ASIFA-East Jury Screening – Student Night

Wednesday was the first night of jury screenings for this year’s ASIFA-East Animated Film Festival. First up: student films!

It was not so long ago that I was an animation student myself, and I vividly remember the stressful days and sleepless nights leading up to the thesis deadline, but also the satisfaction of finishing the film and screening it for an audience for the first time. With the high quality of some of the films screened Wednesday night, it was easy for me to forget that these were student submissions. I tried to temper my crankiest critical instincts and keep in mind that these aspiring animators are only just starting out.

Most of the submissions this year came from schools that will be very familiar to ASIFA-East members: NYU Tisch, Pratt, SVA, and the University of the Arts. But there were a few new additions that I don’t remember seeing in previous years–Rochester Institute of Technology, San Jose State University–which was a pleasant surprise.

Another pleasant surprise was the variety of techniques employed by the student animators this year. Of course, there were many 2-D, hand-drawn narrative pieces, and some CG and stop-motion works as well, but there were also experimental, non-narrative pieces created with particle effects and other digital tools. It was refreshing to see student submissions branching out a bit from the festival norm.

Whatever the technique or style, it was a strong batch of shorts this year, with a handful of truly exceptional films. The best pieces exhibited a clarity of vision, tight storytelling, attention to craft, and a clear understanding that how a film sounds is almost as important as how it looks.

Ah yes, sound design: the element that animation students have a tendency to overlook. Even an expertly designed, finely animated piece of work can seem amateurish when it is paired with badly-recorded dialogue or poorly-chosen music. The time and effort put into creating a strong soundtrack truly pays off; for me, it’s the difference between a good short and a great one.

I won’t get too specific about individual submissions, or call out individual students, but I can draw attention to a few trends or common themes–coincidental or not–that I noticed in Wednesday’s films:

      • It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – Visions of mankind’s destruction abounded. Some shorts were set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland; others depicted the destruction of the natural world, or expressed anxiety about the overwhelming expansion of the modern world strangling a struggling wilderness. Some films expressed an implicit (or even explicit) desire for a return to some kind of natural utopian ideal.
      • Squids Ahoy! – Squids were popular characters this year. Why? I’m not sure. Must be fun to animate all those arms, though. Squids and squid-like creatures popped up in four of the submitted shorts.
      • Lunar Toons – The moon made an appearance in several submissions, either as a setting, a background element, an oblique reference in the title, or an actual anthropomorphic character. The effect was alternately mysterious, romantic, spooky, and magical.

It was a difficult task to single out any one short as the winner, but the judges ultimately made their choices. One thing I can say with certainty: if the high quality of Wednesday’s submissions are any indication of the talent of this new generation of animators, then I’m confident that East Coast animation is in good hands.

– David Langkamp