Coronavirus Updates: USC  |  SCA

May 21, 2014

Animation Students Honored at Student Academy Awards

By Tian Zhou

The 41st Annual Student Academy Awards, one of the highest distinctions for student films in the world, boasts among its winners and nominees this year three students and recent alumni from SCA’s John C. Hench Divison of Animation & Digital Arts.

A still from Two Ghosts

In the Experimental category, Lou Morton (SCA ’13) was nominated for his short Passer Passer, a swirling animated kaleidoscope of sound and image that whimsically captures the pulse of city life. In addition to this nomination, Passer Passer was also recently selected to screen at the 2014 Annecy Festival, the oldest and most prestigious festival for animation in the world. Of this newest accolade, Morton says, “It’s a huge honor just to be nominated. It’s always still surprising [to be recognized] and I was delighted to see it make it into the finals. ”

In the Animation category, Amy Lee-Ketchum (SCA ’13) and Eric (Teng) Cheng were each nominated for their narrative-driven animated shorts Cheng was later named as a winner in this category.

For Lee-Ketchum, her stop-motion short Two Ghosts was her most personal work to date. The seed of the story came from a tragedy in Lee-Ketchum’s own life, an experience that had an enormous impact on her work.

Set in a lush and evocative world handmade out of felt, Two Ghosts details the Orpheus-like journey of a lonely rabbit through a haunting, dreamlike landscape after the sudden loss of her companion. Alternately beautiful and harrowing, Two Ghosts is a lyrical exploration of the pain and the pathos of loss. Of her work, Lee-Ketchum explains, “The ability to experience a deeper joy comes from experiencing tragedy. This project was me trying to find that deeper joy.”

For Cheng, his short Higher Sky also represented a departure from his past works. At the Communication University of China, where Cheng also studied animation, his undergraduate shorts adopted a Western art style. Ironically, it was only after coming to the US that he began to explore the influence of Chinese culture in his work, a distinctive sensibility that permeates every inch of Higher Sky, a beautifully drawn, humorous tale of two battling Kung-Fu masters – Swallow and Monkey, who are taught what it means to be a real master by a lethargic old frog.

“In China, projects are very foreign-centric,” explains Cheng. “Chinese culture is very beautiful, but not fully explored. There are not a lot of international interpretations of it.” Of his Student Academy Award-winning short, Cheng says, “Chinese paintings are very artful, but it might take ten minutes to fully appreciate it. So the challenge was how to capture the Chinese aura but also have the audience fully understand and appreciate what’s going on in the screen.”

Cheng will be in attendance June 7th, when the Academy will hold a ceremony and present Gold, Bronze, and Silver Medals to the winners of each category.

Of this year’s Hench-DADA nominees and winner, Division Chair Kathy Smith says, “The graduate students and alumni nominated, Lou Morton, Amy Lee-Ketchum and Eric (Teng) Cheng, reflect the diversity and uniqueness of the creative work happening in the Hench-DADA program. The works articulate innovative research in sound design, stop motion animation, visual effects, character animation and visual music. They are a result of a dynamic curriculum and a mosaic of talented students, adjunct and full time faculty. We are very proud of our students and the program and are grateful to our wonderful donors the Hench Foundation for making this type of creative research possible.”