Student wins film award

A USC School of Cinematic Arts student was honored with a Princess Grace Award for his work in film and digital animation on Wednesday at a gala in New York City. Willie Williams, a graduate student studying animation and digital arts, is one of 21 emerging artists from a variety of fields including theater, dance and film that received an award.

The award was presented by the Princess Grace Foundation, a not-for-profit organization established by Prince Rainier III of Monaco in honor of his late wife, Princess Grace Kelly, a well-known supporter of the arts and former Hollywood movie star.

Williams received a $7,002  scholarship — the amount Williams estimated his thesis project would cost — from the foundation to fund his thesis film project, titled Our Legacy, as part of the award.

“Award recipients are chosen through a panel process by professional experts in each of the three categories. They get together and watch all of the submissions and then ultimately decide who deserves an award,” said Christine Kite, communications manager for the Princess Grace Foundation.

Williams, who received his BFA from Texas A&M-Kingsville and is currently enrolled in the MFA animation and digital arts program at USC, said he was completely surprised to find out he won an award.

“I had no idea I was going to win the award. I’m competing against people from across the nation, kids who study at schools like the California Institute of [the] Arts, who are all doing interesting films,” Williams said. “In my mind it was a shot in the dark if I was going to actually win.”

Williams said he started his career in fine arts as a printmaker, forging stills that conveyed a story through a single image. Upon suggestions from his friends and colleagues, he made the transition into filmmaking, focusing on digital animation.

“I definitely did my research when I started thinking about film school. I narrowed it down to a couple of schools, but I ended up choosing USC because you can’t beat the faculty here as well as the availability of all the different types of departments in the film school,” he said.

Williams was also a finalist in the 2010 Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmakers Competition for storyboards and layout for his work My Hero. He also screened his first animated film Sold at the Director’s Guild Theater in Hollywood in May. He said he hopes to open his own studio after completing his studies.

“I want to employ fresh talent in the industry so that they can have a chance to spread their wings,” Williams said. “My studio would ultimately be geared towards animation, but obviously some knowledge of live-action films is essential as well.”

Williams said he attributes his successes to the opportunities given to him at USC.

“Going to USC film school was something I saw that I could capitalize on. The faculty here means everything to me,” Williams said. “They are truly amazing and the best part of the school, in my opinion. They make me love what I do.”

Kathy Smith, chair of the John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts at SCA, said the school could not think of a more deserving artist for the award.

“He has worked extremely hard the past two years while studying at SCA, taking on numerous campus jobs to help support his career and studies,” Smith said in an e-mail. “We are very grateful to the Foundation for their support of our students and in particular for the creative space and financial relief it will allow Willie on his thesis project.”