March 7, 2016

SCA Alums Bring Cutting-Edge Animation to SXSW

By Mallory Arkin

A few years ago animator Yo-Yo Lin was studying in Florence as part of a study abroad program for SCA animation students. She was enjoying soaking up the contemporary Italian arts scene when she came upon an installation piece using multiple screens and low frequency sounds. “I loved that people were able to walk around and interact with it however they wanted,” she says. This gave Lin the idea that would become her thesis project: “would it actually be insane to make a film that has a story with multiple screens in a room with a soundscape?” she thought. And this is how Ricerca was born.

Ricerca (pronounced ri-cher-ka), which is Italian for “search,” is an animated film that tells the story of a man who realizes he has lost something and journeys through his memories to find it. What begins as a physical journey becomes increasingly more abstract as he searches his mind for his lost sense of happiness. Ricerca is made particularly interesting by the way it is told. There are five separate projection screens showcasing a variety of mediums, including ink hand-drawn 2-D animation, photography, printmaking, and painting on film leader. These visuals combine with eight audio channels to create a 12-minute viewing experience that took Lin nearly a year and a half to complete. While the story is universal, each individual’s viewing experience is unique.  There is no correct way to view Ricerca, or to interact with the piece. The experience depends on the viewer’s perspective and many factors affect how the story unfolds—from the direction the viewer takes walking into the room to turning at a certain angle or even point in time.

Such an ambitious project did not come to fruition easily. Lin, who graduated from the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts in 2015, found she had trouble communicating her vision to the Animation faculty. This is where producer Will Cherry, who graduated from the Production division in 2015, stepped in. He took on the business side of the project, coordinating all physical and technical aspects. In doing so, he ended up addressing a lot of the questions Lin was frequently being asked, which mostly had to do with how she was going to accomplish her vision in a practical way.

“The project didn’t follow normal production standards, so we had to develop the workflow,” says Cherry. But they also ran into the quintessential problem of all ambitious projects: money. “I realized that, in order to create the project in its entirety, we needed a bigger budget than what was normally given to animation thesis films,” says Cherry. “Especially considering our computing and rental equipment requirements.” Not one to let the lack of money deter him, Cherry set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds, spending two weeks messaging friends on Facebook, telling them about the project and asking for donations. In addition to the fundraising campaign, Cherry was even able to get a company to allow them to borrow lenses and projectors. Help came from all over, especially the Trojan family.

“The USC network has been incredible. The Animation & Digital Arts department provided the most help we’ve ever had. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them,” he says.

Ricerca debuted last May at USC to positive feedback, and a few months later Lin and Cherry began the process of submitting it to South by Southwest’s PanelPicker series, in which the public is able to vote and have a say in what projects and panels are featured at the festival. Once again, Lin and Cherry utilized their network of supportive friends and were accepted.

While they’re ecstatic about being accepted and getting to attend SXSW (which kicks off this week), there’s still lots of work to be done. Ricerca is part of the festival’s Digital Domain program, which features projects that are innovative in the way they tell stories. They could not be granted the physical space needed to set up Ricerca in its original configuration at the festival, so Lin has created a virtual reality version of the installation. She explains, “We rebuilt the gallery space in a 3D modeling program with 360 degree sound. It simulates physical perception, so when wearing the headset, you can turn and hear sound as if you were hearing in real life."

Lin and Cherry are now looking to take Ricerca all over the world. They hope the virtual reality demonstration at SXSW will generate enough excitement that people will want to have it set up elsewhere. “More than anything,” Cherry says, “We want to see it put back up in its physical form again.”

The Ricerca panel will take place at the SXSW Festival on Saturday, March 12, at 12:30pm in Ballroom C. Lin and Cherry are looking to connect with other USC students and alumni in attendance. An updated festival schedule may be found at and more information on Ricerca may be found at