Big Hero 6 animators on making Baymax and careers in animation


Disney Animation’s Big Hero 6 raked in one of the biggest opening weekend box offices ever for a Disney film, $56.2 million. When audiences screened the blockbuster at Savannah Film Festival several weeks before the official release, they also heard from a couple of the heroes behind the film. Savannah College of Art and Design alumni Zach Parrish (B.F.A., animation, 2007), head of animation at Disney, and animation supervisor Nathan Engelhardt (B.F.A., animation, 2007) let festival-goers in on how they made the magic happen. Afterward, they sat down with SCAD founder and president Paula Wallace to discuss their role in the movie and getting their start in the industry. Here’s an excerpt of her conversation with them, followed by a portion of the extended interview.

President Wallace: How did you know that animation would be your career?

Zach Parrish: I went and saw Monsters, Inc. with some friends. I think I was in high school and I realized that I felt something emotional for Mike Wazowski, who’s the little green one-eyed character. When I realized that I had an emotional response to something that I absolutely knew definitively was not real and that someone made me feel that way, that was kind of a magic where I was like, “I want to be the guy who makes that happen.” So that’s when I started looking at schools and eventually chose SCAD.

Nathan Engelhardt: I actually stumbled upon this game called “The Neverhood,” and it was a stop motion animated game. It was like a point and click action adventure and I remember wanting to play the game until I got to the cut scenes. So they would put in little cut scenes, like animated shorts almost, and every time I was like, “Oh yes, here comes the cut scene.” I started realizing that – I like this and maybe I can start making some of my own. I think I fell in love with animation on a very primitive basic level when I saw this character waving back at me. I think I felt the same thing you felt where it’s like I created this thing that’s waving to me and I was just in a trance and I never looked back.

PW: You met when you were here as students at SCAD.  Was there any certain professor or a class that made a particular impact on you?

ZP: We actually helped create a class, an independent studies class, just for Nathan’s project. I saw this poster for people who wanted to help out on a project called Cereal Killers and I was immediately in. I gave Nathan a call. We met up. 

NE: It was an incredible experience because Zach was so enthusiastic. I was just like, “Man, this guy. He knows what he’s doing.” He took some of the characters, very rough early character rigs that we had been building, and he just started creating the first tests. I was like, “Wow, they’re moving. This could actually work.”

We didn’t really know it at the time, but we were really learning how to collaborate as a team. We were kind of experimenting with the pipeline that we would become so familiar with down the road. We did everything from design and writing, pen and paper, all the way to the final renders, even the sounds. I mean we had a full spectrum.

ZP: We had no idea what we were doing when we started.

NE: But it really did help groom us, I feel, in a way to understand the pipeline and collaboration with other artists and being able to give direction and even…

ZP: Receive direction.

NE: And be able to just do that and learn and then regurgitate that later when we became supervisors. You know, that was a really cool experience.

PW: How do you feel that your education at SCAD helped prepare you to work at such an iconic and innovative studio as Disney?

ZP: Oh man. I think what’s amazing about the education at SCAD is the breadth. Just like that class where we got to touch the entire production pipeline and see where we wanted to fit in and to understand how to utilize it, that has been huge for us. I brought Nathan in for Wreck-it Ralph when I was an animation supervisor, and we could just kind of jump in and do a lot of pieces of the pipeline that some people who are trained just in animation can’t do.

Because of the breadth of our education, as far as history, design and the whole spectrum that goes into it, not just animation, I think we’re allowed to be a bigger part of the pipeline that helps the supervisors as well since a lot of our job is working interdepartmentally and giving notes on models and rigs and whatever the case may be. We have enough of the general understanding to be able to participate in that, as well as our specialized focus in animation.

NE: I feel SCAD really creates artists. There are a lot of trade schools out there that will create specialized tasks and abilities, whereas, to Zach’s point, you get this well-rounded artistic education. It all really helped create the kind of artist that we are today and it’s all thanks to that program.

PW: Do you know what makes me so happy is to see you guys supporting each other, all SCAD graduates out there helping each other and giving opportunities to each other and also, as you said, critiquing each other and just making each other better, but being a great support in the whole profession.

ZP: That was also one of the things we talked about when we came and talked to SCAD freshmen. A huge component to becoming a professional artist are those interpersonal skills, because you can be the most talented person in the world, but if you can’t support other people, if you can’t take feedback, if you can’t communicate, no one’s going to work with you, and so that’s definitely something that I’m still learning and that we all go through every day.

PW: That makes me very proud. What’s been the most challenging character or scene that you’ve created so far?

NE: Animating Baymax was quite a challenge, not just to be able to give feedback, but also for the animators because animators are so used – I mean you get some of the top level talent in that studio that’s so used to all the principles of animation and overlap and squash and stretch and then we’re like, “Take it all out.” 

ZP: Yeah, don’t do anything.

NE: Don’t do any of it, you know, and we coined the term “unimating” for Baymax or that’s really just stripping out all the things that animators are used to putting in, and that was really great because that allowed the audience to project their own emotions onto this blank canvas of sorts. We found that even just a little blink and head tilt was ten times cuter than any extraneous body movement, like unnecessary stuff that really just didn’t plus the scene in any way and really was an exercise in restraint the whole time.

ZP: We’re so used to going all out on the animation and to say like, “I haven’t actually moved him yet.”  We’re like, “You did it. You did it. You nailed it.” For me personally, I had a couple of scenes in Tangled that were a super challenge. I mean Glen Keane was on that show. He’s one of my idols in animation, and John Kahrs was my animation supervisor, and those guys are rock stars. So the bar was set so high on that film and I was new to the studio and I was terrified and I was fortunate enough to get a run of shots where Flynn has a frying pan and he’s knocking out the guards and he’s fighting a horse and…

PW: The horse, the horse was great.

ZP: The challenge was I’d never really animated a quadruped. Let alone a quadruped with a sword in his mouth fighting a guy with a frying pan who’s falling down…

PW: What? You haven’t done that?

ZP: Surprisingly enough, that was my first time, and so that was one where I was really scratching my head going, “I don’t know if I can pull this off.” I was so intimidated, but again that support structure. You know, Disney was super-helpful and I think the scenes turned out okay.

PW: So give us an insider’s perspective on working at the legendary Disney Studios.  What’s it like?

ZP: It’s great.

NE: I mean of course, coming up to the gates on your first day and it’s got the Mickey wrought iron gates and you see the big hat and it’s a very emotional kind of experience, but I feel like it didn’t really hit home until I went to Disneyland of all places…

ZP: Yes.

NE: I was walking around and you see these characters and you see that these films lived on much longer past when they initially came out, and you see this like echo of artistry and talent that was done on this film like years back. Here’s the Beast walking around in the park and it’s like, “This is going to be forever.” I mean you have this in the back of your head where it’s just like, “Wow.” What we’re doing at the Walt Disney Animation Studios is very special and I think…

ZP: I had the exact same experience last winter. We didn’t unfortunately get to work on Frozen because we started on Big Hero 6 so early. But the whole animation department…

PW: A lot of SCAD graduates did.

ZP: There were a lot of SCAD graduates on Frozen for sure.

But the whole animation department, we went to Disneyland and there’s a little girl on a guy’s shoulders and when she was watching “Let It Go,” that’s the Elsa song, she was imitating every move that Elsa did, even her little walk and everything. She’s on her dad’s shoulders and it’s crazy because that was like a firsthand experience of what we do. You know, it’s fun for us, but when you start seeing kids have that emotional response, it’s like, “Oh crap, that was me. I did that.” You know, I had that emotional response and now we’re creating that emotional response and so…

NE: Even crazier when it was your shot. 

ZP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

NE: Being the animator she’s imitating, too.

ZP: Yeah, exactly.

NE: It makes me feel like I’m back at that desk experimenting with stop motion animation for the first time. Do you know what I mean? I feel like we are always trying to get back to where it’s that initial excitement for what we do. And I feel like the great thing about Disney is that it’s constantly there and you’re constantly re-feeling that because of how – it’s all the inspirational artwork on the walls, you know, they’re constantly doing things to try to keep the energy, the creative energy high.

ZP: And that’s the other thing about just the actual workplace itself is the collaboration; inspiring one another, people are constantly giving talks on things that they’re just interested in. We do sort of like TED Talks. It could be a photography thing, a sculpture thing, anything that is just inspiring as far as an art form is concerned, and we talk about ourselves. Once a month, the animators get together and we talk about how we came to be at Disney and what inspired us as children. It’s a really fun, super-collaborative environment. So it’s the best I’ve ever had for sure.

PW: Yes, and like SCAD, you’re part of something bigger.

ZP: Exactly.

PW: I visited Hong Kong Disney and I saw all these children, just into characters and imitating…

NE: Yes, it goes around the world.

ZP: It’s just amazing.  It’s amazing. Yes, Big Hero 6 opened in Russia already and…

PW: Wow!

ZP: Yes, and it had one of its biggest weekends ever in Russia because it came out two weeks before it came out in the United States, and so it’s just crazy. I start hearing reviews from people who love it all over the world already. It’s a weird experience because it feels like a small community when we’re working on it. It feels like a small team, and then when the world starts seeing - there’s marketing that’s on buses and stuff, it feels like they took the movie and now it’s just running away, but it’s really cool.

NE: Zach and I, on multiple occasions were like, “Does this feel like when we’re working back on Cereal Killers?” Where it felt like we’re in SCAD and for a long time, we’re actually like really in the same office and, you know, we’re passing flash drives back and forth to each other, making sizzle pieces, you know, the proof of concept kind of stuff, very gorilla style animation, and it’s so many times we could look back fondly on those late nights in Montgomery Hall trying to learn animation.

Shanghai Fashion Week through student eyes


Sixty-five students from Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong recently traveled to Shanghai Fashion Week and Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics, the second largest fabric fair in the world. The field trip afforded students from SCAD’s fashion, fashion marketing and management, and luxury and fashion management programs in-depth exposure to Asia’s fashion capital and some of Shanghai’s best galleries and creative spaces, including "M50", a contemporary art district on par with New York’s SoHo and Beijing’s 798 Art Zone.

For Singapore-born Dawn Bey (B.F.A., fashion), the Shanghai trip provided first-hand knowledge of how Shanghai’s fashion industry operates, from design and manufacturing, to marketing and retail sales.

If you want to work in Shanghai one day, you have to see it and feel it yourself. Shanghai is where the market is, where the jobs are. - Dawn Bey

Dawn visited the fashion shows of Mainland designers Ye Weicheng and Elysee Yang Guanhua. Her courses at SCAD prepared her to notice both the overall concept and small details of the looks - like how a zipper was done - when models came down the runway. She was particularly interested in noticing new construction and new techniques for finishing garments. Most impressive to Dawn was Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics, where 3,500 fabric and accessory companies from 35 countries around the globe exhibited.

It’s not easy for young designers to gain access to the latest in garment making technology. Attending the shows in person enabled them to grasp the trends better. Selecting fabric samples to take home is another reason why designers-to-be look forward to attending shows.

Student Madeleine Ivey (B.F.A., photography; minor, fashion marketing and management) noticed that the stores she visited in Shanghai were full of inspiration pulled from the runway. Here’s an excerpt from her journal:

The M50 galleries were another amazing part of the trip and one of my favorites. Since I’m a photography major with a fashion marketing and management minor, the YSL exhibit was extremely relevant to me. The photographer featured, Pierre Boulat, made a huge impact in fashion photography, as he was the only photographer allowed to shoot YSL’s first show. This set the tone for his work for the next years of his life. He was also featured in Time and other fashion magazines. It was very cool to see his prints in real life! Although a bit difficult to understand, the Woolmark presentation got me thinking about wool in a whole other light. It was also fascinating to see the 'future of fashion' through just one company, and how they are utilizing their brand for the future. I loved the idea of putting wool into jeans and sportswear. I was blown away by how huge the fabric fair was…literally the size of an international airport! We were able to go to a lot of the stations and see different fabrics and accessories. It was overwhelming for sure! My favorite station was the innovative fabrics. I also thought it was incredible how many companies attended and how many options for clothing and zippers, etc. there were.

Savannah Film Festival: 5 benefits to future filmmakers


I’m fortunate enough to be working at the 2014 Savannah Film Festival (Oct. 25-Nov. 1). I started with the festival in 2012 as an intern and moderator during my first year in graduate school at Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2013, I interned again under the festival’s director of operations. My festival experiences were so valuable that my thesis topic was, Beyond the Film: A Local History and Analysis of the Savannah Film Festival. Previously, I worked in film and television in New York and LA.
‘Film fest,’ as it’s affectionately known around SCAD, is one of the most relevant festivals for up and coming filmmakers and, really, anyone who’s exploring a career in entertainment.

Here’s why:

1. Access to industry players

Helping Stan Lee backstage, meeting Tribeca shorts programmer Sharon Badal, talking BBQ with Zach Gilford, debating the value of essay films with academic Timothy Corrigan, and swapping Jennifer Lopez stories with THR’s Stephen Galloway. I’ve had some surreal encounters at 'film fest' because the special guests and panelists are so accessible. All of these experiences helped me to immerse myself in the industry in a condensed amount of time, while building relationships in the business.
Norman Reedus returns to the red carpet at Trustees Theater.

2. On-trend panels, master classes and coffee talks

Both academic and practical knowledge of the film industry are important. The festival offers both by pairing professionals with professors. One of the best ways to gather insights about the movie business is to attend the panels, master classes and coffee talks, many of which are geared toward breaking in. Where else could you listen to Bruce Dern discuss how Hitchcock and Nicholson influence his work (Bruce does a mean impression of both, by the way), while picking up tips for financing your short? The stories and advice from industry professionals and professors are invaluable.

3. The movies

The festival gives audiences exclusive access to new movies and the opportunity to hear from the talent behind them. This year is no different. Whiplash, 5 to 7, Horns, and Glen Campbell's I'll Be Me are among 90 films that are ready to roll. In addition to adding more documentaries, the festival also has one of the coolest shorts programs around. A supernatural shorts category and a focus on short films from Ireland are new for 2014. For future filmmakers, exposure to this range of films is a great way to study the craft, get ideas and learn from some of the best writers and directors.

4. The atmosphere

The Savannah Film Festival has a unique vibe and a truly supportive atmosphere. It has an incomprable mix of art school edge, Hollywood style and old southern charm that sets it apart from any other fesival that I’ve been to. And the setting is unbeatable. Screenings, panels and receptions all take place in the country’s largest Historic Landmark District and SCAD’s beautifully restored buildings (Savannah Film Studios being the latest addition). I’d take the red carpet on Broughton Street over any other, any day.

5. A catalyst

The festival can change your career trajectory. I came to SCAD to pursue a graduate degree (with hopes to continue to a Ph.D.), however, working for the Savannah Film Festival as an intern ignited my passion for turning film festivals into a career path. By making the festival an annual event on my calender, I acquired the contacts, knowledge and skills I needed to land my dream job. There are countless stories of students and aspiring filmmakers who have also landed internships, jobs and discovered a whole new world because of the Savannah Film Festival.

What will your story be?

Rachelle Murphy (M.A., cinema studies, 2013) is the executive director of the Green Mountain Film Festival in Montpelier, Vermont. Her television credits include A&E Biography, WWE’s Monday Night Raw, and Discovery Channel’s Auction Kings.

Furniture's career path runs through High Point


If design is the intermediary between humans and experience, then furniture design holds the answers for how we interact with and experience our surroundings. You may never have thought about your furniture in this way, but it is the prevailing subject that rules the minds of furniture design students, in addition to materials, style, sustainability, comfort and function. There’s also the business reality to consider. Home furnishings is a $100 billion dollar industry where a simple passion for making things, combined with entrepreneurial savvy, can blossom into a mega retail brand.

A side table by Katy Skelton at High Point MarketKaty Skelton's booth at High Point Market.
That convergence seems inevitable for Katy Skelton (M.F.A., furniture design, 2011), a 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards Furniture & Home Accessories nominee, who is one of 2,000 brands showing their designs at the High Point Furniture Market, the world’s largest furnishings trade show. Katy is a member of the American Society of Furniture Designers, which just recognized two of her peers from Savannah College of Art and Design as finalists in the first-ever student category of the Pinnacle Awards.

A wooden bench with bird shaped interactive components
From top to bottom: Christian's Organia Cocktail Table and Kai-ning's Bird Bench.

SCAD graduate students Kai-ning Huang (M.F.A., furniture design) and Christian Dunbar (M.F.A., furniture design) are just behind Katy on the trajectory to making an impact in the furniture business. All three of them represent how the industry is turning a new leaf to uncover fresh talent, young designers who will take the industry from one dominated by traditional furniture in to a modern era. Hence the need for the ASFD’s new award, which shone a light on Kai-ning’s Bird Bench and Christian’s Organia Cocktail Table during its confab in High Point.

Student Pinnacle Award finalists Kai-ning Huang and Christian Dunbar at the ASFD dinner in High PointFrom left to right at the ASFD awards dinner: SCAD furniture design professor George Perez, Kai-ning Huang, SCAD furniture design professor Sheila Edwards and Christian Dunbar.

Just before stepping out to be recognized as future leaders in the industry, Kai-ning, Christian and thirty other emerging furniture designers from SCAD stepped back in time during a field trip to Thayer Coggin’s High Point-based furniture factory.

For furniture design students, understanding furniture in a historical context is key to knowing how to create its future. This is why an invitation to visit Thayer Coggin, a legend celebrating 60 years of success in the furniture industry, represents a jackpot of an opportunity. Thayer Coggin’s mid-century modern, American-made pieces are enduring classics from which the students can learn invaluable lessons about true quality and the sweet spot between intelligent design and function. Thayer Coggin got it so right that they are still manufacturing those original designs, and producing new ones rarely, if at all.
It’s quite a contrast to see the shiny new faces of the industry inside the family-centric plant, their CAD-trained hands sweeping across award-winning designer Milo Baughman’s original drafting table. The factory’s workers still crank out gorgeous furniture using what look to be the same machines that were in the shop when Thayer and Milo first woke up the sleepy furniture business with bold, contemporary pieces.

Carol Lowe, one of Thayer Coggin's long-time employees, leads the SCAD group on a tour of the factory, through all the steps of production, a life span of about eight weeks for most of the pieces that the plant turns out. The students make their way past wooden pattern frames, to upholstery, cutting, sewing and finishing areas.
Carol points out prototypes of original designs that the company intends to bring back. She explains how online sales are increasingly driving interest from overseas and shares anecdotes about recent shipments to Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. (The fabric choices were far different than what domestic customers are ordering.) Whether the students aspire to design and make their furniture by hand, just design, or design and mass manufacture their pieces, the tour is instructive. “We’re just designing things,” notes Sebastian Engel (M.F.A., furniture design) as he discusses the latest in cushion fill with one of Thayer Coggin's staff members. “We want to make sure that our designs work in the real world.”
For 23-year-old Tanner Price (M.F.A, furniture design), who chose SCAD for its emphasis on designing and producing full lines of furniture for the industry, versus focusing just on craft and one-off pieces, witnessing the scale of Thayer Coggin’s operation is enlightening. “You go from a school setting where it’s you, you’re designing and you’re making, to a place where it’s extrapolated to almost one hundred employees, where it’s constant production. It’s a very different but interconnected setting,” he observes. “It’s cool to see the other end of the spectrum.”
Eventually, the group emerges from Thayer Coggin’s modest factory into its slick show room, where Carol points out the pieces that made Thayer Coggin the leader that it is.

The Crusin’ chair, featured in Architectural Digest’s profile of Will Ferrell’s Manhattan loft, stops Christian in his tracks. “It’s as minimal as minimal can be, but still polished,” he notes. “There’s nothing superfluous about it. It’s pure form.”
The chair retails for $9,000.

Someone who’s not attuned to the elements of furniture design might just have noted the chair’s comfort. But the feeling of a piece is also very important, especially to senior Shawn Horsey (B.F.A., furniture design) who finds respite in another chair that deftly cushions the Lacrosse player’s 6-foot-6-inch frame. Part of the genius of the piece is that it can accommodate a body as large as Shawn’s or as small as Kai-ning’s.

Kain-ing sits for a long while in the Good Egg chair and marvels at other features and techniques, like how the footrest folds up under the walnut frame of a recliner.

From Thayer Coggin, the students move on to the High Point Market, host to 75,000 attendees each spring and fall. Inside the IHFC building, one of 180 buildings that comprise the event, they canvas millions of square feet of show space to complete a trend spotting assignment. A few of the design trends that will make their photo journals include cold, metal finishes, grey tones and rectilinear forms.
Shawn, who’s designing an industrial line based on blurring the lines between kitchen and living space for his senior thesis project, hunts down pieces constructed of metal and wood, his favorite materials to work with. Market is for buyers, but it also serves as a feast of inspiration for designers, and it's a place where students can begin to integrate themselves into an industry that's built on relationships.
As a graduate student, Kai-ning has already made inroads for her career in furniture design. During a summer internship at Gabby Home in Montevallo, Alabama, she designed several tables that the manufacturer is showing at Market. She is ecstatic to see her pieces in Gabby’s showroom. Aside from the furniture she has produced at SCAD, this is the first time she has seen her designs come to life, and it marks her official debut at the show.

Kai-ning embodies the qualities that it takes to make it in the business. According to SCAD faculty members George Perez and Sheila Edwards, who arranged the students’ appointments in High Point, there are five characteristics that define a future furniture design star.

5 qualities of a furniture design star
1.) Excellent work ethic
2.) Grasp of furniture’s historical landscape
3.) Good design instincts
4.) Passion for furniture as objects we live with
5.) Curiosity that drives stand-out pieces

George and Sheila are making the rounds to visit showrooms where SCAD alumni, who have already established their careers, are at work. In addition to Katy Skelton, they visit Justin Abee (B.F.A., furniture design, 2004), now in product development for Palecek, which specializes in woven furniture for homes and the hospitality industry. He walks George and Sheila through Palecek’s new equestrian collection.

Like Thayer Coggin, Palecek is an American family-run business that’s a pioneer in the industry. Its furniture is high in quality and price point, but takes its inspiration from different materials and influences. Palecek and Thayer Coggin represent the vast diversity within the industry and the humble origins of many furniture makers. Pieces from manufactures like these can last up to 40 to 50 years. With the right start, immersing themselves as they have in the furniture industry’s epicenter even before they graduate, so too should the careers of these future furniture designers endure.

And the next Milo Baughman is among them.

Yuxi Bi's Supima collection hit the Fashion Week runway


“I’ve always loved fashion,” said Yuxi Bi, a recent fashion graduate. She knew she wanted to leave China to study fashion after discovering SCAD on television. She moved to Savannah four years ago to get the bachelor’s degree she received in June.

Just before she left SCAD, she had one final task—the Supima Cotton Design Competition. The yearly competition asks students at six of America’s top design schools to create a capsule collection of women’s eveningwear gowns from Supima denims, knits, corduroys, twills and shirting. In her romance-themed collection, Bi focused a lot on the twisting and draping of the fabrics. "I really like working on the fabrics to let them drape on the body to form by themselves," said Bi. Every piece in the collection is started by draping it first. 

Bi's focus is on couture. She'd like to open her own couture house one day and in keeping with couture tradition, every garment in her collection is handmade. Even the organic patterns she drew on one of the garments was done by hand using pen and ink. 

A panel of industry insiders that this year included Coco Rocha, Bryanboy, Isabel Dupre, Phil Oh, Natalia Joos and others judged the collection during New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center. Bi packed her collection for the journey to New York City last week, but wasn't alone there.

Her father came to the United States for the first time, accompanied by her mother, to see her at Lincoln Center.

“They always support me in learning what I want,” said Bi.

That continues this month as she leaves Savannah to continue her training in a Parisian couture house.

Animation draws big summer crowds


“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is the highest grossing film of the summer. So far. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is quickly catching up, and may overtake Transformers’s $243 million domestic haul. The defining characteristics of both films are the blend of live action with entirely animated characters and the many people it takes to make that happen.

Barbara McCullough, chair of visual effects, and Matthew Maloney, associate chair of animation, shared what they believe makes movies like these so successful. The answer, unsurprisingly, is storytelling. Today's technology allows for intimate, detailed worlds previously relegated to the imagination. As McCullough puts it, artists "make the unreal real, suspend disbelief and engage audiences in a visually exciting way."

Visually creating these worlds requires the combined skills of hundreds of animators and visual effects artists at studios spread around the globe. Some 16 alumni worked on the various teams that brought “Guardians of the Galaxy” to life.

It's easy to imagine big-budget films as a difficult task, especially working with so many people. Not so for our students says McCullough.

“They learn modeling, lighting, texturing, shading, creation of atmospheric effects, compositing, programming for 3-D tool creation," she said, "and frequently work in collaboration with their peers while selecting a specific area of specialization.”

Artists working on these large projects need to know all the steps in the pipeline to create complex scenes and, just as important, what the scene must accomplish.

“We train storytellers,” said Maloney. “When animation is at its best, it is supporting storytelling.”


Best of Animation 2014


Our students produce a tremendous amount of work each year. In animation, students learn 2-D and 3-D techniques to prepare them for whatever role they may choose in the industry once they graduate. We've assembled a few of the best works from the 2013-14 school year to share with you.

"Balloon Cat" by Michael Ceminara (M.F.A., animation, 2013).

"Bear and the Bird" by Matt Barrera (B.F.A., animation, 2013).

"Halcyon-17" by Colin Wheeler (M.F.A., animation), Jeff MacDonald (M.A., animation, 2013) and Jenna Zona (M.F.A., animation).

"How I Wonder" by Nora Graven (B.F.A., animation, 2014).

"I M Possible" by Prasad Narse (M.F.A., animation, 2014).

"The Leaping Place" by Michelle Ionescu (B.F.A., animation, 2014).

"Starlight" by Tamarind King (M.F.A., animation), Marisa Tontaveetong (M.F.A., animation), Shir Wen Sun (B.F.A., illustration) and Yu Ueda (M.F.A., animation).

Dark Horse doodler Patric Reynolds on making comics a career


If you flip through a Dark Horse comic illustrated by Patric Reynolds (M.F.A., sequential art, 2009) pay attention. You might notice a recurring face in the panels. A smiling, bearded man — sometimes a mechanic, sometimes a police officer — always seemingly in the background.

It’s a face Patric knows well. Every time he sketches that face he thinks of a man who encouraged him to quit his teaching job in Las Vegas to pursue a career in comic books. He thinks of a man named Steve, his dad.

“I was miserable teaching,” Patric, who grew up in Utah, said. “My parents could see that. The job really hardened me. I didn’t like the person I was turning into. I wanted to do comic books, but I thought, ‘No one makes a living as an artist.’”

Now Patric happily eats those words, working for Dark Horse Comics with industry legends like Mike Mignola, Patton Oswalt and Joss Whedon.

“I don’t need another job. I draw comics all day and I can pay my bills.”

That’s partly because the comic books industry is booming, bringing in over $700 million in annual revenue (up from $450 million in 2004). And with that growth, career options for people with Patric's skills have blossomed. Patric didn’t know that either until a push from his parents landed him at a college career fair.

It was there that Patric showed his portfolio to Savannah College of Art and Design professor Ray Goto (M.F.A., sequential art, 2002) and learned his talent could get him scholarships. Though his parents were sold, Patric knew that going back to school would mean giving up a steady income that covered his mortgage and car payments.

“I wasn’t on board,” he said. “My parents said, ‘You need to do this.’ My dad, in particular, said, 'I think you can make a living at this. We will be there in the morning.’ They drove to Las Vegas from Utah with a trailer to load my stuff. I trusted them. And so I moved to the South to learn to draw comics.”

Before Patric left, his father told him to never give up on anything and to keep his dream alive. Those words — coupled with honing his craft — helped Patric get a degree from SCAD and his first commission at Dark Horse working on an Abe Sapien comic within the “Hellboy” franchise.

That’s when tragedy struck.

Patric recalled, “I was inking pages when my mom called to tell me, ‘Your dad was out flying with your uncle and they were both killed.’” The small airplane crashed somewhere in the remote backcountry between Utah and Idaho.

The first person Patric called was Dark Horse editor-in-chief Scott Allie. “I was in shock. I told Scott, ‘I’m probably not going to meet this deadline. My dad just died.’ He said, ‘Jesus. Don’t worry about it. Get yourself settled.’ I could hear that Scott was talking to his kid in the background while he was on the phone with me. I knew he understood the gravity of the situation.”

Patric left the project for two weeks to help his family with the difficult double funeral back home, but he knew he had to return to finish the Abe Sapien comic.

“I told Scott, ‘Please don’t take me off this comic,’” he remembered. “There was a sense of duty to it. So when I got back into the project it became something to get me through my dad not being there anymore. It helped me push down the grief. Those last three pages got really hard, though. I started shaking by the end of it.”

But Patric finished the project, fueled by the image of his father working in his machine shop in Utah.

“He had his own business and he had to work so hard at it,” Patric said. “My mom would stay up with him at his shop. She fell asleep against the wall a few times waiting for him to finish working. That image — my dad committed to his work and mom committing to what my dad had committed to — told me that if I committed that much to something I could accomplish things.”

Finishing the job is something he says he learned from SCAD professors, too. “Ray Goto and Paul Hudson and others taught me how to keep at something, to work and how to finish things,” he said. “That’s really the one big thing I learned at SCAD — how to commit and work. If you don’t buckle down and get work done, then it never gets done. You work until you finish.”

Patric now lives in Portland, Oregon, where Dark Horse is headquartered. He is currently illustrating an “Aliens” comic as part of a series reboot spawning off the 2012 movie “Prometheus.”

“Scott Allie told me that Dark Horse plans to keep me busy. Most people couldn’t claim that in, say, the 1970s. You had to send your stuff to New York and then they would get back to you — maybe. It’s so much easier to get into the industry.”

Now sequential artists can influence everything from videogames to storyboards to the latest summer superhero movie. The industry has never been better. Disney just bought Marvel for $4 billion. Movies based on comic books continue to place in the top 100 grossing films of all time: "The Avengers" alone brought in an estimated $1.5 billion worldwide. Investment advisors are even telling clients to sell their vintage comic books to help fund retirement.

People like Patric are the ones behind those impressive statistics. And it was the people behind Patric that got him to pursue his dream.

“I think I always really followed what my parents told me,” he said. “My dad always kept telling me to keep the dream alive. I even wrote that above my desk when I was teaching in Las Vegas. My students would ask, ‘What does that mean?’ I would just tell them they’d see for themselves one day. You have to work at it everyday. You keep it alive and you remember what you love.”

And, in a way, keeping his dream alive also helps Patric to keep his dad's memory alive. Patric says the likeness of his dad will continue popping up in the background of the comics he works on, if only to keep an eye on him from afar.

Architecture: a return to art is the way forward


What would it look like if architects were allowed to be artists again; as comfortable in the manual and intuitive realms of drawing, painting and sculpture as with parametric modeling and digital imaging? What if we were to reject the limitations of product-driven, systematic design and production and re-engage the full range of tools innately available and refined over the course of millennia?

Watercolor by Christian Sottile.

The evolution from humanities to technology
Once considered to be among the principal arts, Architecture has passed through a technological revolution over the course of a century, moving from the art based approach of the famed French academy, the École des Beaux-Arts, to the functional dictums and objectivism of the German Bauhaus that would forever alter the course of design and education.

This revolution in education culminated during the digital era. Both the product and process of design entered the last phases of a radical transformation, unmoored from centuries of humanistic origins. Its success proved the potential of something distinctly other, with little emphasis on anthropomorphic, geographic or cultural connection; thereby embracing the full, expansive possibilities of the virtual and the synthetic. This last stage of the revolution has now passed its third decade, and we have grown increasingly detached from humanistic concerns.

An opportunity within reach
Firmly planted as we are in the digital era, the opportunity exists to reconsider the practices that preceded the revolution, to rescue tools that may have been set aside too quickly; tools that will prove essential in charting a way forward for architecture and design. What was jettisoned in the exuberance and upheaval of unprecedented technological innovation is the elusive quality that allows our buildings to speak to us: their humanity - evident and embedded in the pursuit of beauty and the art of making.

Today, this places the architecture profession at an extraordinary moment in history, an era in which we may now synthesize the best of the past with the victories of the digital revolution to embrace a truly hybridized future. It’s not the tired old debate between the École des Beaux Arts, a school of art, or the Bauhaus, a school of building, but rather a ‘BeauxHaus,’ a School of Building Arts.

Activating a fresh approach
At Savannah College of Art and Design, this approach to architecture is reflected in the SCAD Museum of Art. Built in 2010, SCAD MOA embodies what has long been taught in the SCAD School of Building Arts: the dissolution of boundaries between design disciplines. The museum is a place where the highest ideals of urban design, architecture, interior design, architectural history, historic preservation and furniture design all find distinct yet integrated expression.

SCAD Museum of Art: a case study
So how would a renewed emphasis on the tactile art of making - on the real - change the design process and the built environment?

Returning to SCAD MOA as a case study, at its core, the museum is a testimonial to synthesis, created using a design process that included the full spectrum of available tools and methods, from digital modeling and BIM, to physical model making, in situ mock-ups, sketching, painting, and digital collage. It’s a building brought about through a construction process that included full scale enlargements of hand-drawn details to create field templates; that included prefabricated modular building envelope components, integrated with local craftsman, practicing the most ancient of building trades, hand-crafting the building using the human hand and eye as their primary tools.

The confluence of disciplines embodied by SCAD MOA makes it one emblem for a new order of design that will allow architects to create the next generation of cities, to reject the soulless, placeless design strategies that characterized city centers created or recreated in the latter half of the 20th century; that will empower architects instead to create new places that come alive with a synthesis of art, humanism and delight, as well as technology and innovation.

This is the way forward.

Christian Sottile (M.Arch., 1997) is the dean of the School of Building Arts at Savannah College of Art and Design where he oversees programs in architecture, urban design, interior design, historic preservation, furniture design and architectural history. He is also design principal of Sottile & Sottile and the design architect for the SCAD Museum of Art.

The future of preservation: Will a new generation take up the cause?


Growing up, I regularly thumbed through family photo albums. This ritual of navigating the worn, yellowing pages of images, as if I were traversing history, was eye opening. The photos contextualized my place in that history. So I panic when I think that my daughter may not experience that same sense of belonging because these physical signposts do not exist for her to explore, at least not in a form that she can touch or feel, except to swipe at them on the screens of the devices behind which they’re trapped.

Photos of my great grandfather and grandmother from our family tree.

This angst I have over not being a better steward of our young family’s growing photo collection makes me a preservationist. That’s what a group of students from Savannah College of Art and Design helped me to understand. The last people you might associate with being champions for the old and non-digital, all younger than me, recently gathered to present their plan for engaging new generations in the pursuit of preservation. Their solution, a historic preservation patch for Girl Scouts, is a collaboration between SCAD’s historic preservation department, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia.

A prototype of the patch designed and created by SCAD students.

One of the first things the scouts needed to learn, they realized, is what exactly historic preservation is. It’s a good question, actually, for adults and kids, one that promotes an awareness of our surroundings and the laying down of our devices in order to delve into community. As the SCAD students, ages 21 and up, teach in their guide for leaders and scouts, historic preservation goes beyond saving buildings to include protecting artifacts, culture and, yes, even family history and photos. Though Savannah, where the students are pursuing their degrees, is an epicenter of historic districts and preservation, their guide is intentionally broad enough to relate to any city in the U.S.

SCAD historic preservation students partnered with graphic design, dramatic writing, fibers and sequential art students to create the guide. To earn a patch, scouts must fulfill seven activities that fall under different categories of preservation, like personal history.

Any tool that promotes historic preservation to the next generation must be conducive to mass appeal, lest the fervor for ‘saving places’ dies with the present generation. One indicator that doesn’t bode well for the future of preservation, for example, is the average age of those who read Preservation Magazine: 61.

The apparent apathy toward historic preservation among young people is something that keeps preservationists like SCAD professor Connie Pinkerton, who led the students in the creation of the Girl Scout patch, talking.

Connie, a former Girl Scout whose daughter is also a Girl Scout, notes that her millennial generation students must carry the torch or, more appropriately, an LED light in support of historic preservation. A quick survey of her students about what could possibly have sparked their interest in historic preservation as an area of study is a case study for hope.

Savannah’s storied, historic buildings, many of them rehabilitated by SCAD, drew Bethany Emenhiser (M.F.A., historic preservation) to historic preservation. “People made things with their hands and those things and places are still standing. But today, even in our high-tech world, homes are being blown over by tornados,” she said of her admiration for preservation.

“Going green and sustainability are so in, but preservation was the first sustainability.”

That observation is astute for a student whose peers, by contrast, spend hours upon hours in a building near hers using the latest in 3D printing technologies.

Likewise, Jake Eichorn (B.F.A., historic preservation) became interested in preservation when studying at SCAD opened his eyes to the treasures of historic Savannah.  The 21-year-old, who will spend his summer helping a professor rehab a Victorian, gets starry-eyed talking about property record chains and a future career fixing up and flipping historic homes. For Jake, breaking down the fundamentals of historic preservation into a form that ten and 11-year-olds can understand was a rewarding challenge, just as the pursuit of the historic preservation patch will no doubt be also.

I’m glad my daughter, armed with our family photo album, will have the option to pursue this patch if she so chooses.

The historic preservation patch will be unveiled at the 2014 National Preservation Conference (Nov. 11-14) at SCAD Savannah.