Animation Jam competition is a 24-hour test of skill and endurance

Sam%2C+Nicole+Martinez%2C+Shannon+Hanson%2C+and+Marissa+Winslow+create+storyboards+for+their+animation.+Photo+credit%3A+Tara+Killoran

Sam, Nicole Martinez, Shannon Hanson, and Marissa Winslow create storyboards for their animation. Photo credit: Tara Killoran

The annual Computer Animation and Game Development Animation Jam means different things to different students. For some, it’s the toughest test for animation and storytelling that they’re going to get. For others, it’s an opportunity to show their prowess to companies like Pixar, Dreamworks and Cartoon Network.

As the years have gone on, the amount of interest in the Jam has spiked as well. John Pozzi, an instructor in the CAGD department, has been supervising the Jam for several years. He was able to share some background information about the history of the event.

“It originated in CSU Long Beach by an instructor there named Aubry Mintz…the first time he did it there were five students that he worked with,” said Pozzi.

“Over the years, they started to accumulate interest from the other schools and now we have over 50 schools participating between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Brazil, Thailand… over 1000 students are participating this year.”

The first year that Chico State got involved in the Jam, the students didn’t have a room to work in. John Pozzi had to host all of them in his house, something that the department’s Dean didn’t approve of. Mark Pullyblank, an experienced animator and instructor, had to request a room from the Dean and he got his wish.

The interest in the field has gone up with the growing popularity of video games and with the rising interest in virtual reality spaces. Pullyblank works with many Chico State graduates at Theia Interactive. There, these students can apply what they learned in the CAGD program to work with companies like Epic Games (creators of Fortnite) to create mock-ups of buildings and work areas. Just like in the Jam, competition is insanely fierce in this field so skill and ingenuity are just as important as a strong work ethic.

A 24-hour challenge with little to no breaks is enough to wear anyone down to their last nerve. What keeps these students going is their passion and drive to create something unique.

The scene at the Jam had a noisy intensity. Students were hard at work creating the storyboards for their animations and figuring out what type of story would fulfill the prompt in the best way. Tables full of snacks with energy drinks stashed underneath were one of their only lifelines to sanity. Groups huddled together around their computers as they figured out the details and began work on their designs.

Jocelyn McCall sees the Animation Jam as an opportunity, but not for a lucrative career. After surviving three previous Jams she thinks the team building and collaboration skills, someone can learn, is what’s really valuable.

“Obviously winning is amazing, but there’s like 225 teams this year so I never go into it thinking ‘oh man I’m gonna win and everyone’s gonna know my name and I’ll get a job,” said McCall.

“It’s more like the experience you get really helps you learn how to work in a team.”

Different students will draw inspiration from various life experiences. The prompt that the students were given has them create an animation that tells a story about empathy.

Malek Almarshoud shared how he can apply his life’s stories to the competition. “Since I came to Chico I faced a lot of racism and so I have a lot of stories that I can apply to the Jam and create a short film from my heart,” said Almarshoud.

Almarshoud also has a long catalog of fiction to draw from. “My mom gave me this book [One Thousand and One Nights] as a gift when I was young…so I grew up filled with stories,” he said.

Jared Nelson loves using imagery from movies and games to influence what he creates. “Star Wars” and “Borderlands” in particular contain two of his favorite fictional worlds and he became very interested in the creatures that inhabit them.

“When I’m looking at these different bipeds I’m always thinking about, how do these things move, why do they move this way?” he said.

The phases of a creature’s walking cycle can give have many different, subtle motions. This can give an animator a lot of work to do, but it also allows them to create something that’s very eye-catching.

The winners of the Animation Jam are usually not determined by how good and clean a group’s animation is. It usually comes down to how well they can tell a story that fulfills the prompt in a creative way.

“As soon as they said the prompt I had this idea of a circle living among triangles…we start polishing and building up from there,” Almarshoud said about how he tackled the prompt.

There’s an exploding and vibrant world of animation and game design in Chico and it’s a delight to see it in motion. The passion and dedication these students have for their craft comes through immediately just by watching them work. There’s a new generation full of brilliant minds going into this field and the future of it looks brighter than ever.

The final winners of the Animation Jam, including results for how all teams placed, will be released Wednesday.

Ulises Duenas can be reached at [email protected] or @OrionUlisesD on Twitter.