As Hollywood gears up for the Academy Awards, the annual Oscar issue of Vanity Fair pays tribute to a generation of filmmakers from California Institute of the Arts who went on to become icons in the animation industry. In his feature article, “The Class That Roared,” writer Sam Kashner offers an intimate glimpse into the CalArts experience of a now-famous group of students, who returned to the CalArts campus for a once-in-a-lifetime reunion photograph made by acclaimed photographer, Annie Leibovitz.
CalArts is an internationally acclaimed Los Angeles-area institution founded by Walt Disney and his brother Roy, that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the visual, performing, media and literary arts, including the storied Character and Experimental Animation Programs in its School of Film/Video. In Kashner’s feature, CalArts animation alumni such as Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios John Lasseter, two-time Oscar recipient Brad Bird, visionary filmmaker Tim Burton, Chris Buck, co-director of Disney’s Academy Award nominated hit Frozen, reminisce about their student days—sharing stories of inspiring teachers, marathon work sessions, Felliniesque Halloween parties and enduring friendships.
“My experience at CalArts was such an awesome, special time in my life,” said Lasseter. “Not only did I meet some of my best friends there, but I got to learn and work alongside some of the greatest talent in the animation industry. For CalArts and its animation program to be featured in Vanity Fair is so exciting, as the school has provided—and continues to provide—an incredible education to so many people. I can’t wait to see the impact the next generation of CalArts alumni will have on our industry and culture.”
Accompanying the Vanity Fair article is a truly remarkable photograph by Annie Leibovitz, who came to the CalArts campus to capture the unprecedented reunion of 19 alumni—including Brave co-directors Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, Coraline director Henry Selick. Leibovitz shot the photo in A113, the legendary classroom that became ‘home’ to this distinguished group during their time at CalArts. Also featured in the photo are Brad Bird, Chris Buck, Tim Burton, Pete Docter, Mike Giamo, Leslie Goran, Stephen Hillenberg, Glen Keane, John Lasseter, Rob Minkoff, Rich Moore, John Musker, Jerry Rees, Andrew Stanton, Genndy Tartakovsky and Kirk Wise.
The first generation of CalArts directors contributed to a phenomenal resurgence of animation at the box office which continues to this day. As of January 2014, the accumulated gross profits of animated feature films directed by CalArts alumni approached nearly $30 billion.
The legacy of “the class that roared” continues with new generations of animators from CalArts. The latest wave ranges from wildly inventive students to animators, storyboard and character artists and up-and-coming directors at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation, Dreamworks Animation, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, as well as independent filmmakers and artists.
Today, television too offers creative opportunities to CalArts graduates. Cartoon Network’s current roster includes creator/directors Pendelton Ward of Adventure Time, The Regular Show’s J. G. Quintel, and Uncle Grandpa’s Peter Browngardt. Alex Hirsch is the creator, executive producer and director of the Disney Channel’s Gravity Falls. Having originated Nickelodeon’s El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, Jorge Gutierrez wrote and is currently directing the “Day of the Dead” themed 3D animated feature Book of Life, which is scheduled for release in October 2014.
Other next generation “Calartians” to watch include Disney Animation Studios’ Stephen Anderson writer/director of Meet the Robinsons and co-director of Winnie the Pooh. Alumni with anticipated projects in production include veteran Pixar story and voice artist Peter Sohn who is co-directing the studio’s upcoming The Good Dinosaur, and Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne, currently in production on the film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
On the independent front, Minkyu Lee, named a “rising animation star” by the New York Times, created Adam and Dog on nights and weekends while employed at Walt Disney Animation Studios. The result was a 2013 Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film. CalArts even attracts students with established careers. Momo Wang, already a celebrated animator and designer in her native China, is currently attending the Institute to further hone her skills in stop-motion animation.
Students around the world can now experience some of CalArts’ acclaimed animation curriculum at no charge. CalArts has teamed with premier online education provider Coursera to offer Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers, taught by CalArts’ Provost and Faculty in the School of Art, Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D. Classes begin on February 24.