Cinematic arts graduates present projects at showcase

Graduating students of the animation and digital arts program learned to express their creativity through animation and film and presented the finished products to friends and family. Emily Smith | Daily Trojan

The John C. Hench Division of Animation and Digital Arts held its annual graduation showcase Saturday evening at the USC Eileen Norris Cinema Theatre. Students who received degrees in the Bachelor of Arts, Master of Fine Arts or minored in animation and digital arts had the opportunity to present an animated short film to parents, friends and alumni on the big screen.

“The graduation showcase is the culmination of all their long, hard work,” Exhibitions Director of Hench-DADA Lisa Mann said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “It is a tremendously exciting, cathartic moment when they can sit in the darkened theater with 400 guests, to watch and hear the audience’s reactions … be it laughter or tears, but always massive cheers.”

The evening began with the presentation of short films from the undergraduates. A reception after the screening specially highlighted students who worked with virtual reality. The graduate student projects were shown on the big screen afterwards.

The showcase was a culmination of three semesters of work from students who were in the BA and MFA programs and from two who were in the minor track.

“The BA and MFA students spend the spring semester of their third and second year respectively in ideation classes designed to help them find and develop their projects,” associate professor Trixy Wattenbarger said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “At the end of this ideation semester, students pitch their ideas to the full faculty for approval.”

Students were free to model their projects after any subject they desired. The stories ranged from a Viking on a quest to avenge her sister’s death to a struggling mother trying to provide for her daughter.

“The works are all unique creations from every student. Some themes do repeat, like childhood memories and stories,” associate professor Kathy Smith said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “For others, they are dealing with issues directly impacting their lives like the refugee crisis, climate change or gender identity.”

There was a multitude of pieces that were shared. For example, Barry Strum, who received a bachelor of arts degree in animation and digital art, created the film “Pyramid Scheme.” Strum’s project tells the story of a mummy who searches for a romantic partner on the Las Vegas Strip, thinking he is in ancient Egypt.

“I came up with the idea for my piece in an art history class two years ago,” Strum said. “We were studying Tutankhamun and I had to go to Vegas one weekend, and I was like, ‘Why not put the two together?’”

After the students decided what story to base their film on, they created teams to determine the type of animation style their project would specifically implement.

“Computer graphics is very difficult and it takes a lot of people to work one film,” Strum said. “I needed to make a team and find people and it’s really hard to do that within a budget. But it worked out really well and I got such great help and such great teammates.”

According to Strum, group members fulfilled a variety of roles, including modelers, voice actors and composers to score the project. Students were also paired with a faculty mentor and class advisor to receive feedback and guidance during the creative process.

Presenting at the showcase gave the graduating students an opportunity to learn what it takes to create a quality film under time and budget constraints. This event also inspired other undergraduate students within the School of Cinematic Arts.

“The show allows them to recognize their success and prepares them to face the next steps in their career trajectories,” Wattenbarger said. “Animation is still a relatively small community and gaining exposure to alumni and the public puts them in an excellent position to strengthen their network.”