Animation students at the University of Colorado Denver are “jazzed” by the rare chance to work with a renowned illustrator as they bring his drawings to life in an animated film.
British artist Howard McWilliam is visiting CU Denver’s Digital Animation Center this week to give feedback to the students, and even learn some new skills on DAC’s state-of-the-art animation computer software.
McWilliam has already spent months collaborating, via social media, with the students as they transform the award-winning children’s book he illustrated, “I Need My Monster,” into a short film. The students, who are working on their three-semester senior capstone project, are producing an eight-minute film short for “I Need My Monster,” based on an adapted screenplay written by DAC Director Howard Cook.
McWilliam, who has illustrated five children’s books, has never had one of the books transformed into film. “I’ve always approached (illustrating) with a cinematic view in mind, so for me it was a natural fit,” he said. “I’m really excited to hear there are people willing to take it on and do it. We’ve had some Facebook discussions about certain problems that have come up, so it’s good to see (the students) face to face.”
The 15 students in the capstone cohort are equally excited by the project, and the chance to work with someone of McWilliam’s caliber.
“This is just a unique opportunity to meet the man behind all those amazing pieces of art that we get to translate into 3D,” said Michael Launder, who, like the other students in the cohort, is working toward a bachelor of fine arts degree with an emphasis in visual animation. “We’re so jazzed … At first he was this guy behind a Facebook picture and how he’s right here.”
Brandon McCaulley, another student, said, “Being able to have his feedback and input on developing our concepts and collaborating with him is just a rare opportunity — very rare — especially with him coming from the U.K.”
DAC Productions Senior Short Films have been highly acclaimed, selected as “Official Selections” in more than 80 national and international film festivals. Of those, the DAC films “A Complex Villanelle” (2010), “8 Second Dance” (2011), and “Forever Mankind” (2012) received 15 Best Animated Shorts in non-student categories. The film version of “I Need My Monster” “has really huge potential,” Cook said, noting that the book’s publisher envisions potentially packaging the book with the film.
The students on Wednesday showed McWilliam the story boards of their film and some early computerized renderings of his illustrated characters. “The big thing is the exposure (they get) to a working artist and actually having to translate somebody else’s ideas into something 3D,” Cook said. “It’s something they would do in the real world. This is the first time we’ve done that. We’ve never had a premade version of the story, so this is really mimics even further that studio environment that we’re trying to have them engage in.”
McWilliam said he was excited to try his hand at some of DAC’s software, such as the 3D sculpting program. He’s excited to see the final film product — which will be completed by May 2014 — with the potential of having it packaged as a DVD with his book. “I’ve loved seeing the work they’ve done so far,” he said. “It’s some great stuff. I’m optimistic.”
DAC, part of the College of Arts & Media, is one of only three programs in the world that has students complete a three-semester capstone film project. It’s because of that experience that many DAC graduates are working as artists in studios such as PIXAR, Disney, LucasFilm, and Dreamworks. DAC graduates also have worked on high-rated video games and TV programs.
Cook said if this book-adaptation is successful, future senior short film capstone classes — next year’s cohort has 25 students — will likely do similar projects.
Launder is already thrilled to be getting the “I Need My Monster” project to put in his demo reels. If the film ends up in the marketplace as a DVD-book package, that would be a major bonus.
“That would be cool,” he said. “I’m not going to lie, it would be awesome.”
(Photo at top: British artist Howard McWilliam points out student artwork shown on screen while animation students Nathan McKelvey (light shirt) and Archie Dalton (green shirt) look on.)