5 Terrific Student Films From The 2024 Calarts Producers’ Show

The Calarts Producers’ Show is an annual curated selection of student work from the school’s iconic character animation department and the screening is attended by a wide swath of industry professionals looking to preview new talent entering the animation industry.

This year’s screening took place last Tuesday at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles, where a packed house was treated to 23 films produced in the program, under the leadership of program director Maija Burnett. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the show, at least to me, was how boldly the current crop of student work diverges from the type of work currently being produced within the commercial animation industry.

The films on display weren’t just copies of the same-old animation aesthetics that we see in the mainstream. Rather, there was a plethora of exciting approaches to design, motion, and compositing that felt like a definitive push in new direction.

The big question is whether the commercial industry can find a way to make space for these fresh voices or if it will continue to expect conformity. In years past, if the industry didn’t know what to do with talent, young artists were out of luck. That’s no longer the case thanks to the internet. There is now a clear option for artists whose ambitions exceed those of the industry. Projects like The Amazing Digital Circus and Hazbin Hotel have built huge online audiences and upended conventional thinking that only corporations and networks can launch original animation concepts.

The growing possibilities of internet distribution combined with an ever-more cautious IP-driven approach in the commercial industry has created profuse uncertainty and confusion, but also opportunity as never before. This year’s Producers’ Show inspires confidence that the future of U.S. animation is brighter than ever before; whether these creators end up in the industry or carve their own paths, audiences can look forward to much exciting work.

Below are five films from the Producers’ Show enjoyed. These were by no means the only excellent films of the screening. Many of the other films in the Producers’ Show, as well as other films that weren’t selected for the screening, can be seen on the 2024 Calarts Youtube playlist.

Sankofa by Ryan Mesidor

Mesidor has a strong eye for character design and costume, but he also made a really well-constructed and efficient documentary short about fashion that delivers its point with the same stylish confidence as the people interviewed for the film.

Girls in Real Life Situations by Ofre Sparrow Vaknin

I have never been so invested in a tween turf war, and when this short ended, I was ready to see more of these characters. Vaknin has a well-developed voice that’s funny, character-driven, and rooted in observation. If this was a pilot, it would be a greenlight from me.

La mort de Robespierre by Janelle Feng

A film that was tonally and stylistically distinct from all others. Excellent visual choices throughout, from the comic book-style framing device to the muted color palette, served to heighten the drama and tension of the story, which is inspired by historical events.

Vinterfint by Ben Knight

An unlikely choice for the character animation program, but Knight made this film in Blender as a one-week exercise. The best film concepts are often those that seem so obvious that you wonder afterward why no one else has done it before. This is absolutely a film that needs to be seen with an audience and it deserves a strong festival run.

CAPITALISM! by Christina Wu

Visually playful, strong directorial instincts, and such fun that you may not even realize the powerful message that Wu delivers about how wealth isolates from community. Capitalism shouldn’t be this entertaining.

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