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421 minutes

Nathan Strum


It's that time of the year again! Or rather, it was. I'm now in recovery-mode, after living through our two student Character Animation shows at CalArts. This is last year's entry, in case you haven't been following along.

The first one, on April 21st, was the Open Show. Every student can submit whatever film they want that they've created during the school year. Or films. Some students make more than one. During the fall semester, some students make a one-week film as part of their classes. In November, students have their own 48-hour film event, where they get together, pick a theme, and everyone makes their own film in just 48 hours. These are in addition to their principal films each student will make during the school year. Creating their own films, every year, is one of the things that makes CalArts unique. Most other animation schools either have students work on group projects, or they just do assignments, and not actual, finished, independent films.

What this means, is our students end up learning the whole process of making an animated short film. They become filmmakers - not just animators, or storyboard artists, or character designers, or visual development artists. They learn the whole thing. They're creators, writers, directors, performers and producers. They work with composers, voice actors, sound designers and other collaborators. They learn compositing, editing, sound design, effects, 2D, CG... it's all touched on.

With almost 170 students, that means we have a lot of films.

This year, we had 192.

I think they're trying to kill me. :ponder:

That's twenty-five more films than last year, which itself was a record. The show ran 7 hours and 1 minute, not including intermissions. And it's my job to edit everything together into a show, and turn our Main Gallery on campus into a movie theater for 350 people to watch it all over the course of a very long afternoon.

It takes me about 90 hours over the course of a week to put all of that together. But there's nothing quite as rewarding as watching the students watch each others' films. It's the most enthusiastic audience anyone could hope for, and after graduating, few will ever get that sort of experience again. Sure, they'll get far more online views than there were people at the show, but nothing beats the experience of having a live audience wildly cheering, laughing, or applauding your film.

The Open Show. Yes... people actually sit on plastic folding chairs watching cartoons for over seven hours.

Last week, on May 2nd, we had our Producers' Show. This is a pared-down, faculty-juried selection of films from the year. This year there were 22 of them, running about 1 hour and 20 minutes. We had so many good films this year, we probably could have made a second Producers' Show with the ones that didn't make the final cut.

As much as the Open Show is a CalArts event, the Producers' Show is an industry one. We rent out the Director's Guild of America (DGA) theater in Hollywood, and pack the place out with over 600 people, most of which are from the animation industry. The list of sponsors who help foot the bill include Cartoon Network, Disney (Feature and TV), Dreamworks (Feature and TV), Pixar, Fox, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros., Sony, Netflix and Vimeo. And that's only about half of them.

New CalArts President - Ravi Rajan - opens the Producers' Show. Photo by Rafael Hernandez.

The reason for all the hoopla is because of the track record of so many of our alumni. Because we teach them to be independent, creative-thinking filmmakers, they tend to work their way to the top creative positions in the industry. To date, they've created over two-dozen animated TV series, including:

  • Adventure Time (Pen Ward)
  • Dexter's Laboratory (Genndy Tartakovsky)
  • Eek! The Cat (Savage Steve Holland)
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends (Craig McCracken)
  • Gravity Falls (Alex Hirsch)
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (Lauren Faust)
  • Regular Show (J. G. Quintel)
  • Samurai Jack (Genndy Tartakovsky)
  • Star vs. The Forces of Evil (Daron Nefcy)
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars (first series) (Genndy Tartakovsky)
  • The Fairly Oddparents (Butch Hartman)
  • The PowerPuff Girls (Craig McCracken)
  • Tripping the Rift (Chris Moeller)
  • Wander Over Yonder (Craig McCracken)
  • We Bare Bears (Daniel Chong)

And many more. These are series created by our alumni - not just ones they've worked on. Episodes of these and other series that have been written or directed by our alumni number in the hundreds if not thousands by now. The Simpsons, Spongebob Squarepants, King of the Hill, Phineas and Ferb, and countless others have our students' influence all over them.

Beyond television, there have been almost 130 feature films directed by our alumni (and those of the Experimental Animation Program), with more on the way this year, including: The Incredibles 2, Hotel Transylvania 3, The Grinch, Wreck-It Ralph 2 and Spiderman: Into The Spider-Verse.

Here's just a small handful:

  • Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (Tim Burton)
  • Better Off Dead… (Savage Steve Holland)
  • Beetlejuice (Tim Burton)
  • Batman (Tim Burton)
  • The Little Mermaid (John Musker, Ron Clements)
  • Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise)
  • Aladdin (John Musker, Ron Clements)
  • The Lion King (Rob Minkoff (co-director))
  • Toy Story (John Lasseter)
  • Mulan (Tony Bancroft)
  • A Bug's Life (Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter)
  • Tarzan (Chris Buck, Kevin Lima)
  • Toy Story 2 (Ash Brannon, John Lasseter)
  • Stuart Little (Rob Minkoff)
  • Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter)
  • Lilo & Stitch (Chris Sanders)
  • Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)
  • Shrek 2 (Conrad Vernon, Kelly Asbury)
  • The Incredibles (Brad Bird)
  • Madagascar (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath)
  • Surf's Up (Ash Brannon, Chris Buck)
  • Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
  • Kung Fu Panda (Mark Osborne)
  • WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)
  • Up (Pete Docter)
  • Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton)
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Thor Freudenthal)
  • How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders)
  • Megamind (Tom McGrath)
  • Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
  • Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman)
  • Hotel Transylvania (Genndy Tartakovsky)
  • Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore)
  • Frozen (Chris Buck (co-director))
  • The Book of Life (Jorge R. Gutierrez)
  • Big Hero 6 (Don Hall (co-director))
  • The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Mike Mitchell, Paul Tibbitt)
  • Inside Out (Pete Docter)
  • Minions (Kyle Balda (co-director))
  • Zootopia (Rich Moore (co-director))
  • Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton (co-director))
  • The Secret Life of Pets (Yarrow Cheney (co-director))
  • Moana (John Musker, Ron Clements)
  • Coco (Adrian Molina (co-director))

This article is about a year out-of-date, but it gives you some idea about why the studios are so interested in us. It also links to an infographic showing more of the film titles.

Now, the reason I know all of this stuff, is because I'm the one who compiles all of that movie data. I started doing it out of curiosity, then our administration caught wind of it, and decided to pay me to keep the list updated. Maybe they don't have the internet in their offices...

Anyway, as of January this year, our worldwide box-office total had exceeded 43 billion dollars.


Let me put that into a little perspective for you...

If CalArts were its own film franchise, we would have out-earned all MCU, DCEU, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies, combined. In fact, we have four more billion-dollar earning films on our list, than DC does in its entire history. (Of course, they haven't had any recently. :roll: )

All of that box office revenue doesn't translate directly into truckloads of money for CalArts, unfortunately. But as long as the studios keep hiring our students so they can pay back the ridiculous student loans they have to take out to go here, then that's the important thing.

It does translate to some nice press for the Producers' Show, however. Animation Magazine attended and did a nice write-up. Variety previewed the show, featuring our Guest of Honor: alumna and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes; and then followed up with a really nice review of the show afterwards.

I'd especially encourage you to read that last one from Variety. It's pretty cool, and it mentions one of my favorite films from this year, which I'll get to in a minute.

Related to all of this, a couple of our students have a documentary in the works about the history of the Character Animation program. You can see an early trailer for it here. And if you want to see the history of how CalArts itself was founded, well, let the fine folks at Disney tell you all about it. And no... we didn't end up across the freeway from the Hollywood Bowl. Sure would've made it easier to get to the DGA though...

Right. So on with the films!

You can see many of the films from this year on our 2018 Vimeo channel.

Below are the films from the 2018 Producers' Show, in the order that they were screened. After that are some additional favorites of mine from the Open Show. The film I wanted to call attention to is the second one: Dennis the Dinosaur. This is one of the films mentioned in the Variety article.

The filmmaker - Gabby Capili - created a brilliantly funny parody of legendary animation pioneer Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur. McCay toured Gertie on the vaudeville circuit, playing animation of a dinosaur projected onto a screen onstage "responding" to his commands. After awhile, McCay stopped doing the live performances, and his film was shown in movie theaters with a live-action intro instead. Here's the film with an edited-down version of the intro:


Gabby's film was one of the winners of this year's Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize. This is a faculty-juried prize for the top-ranked film of the year. This year, two films tied and both won the award - the other being another favorite of mine: Anchi Shen's Barry. (We also have an award that Vimeo chooses, and one that the students select - the Peers' Pick, both seen below.)

Gabby quoted Winsor McCay during her acceptance speech, which was certainly appropriate for her film, and not unexpected. But she quoted someone else that I certainly wasn't expecting - me. I never thought of myself as being all that quoteworthy.

The reason she quoted me, is because earlier in the year she asked me if she could submit eleven films to the Open Show. I answered her, "Gabby, you can submit anything you want to the Open Show." That's what she quoted. That's why it's called the Open Show. And in fact, she did submit eleven films (basically, they were short chapters of a longer film - linked below - that she wanted interspersed throughout the show). Then she submitted a twelfth film - Dennis the Dinosaur - which was a type of project we'd never attempted before, and something that really speaks to why students come to CalArts. The opportunity to create anything they want. Not just the opportunity though... but active support and encouragement. We want students to find their own creative voices. Not just do what they think other people expect. As Gabby said in her speech, "Let's not let the confines of a screen define our art, and let's not let rules that we didn't make up, define us as artists. We have minds to think with, and hands to draw with, and in animation, those are the only constraints that we have."

Gabby re-imagined Gertie the Dinosaur into something uniquely her own, and performed her part, interacting with her own dinosaur - Dennis - live. First at the Open Show in front of 350 people, then again at the Producers' Show, in front of 600. Gabby absolutely knocked it out of the park. At the moment, only the Open Show version is online, but you can clearly hear how much fun the audience was having. As soon as the Producers' Show version is available, I'll post that here as well.

Winsor McCay would've been proud...

Gabby and Dennis have a moment at the Producers' Show. Photo by Rafael Hernandez.

And now, the films of the 2018 CalArts Character Animation Producers' Show:

Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize Winner:
Anchi Shen

Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize Winner:
Dennis the Dinosaur (Open Show performance)
Gabby Capili

Vimeo Award Winner:
Little Bandits
Alex Avagimian

Peers' Pick Award Winner:
Goodbye Galaxy Girl
Yden Park

Raccoon and the Light
Hanna Kim

Hikari Toriumi

The Long Uber Back
Bayson Chang

Burnt Out
Catharine Ren

Then and Now
Li Wen Toh

Such is Life...
Ning Cheng

Aram & Alex
(#9 in a series of short films, shown in their entirety here)
Gabby Capili

Burger Boss
Rachel Kim

Candy Crushed
Chloe Hsu

When the raven comes
Cindy Yang

Wesley Fuh

Love Me
Aya Kneitner

Merryweather Fox and the Baron of Burrow's Bend
(trailer only - full film is not yet online)
Rhea Dadoo

Noor Rasoul

I didn't have any ideas
Hanna Kim

So this is how it feels
Chalky Wong

Lunch With Me Today
Anatola Howard

Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday
Jackie Files

Due to time constraints, we can't include as many films as we might like in the Producers' Show. Consequently, 170 films didn't make it in this year. That's more films than were submitted in total last year!

Here are some personal favorites of mine that didn't make it into the Producers' Show:

Jumbled Up
Isabella Spadone

Monday Motivation Mix
Yusuke Watanabe

Michelle Lam

Pamela Hoogeboom

An Acapella Aquascape
Colleen Castleman

Gumball Machine
Jeongho Lee

Cookie and Pie
Lee Witz

The River
Claire Weber

Beautiful Brain
Mabel Ye

Bigman Businessman
Clarisse Chua

Wake Up!
Hanfei Huang

James Heelis

Kris Stanton

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