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VFX Students & 'Advantageous' Shine at Park City

Hard work pays off for StudioX (400A) students, as their work hits the big screen in independent film at the Sundance Film Festival

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(L–R) Director of “Advantageous” Jennifer Phang, Jacqueline Kim, Rachel Bailey, Robert Chang, Sean Gillane, Catherine Tate Jason Patnode, Ricardo Marmolejo, Jumanah Shaheen, Nimisha Kumar, Azra Alkan, Tony Yeh, Darnell Gooch, Mary Kate Dangoia, Meagan Green, Ethan Zhao, Lindsay Elginand Andy Wood. Courtesy of the School of Animation and Visual Effects.

This past January, Academy of Art University students from Catherine Tate’s StudioX (400A) were dazzled by the bright lights and glitterati of Park City’s Sundance Film Festival and delighted to see their names on the big screen.  The students were reaping the fruits of a labor that began at least a year and a half ago when director Jennifer Phang brought her film Advantageous to StudioX (400A).

Otherwise known as the Academy’s hands-on compositing in production class, StudioX (400A) students contribute visual effects work to independent films that don’t necessarily have the budget for stunning visual effects. In this case, students got the experience to work with an award-winning director, get a top-notch credit and a trip to Sundance.

“It was the first time that any of us had ever been to Park City. It was amazing, fantastic, so incredible to be there and be surrounded by filmmakers and extremely talented artists,” said Andy Wood, a student producer who worked alongside fellow student producer Darnell Gooch. The two were responsible for the big push to deliver the final shots for the Sundance premiere. “We would tell people that we worked on Advantageous and everyone’s reactions were ‘that was awesome!’ It was a blast,” Wood said.

“It was good for them to feel the impact of what it means when you’re being hired for a film that is going to be screened in front of tens of thousand of people,” said Phang, who took the students out to dinner when they were in Park City.  “To see something projected so largely and on such a big scale. Hopefully what they learn is that you can’t cut corners as much as you want.”

 

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Art for “Advantageous” by Academy of Art University student Sam Sarraf. Courtesy of the School of Animation and Visual Effects.

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Students from StudioX (400A) pose outside a theater in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of the School of Animation and Visual Effects.

Advantageous is a science fiction film that explores, among other things, gender disparity in a futuristic world. It won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision at Sundance.

“The challenge with advantageous was we were creating the cityscape entirely out of CG,” said Wood. “We had to develop and create a futuristic world that was believable but in a different realm than we see today.”

Catherine Tate is the School of Animation & Visual Effects collaboration lead and acted as senior VFX supervisor on Advantageous. She teaches VFX compositing but her real passion is connecting with the indie film community to bring evocative and visually stunning projects into the school’s collaborative program, StudioX.  

Tate said that Advantageous was one of the longest and most complex projects that StudioX (400A) has ever done. The project consisted of 150 shots in all.  

 

“We were creating buildings that were highly unusual things that had never been built before in real life. It felt like we were breaking ground,” she said. “We operate on a very lean pipeline and to get that level of sophistication in a shot is unprecedented.”

Tate started StudioX (400A) because she felt like students weren’t getting what they needed to get professional work in the industry. “They would have to wear every hat. Shoot, cut, design, edit,” she said. “It was really hard for them to be able to get really nice footage and without nice footage you can’t have a beautiful shot and also kind of go through the process of having to really finish something.”

Tate’s goal was to get them beautiful footage to start with and have them work in a team, as it is in the industry. While StudioX (400A) is about the closest students can get to actually working with a studio team, the class operates with a different set of challenges.

“The fact that we always have a rolling team, people leaving and coming on, we have to keep a constant level of quality and camaraderie with the students,” said Tate. “We stop and start with the semesters. So we have to be clear with the client and with their expectations.”

For Phang, who had worked with StudioX (400A) on earlier films, the experience with Advantageous was very good. “You’re working with people who are figuring out their profession,” said Phang. “From a director’s perspective its not the most efficient but I understand what they’re going through and I build in patience.”

Phang gave the students feedback and direction and helped them get used to the idea that it’s not always all about their vision. It’s about having a client and the client could have specific ideas that the team needs to try to achieve.

“It’s fun working with her crew because they have a really great attitude about it,” said Phang. “People are more willing to explore things artistically at school because stakes are not as high. I think it works really well for an independent film.”

Phang built it into her understanding of the process and thus started with StudioX (400A) far ahead of time to make sure that if they got into Sundance, they would be ready.

“I did have to kind of help explain the idea of that timeline,” she said. “I think one of the things that some younger people have to figure out is that you don’t just push a button and have an amazing shot. They have to develop patience with their own process.”

StudioX (400A) does often have students that repeat the class for up to a year or a year and a half so they’ve developed a system where the stronger students can assist the newer students.  

“We have a very strong group of leads getting people up to speed quickly, which mirrors the industry,” said Tate.

Tate gives credit to her amazing production team led by Sasha Korellis who is the production lead and acted as the supervising VFX producer. Korellis teaches animation and VFX producing and her top student producers are in charge of coordinating the 3-D and VFX teams, assignments, creative reviews and managing the directors and clients all the while adhering to milestones and delivery dates.

Sean Gillane, who teaches VFX and editing classes, oversaw the project through to post production and final. Jean Elston was VFX art director along with co-VFX Supervisors Jason Patnode and Ricardo Marmelajo. All were integral to the success of the production

 

For more information on Advantageous, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/Advantageous.