Sheridan Students Collaborating on Animated Film with Communications University of China


“Birdbrain Family Portrait” was illustrated by a Chinese student named ‘Melon’

Mid afternoon with the lights turned low, seven Sheridan students and animation faculty Stephen Barnes gathered around a projection on the studio wall to review rough animation sequences for Birdbrain, a collaborative project with the Communication University of China. Ten students and two supervisors/translators have already come and gone from Sheridan’s animation wing this summer, but production continues, and so does the relationship between Sheridan and the CUC.

This was the fourth time that the two schools have exchanged students, with two trips to Beijing, China and two delegations visiting Canada. The exchange has developed out of Sheridan’s international initiatives (associate dean Angela Stukator has visited the CUC and consulted on their curriculum), and it also serves as a co-op opportunity for third year animation students.

This year, Stephen Barnes submitted his story, Birdbrain, the tale of obsessive/compulsive scarecrow’s struggle with a murder of sensitive crows. He originally developed the storyboards over ten years ago, and he has been biding his time since then for the right opportunity to put it into production.
Stephen drew from his two decades of production experience, applying some of his former employer, Pixar’s, methods when leading the project: organizing “dailies” (in this case: bi-dailies!) production meetings to review what everyone is working on, and encouraged the whole team to contribute feedback. He also gave lectures on the history of western animation, animation tools and techniques, and performance in animation.

At one point in the meeting I attended, the team reviewed a looping clip that, only a few seconds long, showed four birds taking flight. Stephen suggested that one bird’s wings needed a little extra size and movement in their stroke “to really sell the acceleration of flight.” Such minute details make the difference between realistic and unrealistic movement in animation.

When I asked a Sheridan student named Miranda how it was having the Chinese students in the studio, she exclaimed, “it was awesome! They were super friendly and hard working, open to suggestions, and we became good friends.” Other students praised the Chinese for their talent, and reflected on how their sense of humour didn’t always translate. The main challenge students faced was communicating with each other, and this inspired a side project in which students animated a comical conversation between a Chinese-speaking bird and an English-speaking bird.

“We’re spoiled,” one of the students said of the project. “We have great technology like Cintiqs (drawing tablets), we toured CORUS and Niagara Falls with the CUC, and Stephen brings us muffins!”

Birdbrain will be released early in 2014, and there will be a screening and talk about the production. Watch this space for details.

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