‘Never stop creating’: animators and game designers recognized as top artists in regional competition | Dunn County News


Goers Abbey UW-Stout

Among a group of 90 attendees, including professionals from Gasket Studios, MAKE Visual and Motion 504, artists from the University of Wisconsin-Stout were recently recognized at the annual Minnesota Electronic Theater for their talents.

For nearly 30 years, MET has served as a premier showcase for regional visual effects, motion graphics, and animation. At this year’s event, held on December 2, UW-Stout students, alumni and faculty won in several categories.

The UW-Stout Award recipients were:

• Best independent animation: “Participation”, by alum Michael Van Swearingen

• Finalist for best independent animation: “Words”, with contributions from Assistant Professor Ellie Nikoo

• Best Video Game Trailer: Witness to the Revolution, by Professor Andrew Williams and a team of game design and development students-art and animation and digital media

The other UW-Stout participants featured in the competition were:

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• Abyss, by alum Morgan Brantner

• “Glow: Animation Teaser”, by Aurora Bell Tower Studios, a team of alumni and teachers

• Dawn of the Falkonir, a senior team synthesis project

“The level of community involvement at our art and design school was so energizing,” said Andrew Williams, BFA GDD-Art Program Director.

“Even though we have all been estranged and virtual to varying degrees for almost two years, there was definitely a sense of community seeing each other’s work. Everyone’s talents were fully on display, ”he added.

This year’s event was held virtually, hosted by Nice Moves MN and featured a post-show Q&A with the winners. Nice Moves works to connect, promote and educate the region’s animation, motion design and visual effects industry.

The School of Art and Design has participated in the MET since at least 2013.

“The freedom to tell stories”

Van Swearingen, a Minneapolis-based motion designer, loves animation because it gives him “the freedom to tell stories.”

The story of “Turnout” follows Tobin and Sven, two street artist buddies who find themselves at a crossroads and are forced to make a shared decision that could change their lives forever.

“My inspiration came from conversations with peers who doubt their own abilities before even giving themselves a chance,” said Van Swearingen. “They find their way and stay there. It is the response of watching people close to you wasting their own potential.

Van Swearingen has designed many short films with his former colleague Jacob Huffcutt and his friend Dan Forke. When Foreign Fauna offered him the opportunity to produce “Turnout” he was able to work on the film full time and finished it in three months.

Then the pandemic hit and film festivals were limited. He therefore took the opportunity to refine the “Turnout” and completed it last April.

“It’s been rejected at pretty much every major film festival, so I don’t mind getting some recognition from my hometown,” he said of his MET award.

Van Swearingen graduated in Entertainment Design, now Animation and Digital Media, in 2016. He currently runs Hellavision Television Network, a biannual animated show that accepts all submissions that follow an episode’s theme. Submissions for the next episode will be accepted in the spring.

In January 2021, Nikoo was invited to participate in the Words Project, a collaboration to host a music video for “Words,” a children’s song composed by acclaimed kindie artist Danny Weinkauf.

Co-directed by Eric Kreidler and Mike Owens, the clip is a collaboration of 25 artists from six countries, many of whom have chosen to donate their time to support charity.

“I was stuck at home at the time and felt isolated like many others,” Nikoo said. “It was exactly what I needed to cheer up.”

“Words,” featuring the voice of Tina Kenny Jones, has an uplifting and memorable tune and shows kids the power behind their voices to make the world a better place for everyone. The music video reflects this message through its wide array of illustrative styles.

Using Discord, a digital communications platform, the directors gave animators a storyboard and story reel synced to the song to choose which section they wanted to animate. Nikoo’s animation runs from 1:41 to 1:50 in the clip.

“I started with character design and a styling framework to communicate the visual aesthetic of the scene, like colors, textures and outlines,” she said. “Once these were approved, I did the rough animation to get some feedback on the animation style and the acting. “

The project has been very rewarding for Nikoo. “It’s a heartwarming children’s song, and I’m overjoyed to see that it won the independent finalist award,” she said.

“Words” entered Sirius XM Kids Place Live’s 13 best songs list.

Award-winning video game trailer

Witness to the Revolution was a collaborative video game project between Williams and her fellow Carleton College historians Professors Austin Mason and Serena Zabin. Williams has served as a co-director and co-producer, lead designer and lead programmer, while Mason and Zabin provided creative direction and developed a prototype for the game.

Williams developed the game’s trailer with a team of four UW-Stout students and alumni, who created the art and animation of the game, which immerses the viewer in an immersive and historically accurate recreation of Colonial Boston.

Witness to the Revolution tasks players with exploring the city, collecting evidence, replaying testimonies, and investigating the roots of the American Revolution through the event and aftermath of the Boston Massacre.

A familiar engraving from many American history books, “The Bloody Massacre” by famous revolutionary Paul Revere, serves as evidence for players to reflect on the events of that fateful night. It was also the inspiration for the game’s distinct visuals.

Keenan Geib was the 3D modeler of environments and props, as well as the decorator, recreating historic buildings and objects to show what everyday life was like in Colonial Boston. They graduate this Saturday, December 18 with their BFA in GDD-Art.

Geib likes to focus on the stories told in a game through its environments and props.

“I think being able to create immersive and engaging environments, whether stylized or realistic, can help tell stories in a more fun way for those involved, whether in a video game or some other format.” , they said. “Witnessing the Revolution provided me with a fantastic opportunity to do this.

“It’s amazing that all of our hard work is recognized. I absolutely loved working on this project and learned so much. I’m grateful that UW-Stout and Carleton College have given me the opportunity to do this with such a unique project, ”they added.

“Never stop creating”

Brantner graduated in Game Design in 2017 and received his Masters of Fine Arts in Design last spring. Abyss was his thesis project, for which he researched prosocial emotions and cooperative gameplay, bringing together games and stories that resonated.

“Somewhere during my time in college, I found myself understanding the process of developing a game and wanting more of it,” Brantner said. “It wasn’t enough to be good to create something. I wanted this creation to have purpose and raise issues in the gaming industry. “

Abyss tells the story of two adventurers tasked with exploring a beautifully dangerous environment. The idea struck him late at night over a cup of coffee and emotionally charged music.

“I remembered playing games with my family and friends and how that shaped my perception of them and made our bonds stronger,” he said. “That’s when I knew what I wanted to do.”

Brantner wants to never stop creating and learning. For students or artists who might be struggling, he said, “Never stop moving forward. No matter how far off your goals seem, if you are passionate about what you do, you will get there.

Bringing together different horizons

Dawn of the Falkonir was a senior wrap-up project, released virtually last spring at the Stout Game Expo by a team of five computer science students and six SOAD students.

This is a two-player online cooperative action-adventure game, where players must overcome a ghost-infested mountain using their specialized abilities like Aella, the Falkonir, or Horu, the Falcon.

“It was an honor to have Dawn of the Falkonir shortlisted for the MET awards,” said Zack Olson, who graduated in game design in May.

“The amount of effort and hard work the team put in was just amazing, and I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished. It’s a testament to what can be done when people of different skills and backgrounds come together, ”he said.

The School of Art and Design offers seven fine arts programs, including a master’s degree in design and a bachelor’s degree in arts administration and entrepreneurship. SOAD freshmen begin their college careers in the Fine Arts Pre-Bachelor Program, which is the gateway to a BFA degree and a way for students to find out if it’s right for them.


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