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Tea Time Animation Club Offers Support and Connections

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(L–R) Elham Sepehrjou, Allison Freeman, Ramsey Ann Naito (producer of The Boss Baby), Gaby Rojo, Fernando Penafiel, Leo Quert, and (in front) Tom McGrath (director of The Boss Baby) at a Tea Time event. Photo courtesy of Fernando Penafiel.

The Tea Time Animation Club is an independent animation organization formed by Academy of Art University students and alumni. The club provides a pressure-free environment for students to work on their craft, provide feedback and network with other students. Additionally, the club brings big name animation professionals to speak on campus on a regular basis, most recently John Kahrs who directed Lyft’s latest commercial and Pixar animators Nick Rosario and Terry Song to talk about their work on the new animated feature hit, Coco.

The club was started back in 2012 by School of Animation & Visual Effects alumna Lana Bachynski, who currently works for Blizzard as a character animator on Heroes of the Storm. Bachynski still takes an active role in the development and promotion of the club, coming once a semester to sit in on one of Tea Time’s weekly Friday meetings and talk to members. Other notable Tea Time alums include Cody Lyons, an animator at Pixar, Andy Wu, who has worked at Disney, and Kyle Remus, who has worked at EA and Oculus.

While Tea Time is a pre-professional club, it serves many different functions. “For me, our club is about help. It’s easy to get lost at school,” said Gabriela Rojo, a third year 3-D animation student and Tea Time staff member. “The first time I came to the club, it was great to talk to students who knew what classes I should take and the best instructors for my focus. It was also a moment for relaxation and meet other animators.”

That is where the weekly meetings come in. Each Friday, students gather for three hours at room 420 at 180 New Montgomery. Meetings consist of announcements about industry and school events, a brief animation warm up, a main activity that can consist of anything in the animation pipeline from animation to VFX to storyboard work, a tool-tip (technical tutorials on specific animation based skills) and a critique section, a moment for students to show their work for feedback.

“A big component of the club is the networking aspect of the club,” said Fernando Penafiel, third year 3-D animation and visual effects major and Tea Time staff member. “Of course, we network in class, but the club actually gives students a chance to spend some real time with other animators, which is real networking.”

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(L-R) Tea Time members Elham Sepehrjou, Leonardo Quert and Fernando Penafiel with Pixar Senior Animator Daniel Arriaga (pictured second from left). Photo by Bob Toy.

Since its conception, Tea Time has grown from a small enthusiasts club into one of the most prolific and inclusive pre-professional organizations at the Academy. “Meeting people has always been the core value. Since founding, we’ve expanded the diversity of artists from just animators to storyboard artists, visual development, VFX artists,” said Penafiel. “And we’re planning on growing Tea Time. This year we launched teatimeanimation.com and we’ve got started on two other early stage branches in other states.”

The club is even offering a scholarship in an effort to grow their community contribution efforts. “It’s a $1,000 scholarship that we call the Tea Time Animation Scholarship for Aspiring Animators. You’ve got to submit two letters of recommendation, a portfolio and a letter of intent,” said Leonardo Quert fourth year 3-D animation and visual effects student and current Tea Time club president. “Lana came up with the idea for the scholarship and she’s funding it this year, but, in the future, it will be funded by our merchandise sales.”

“Our slogan is that Tea Time is the bridge between students and professionals,” said Quert. “In our Facebook group, we have other 2,000 members who are students, professionals and everything in between. Students ask questions and professionals post answers and potential job opportunities.”

The team’s online bio reads: “Tea Time is a not-for-profit organization. This means we’re truly only here to help support you in your endeavor to make the leap from student to professional.” Students looking to make the leap can join Tea Time, which meets on Fridays in room 420 at 180 New Montgomery.