Gonzo Girl.” The piece is a project StudioX students are working on with actor and director Patricia Arquette. 

Additional standout winners (according to ANM directors) include Charlynn Rosario’s touching 2D short film about a robot as well as Zhengjie Lai’s texturally stunning VFX lighting work featuring a girl and her cat. 

“Every year, our lighting students kinda just knock it out of the park,” said Ziegler. Tate agreed, adding, “[Lai’s piece] actually is probably the best piece of the show.”

A new tradition

ANM faculty added a segment to the award show where they took a moment to acknowledge the accomplishments of those involved with the StudioX program. 

“We want to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of our premier program, StudioX,” said Tate. “Tonight, we acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all the students who have participated in the hundreds of shots we’ve completed for projects with real deadlines. This year, we wanted to start a new tradition of honoring the MVAs (Most Valuable Artists) who went above and beyond the call of duty to not only complete their own work but to lead and support their team.”

For the past 15 years, StudioX has provided opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience working on real-world projects. From creating concepts to rigging movement to the final touches of texture and through every other part of the collaborative animation and visual effects pipeline, these MVAs did it all.

A new ANM Spring Awards tradition was honored during this year’s ceremony.

This year alone, the StudioX program has participated in eight student animation shorts, five digital effects shorts, and two feature films. Sixteen students were recognized across seven categories, which included 2D/3D Animation, Compositing, Lighting, and Story Development.

“StudioX really is an invaluable experience,” said Raven Richards, Stop Motion Animator. “Although it is a class, it’s set up in a way where students can be able to experience what it’s like to work in an animation studio.”

“It has been the greatest experience—I’ve never collaborated with other students so much before,” added Celeste Rubianes-Castro.

“Taking StudioX was very challenging but super rewarding,” said Charlie Spencer. “It helped me learn how quickly the industry would move, and learning to collaborate effectively with my peers is a skill I think every animation student needs to experience, no matter their skill level.”

See all of this year’s Spring Award Winners and StudioX MVAs below. 

2023 Spring Award Show Winners

Layout Design – Gabriel Vissichelli

Storyboards – Qianhe Sun

Stop Motion Puppet – Jessie Borgman

Stop Motion Character – Chloe Black

Stop Motion Set Design – Lucy Negrete 

Stop Motion Short – Yewon Hwang, Sun Woo Park, and Amaya Moran

2D Animation Scene – Kaitlyn Lobitz

2D Animation Short Film – Charlynn Rosario

2D Animation Dialogue – Alina Jankowski

3D Character Animation Scene – Haralambie Popa

3D Character Animation Realistic – Donghoon Heo

3D Character Animation Creature – Jillian Wheaton

3D Character Animation Dialogue Test – Shuwen Zheng

3D Mod. Organic (Stylized) – Juye Han 

3D Mod. Organic (Realistic) – Wing Chung Lo

3D Mod. Hard Surface – Rankyung Riley Kim

3D Mod. Environments – Rankyung Riley Kim

3D Mod. Scripting and Rigging – Jessica Tung

VFX Look Dev-Character – Beverly Pan

VFX Lighting – Zhengjie Lai

Dynamic Simulation – Sean Juang

Compositing – Davis Forge

Production Management – Cody Gurecki

StudioX MVAs 

2D Animation: Lizzy (Elizabeth) Adamson and Charlie Spencer

3D Animation: Celeste Rubianes-Castro and Cherese Schoombee

3D VFX: Annie Fullerton, Andre Higgins, Yuan Xie, and Felix Hawkins 

Compositing: Davis Forge and Lashay Riley

Look Dev and Lighting: Nadia Diaz and Ericson Agular 

Stop Motion: Raven Hill and Lucy Negrete

Story Development: Xinyao (Zoe) Nie and Kailey Hamauei

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