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Academy Graduate Wins Gold at Student Academy Awards

Alyce Tzue’s Soar was awarded Best Animated Film at the prestigious awards ceremony

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Alyce Tzue, winner of the gold medal in the animated film category for 'Soar,' during the 42nd Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, September 17, in Beverly Hills. Photo by Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Since she began submitting her 3-D animated short Soar to top international film festivals last year, Academy of Art University graduate Alyce Tzue has accumulated an impressive collection of awards. But on September 17, she received an honor that was especially sweet: a gold medal from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for Best Animated Film at the 42nd Student Academy Awards. 

“I definitely didn’t go in thinking we would win,” said Tzue, who credits more than 100 Academy of Art students and instructors for helping her with the film during the three years she worked on it while obtaining her M.F.A. in animation. “I got to watch all of the other films, and each had its own merits. It was definitely a toss-up for who would win gold.”

Soar blends vivid, inventive animation with original music by Jack Gravina to tell the story of Mara, a young girl who finally achieves her dream of building a flying machine that works. When a miniature boy piloting a vehicle that is part of a fleet of tiny flying machines falls from the sky and lands at her feet, Mara helps him repair his damaged machine so he can rejoin the fleet and complete a special mission. 

Tzue’s film was one of 15 finalists selected from a field of some 1700 entries in this year’s Student Academy Awards. Along with her fellow nominees, Tzue enjoyed an exhilarating week of film industry festivities in Los Angeles prior to the awards ceremony at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. “I hope to keep in touch with the other winners,” she said. “Within a short week, we got quite close after being thrown into this whirlwind experience.”

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Animated film winner Alyce Tzue prior to the 42nd Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, September 17, in Beverly Hills. Photo credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Tzue appreciated having Academy faculty in the audience to cheer her on during the awards ceremony. Both Diane Baker, executive director of the School of Acting, and film instructor Patricia Pawlak were there. Tzue was especially grateful that Derek Flood, associate director of visual effects for the School of Animation & Visual Effects, flew down from San Francisco for the event. According to Tzue, Flood was an invaluable mentor to her and other members of the Soar team. 

“We had teams of over 50 VFX students working on the look and lighting for Soar in our StudioX collaborative classes,” said Flood. “Soar winning gold at the Student Academy Awards is a wonderful testament to the great work our students are doing. I’m thrilled for Alyce and for all the students who worked so hard on the film.”

As a Student Academy Award winner, Tzue now has a shot at competing for an Oscar. Past winners have gone on to receive 47 Oscar nominations and have won or shared eight awards. They include Pete Docter, John Lasseter, Spike Lee, Trey Parker and Robert Zemeckis.

While any student filmmaker can enter the Student Academy Awards, only those who meet stringent criteria can submit a film to be considered for an Oscar nomination. “There’s a short list of festivals your film needs to win just to qualify for submitting to the Academy Awards,” explained Tzue. “Winning a Student Academy Award is one of the best—and only—ways to be considered for an Oscar nomination.”

In addition to the possibility of being in the running for an Oscar, Tzue is excited about other doors opening to her as a result of her latest award.

“I’m more motivated to try and make Soar into a feature length film now,” she said. “That was something I didn’t really consider before. I’ve had the chance to visit some large animation studios that are asking what I’m working on and some talent agencies are also reaching out. This award is the best calling card and proof of concept that something similar to Soar in a longer length could work. I’m thankful to the Academy of Art for making all of this possible.”

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented its 42nd Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, September 17, in Beverly Hills. Gold Medal winners (left to right): Alternative film winner Daniel Drummond, Documentary film winner Alexandre Peralta, Animated film winner Alyce Tzue, Narrative film winner Henry Hughes and Foreign film winner Ilker Catak. Photo by Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.