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"Lemmings" wins Student Academy Award

Fresh from winning a "student Emmy" in March, Brigham Young University has been honored with a bronze award at the 31st Student Academy Awards for its computer-animated short film "Lemmings."

Former BYU industrial design student Craig Van Dyke came up with the idea for the 6-minute film, which tells the story of a cartoon lemming who tries to convince others of his kind not to jump off a cliff. Van Dyke produced and directed the movie, which was shown to a receptive audience in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., at the awards ceremony June 13.

Having been invited to more than 20 film festivals worldwide, the film has also caught the attention of studio recruiters. Seven of the 12 core students who worked on the project received job offers with major animation companies in California, said Kelly Loosli, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Theater and Media Arts. Others from the group work with major video game companies, a Utah-based boutique animation studio or have recently graduated from school.

More than 50 students majoring in English, computer science, communications, illustration, music and theater and media arts participated in the project.

"As a student film, it blows people's minds that we were able to accomplish the technical achievements we did on 'Lemmings,'" said Loosli. "In terms of opening doors for students who participated in the project, it's done tremendously well."

Van Dyke says he owes his current employment to his involvement in the project and expects it will continue to open doors for him in the future.

"Ultimately, I want to teach," said Van Dyke. "And when I go back to get more education, I think 'Lemmings' and this award will make my acceptance into graduate programs a lot easier."

Similarly, Tom Mikota, a former BYU student who detailed the characters' fur in "Lemmings," said the work he did in the project helped him get a job with Rhythm and Hues, an Oscar-winning character animation and visual effects studio in Los Angeles.

"Just the fact that I worked on something as complete as 'Lemmings,' with the look it had, really gave me an edge in getting placed in the industry," said Mikota.

"Lemmings," which took a year and a half to produce, was also accepted at the PISAF Animation Festival in Puchon, South Korea, in November 2003; the ANIMA festival in Brussels, Belgium, in February 2004; and the Australian Effects and Animations Awards in Sydney in December 2003.

Hundreds of films are submitted for consideration into each film festival, said R. Brent Adams, associate professor in the School of Technology. In the PISAF festival, for example, 45 films from 15 different countries were accepted from more than 300 submissions. Participating in the competitive film festival circuit validates the quality of the film, Adams said.

"It adds a lot of credibility to the students' work," said Adams, adding that BYU's film is being accepted at about four of every five festivals entered. "It sends a signal to recruiters that other people think it's good too."

The general education students receive at BYU is another asset that makes them attractive to the computer animation field, said Adams.

"Our main competition -- private art or animation schools -- focuses almost entirely on art animation classes. At BYU, students are also working on history, math and English homework, which makes them well- rounded," said Adams. "Our opportunities to compete are enhanced when we show that we have very smart artists, who can balance art with technology in their animations."

Beyond the look and fun of the film, Adams says "Lemmings" stands out because the same students who worked on the animation design also wrote the software that allows for 2,000 lemmings to be on the screen at the same time.

"Those shots catch the eyes of the effects studios," said Adams. "It is the ability of our students to use both sides of their brains to solve the art and the technology issues on a film that makes 'Lemmings' successful and unique."

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