Almost four months of tedious work that ultimately culminates in three minutes of film would be enough to deter most people. Constant second guessing, learning programs, fixing animation and even adding music to the short films were just some of the obstacles Atascocita High School seniors Jacob Watson and Nicolas Jones faced while they were working on their UIL short films.
“I started in October and finished in January,” Watson said. “I didn’t have my own laptop or computer at home, only at school, so it took a lot of work. It doesn’t help that it takes a lot for me to get motivated. I’m very specific; I had to forget I was working for a contest and pretend I was just doing it for fun.”
Watson’s strategies must have worked, as he came in first in the state UIL competition and third in the New Horizons Film Festival. His film was titled, “Pest Control,” and was inspired by minimalist films he watched growing up. The films had solid backgrounds and simple characters that were meant to enhance the actual story itself and this is what Watson applied in his film.
“The inspiration comes from an animation studio that was from the 50s to late 60s. It was called UPA,” Watson said. “Their main thing was that they wanted to do artistic storytelling; they were famous for minimalist art styles and solid backgrounds with basic things in order to enhance the story. They won a lot of awards and I grew up watching those kinds of cartoons. I really like them, they’re a big inspiration to me and they helped to inspire “Pest Control.”
Watson watched a lot of movies when he was younger, both Disney and Pixar. This is where he believes his love for animation and aspirations stem from. His biggest inspiration might just be his favorite movie — “Toy Story.”
“I would say I was interested in movies and animations when I was little; I grew up on Disney and Pixar, “Toy Story” was my inspiration,” Watson said. “I just started doing it recently, it’s been fun and I’ve improved, so I’m excited to start focusing on that. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid — my dad is an art teacher at Atascocita High School. I just copied him, learning from him and watching him and developing my talent.”
The animation department is under the theater umbrella, but receives no money for their budget. Thus, the boys had no money to work on their films. The only resources they had were two drawing tablets, the programs on the computers and whatever they had at home.
“The UIL film contest is part of the theater umbrella of UIL academics,” animation teacher Ann Wehrman said. “The contest started in 2014 and my students have participated every year. It is primarily a storytelling contest, with 60% of the score coming from the story.
“Purrgatory” was created by Nicolas Jones. Elizabeth Banda and Ty Mason were on his team. “Pest Control” was created by Jacob Watson. Banda and Stephen Ozan were on his team. They spent 3-4 months creating the 3-minute films. Each film took hundreds of hours.
Wehrman enjoyed watching the boys work and learn over the past year and knows they deserve the awards they won.
“The boys are each incredibly talented with great, unique senses of humor,” Wehrman said. “I love helping the students with their passions and seeing their success as they create original short films. Animation is hard and takes way longer than you think, I have so many talented students. I never know what to expect from them; they are constantly amazing me. Next year I will have four students in my third- year animation course, so they’ve been through the UIL competition and will be real leaders for my largest group ever.”
Jones had some timing issues with his film.
“It was all pretty hard, everything I did I did twice pretty much,” Jones said. “Even the concept was hard, I redid everything. I had 48 hours left; I should have had it in earlier. The last four hours, that’s when I made the music, I played the film on repeat and played piano with it. I should have spent more time on audio.”
Jones still got his film in, winning third at state and second at the New Horizons Film Festival, which was accompanied by a cash prize. His film was focused on the story and making sure everything went together nicely.
“Last year, we were given an assignment to make a film idea for the next year,” Jones said. “I made a simple concept — girl tries to save a cat from a tree, and when I watched the other previous UIL film winners, a lot were really sad or trying to push a message. It wasn’t the best thing to do in three minutes. I spent a lot of time on the story, the best idea was it being a loop and making it work in three minutes. My only thing I wanted was to not be predictable.”
As a senior, Jones had free time between classes, and instead of playing on his phone or talking to friends, he would head to the animation room to go work on “Purrgatory.” The equipment and programs there were extremely beneficial, especially since he had to change his art style for the film.
“The style I used in the film I had to get used to,” Jones said. “I had to pick something animatable. My normal style is more dynamic. I had to bring it down and use a style I could consistently use.”
Overall, both boys were extremely happy and proud of their accomplishments. An unforeseen addition out of all of this was a friendship neither had expected and the ability to help and influence younger animators.
“Nicolas is a very, very hardworking guy, even though he skips all his classes,” Watson said. “He’s more hardworking and dedicated than me — he’ll sit down for hours and hours and work on a project consistently. It’s so inspiring to me to see him be so hardworking and dedicated, this guy is a triple threat. He’s passionate and hardworking. I love him a lot.”
Jones had similar sentiments, saying that had anyone else beaten him in the contest, he would have been much more upset. Both Watson and Jones give similar advice to aspiring animators; their films can be found at humbleisd.net/ahs/animation-contests.
“For anybody reading this that is interested in animation but too intimidated or are unsure, my advice is to just start,” Jones said. “The worst thing to happen is that you make something you don’t like. It’s a discovery process. You’ll find your own art style and start developing skills.”