Pictured: USW Animation graduate Ed Jackson working on the set of A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
University of South Wales alumni have worked on some of the most successful films of the past year, which have been nominated in the 2021 Academy Awards.
A total of 22 former students from USW’s Film & TV School Wales were part of the making of six films listed in this year’s nominations, in the Animated Feature Film and Visual Effects categories.
Hollywood hits including Tenet, Over The Moon, The Midnight Sky, Wolfwalkers, The One and Only Ivan, and A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon are up for awards in this year’s Oscars, which take place on Sunday (25 April) in Los Angeles.
We spoke to some of the graduates hoping for Academy Awards success this weekend.
Gemma, from Chester, worked as Senior Clean Animation Artist on Wolfwalkers, which follows the journey of a young apprentice hunter and her father to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack.
She graduated from USW in 2012 from BA (Hons) Animation, and works for Cartoon Saloon, based in Ireland.
“Our team was responsible for drawing the final line that you see in the film from the rough animation.
"This involves adjusting the character to be ‘on model’, so that they look consistent throughout the film, and drawing the characters in the two different line styles; a solid wood-block inspired ‘Town Line’ and a rough pencil ‘Forest Line’, that even had us drawing the construction lines from the rough animation back in so that it looks like traditional pencil animation.”
Before Wolfwalkers, Gemma worked on feature films and TV specials, including short films based on the children’s books We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and The Snowman and the Snowdog.
“As a teenager I loved digital art, but it was while at college that I rediscovered my love of animation. When it came to choosing a university, USW stood out to me. I was really impressed by the animation facilities, and the kind of content the course produced was exactly the kind of animation I wanted to make! It felt like an easy choice and a perfect fit for me.
“I had a lot of support from my tutors, and learned so much about animation as an art form and about character performance and storytelling from them. I also love that we were taught traditional animation on paper and lightboxes first, before we were allowed to animate digitally, it really instilled the craft in us and helped us learn how it used to be (and sometimes still is!).
“The animation industry is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, and I'm incredibly grateful to be a part of it.”
Bryony, from Newport, also worked on Wolfwalkers, starting as Clean up Artist and later promoted to Senior Clean Up Artist. She graduated from USW in 2012 with a BA (Hons) in Animation, and now works alongside Gemma at Cartoon Saloon.
“My job was to make sure the characters stayed on model, as well as capturing the two different line art styles in the film.
“When I started at USW I knew I wanted to be an animator. Art was my best and favourite subject in school but taking a subject like Fine Art didn't seem to gel with me. Animation ticked a lot more boxes; filmmaking, art, character performance and lots more.
“Breaking into the industry after uni was the hardest part for me, but once in, I saw how it really is a people’s industry. Working together as a team to make the project flourish is very rewarding.”
Chaitan, from South London, worked as a Layout Artist on The One and Only Ivan, starring Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, to name a few. He studied BA(Hons) Computer Animation at USW and graduated in 2014.
“A Layout Artist gets the footage from set and add in the proxy characters and models, making any tweaks before it goes off to the animators. We made sure that the cameras are set up correctly and that the actors stayed within the proxy parameters, as it the film was a mix of live action and visual effects.”
Chaitan has worked on a number of films and TV shows since graduating, including children’s programmes Floogals and the remake of Dennis and Gnasher.
“We worked on Ivan for four months, then it was released on Disney+, as Covid meant that we didn’t have a premiere as would normally happen with a film.
“I’m grateful to have been able to continue working throughout the pandemic, as our job is a much more behind the scenes role.
“I loved the Harry Potter series and would really like to work on the Fantastic Beasts movies. I just feel at home working in film and TV.
“It’s nice to know that my work has contributed to an Oscar nomination for this film. That’s pretty cool!”
Kathryn, from London, also worked on The One and Only Ivan, as an Animator. She graduated in 2015 from USW with a BA (Hons) Computer Animation, and now works for Rebellion Film & TV Studios.
Over the past few years she has worked on a number of films, with the best known being The Lion King and Dora and the Lost City of Gold.
“I’ve wanted to be an animator since I was about 15. University was a great opportunity to meet other people who shared that passion.
“USW is known for being one of the best establishments for Animation in the UK and has the added benefit of being in Cardiff which is, in my opinion, a perfect city for students moving away from home for the first time.
“The most important thing I learned on my degree was that just turning up and putting in the hours is the most important factor for being successful in whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve. Perseverance is everything, especially in a competitive field like animation.”
Ed, who is originally from Bridgend and now lives in Bristol, worked as a Stop-Motion Animator on A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmaggeddon. He graduated from USW in 2004 with a BA (Hons) Animation.
Having worked for Aardman for several years, he has been involved in the Shaun the Sheep series in the past and jumped at the chance to be part of this movie.
“My two older brothers had studied the Foundation degree at USW and enjoyed their time there, so it was a no brainer for me to follow in their footsteps, especially as, at the time, it was one of only a handful of universities offering an Animation degree.
“I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by animation and stop motion in particular. The most useful parts of my course were the principles of animation; pushing and pulling exercises studying the body and form and learning how to use and follow arcs. Also, learning long everything takes, with stop motion at least – the patience, time and effort needed to complete a project.
“I would say though, if you’re interested in this area, never give up. It’s a relatively small and competitive industry, but if you want it enough and work hard enough, it will happen.”
Paul, from Cardiff, also worked as a Stop-Motion Animator on Farmageddon. He graduated from USW in 2008 with a BA (Hons) Animation.
“I had previously worked on Aardman’s movie Early Man, and they asked me back for this film.
“When I started uni I wanted to be an animator and create my own animations.
"I chose USW because of the great reputation the Animation degree had, and really enjoyed gaining knowledge in all aspects of animation, including storyboarding, the role of the art department and so on.
“This has meant I was able to work in a number of different job roles over the years, giving myself more job opportunities within the industry.”
Sean, from Caerphilly, worked as Stop Motion Animator on Farmageddon. He graduated from USW in 2014 with a BA (Hons) Animation.
“I got the job based on the work I had done on Early Man, Aardman’s previous film. I’ve been really lucky to work on a lot of great projects over the last couple of years, including spending time in the USA to work at Laika on both Kubo and the Two Strings and Missing Link.
“Most recently, at Aardman, I’ve been working Robin Robin, a new Christmas special which is yet to be released.
“I always knew I wanted to be either a puppet maker or animator. I would’ve been happy doing either, but I suppose the studios that took me on decided they liked my animation, so that’s where I went!
“I really enjoyed my time at USW. The course gave me a great understanding of the basic animation principles in the first year, which then eventually allowed me to create two short animated films in the second and third years. I also love Cardiff!
“My degree allowed me to develop enough skills to take what was in my imagination, understand it and accurately transfer that on to paper and clay.”