Students vie for entrance in competitive BYU animation program

Published: Sunday, Aug. 4 2013 6:00 p.m. MDT

A digital drawing BYU undergraduate Taylor Holt submitted with her application to the school's competitive animation program

Taylor Holt

PROVO, Utah — Taylor Holt dreams of telling stories with pictures. She thought she might like to be a writer, "but I ended up spending more time drawing out my stories than actually writing them," she said.

Animation seemed like a natural fit when she enrolled at BYU and started looking at a course catalog. Turns out, trying to get into BYU's red-hot animation program is a high-stakes path. Each applicant can apply for the program only twice. Holt struck out on her first attempt. Holt entered this summer facing her last shot at making her dream a reality.

Had Holt, who recently completed her second year of college, chosen to study math, or science or even English, she'd already be halfway through her degree. But for many students who pursue in-demand, resource-heavy, pre-professional programs like animation, choosing a major isn't as simple as checking a box their freshman year.

Animation is just one of several "limited enrollment" undergraduate majors at BYU that accept only 25-35 students each year. Though the details vary, these programs have at least one thing in common: a high-pressure, high-stakes application process.

To make the process more interesting, news of Pixar's preference for interns and entry-level animators from BYU has increased the animation program's appeal in recent years. That hasn't made getting in any easier.

Intimidation alone may have kept some students out of the competition, but Holt and nearly 100 others worked up the nerve to submit a portfolio for this summer's review. That's about three to four applicants per slot available in the BYU program.

All of your time, all of your effort

So last month's round of applications marked the second and final chance for Holt to get into the program. Earlier in the summer she said she had learned from her mistakes last year.

"I had this horrible habit of procrastinating," Holt said. "I was still struggling to fill my sketchbook (a few days before the deadline last year). I have learned to draw every day."

She took that commitment seriously and set aside an hour of her time each day to dedicate to drawing. Once a week, she spent about six hours figure drawing. When classes ended, she joined a group in Springville to continue her practice.

"If you quit drawing at the end of your classes, it's not good enough," she said. "If you really want this, you have to put all of your time, all of your effort into it."

The others, likewise, have dedicated substantial portions of their time to developing their portfolios in recent months. John Jackson, who decided to apply to the program after returning from an LDS mission, took two days off from his job as a graphic designer to finish preparing his application.

Though he originally started as an illustration major, Jackson's greatest interests are in directing, storyboarding and character design, he said.

"I really love animals that are personified, like a crocodile who's a barber, who wears clothing," Jackson said. "Or, I'm developing this lemur character working a temp job where all the other employees are elephants."

Danny Russon, who enrolled in his first semester of college at BYU in January and took all his pre-animation requirements in one semester, doesn't plan to look for a summer job until after the review process. His interest in animation began at a young age — his father would draw pictures to keep him entertained as a child — and he dreams of working for Disney. He prefers traditional 2D animation and is working with several BYU animation seniors on "Bothered," a short 2D film that received mention in the New York Times earlier this year.

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