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September 3, 2008

Princess Grace Awards

Animation Students Receive Honors From Foundation

By Cristy Lytal

2008 marked the first year that the School of Cinematic Arts submitted animation students for the Princess Grace Awards, and both USC nominees won the prestigious honor. To fund their highly original thesis projects, graduate student Dave Horowitz earned a $5,000 honorarium and undergraduate Caitlin Craggs garnered a $15,000 award.

Founded in 1982 after the death of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, the Princess Grace Foundation-USA fosters the careers of emerging artists in film, theatre, and dance. This year, an elite group of 44 students nationwide received the honors, which will be officially bestowed at a black-tie awards gala with Prince Albert II of Monaco in New York City on October 15.

"Dave makes these bizarre, fascinating puppets," says Kathy Smith, chair of the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts.
"What's so great about this award is that we have scholarships that cover the tuition expenses of students, but when it comes to their thesis films, unfortunately we don't really have lots of resources," said Scholarship Coordinator Lezra Portillo. "So just in those terms, it's pretty exciting that two of our students were able to get help in that way."

Hench undergrad Caitlin Craggs, winner of a $15,000 Princess Grace Award.
Craggs, who is a senior, plans to use her funds to create a home studio where she can realize her thesis: a three-minute stop-motion project about lint that becomes animate and achieves world domination. "Caitlin's just got a wonderful imagination," said Professor Kathy Smith, chair of the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts. "Her film has a slightly ominous feel to it that's going to be really fascinating and probably a little bit creepy."

The funds will enable Craggs, who has already started an extensive lint, dog fur, and hair collection, to let her imagination run wild. She plans to buy precision equipment including a computer, a camera, special lenses, a lighting set up, and a system to hold everything in place. "I'm dealing with tiny little fibers," she explained. "So this will allow me to render it very well, to make a very intricate and exact film."

Craggs plans to use the funding to create a home studio for her work.
Horowitz, who's in the third year of his M.F.A. studies, has also envisioned a stop-motion world populated by unusual creatures. His six-and-a-half minute thesis will tell the tale of a child prodigy who lives at her grandfather's empty, ramshackle zoo. When the zoo is on the verge of being shut down, she devises a way to save it by building hybrid robot-animals.

"I'm going to flea markets and antique shops and finding old mechanical parts," he said. "I'm going to make a hodgepodge of different animals like an elephant and a tiger and a giraffe and a panda."

The grant will cover his flea market finds as well part of the costs of a camera, an extra computer, lights, and the ball-and-socket armatures that will form the underlying structure of his menagerie.

"Dave makes these bizarre, fascinating puppets," Smith said. "He'll be using a lot of found objects, old materials, combining that with digital media. So it'll come together as a very unique hybrid of organic and digital."
Hench graduate student Dave Horowitz, winner of a $5,000 Princess Grace Honorarium.

Smith believes that the Princess Grace award and the honorarium will give these students something far more valuable than the mere financial means to complete their projects.

"To know that they're being acknowledged on a national level and that people outside of even their program and university think their work's worthy of an award certainly motivates and gives them confidence," Smith said. "And it puts them on notice that they've got to really perform, too!"