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Alum Puts Skills, Versatility to Work in Animation Career

Academy graduate Neth Nom has been busy since earning a BFA from the School of Animation & Visual Effects in 2007. In addition to continuing his involvement as an Academy instructor, Nom has thrown himself into the world of animated film, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and video games. He even started his own fashion company, Bush + Leavenworth.

His versatility as an animator, visual designer and entrepreneur underscores his drive to push the field of animation forward—in filmmaking as well as other industries. While a student at Academy of Art, he created a foundation of contacts, skills and savvy that’s been crucial to his success.

“The students and teachers in your classroom might be your ticket to getting a job,” Nom advises current and prospective students.

“How you behave in class will be a representation of how you will [perform] in the industry. Basically, make sure to always be professional, don’t make excuses, and work your butt off.”

Neth Nom with members of Tea Time Animation
Neth Nom (third from left) with members of Tea Time Animation, a group for animation students organized by the school. (L–R) Cara Martinez, Fernando Penafiel, Gaby Rojo, Ali Yasin, Romualdo Amaral Silva and Recola Li. Photo by Adrian Childress.

Nom’s most recent job placement is at Google’s virtual reality (VR) platform Google Daydream, where he works as a visual designer.

“They’ve never hired a full-time animator before,” Nom says, adding that “animation is not just [for] films anymore.”

But film is where Nom got his start, helping animate movies like Toy Story 3, Monsters University and Bolt. The last was during his first industry job as an apprentice at Disney Animation Studios under John Kahrs, who directed the recently released Age of Sail with Nom as animation lead.

Nom’s interest in VR and AR led him to Oculus Story Studio, where he helped animate the company’s first short film, Lost, and later directed the creation of a video game, Lily Pad, for Oculus’ mobile VR Jam 2015.

It was Nom’s experience creating video games that gave him the idea for his next film, Sonder, using the Unity real-time game engine.

“Having worked in feature animation studios, games and VR/AR companies, I saw the potential of what a game engine could do for an animated film in a production setting,” Nom says.

“We knew Sonder was going to be a big project with a lot of people scattered all over the world, and we didn’t have a big budget. Unity’s engine allowed us to be cost-effective and work in real time, which saved time and money compared to traditionally rendering all your frames in a render farm.

“Our goal is to push this technology so that viewers can no longer distinguish between a film that was made in Hollywood versus a film that was made in a game engine,” Nom says.

According to the film’s website, Sonder “explores the intensity and range of emotions following the end of a relationship” through the main character’s solitary journey of self-discovery and survival in forested and snow-covered landscapes. The project took about three years to complete and is receiving a warm reception from film festivals around the world.

Fellow alumni from the Animation School worked on Sonder, including Technical Director Andrea Goh (BFA, 2016), Lead Animator & Creative Manager Yee Sum Hoi (BFA, 2015), Character Designer/Animator Harim Oh (MFA, 2017), and Animators Alvin Geno (BFA, 2015) and Rachamongkol Yothayai (MFA, 2017).

“We have won Best Animation and Best Film awards, and have been selected to major festivals like Spark, San Jose Short Film Festival, Siggraph and plenty more,” Nom reports.

According to Nom, “hope” was the keyword he used when writing Sonder, as he “wanted to tell a story that could help people overcome hardships they’ve experienced and be an inspiration.

“What touches us the most is when the film emotionally connects with the audience. It’s great to see that our film can connect with people worldwide, and that they too find hope within our film.

“I had to dig deep into my personal past and figure out what was the most difficult time I had ever gone through. Hardships usually have to deal with a broken heart or a loss of a family member, which I’ve experienced. I really took all that emotion and put it in the film,” Nom said.

“Depression has such a stigma in our culture, so I hope this film can help people to talk about their hardships and dark times. I truly believe the more we share our vulnerabilities, the faster we heal.”

Article by Kyle Roe, reporter for Academy Art U News

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