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Student film award-winners showcased at Saint Francis’ 29th annual Student Art Exhibition

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Animation isn’t easy. The process is painstakingly slow. Hours of work can go into a five second sequence, and the number of details that have to be taken into account can boggle the mind.

Students at the University of Saint Francis’ School of Creative Arts have gone through that process, and audiences can check out the results at the opening of Saint Francis’ 29th annual Student Art Exhibition on April 2nd at the Ian and Mimi Rolland Art Center on Leesburg Road. Winners from the recent 2nd annual Saint Francis Film Festival, which showcased some of the best work to come out of the university’s School of Creative Arts, will be shown in the screening room during the opening.

Most of the films are relatively short, falling between four and eight minutes. It may not seem long, but the student films manage to tell a simple, concise story within its limits. “In a typical television drama, eight minutes is about the time to the first commercial break,” says Jane Martin, associate professor at the University of Saint Francis’ School of Creative Arts. “If you can make a really good film in eight minutes, that’s a good start.”

Categories included Animation and Live Action. There’s also a third category for Walk/Run cycles and Special Effects. These are usually half-minute snippets featuring a character walking or a special effects project from a particular class. “They have a particles and dynamics class where they learn how to create things like explosions and smoke,” Martin says. “Computer-generated explosions and smoke, of course.”

Most of the films were class projects, and represent the first extended piece of work by their creators. But talk to a few of the students whose work is being shown, and they’ll tell you that even some of those 30-second snippets require a huge amount of work.

Matt Ecenbarger, a sophomore with three pieces in the festival (he snagged an award for his entry in the Walk/Run Cycle category), estimates that his animated feature — a 3:10 minute piece called “Broken Solitude,” about a robot whose creator dies so he builds another robot to pass knowledge along to — took him over 50 hours to create. By the end of filming, he says, the models were falling apart. And having to keep track of all the little details was more difficult than he imagined. “My one monster’s walk-cycle, his eye kind of morphs a little through it, because it’s hard to keep an exact shape as you’re tracing through 30 sheets of paper,” Ecenbarger says of his award-winning piece.

Chris Barngrover’s entries in the film festival include a stop-motion animated piece called “@#&%!” and a computer animation composite with real footage called “Robot Games.” He says that when he started his projects, he knew it was going to be tough, but he didn’t realize exactly how much of his time would be swallowed up taking care of the details. “If it’s not lit right, it’s not going to look real,” he says. “It took me a whole semester to make five seconds of a robot running. Those little things make the whole film.”

Going through the slow process of creating an animated piece can try anyone’s patience, but many agree that it’s essential. Chris Studabaker, whose animated piece “Reciprocity in Pink and Blue” won first place in the Animation Category (and who was also one of the co-creators of the “Bio-Crisis” serial which ran in FWR last fall), talks about the importance of doing preproduction work before even starting on the animation. “I think that’s a problem you get into with student films sometimes,” Studabaker says. “People are so eager to get on the computer and start making something, that they forget, or try to skip past, some of those earlier steps. But it’s a process that just builds on itself, and if you don’t have a solid foundation, and a story for that, then you’ve already set limitations on yourself.”

After all that work comes the true test — your project may have fulfilled all the course requirements and passed with flying colors in the classroom, but how is it going to play with an audience not made up of family, friends, and fellow students? That’s where the film festival comes in. “The opportunity to show it in a theater really gives the students a little bit more than we can offer them (in the classroom),” says Jane Martin.

Most of the filmmakers we talked to said they were looking forward to seeing the audience’s reaction… sort of. “Right now, I’m okay,” laughs Chris Barngrover. “Once I’m in there watching it with them…”

The student films will be shown during the opening of the University of Saint Francis’ 29th Annual Student Art Exhibition, April 2nd, 6 pm – 9 pm, at the Ian and Mimi Rolland Art Center on Leesburg Road.

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