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Animation Fall Festival Brings a Variety of Talent to the Screen

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School of Animation & Visual Effects Graduate Director Tom Bertino and Freshman Studies Coordinator Shaun Featherstone. Photo by Bob Toy.

As quickly as it arrived, another fall semester at the Academy of Art University is coming to a close. And just as it did in previous years, the School of Animation & Visual Effects (ANM) hosted its annual Animation Fall Festival on Nov. 14, and while this year’s event garnered the usual audience giggles, viewers got a little taste of the bizarre as well.

For starters, ANM Graduate Director Tom Bertino brought back his “It Came From Bertino’s Basement,” which has been on hiatus for the past few festivals. An avid film collector since he was a preteen, Bertino said his home library is chock full of “strange or obscure or sort of peripheral” films that may “never get to see the light of day.”

“This is my opportunity to just bring some things out that people will go, ‘What?!’” he said, grinning. “Bertino’s basement holds many secrets. It’s the home of bizarre imagery.” 

The shorts covered all types of animation from traditional 1930s 2-D imagery, stop-motion, cut-outs and visual graphics. Reactions ranged from piqued to jarring, especially once the last short, a 2005 spot titled Roybertito, hit the screen. 

Bertino didn’t provide context for the last film, but simply grinned, “I’ll let this film speak for itself.” 

Xiao “Michelle” Hu’s own short Hunger also touched upon the bizarre. In her film, the main character is seen fatigued in a worn-down room, surrounded by empty cartons of food. As the girl scrounges for crumbs (even peering into an empty can of dog food), it’s clear she’s desperate for sustenance of any kind. On the other side of the door, however, a zombie approaches and barges through. With a stroke of luck, the girl survives the encounter and is presented with an opportunity to satisfy her own hunger. 

“I wanted to create a story to represent that our human can do everything to [stay] alive, no matter what it takes,” Hu said. 

Imaginations ran wild throughout the night’s variety of shorts. The stories ran from fish learning how to swim, Girl Scouts stealing kidneys, boy wizards, doll makers and killer vegetables. Steve’s Kidneys, an animatic in part of the Hi, I’m Steve series, showed the character getting his kidneys stolen by a Girl Scout after he refuses to buy cookies from her. 

“It gets funnier every time I watch it,” said Monica Labrecque, one of the series producers. Labrecque said films such as Steve, participating in Storyboard Club and attending Academy festivals reminds students to pursue passion projects.

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Photo by Bob Toy.

“I think it’s good to see what other people are working on because it’s easy to get sucked into homework,” she commented. “Student festivals are a reminder that you can pursue projects that interest you and not just what you’re supposed to hand in for the week.”

Bertino said each fall festival is about celebrating the departments and the art of animation, but it’s also about getting students excited for their peers’ work. He calls it a “sort of history in a microcosm,” and where most animators look to blockbuster films for inspiration, Academy students can also look to aspire to their peers in the classroom. 

“It’s inspirational to see what somebody like you did recently,” he commented. “You can look to young people who have been on this path very recently just like you have and see what it is possible for a student to do within the school facilities. Some of these shorts have won Student Academy Awards, Student TV awards and anybody who has the chops, and inclination, and really the dedication, can do that.” 

For Hu, seeing others’ work is a chance to “face her own weaknesses” and “think about how I should improve my work.” 

“I think the most important thing is to hear from others,” Hu said. “The events give us a big chance to hear different thoughts from different people, not only the instructors and students around us, but also from other fields. I can learn a lot from them. It’s also a motivation to let me keep working on good animations.”