Kendra Williford's Journey to the Festival Circuit

Kendra and Michael

By Jessica Chan

The next installment of our animation profile series features Kendra Williford. Williford graduated in Spring 2015 with the completion of her film, Leonid in Space. Within these few months, her short has been selected into nine film festivals with awards and merits.

Why an M.F.A. degree in 2-D/traditional animation & stop motion at the Academy?

I have loved two things since I was a young kid—drawing and traditional animation. I grew up watching Disney films and wanted to study with [instructors] who had first-hand experience working on those films and in the industry.


Name three big influences during your time as a student at the Academy.

1. The first time I watched Frank & Ollie (Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, former Disney animators), it changed my whole perspective on animation.

2. Shaking Ted Thomas’ hand (Frank’s son) when he was touring the school.

3. Watching Sherrie Sinclair, Michael Vickner and Diana Coco-Russell take my work and transform it before my eyes to something better.

What is your film about?

Leonid in Space follows Leonid, a homeless dog, who goes from living on the streets to becoming the first canine cosmonaut.

While you were working on your thesis project, which personified emotion from Inside Out would you have been?

I would have to say I experienced them all at one time or another, but most of all it teetered between fear and disgust. I was afraid I wouldn’t finish on time, and I was disgusted by my lack of knowledge when I wanted to know it all instantly!

What tools and programs did you use to make your film?

Photoshop, ToonBoom Harmony [and] Premiere Pro.

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A still from 'Leonid in Space.' Image courtesy of Kendra Williford.

Why did you decide to submit your film into festivals?

I wanted to get some feedback from judges, and I wanted to see how audiences responded to the film. I also wanted exposure, to maybe help me obtain an animation job.

What have you been up to since graduating from the Academy?

Taking odd (but artistic) jobs, trying to find a place at an animation studio.

Would you encourage future graduate students to submit their work to festivals? If so, what would you suggest for them to do and NOT to do?

Absolutely! However, make sure the festivals you submit to have animation or student specific categories. It is VERY difficult for judges to judge a live-action film against an animated film, especially if the judges have no experience in the field of animation. If you pick a festival that has an animation category, the chances go up of them knowing a little something about the category. (This may not be true in all cases.) Not only that, the student categories tend to be cheaper—allowing you to submit to more festivals.

Which festival has been your favorite so far?

The Los Angeles Independent Film Festival has been my favorite, not because I won the category, but because they were quick to respond to the submission and broadcasted the selections on their site—which means more exposure for the filmmakers.

List of all the festivals your film has been selected and screened at.

Los Angeles Independent Film Festival—Best Student Animation

North Carolina Film Awards—Director’s Award

Best Shorts Competition—Award of Merit

Gwinnett Center International Film Festival—Nominated for Best Animation; Best Director of an Animated Film

Dog Film Festival—Official Selection

Shortz! Film Festival—Official Selection

Accolade Global Film Competition—Official Selection and Award of Merit for Student Animation

InterShort Online Film Awards—Official Selection

ITSA Film Festival—Official Selection

For the full interview with links to Williford’s work and Leonid in Space, visit

movie poster

'Leonid in Space' poster. Image courtesy of Kendra Williford.