DAC releases 2014 Senior Short, I Need My Monster


Student animators’ newest film “exceptional”

By Courtney Harrell | University Communications

The CU Denver Digital Animation Center’s Senior Lab 800R has one cardboard cutout of a Star Wars death trooper in the back corner, a few game controllers on a side table, and a pirate flag saying “render the booty” on the wall. This is the place where 14 seniors in the College of Arts and Media, supervised by the director of DAC, Howard Cook, recently completed their group capstone project, “I Need My Monster,” a short film adaptation of a children’s book by the same name.



The display of intricately textured monsters took three semesters, or 18 months, of hard work directed by Stephen Baker, with technical direction by Tripp Vroman and Paul Conner. But all the animation students’ dedication is about to pay off.

People are talking

Shari Greenspan, the publisher of the children’s book, called the adaptation “exceptional” and praised the students for work that “brought the book to life and added dimensions that we couldn’t have imagined.” In an email to one student, the book’s illustrator praised the film’s “truthfulness and luminosity,” and Flashlight Press, the publishing company, will be proposing to Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores that they include the display of the film with the books. And that’s just the beginning.

“It’s the best one we’ve done,” Cook says of the film. “The overall quality, the attention to detail, and the follow-through was just superb on this project.”

Ready to compete


In a few months, Cook will be sending “I Need My Monster” to hundreds of film festivals around the country, including the biggest film festival of them all—the Student Academy Awards. Cook expects the film to see a lot of wins, and the students even fantasize that this time next year, they could be reuniting to accept a student Oscar.

Animation student Michael Launder blames the monsters for their success. “Everyone loves monsters,” he says. “It was fun to work with them.”  From the hand-drawn sketches of the animated monsters on the lab’s fridge and the excitement on Launder’s face, it’s clear that making the film was fun for the students.

“How can you call this work?” Launder asks.

It’s funny to hear a student shrug off hours of hard work, sometimes 100 hours per week of hard work, as play, but that’s what he does. Launder points to the community of animation students as the main source of joy in the project and the primary thing he will miss now that the project is over.

His second favorite thing?  The reactions.

One of Launder’s jobs was making sure that the eyes of all the monsters looked appealing. After spending 18 months fine-tuning such minute details as the amount of reflected light on the bottom of a monster iris, Launder says it’s easy to keep nitpicking every detail.  When the film finally premiered at the Red Line Gallery in Denver, Launder was thrilled to see that the children in the audience couldn’t take their eyes off the eyes he had spent so long creating.

“They would sit there and watch it on repeat,” Launder says. “I’m talking five, six, seven times in a row. The kids loved it.”

Launder says it’s that feeling, watching an audience be moved by something you created, that has motivated him throughout the project. “I want to use visuals to move an audience,” he says. “I want to take a splash of blue and yellow and make you feel.”

Ready for the big time

Launder has friends like CU Denver graduate Jeff Gipson who are already making that dream a reality. Gipson is working as an animator for Disney, and when Launder visited him they went to a café where Walt Disney used to bring his animators for meetings. “That’s the dream,” Launder says.

Launder has applied for a job at Nickelodeon and internships at Blue Sky, Pixar and Dreamworks.  He feels ready to apply for these kinds of elite positions, and he should.

“Working on this project is about as close as you can get to real-world experience,” Cook says. “The students have to manage their own time, make creative choices, meet deadlines, and when they finish, they’re ready for the real world. There’s no book learnin’ for this kind of stuff.”

To prepare students for work in the real world, CU Denver provides some of the highest-quality lab equipment in the country, including motion-capture stages, high-definition cameras and computers with fully maxed-out RAM. Students have all the tools they could ask for, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hollywood uses thousands of machines to produce animated films like “I Need My Monster.” At a Hollywood studio, it takes hundreds of people to make movies like this one. It took only 14 seniors at CU Denver.

After working on the film, the animation students are qualified to get work doing animation in a variety of fields, including  forensics, engineering, architecture, games, and, of course, films. Animation is everywhere, Cook says. The students will never have a shortage of work.

Down the hall from Senior Lab 8A, there are other computer labs where the next class of animation students will soon begin their own capstone projects. Cook says the bar in the animation program keeps getting raised every year. The underclassmen watch the projects of the upperclassmen and always try to one-up them.

“The work just keeps getting better,” Cook says like a proud dad. “I can only imagine what’s coming next.”


Published: July 7, 2014 


DAC Junior Jeremy Kuehn selected for coveted PIXAR internship


Jeremy Kuehn is third DAC student to be placed in internship program at maker of "Cars," "Toy Story," other acclaimed films

CU Denver digital animation student Jeremy Kuehn wins a coveted internship at PIXAR

By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER (April 17, 2014)—Jeremy Kuehn has known since fifth grade that he wanted to be a film animator.

The CU Denver student this summer will take a huge step toward that goal. Kuehn learned Wednesday that he is one of only nine students worldwide selected for a prestigious and highly selective internship with PIXAR, maker of such acclaimed and award-winning films as "Toy Story," "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles" and "Cars."

"I'm very excited," Kuehn said, taking a break from a class in the Digital Animation Center, part of College of Arts & Media.

Kuehn is a junior studying 3D graphics and animation. He said DAC's state-of-the-art animation computer software and faculty played a major role in the internship. Kuehn is the third DAC student to be placed in the PIXAR internship program, including Jeff Gipsonand Zach Repasky.

"This is an absolutely amazing program," Kuehn said of DAC. "Students here appreciate how we replicate a studio environment. It prepares you for the outside world—actual (film) studios. At PIXAR, they want to know you're able to work on a team in a studio environment."

Howard Cook, assistant professor and director of DAC, said PIXAR selects its summer undergraduate interns from a pool of thousands of applicants. "It's a coveted internship," Cook said. "This is quite an honor for Jeremy and a great acknowledgment of our program."

Kuehn, who works for CU Denver's new club ultimate Frisbee team, begins his 10-week paid scholarship at the PIXAR studios near Oakland on June 12. He looks forward to returning to CU Denver to continue his collaboration with classmates.

"I look forward to being able to take what I learn this summer and pass it on to other people in the program here," he said. "Also, I want to thank Paul Conner (instructor of visual arts) for playing a huge part in my internship search."

This year, seniors at DAC are transforming the popular children’s book “I Need My Monster” into a computer animated film short. Students and faculty in the program have done everything from forming a partnership with the publisher of the book to writing an adapted screenplay, to now animating the story. The film will be finished by the first week in May. As part of this process, students directly interact with industry leaders and have the opportunity to work on real projects. Since 2010, DAC student projects have won 23 awards at a variety of national and international film festivals.

For more information on the University of Colorado Denver’s Digital Animation Center, please click here.

(Photo inset: Jeremy Kuehn photographed in DAC's motion-capture technology sessions).



The 2013 Senior Short: The Ninety Nines

It's a WRAP! Another Sucessful Digital Animation Center short is "in the can."

The DAC class of 2013 finishes in style... and at the very last minute!




Denver — I can't believe its done and I can't believe how good it looks" were the word's of DAC senior Jessica May. "I honestly didn't think we would finish."

But finish they did, literally one hour before the official premier at the 2013 UC Denver College of Arts & Media, BFA Thesis Show at Redline Gallery, Denver.

Working over the last 18 months, the DAC senior classed wrapped up their short, The Ninety Nines, an alternate timeline story about Amelia Earhart and her fight to stop the advance of Nazi technology in WWII. The Ninety Nines is a trailer for a fictional video game. DAC Director Howard Cook conceived the game concept and story.

"The story is cool, the art is cool and the animation is cool", said Dave Thomas, video game reviewer, UC Denver faculty and senior staff at CU Online and as he viewed the short at Redline. "It really looks like a professionally done game cinematic."

The DAC engages their seniors in an intense, three semester capstone series in which the students are required to produce a high-production value short film from a provided script. The students use the sum of their previous 3+ years of animation learning to create a functional animation pipeline and then set forth developing the script into a finished film.

"I learned so much and really grew as an artist,” said Remy Reynolds, responsible for among other things, the shorts lighting and compositing. "It was hard work, but in the end totally, totally worth it. I can honestly say I am a CG artist now and I know how to work on a production team."

The Ninety Nines can be viewed here:


The DAC in the National spotlight.

This video was shot last spring for HP by the talented team at the Los Angeles based Imageworks. HP is highlighting the DAC in a series of commercials for TV and in theaters nationwide.

The video below, shows off how the DAC uses HP equipment in our "state-of-the-shelf" labs, to provide our students with a deep understanding of the animation process through a rigorous curriculum, a solid foundation in the tools and a real-world collaboration unlike any other school in the country. Highlighted is the senior short film production, a three-semester, intensive production in which the students, under the mentorship and direction of faculty produce a high-production value short film. The labs at the DAC are widely considered to be amongst the very best in the country.

Our Awards

Some of the over 80 awards DAC films have received.


The Story Behind Forever Mankind


Newest capstone film by DAC is based on historic 1969 lunar mission

DENVER - TheDigital Animation Center could have another hit on its hands with "Forever Mankind," a film about the words a grieving nation would have heard if the Apollo 11 mission ended in catastrophe.

The animated short is the latest senior capstone project by DAC students, who spend three semesters working on a film in an in-house studio.

"I think it's going to do well on the film circuit," said Howard Cook, director of DAC. "Our last two films have been in something like 70 national and international film festivals."

The 2010 DAC film, "A Complex Villainelle," won "best animated short" awards in 12 national and international film festivals, and the 2011 film, "Eight Second Dance" won five awards, including the recent "best animation" at the Honolulu Film Festival.

In July 1969 the nation was gripped in anticipation as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin blasted off for the moon. President Nixon's speechwriter, William Safire, was tasked with writing the "failure speech" the president would deliver in the event Aldrin and Armstrong would die on the mission.

Cook and Craig Volk, associate professor of theater, film and video production, co-wrote the story of "Forever Mankind" -- Cook was inspired after reading Safire's speech, which surfaced in the National Archives in 2004 -- and turned the 11 seniors in DAC loose on producing the film.

"What we're trying to simulate is work they would do in a studio," Cook said. In professional animation studios, such as Dreamworks, the animators are assigned a film to work on, rather than given the latitude to create the script. That's why DAC uses the same approach.

They spend 18 months creating the film from scratch -- doing everything from discovery to pre-production to the final credits.

"It's a really hard task. Making a short film is really hard," Cook said, noting the many hours of extra work put in by faculty and students. "It requires a commitment from the students that's far more than normal class work. But look what they get to walk away with. You can't really get a better example of what you did in your school work than that."

Cook tries to give the students a story that interests them. This year's class, led by top College of Arts & Media graduate Kelsey Brown, expressed an interest in history. Next year's DAC seniors, a large group of 20 students, are interested in gaming, so Cook's script is a backstory to a fictional video game.

Students in the program get a four-year scaffolding of knowledge into digital animation, Cook said. "And in this project over three semesters they bring all that together," he said. "Because it's a collaborative, creative workspace, they're able to get a level of soft skills, of people skills, that they couldn't get from a textbook or from any other way than through this kind of project."

Cook said the real-life training makes DAC graduates immediately competitive for positions in theater studios.

Cook said "Forever Mankind" will be entered into some of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. The DAC Director believes DAC's take on the historic lunar landing of 1969 could land some prestigious hardware in 2013, if not sooner. "I think it's good enough that it has a chance to make next year's Academy Awards," he said.

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