The longest day

Chico State computer animators compete in 24-hour marathon competition

Chico State students competing in the 24-Hour Animation Contest at 5 a.m., halfway through the competion.

Chico State students competing in the 24-Hour Animation Contest at 5 a.m., halfway through the competion.

Photo courtesy of John Pozzi

At around 4 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 3), Todd Olson and a small team of fellow Chico State students took a collective sigh of relief. They’d spent the last 23 hours finishing a 30-second animation, their submission to an annual test of endurance and animation acumen called the 24-Hour Animation Contest, and with their project completed believed the worst part to be over.

“There’s plenty of stress during that 24 hours, especially near the end,” said Olson, a senior studying computer animation and game design. “We finished with an hour to spare, but our video wouldn’t export correctly and we had to figure out what was wrong. We finally got it done and uploaded to YouTube, just 15 minutes before deadline.”

The 24-Hour Animation Contest was created by CSU Long Beach professor Aubry Mintz, and this year marked the competition’s eighth and largest year. All told, 525 students on 105 four- to six-person teams from 24 schools in the United States, Canada and Australia participated last weekend. Chico State was represented by 35 students on seven teams. The students’ work is evaluated and scored by industry professionals, with this year’s judges including staff from film giant DreamWorks and video game standout Rockstar Games, and the winners were announced Tuesday (Oct. 6). Prizes include CSU Summer Arts scholarships and animation-centric computer hardware and software.

Each year, the students are given a prompt to base their animation on. This year’s theme was “Imagine if technology was introduced at the dawn of humankind.”

The students’ marathon session was overseen by instructor John Pozzi, who teaches computer animation and game design. Pozzi was allowed to observe the students, but couldn’t offer direct help other than making runs to keep the creative binge fueled with pizza, snacks and energy drinks.

Pozzi explained that producing a polished 30-second animation can normally take three to six months. Describing the students’ accelerated process, he said they began by brainstorming—verbally and through sketches—how to represent the concept in a narrative form. Then came storyboarding, 3-D modeling and texturing characters and environments, animation, sound and lighting production, editing and finally uploading the video to YouTube.

“The process to make something like this is usually a lot more separated,” Pozzi said. “They really had to plow through multiple sections of the pipeline at once just to keep the train running. It’s quite an undertaking.”

Last weekend was Chico State’s second time participating in the competition, and Olson was one of the veterans. In 2014, only two teams from Chico competed, and Olson’s team placed third in that competition. This year, Olson and his four teammates—collectively known as the Ornery Okapis—created an untitled, darkly humorous piece centered around modern technology’s applications during the assassination of Julius Caesar, beheading of Marie Antoinette, sinking of the Titanic and a present-day nuclear holocaust.

None of the teams placed in the top 10, though one—Ancient Maya (a reference to computer animation software)—finished 12th with Eden Mingle, the students’ take on Internet dating in the Biblical garden.

“All seven teams finished, though, and that is a huge accomplishment,” Olson said. “Just being involved and working with such a tight deadline is really good practice for working in the professional world.”

Pozzi concurred: “It’s a chance for them to to get their work out there immediately and in front of some really big industry professionals, which is an enormous opportunity for them,” he said.

“It’s also good for Chico State,” he continued. “For a while, our program was a kind of a diamond in the rough, because distance-wise we’re so far disengaged from where the industry is. It took everybody a while to find us on the map, but now we’re really starting to get our students out there and their work known.”