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Prize-winning films give glimpse of next-gen animators

CalArts has turned out a lot of top animators over the years. Its 2012 CalArts Character Animation Producers' Show gives a look at the talent that will appear in the years to come.

A frame from Eusong Lee's "will."
Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

The California Institute of the Arts just north of Los Angeles has produced a whole lot of top animators (Pixar and Disney chief creative officer and "Toy Story" director John Lasseter being but one of them). And why not? The school, after all, was founded by Walt Disney himself.

CalArts' School of Film/Video features two animation programs, "experimental" and "character," and earlier this month the Character Animation program showed off work by its BFA students, at the 2012 CalArts Character Animation Producers' Show. We thought we'd share two of the shorts that won prizes at the event, to give you a sneak peek at some of the talent that may well be creating the animated features of the future at Pixar and other studios.

Twenty-one-year-old Toniko Pantoja nabbed the Peer Pick Award (chosen by students) with "Crayon Dragon." As you'll see, it's a fantasy in which a one-winged dragon that's part of a mural comes to life when faceless authorities order the mural painted over. "There's something a lot of people should know about me," Pantoja has written on his blog. "I'm a very cheesy guy." Well, there are, perhaps, one or two overly sentimental swells of music during "Crayon Dragon," but we must admit, we got a little choked up by the film (and you may too, in spite of yourself). We think Pantoja need not worry too much.

The Walter and Gracie Lantz Animation Prize (aka "The Woody Award" -- Walter Lantz created Woody Woodpecker) is the faculty-scored prize, and it went to Eusong Lee for "will." This one is definitely emotional: It's structured around an answering machine message that a man leaves for his daughter while trapped in one of the twin towers on 9/11. It's an intimate and beautifully done look at the personal and individual ramifications of that event.

The two films are stylistically different, with each impressive in its own way, and they make it clear that there's a lot of talent out there. You can check out other films in the Producers' Show here.