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Animation & Visual Effects Alumni Take Home Top Prize in Student Academy Awards

With Dragonboy, a fairytale turned on its head, three recent Academy of Art University graduates—Bernardo Warman, Shaofu Zhang and Lisa Allen—won a Gold Medal in the Student Academy Awards in Animation.

Bernardo Warman and Shaofu Zhang

Now in its 38th year, the Student Academy Awards, conducted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, honors creativity in films at the collegiate level. Students compete to win awards and cash grants in four categories: Animation, Documentary, Narrative and Alternative. Past winners include Toy Story director and writer Jon Lasseter, Malcolm X director Spike Lee and Back to the Future director and writer Robert Zemeckis.

Dragonboy is the tale of a dragon in love with a princess, both of whom are actually children acting in a school play. The 3D animated short evokes all of the wonder of young love and the triumph of good over evil. “We were looking at our feelings as kids and how scary it was to be in love for the first time,” said Bernardo, who received his MFA in Animation from Academy of Art University.

The film, which was also featured in Academy of Art University’s Annual Spring Show, expanded from the simple idea of “childlike imagination.” “We were doodling and exploring character designs when we came up with the idea of a little boy playing a dragon. And instead of the knight saving the princess, the dragon did,” said Lisa, also an MFA Animation graduate.

Still from Dragonboy
Click to View Video

Academy Animation & Visual Effects instructor Bob Steele served as a mentor for the project. “Bob helped us through a year of mess with the Dragonboy story,” Lisa said. “He taught us that story is king, and without a solid story, everything else falls apart.”

As part of the Awards, Bernardo, Shaofu and Lisa attended a number of events, including visiting the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild. For all of them, the experience was a culmination of a lifelong passion for animation.

“Like most kids, I grew up on films like E.T., Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. As a kid, I would make little Lego movies with my dad’s old Hi8 camera,” said Shaofu. “And for a brief period Play-Doh claymation.”

For Bernardo, there is a special passion for animating and creating characters. “To bring a character to life is a wonderful feeling,” he said.

Bernardo Warman, Shaofu Zhang
and Lisa Allen

Though they are honored by the Student Academy Award that they have received, the three creators of Dragonboy are not slowing down.

Lisa is working at Disney on a new film in their Prep & Landing series. “I’m really happy working at Disney. This is pretty much my dream job,” she said.

Shaofu is also enjoying his work at Sony Pictures Imageworks as an animator on the upcoming Arthur Christmas. “I’m having a blast working at Sony and hope to continue animating on feature films,” he said. “The Academy Award has definitely helped catapult us forward as well, so there are opportunities for directing our own films in the future.”

Still from Dragonboy
Click to View Video

His excitement about animation is clear in the advice he offers to current students: “More than anything else, keep the passion. It's been a tough road and a rocky road to pursue animation because of the patience and hard work required to even get in the door. But if you love what you do, and work hard at it, you're going to do good work every time.”

View the award-winning animated short Dragonboy.


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