It’s not a far off generalization to say that when most people think about animation and animated movies, they immediately conjure up images of the Walt Disney Co.


The favorites vary — "Beauty and the Beast," "Alice in Wonderland" or "Frozen" to name a few — but the studio actually specialized in crafting shorter films near their inception as they toyed with the relatively new medium and attempted to make their mark in a predominately live-action industry with films such as "Steamboat Willie," which introduced the world to Mickey Mouse.





Call it taking a page out of the master’s book, but SCAD Animation Studios plans to do the same thing.


Led by Savannah College of Art & Design animation chair Chris Gallagher — himself a veteran of Walt Disney Studios — the student-filled studio is crafting story-focused short films to not only provide experience for those vying for future jobs with Disney, Blue Sky Studios or any of the other major players, but also get their foot in the door with a possible award-winning piece of work.


"It's really, really, really intense (to get into the program)," Gallagher said. "But it's very similar to an actual studio because for all intents and purposes, there's zero difference between what our studio does and what we'll call a traditional studio."


Depending on what department the student wants to work on — art direction, directing, writing or character design to name a few — they must apply for the program and be accepted. Once in, students join an industry-level workforce, according to Gallagher.


"We want to give them the ability to work at a very high level — industry-quality level — but maybe they decide that that's not what they want; we're giving them a chance to test that out."


The program is open to students on the undergraduate and graduate level, and Gallagher said the opportunities that are presented at SCAD allow collaboration with multiple majors and interests — it isn’t just built strictly for animation fans.


So far, the newly minted animation studio has been busy. Gallagher said they’ve produced two films so far in 2020, including a computer-generated (or CG) film, along with a more traditionally hand-drawn one, in the tradition of classic Disney. The first year provided some learning moments for the studio, but with the output this year, Gallagher said they’ve found a team of students who can hit the ground running.


"So the first year, just growing pains, (we dealt with) understanding what was necessary (when) we put them together," he said. "We have so many talented students, we want to get them both opportunities to really excel in pushing stuff."


The biggest project to date will be making its debut this week at the 2020 SCAD AnimationFest, which is typically held at their Atlanta campus but has been made available to everyone online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The short film, titled "Bearly," "introduces you to a bear named Bearly, who feels he is missing out on the amazing world around him during his hibernation."


According to the film’s production notes, it is set to original music and lyrics that play off the tone and feeling that mimics the life of a student in this unique coming-of-age story. The project was written, directed and animated by SCAD students through the SCAD Animation Studios.


Gallagher said he is excited to see the project play for the students at the festival but also sees the event as a way for students, and animation fans alike, to connect with the global community the industry produces and how the pandemic has led to them living under the same conditions they are.


"Because (the festival) is virtual, there is a sense of isolation, right? You know that you're home, you're seeing everybody on the computer, and everybody's heads up," he said.


"It will give (students) that much more connection to the way things really are at the moment. I think you're going to have (a panelist) coming in and saying, ’Hey, I sat in those same seats many years ago and I've gone on to do this, either from where I'm sitting in my house right now, or after this event, I'm going to go back to work,’ and the students are gonna be like, ’Man I'm gonna work real hard because I want to go where they're going and I'm not alone, everybody, everybody's in this together.’ And I think that's one thing that an investor is going to really help our students understand."


On top of the premiere of films such as "Bearly," the festival features panels with top industry workers for films such as Pixar’s "Onward," women working at Nickelodeon Studios, talks on writing for animated content and a talk with the creator of "Avatar: The Last Airbender." All of the panels will have an interactive component through a virtual program not dissimilar to Zoom or Google Hangouts, but one that allows the viewers to engage with the people speaking.


SCAD AnimationFest runs Friday and Saturday with general public passes costing $50 and student/educator passes at $30. More information can be found at bit.ly/AnimationFest2020.


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