Success Stories from Academy of Art University's Studio X Partnership

Success Stories from Academy of Art University's Studio X Partnership
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Models walk the runway at the Academy of Art University Spring 2015 Collections fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2015 at The Theatre at Lincoln Center on September 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Randy Brooke/Getty Images for Academy of Art University)
Photo : Randy Brooke / Stringer

Academy of Art University knows it can be overwhelming for graduates to embark on careers with theoretical knowledge but no real experience. That's why the Academy prepares students for artistic careers by teaming its campus-based programs with high-profile industry placements.

In particular, the Academy's School of Animation and Visual Effects provides a high level of practice-led tuition by encouraging students to work on real-world projects. Aside from offering numerous inspiring work placements, the school also runs the Studio X project, which is one of the Academy's Built-In Career-Prep Opportunities. As a student-run, faculty-mentored production space, Studio X is the Academy's in-house animation studio. Students work in the studio on real films and games with real clients. They meet real deadlines and solve real problems to create industry-standard animations and films, many of which have gone on to air on television and win awards.

Here, we'll explore four recent Studio X projects that have made their mark on the film industry.

1. Strawberry Mansion

Strawberry Mansion is the latest in a string of successes that students have developed in Studio X. The dystopian, surreal animation tells the story of a government that records civilians' dreams and taxes them accordingly. The movie premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, marking the sixth Sundance premiere in 12 years of collaboration between the Academy and Studio X. 

The Strawberry Mansion students got to work on a dream-world set in Studio X for the best part of three months to produce the animation. During this time, they developed their technical skills, liaised with clients, and solved countless problems as they worked towards tight deadlines. This was particularly challenging as the students were working remotely amid COVID-19.

"Encouraging the artists to stay positive and persevere through creative challenges was another important responsibility that my producer-student friends and I strove to fulfill every week," said Lead Producer Melissa Spearman. "I couldn't be more proud of my team and the effort that they put into it every week from all corners of the world."

Learn more about Strawberry Mansion.

2. I'm No Longer Here

In our next Academy success story, three animation graduates - Hank Chang, Yixuan Wu, and Penpicha Jingjungvisuti - created a Studio X movie that now features on Netflix. What's more, the Spanish musical drama I'm No Longer Here won 10 accolades at the 2020 Ariel Awards - including 'Best Picture' - and received a nomination for 'Best Special Effects', a title that recognizes the best of Mexican film. The Ariel Awards has celebrated outstanding cinema since 1946 and is considered the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars.

I'm No Longer Here is the story of Ulises, a teen who must leave his home in Mexico for New York after a run-in with a cartel. But Ulises doesn't speak English and finds himself isolated. 

As a student who left his hometown to study at the Academy himself, Chang particularly enjoyed working on the project.

"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 MFA. He now works as a digital compositor at FuseFX. "You miss your hometown so much - your family, your friends, things that you're familiar with."

Learn more about I'm No Longer Here.

3. Redemption

Next up, Academy alumna Seora Hong wrote and directed Redemption, a short film that won first place in the 3D Animation Short category at the Academy's Spring Awards. The film tackles a challenging theme, suicide, but offers an optimistic, hopeful take on finding happiness ahead. The drama is now making its way around festival circuits. It has already been selected for four festivals and won two prizes. 

"It has the potential to go really far," said Catherine Tate, director of the School of Animation and Visual Effects. "I mean, we're talking maybe the Oscars. It was such an impressive, collaborative effort."

The film started its life as Hong's MFA thesis, which she partly produced in Studio X. Multiple students then also worked on the project, adding intricate details to create vivid realism. They also rendered the animation in black and white to emphasize the film's melancholy themes.

"We're not just trying to make beautiful images; we're trying to make powerful images that make the audience get lost in the story," said Derek Flood, associate director of visual effects at Studio X. 

"I hope audiences feel warm-hearted while they are watching the film," added Hong. "The film starts with depression but ends hopefully. So, if someone is struggling, I hope they can overcome the difficulties of that moment."

Learn more about Redemption.

4. The 24th

During 2019, many Academy students collaborated with Oscar-winning film director and screenwriter Kevin Willmott to bring the new historical film The 24th to life. While some students worked on the set in North Carolina, others completed the visual effect shots in Studio X.

The School of Animation and Visual Effects rounded off 2020 with an exclusive webinar, which featured Willmott alongside lead actor, co-writer, and producer Trai Byers; executive producers Patrick Peach and Tony Grazia; and cinematographer Brett Pawlak. Together, they discussed the filmmaking and visual-effects processes behind the movie. The true-life story follows members of the U.S. Army's all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment through a deadly uprising in 1917 Houston.

Learn more about The 24th.

About Academy of Art University's School of Animation and Visual Effects

The School of Animation and Visual Effects provides students with opportunities to work with industry professionals, attend networking events, and partake in collaborative projects with students from other departments. This way, students can hone their practical skills in preparation for successful careers. The Academy partners with leading companies across numerous industries to provide students with these unique career-building opportunities.

Numerous budding artists enrol on the school's courses to learn from industry professionals in the core of the animation industry and begin their own exciting careers. As the only American animation and VFX school to teach in a studio production environment (Studio X), it's hardly surprising that Academy students win prestigious awards and make their way to screens around the world.

Learn more about the School of Animation and Visual Effects.

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