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Landing at LAIKA

Landing at LAIKA

Graduating seniors Emily Neilson 15 FAV and Katy Strutz 15 IL are thrilled to move on to LAIKA, a creative animation studio outside Portland, OR.

ALIVE, a captivating stop-motion piece, took first place for animation in the 2015 Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Competition.

Emily Neilson 15 FAV and Katy Strutz 15 IL pulled a series of all-nighters in making Alive, a whimsical stop-motion animation short about Pinocchio’s search for the meaning of life. Best friends and roommates, the two graduating seniors were racing the clock to finish the elaborate, three-minute piece for their final critique in Stop-Motion Animation, taught by Associate Professor Agnieszka Woznicka. Their nocturnal productivity paid off in more ways than one: the film took first place for animation in this year's Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Competition in NYC.

“We were absolutely thrilled by the award,” says Strutz. “For three weeks, we did nothing but fabricate sets and puppets. We even took turns sleeping in four-hour shifts while we were animating the final piece.”

Strutz and Neilson are excited that they’ll get to continue to work together after graduation—through summer internships at LAIKA, an Oregon-based animation studio where they’ll make sets, props and puppets for feature films, commercials and short films. Industry insiders still rave about The Boxtrolls, the studio’s 2014 fable that unfolds in a posh Victorian-era town obsessed with wealth, class and the stinkiest of fine cheeses. And audiences are charmed by ParaNorman, a 2012 comedy thriller that was nominated for both an Oscar and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award (BAFTA) for Best Animated Feature Film.

“LAIKA is really the only company known for making visually stunning 3D stop-motion and CG hybrid animated features,” explains Strutz. “I really can’t wait to settle in with a community of woodworkers, machinists and animators dedicated to telling enduring stories and pushing the boundaries of animation technology.”

RISD’s rigorous FAV curriculum thoroughly prepared them to work in a professional studio setting, note Neilson and Strutz. Both animators grew into capable independent directors after taking animation courses with FAV Critic Steven Subotnick, an accomplished animation artist and longtime faculty member who teaches students to use writing, movement, timing and sound design to create poetic animated films. They also credit Woznicka for helping them understand the technical aspects of stop-motion animation and how to make on-screen props that move in a controlled manner.

“Here at RISD the professors are the absolute best at what they do,” Neilson says. “Once I started taking courses directly related to my major, I felt like everything just clicked. I’ve never been into animation for the gags. I want to tell stories that express raw human experiences through beautiful, visual mediums.”

Both seniors deeply value the community of “amazingly talented” peers they’ve been a part of at RISD and are thoroughly enjoying their last days on campus. “This is such an exciting time full of huge transitions,” says Strutz. “Nothing has sunk in yet – and I don't think it will until our plane touches down in Portland. But I always know we can come back to RISD. It’ll always feel like home.”

–Abigail Crocker

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