BYU’s highly esteemed Center for Animation became even more reputable when the short film “Grendel,” directed and produced by BYU animation students, recently won the Center its sixth Student Academy Award.
This year, the Student Academy Awards competition received a total of 1,615 entries from 255 domestic and 105 international colleges and universities. Only 16 entries received an award.
Student director Kalee McCollaum and student producer Austin Rodriguez worked with approximately 40 students to make this film a reality. Thousands of hours went into the project which was supervised by professors Kelly Loosli and R. Brent Adams.
“This is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Loosli said of the creation of the film. “This is really the culminating experience of all the time they've spent in our classroom.”
“The most impressive thing about the film is that everybody involved is involved in polishing it endlessly,” Adams remarked. “That is the most difficult part of making the film.”
Being the largest project in the school’s history, it was also one of the most time consuming.
“‘Grendel’ is about eight minutes long and it was originally supposed to take about a year to make,” said McCollaum, who now works at Avalanche, a video game studio in Salt Lake City. “Then when a year had passed, “Grendel” wasn't done. It was in really rough shape. We decided that we would continue to work on it until it was finished. It ended up taking about two years to make.”
The story of “Grendel” is a reverse telling of the classic Beowulf tale where Grendel, the friendly monster in the film, is joined by rowdy Viking neighbors who harass him. He slowly starts to retaliate until he realizes he’s the one who has become the monster. This realization spikes a change in character as he chooses to help save the Vikings from other creatures.
“I love those heroic moments of Grendel,” Rodriguez said. “At the end, he shows that he’s not the monster they believe he is. He's going to save them. Not because they were nice to him and they deserve it, but because it's the right thing to do. That’s something that I think is very important for all of us to understand and learn.”
With each film they create, students try to get the attention of the animation industry.
“Our goal with the films is always to be able to compete with [the industry leaders] short films,” Rodriguez added. “We keep our eyes set on the actual Oscars and don't want to be held back just because we're students or it’s just a student project.”
Sound designer Christian Walker composed the original music that was played by BYU’s philharmonic symphony.
Established in 2008, the BYU Center for Animation operates under the direction of the Animation program and two colleges – the College of Fine Arts and Communications and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. The animation major is intended to provide students with the skill sets necessary for success in the animation, live-action, special effects and game industries with an emphasis on both the artistic and technological avenues. The computer science animation emphasis gives students the opportunity to learn both the technical and artistic side of creating and implementing digital animation and games, preparing them for technical careers with animation and game programming studios. Many animation students go on to work for major studios such as Disney Feature Animation, Pixar Animation, DreamWorks Animation and Blizzard Entertainment, among many others.
To learn more about the BYU Center for Animation and to watch past films, visit animation.byu.edu.