"MODIFYING REALITY" — 3 stars — Danny Russon, Stephanie Tse, Kelly Loosli; not rated, likely PG for animated comic violence and mild language; LDS Film Festival
Jared Jakins said he got a second film school experience as he produced his documentary “Modifying Reality” about a team of animators within Brigham Young University’s animation program, which aired at the recent LDS Film Festival March 4.
The film shows how each academic year the seniors in the program collaborate on a kind of senior capstone project to produce an animated short film. “Modifying Reality” follows the creative process of Danny Russon and his classmates as they worked to produce “Papa,” a short about an overprotective, recently deceased father who tries to keep his daughter from a date he doesn’t approve of. Russon was selected by the class to direct the animations.
Jakins' film also highlights the students' battle toward winning a Student Emmy from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Kelly Loosli, an assistant animation professor in BYU’s film school, said nearly every film produced by the BYU Center for Animation since the establishment of the senior project has received a nomination for an award.
In addition to the documentary showcasing the work of the 2016 animation program graduates, the filmmakers also traveled to the California Bay Area to interview alumni now working at Pixar, Disney, Blue Sky and other entertainment companies.
Russon said in a discussion with executive producer Tom Lefler, Jakins, Russon and Loosli after the LDS Film Festival screening that he did feel quite a bit of pressure to get an Emmy for “Papa,” especially because the documentary was following their progress.
“It was nerve-wracking, but I think the film was a very fair portrayal. It showed how we started with high expectations, and that there were some struggles,” said Russon.
“Papa” was not nominated for a Student Emmy for animation, but it did win one for the score. The animation was also later nominated for a Student Film award through the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the equivalent of an Academy Award, later on.
“In that regard for music, I do technically still call it an Emmy-winning film,” chipped Loosli, in encouragement of Russon during the discussion.
Lefler said that “Modifying Reality” really began as an experiment in the documentary genre for Jakins to develop another professional project for his resume.
“It primarily turned into something to showcase the program, which is something that the animation department has been wanting for a while,” said Lefler.
Though “Papa” did not win the coveted Student Emmy for animation, the crew still showed individual victories by getting hired to various dream jobs. Disney hired the film’s producer, and other team members are now at Blue Sky and Pixar. Russon received an internship offer from Sony Animation Studios. According to Loosli, a starting position at one of those companies can pay up to $75,000 per year.
Jakins, also a BYU film graduate, said that his respect for the program was a large part of what drew him to document their process.
“Personally, it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity," Jakins said. "As explained in the film, the animation program has won many awards and has a huge amount of respect in the industry. In a way, it was almost like a second film school for me because I was able to observe their process and see how their students go about making a film.”
Russon and the 2016 BYU Center for Animation team’s final rendition of “Papa” can be viewed at studentfilms.byu.edu.
"Modifying Reality" is not rated, but would likely be rated PG for animated comic violence and mild language; running time: 72 minutes.