Seneca College animation students had a taste of Hollywood, or at least of Hollywood North, at the Canadian Screen Awards last month when Subconscious Password, the film they helped create, won Best Animated Short Film.
The 11-minute 3D short by Oscar-winning director Chris Landreth was produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) with the help of Seneca’s Animation Arts Centre and Copperheart Entertainment. Landreth used the pixilation technique to animate live-action clips, which chronicle the story of a man who forgets his friend’s name, and has to enter deep into his own mind in order to remember it. While in his subconscious, the character becomes involved in an adventure modeled off the famous celebrity-studded game show Password.
Fifteen students from Seneca’s Summer Animation Institute assisted on the film as animators, set designers and lighting technicians from early pre-production stages through to post-production. “Students were expecting they’d come in and be instructed with what to do, but they were actively invited to contribute their ideas into how a scene or moment might play out, or how something might be animated,” says Mark Jones, Seneca’s chair of Creative Arts and Animation and an executive producer of Subconscious Password. “[The director] Chris is really good at including them. He’s a gifted animator and filmmaker, but also a great teacher. We’ve worked with him on three films now.”
For his part, Landreth reciprocates. “Seneca is one of the top programs for animation,” says the director. “Students there are very hungry, very professional and very smart.”
Jones says that after Seneca first collaborated with Landreth on the short film Ryan, which went on to win an Oscar in 2005, the college decided it wanted to build on the lessons learned from that experience and apply them into its programming. “We couldn’t do it within the confines of our three-year advanced diploma in animation, because you need that time to learn the basics,” Jones says. “[Creating] the Summer Animation Institute was the most flexible option. We could attract students who graduated from the full-time program to stick around and continue their training.”
The hands-on approach of the summer program, which partners with studios that are producing short films, has long-term value for participating students. “Partnering with big animation studios means [the work] has guaranteed distribution. Other [school] projects don’t get serious exposure in the same way. It means a student who worked on a film can go to a job interview and say, ‘I worked on this,’” says Jones. “It puts the student at a competitive advantage.”
Nothing beats practical experience — several of the students were hired on to help finish the film after they graduated from the summer program. “It really solidified their training in terms of feeling prepared for the professional world,” Jones says. “Several students said that it didn’t feel like school, it felt like work. And it’s supposed to feel like work, but embedded within an educational program where there is faculty support to provide guidance.”
Watch the trailer for Subconscious Password below. To download the full movie, click here.