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Academy of Art University Students Win Animation Magazine’s Pitch Party With Monkey & Robot

Ken Gray and Mars Elliot, two Academy of Art University students with a flair for offbeat humor, created the concept for a buddy comedy entitled Monkey & Robot, which took home first place in this year’s Animation Magazine Pitch Party. The entry also won third place in the Staff Picks category.

Work by Ken Gray and Mars Elliot

Ken, a recent grad who majored in Character Animation and Visual Effects, and Mars, a current Illustration student, won the opportunity to pitch their idea to Brian Jones, manager of Action Adventure Series at Cartoon Network.

Monkey & Robot tells the story of a gentleman monkey and a zany robot living in the British Museum. After discovering a troubling secret lab during their adventures, they must escape the museum. “Monkey & Robot is an amalgamation of a lot of the things I love and am interested in,” said Ken. “Historical fiction, mythology, mysterious places and, of course, monkeys and robots.”

Though the original concept was Ken’s, both creators worked to develop the plot arc and characters. “When Ken and I sat down to develop the story out, we looked to narrative elements that appealed to us: the Victorian era, exotic locales, a band of misfits,” Mars said. “We studied the stuff we loved from other creators and paid close attention to the qualities they excelled at and how to learn from the ones they didn’t excel at.”

When Ken and Mars traveled to Los Angeles to present their idea at Cartoon Network, Brian Jones’ warm reception set them at ease. “Pitching to Cartoon Network was amazing,” Ken said. “Mainly it was great because after a bit of chatting, Brian was really interested and excited about our idea.”

This was not the first time Animation Magazine’s Pitch Party competition has lauded Monkey & Robot. Ken and Mars took third place in last year’s competition, also receiving first place in both the Staff Picks and Online Readers Picks categories.

“Ken and Mars have fostered a special relationship with Animation Magazine following their recent successes in the last two years’ Pitch Party competitions, which to my knowledge is something of a first for any artist submitting to this competition!” said Academy of Art University instructor Shaun Featherstone, who is working with Ken, Mars and several other students to create an animated short of Monkey & Robot.

Following Ken and Mars’ success in last year’s competition, Featherstone worked with them to create a Special Topics Animation class in which they further developed their idea and began work on the animated short. The class attracted talented students in both Illustration and Animation, including Sarah Chin, Jon Rollins, Jesus Villareal and Dila Beksac. With Ken’s direction and writing and Mars’ art direction, the team hope to complete the project by Spring of next year.

Work by Ken Gray and Mars Elliot

Their experiences at Academy of Art University have led both Ken and Mars to share this piece of advice with other students: Use your time and the resources and classes at the Academy to graduate with a finished product that can be shown to potential employers. “Make it something that you love and something that shows who you are and what you’re about,” said Ken.

The mentorship of Featherstone has been extremely influential for both Ken and Mars. “Shaun’s been with us on the Monkey & Robot project since the beginning and we couldn’t have done it without him,” said Mars. “Shaun’s constant input and guidance has also helped me wade through the professional world to find a happy amount of success so far.”

In addition to the animated short, the pair foresees a full 21st-century future for their 19th-century creations. Though they are still in talks with Cartoon Network and working on potential agency representation, Ken and Mars are also preparing the story for a three-volume graphic novel.

With these plans in the works, there is much truth in what Featherstone tells his class, “Go, Monkey & Robot, GO!”
 

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