The BYU Center for Animation continued its decade-long winning streak after winning first place in the animation category last weekend for "Estefan" at the 34th College Television Awards.
The six-minute 3D animated short took nearly two years to complete, with 25-40 students working on the project at any one time.
Unlike many past award-winners from the animation department, "Estefan" is upbeat and lighthearted, creating the opportunity for more over-the-top effects.
“Animation lends itself to exaggeration, and 'Estefan' is all about exaggeration,” said Lauren Oppenlander, the story and layout lead, in a press release.
The short stars an unlikely hero, the brilliant Estefan, a Spanish hairdresser, facing the challenge of his career — a woman with no hair.
When Oppenlander first imagined Estefan, he was as "a cocky barber who thought he was the best," but as Oppenlander went to develop his character, Estefan transformed.
"(H)aving him in a fancy salon — making him not a cutter of hair but an artist — added to his eccentricity and exceeding pride that was fun to play off," Oppenlander said in an email. "He is the center of the universe and we are but lowly creators blessed to share this earth with one as great as he."
Estefan's over-the-top personality also created a challenge for the animators: how to keep Estefan his bombastic self while still having the audience love him.
Lauren Taylor, a recent BYU graduate and producer of "Estefan," said the team worked hard to find a lovable balance.
"Our story team did a great job of keeping him pompous and proud, but completely lovable," Taylor said in an email. "He is so proudly stubborn. He's tireless in finding the right solution. And of course, he knows he's the best because of it."
To prepare for the short, students studied flamenco dancers and bull fighters to better capture Estefan's movements and facial expressions. Students also analyzed and designed all the details of the short's environment.
The myriad minute details associated with creating such a film made winning the award that much sweeter.
"It's so fun to win with the best of people," Taylor said. "Our crew on this film was amazing and really bonded. Everybody was willing to help as much as they could and were always thinking of ways to make it even better. To get to share such a big honor together is just the best."
According to Kelly Loosli, head of the animation program and theatre and media arts assistant professor, the emphasis on large group production in the animation department is the reason the program is one of the most consistently successful in the country.
The program follows a model created by Hollywood studios. Students from two colleges and three departments come together to collaborate on a common goal.
"The faculty are great and have put an emphasis on student productions. The type of students we get create unique opportunities for both artistic and technical excellence," Loosli said in an email.
As "Estefan" continues its festival run, it has been entered in several animation and film festivals around the world. While not available online, "Estefan" will be one of several short films to play at the "Fear No Film" component of this year’s Utah Arts Festival.
Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @harmerk