Short film creates animation opportunities for alums

"Fishing for the Soul" shares a message of how to cope with loss.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

Most people look to California as the hub for all things animation.

But for Richie Jimenez, an animation and visual effects instructor for the College of Fine Arts and Production, that realization came with a reoccurring question: Why not create opportunities in Phoenix?

That’s how Jimenez and his project partner and co-writer, Kevin Palmer, who works as a freelance illustrator, designer and founder of  KPStudios, began the process turning a story concept that Jimenez had put together while he was in art school into an active animated project. Thus, the “Fishing for the Soul” Kickstarter was born.

“Over the years I haven’t really seen any growth with the animation community here in Phoenix, Arizona, which is odd because this is a great place, I think, to live,” Jimenez said. “There are a few studios here, but I really wanted to give an opportunity to students at GCU and also other schools that are involved in animation to work in a studio environment.”

Harry the Bear is one of two main characters in the short.

Through Kickstarter, Jimenez and Palmer are trying to get enough funding to bring the animation to life through the hiring of talented animators and staff, most of whom are recent college graduates.

“Animation is expensive, and we want to do it right,” Jimenez said. “This can take two to three months depending on how we organize this, just because this is our first time doing it and we’re kind of learning as we go.”

They have brought on three Grand Canyon University alumni to work on different aspects of the project.

Jake Metzgar will work the storyboard as well as animation, Addison Koyl took on the role of a character artist and Logan Vosburgh will be a 3D character artist. The specific focus on working with COFAP graduates allows students to take what they learned in class and use it outside the classroom, said Sheila Schumacher, Director of the Digital Design Program.

“By including past students on the production team, Richie is showing first-hand how the skills learned in our Digital Design program can be put to work,” Schumacher said. “As a mentor and leader for the students, he always looks for ways to challenge them to tell better stories and create engaging characters.”

The five- to 10-minute short tells the story of an unlikely friendship that begins between a bear named Harry and a fish named Guppy as Harry is hunting for his next meal. Both characters have suffered their own unique experiences with the loss of a loved one and create a special bond as they help each other cope with their losses. The pandemic makes the story that much more relevant.

“The message is about moving on and moving forward,” Jimenez said. “Even though you’re in hard times, things get better.”

In addition to offering students a local animation opportunity, the project also opens a door for students to be introduced to other animators besides Jimenez and Palmer.

“Me and Kevin have a lot of friends that work at Disney, Pixar and Sony, so we meet with them and then we introduce them to the students,” Jimenez said. “Meeting all these people, I think is a really great experience for them.”

Guppy the Fish is the second of the two main characters.

Said Palmer, “It’s very valuable, that relationship. We can bring them on and present them to a direct connection.”

Jimenez and Palmer’s efforts to create more opportunities for up-and-coming animators have not gone unnoticed by the graduates they’ve brought to the project.

“They really like the way we’re putting the team together. They love the story and they get to practice their skill sets,” Jimenez said.

“It’s a very collaborative effort,” Palmer said. “It’s not just being Richie the leader or 'do what you’re told.' We opened something special for them to speak out and have that leadership role as well because I think that’s valuable, especially in the workforce.

“I used to be the quiet one, the shy one. I didn’t want to speak up. So I’m trying to encourage that in my own teaching styles, to be a leader and not a follower.”

Jimenez and Palmer have plans for future hiring opportunities and internships and hope to continue to grow the Phoenix animation community through other projects.

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].


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