David Wolter won the top prize in the animation category at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 39th Annual Student Academy Awards on Saturday night in Beverly Hills.
Wolter, who lives in Newhall with his wife, Amanda, works as a story artist on feature films at DreamWorks Animation. He won for his short animated film, “Eyrie,” which he made in 2011 during his second year as a character animation student at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.
Wolter learned in May that “Eyrie” was one of three nominees in the animation category. On Saturday, his film – a “coming-of-age” piece featuring a shepherd who must learn to care for his flock and defend it against a predatory eagle – won the gold medal in animation.
The silver medal in animation went to Mark Nelson of UCLA, and bronze went to Eric Prah from Ringling College.
Winners received trophies and cash prizes, but not Oscar statuettes. Actors Laura Dern, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Greg Kinnear and Mena Suvari joined Academy President Tom Sherak to present the awards at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
In all, they presented 13 Student Academy Awards in five categories: animation, documentary, narrative, foreign film and alternative.
Wolter grew up in Colorado Springs and studied art at Augustana College, S.D., before coming to California.
“Much of my work circles around a single idea: mankind’s symbolic appropriation of animal identity,” Wolter writes in his blog at DavidWolter.com.
In the blog, he explores the question of whether “Eyrie” is a Western; the story could be told in any number of ways and could be set virtually anywhere. “Eyrie” has no guns or whiskey or bad guys in the traditional sense, but it takes place in a setting resembling Monument Valley, and a Navajo rug is a central element.
“I made this film to explore three ideas,” Wolter writes. “First: ‘place-ness’ and the ways in which specificity of location can enrich a film. Second: film as ritual; that a cinematic experience could translate into mythic experience, specifically a coming of age ritual. Third: the boundary between human and animal and the ways in which it is crossed. It was in the American West that I found the locus for all three ideas.”
“(The) conflict’s central antimonies of man vs. nature and civilization vs. savagery are quintessentially Western,” he concludes.
“Eyrie” and the other four gold-medal films will be screened June 24 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (www.psfilmfest.org) and June 27 at the William G. McGowan Theater of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. (www.archives.gov).
The Academy established the Student Academy Awards in 1972 to support and encourage excellence in filmmaking at the collegiate level. Past Student Academy Award winners have gone on to receive 46 Oscar nominations and have won or shared eight awards.