Animation Students Compete in 24 HOURS Contest

Typically, the pipeline for an animation project is measured in months or years. But what happens if the timeframe is condensed into a single day? A record 690 animation students from 29 schools across the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia found out on Oct. 7, during the 14th annual 24 HOURS Animation Contest for Students, which challenges teams of five to create a 30-second animated film entirely from scratch in just 24 hours.


The format isn’t a gimmick. Competitors “get a chance to do some high-pressure teamwork. They also see that if you’re working together well you can achieve something that you wouldn’t on your own,” said Undergraduate Director of 2-D Animation Beth Sousa.

Three 2-D animation teams represented Academy of Art University: Sleepless Cartoons, Sher-khids and the Gourd Squad. (The contest is also open to students in 3-D animation, stop motion and motion graphics.) The students set up contest headquarters in the basement of 180 New Montgomery, with Sousa in attendance as faculty advisor.

Communications and media technologies student Mehak Khullar was on hand too, shooting footage and covering the event. Although she didn’t pull an all-nighter, Khullar had plenty of time to observe. “The first day they were so calm,” she said of the competitors, but that changed as the deadline neared. “It was so exciting to watch.” 

Each contest entry must incorporate a theme announced live at the beginning of the competition. “It’s not unlike some things that happen within the industry,” said Sousa. “You might need to prepare a pitch in a very short amount of time.” The process also mirrors the tests that prospective employers often ask animators and storyboard artists to complete.

This year, the theme was a quote from P.S. Baber’s book, Cassie Draws the Universe: “There are four kinds of people in the world, Ms. Harper. Those who build walls. Those who protect walls. Those who breach walls. And those who tear down walls. Much of life is discovering who you are. When you find out, you also realize there are places you can no longer go, things you can no longer do, words you can no longer say.”


 The Gourd Squad chose a metaphorical approach to show how the tech industry takeover affects local San Franciscans. In their film, a woman’s seemingly simple grocery run gets waylaid by obstacle after obstacle. 

The Sher-khids’ film concerns another kind of invasion. After spotting an alien spacecraft headed for Earth, inhabitants lock the entire planet inside a coat of armor, as the friendly visitor sighs in disappointment.

Physical, emotional and communication barriers all come into play in the Sleepless Cartoons’ film, about a mime trapped in an actual box until a kind stranger frees him. “We were talking about social separation, and it evolved off of there,” said team member Ariel Phyliky-Lay. 

With no time to take breaks, team members swapped tasks when they ran into blocks. “I got really stuck when I was doing the animatic,” said Sher-khids captain Prem Sai GS. “It wasn’t happening because I was nitpicking. I told my friend, ‘You finish this and I’ll take over your animation.’ That really helped.”


All three teams weathered dozens of small challenges along the way to conquering the toughest test: submitting their films on time. “It felt like 24 hours of blur,” said Vesela Stemanova, co-captain of the Gourd Squad.

A panel of industry professionals judged the films based on storytelling, art direction, animation, creativity, interpretation of theme and level of completion. The top five films won prizes including CSU Summer Arts scholarships, software licenses, and prize packs from sponsors such as Nickelodeon and DreamWorks.

Although none of the Academy teams placed among the prizewinners, their enthusiasm for 24 HOURS remains intact. “It’s something I would recommend for every animation student,” said Phyliky-Lay. 

Sarah Marschman, co-captain of the Gourd Squad, concurs. “It’s really hard to gauge yourself as a student. It’s great to have that focused time to flex your creative muscles.”

Photos courtesy of Beth Sousa.