SVA Alumnus Sari Rodrig on Animating Emotion, Winning at Cannes, More

June 7, 2013

Since she graduated only a year ago, Sari Rodrig’s (BFA 2012 Computer Art) thesis film, Brother, has earned kudos around the world, including Best Student Short in the American Pavilion Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival and 3rd Place at the national College Television Awards  in L.A. Rodrig interned at Pixar Animation Studios during her studies at SVA and currently works with Curious Pictures in New York City as a freelance 3D artist. SVA Close Up caught up with Rodrig to get the inside scoop on her thesis film, awards and plans for the future.

How did you arrive at the character and story for Brother?
The story was inspired by my dad, a sculptor who makes mechanical creatures. The character was built from a combination of a few that inspire me.  I took reference from darker characters from films such as Coraline and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There were many designs drawn for the character, but it took a while to arrive at the hero since I had a very specific creature in mind. It took a good year to tweak both story and character.

Why do you think Brother has been so successful?
It is a warm story, accompanied by welcoming music, about a gentle creature who we believe is incapable of emotion. Viewers really connect with the eerie and almost creepy nature of the settings and main character, contrasted with the beautiful thing he creates. It’s ironic and to the point. I learned that everything tells a story, so I always kept in mind that the technical elements always followed the theme. You’ll notice in the film that each character and prop is broken, adding not only visual appeal, but story appeal as well. There’s a reason behind everything in the piece; it’s all intentional. I really poured my heart into this project.

Did the film lead you to Nathan Love? How did it prepare you for your work today?
Brother led me everywhere I’ve worked thus far. I interned for Pixar after my junior year. I got in through showing my progress with the thesis characters. I went on to intern and freelance for the studio LAIKA in Oregon (creators of Coraline and ParaNorman). Through my experience with the thesis and internships, I went on to work for Framestore, Nathan Love, and currently Curious Pictures. With the experience from my instructors at SVA, and learning the ropes of the animation pipeline, I feel very confident doing work for studios, even when presented with new challenges.

What was it like to be at the Cannes Film Festival? Were you surprised when you won Best Student Short?
Being at Cannes was absolutely inspiring. At first it’s very overwhelming, at least compared to other festivals. It felt good being a part of it all, even though I was a pretty small fish in a huge pond. My film was in the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at the American Pavilion. There were 14 films selected in total. I was happy and shocked just to be there with great filmmakers. I didn’t expect to win because Brother was the lone animation. I was definitely very surprised and in awe, to say the least, when my name was called.

What are your plans for the future? Are there any projects in the hopper that you can share?
I absolutely love what I do every day for work, and that being said, I would like to keep perfecting my skill set as an artist.  My thesis instructor, Stuart Cudlitz, inspired me to become a director. I would like to be a better filmmaker. Aside from work, I am directing an animated short. It’s in pre-production right now and I’m very happy with the way that’s going.

Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers and computer artists?
For aspiring computer artists, passion is the key ingredient in success. You must be passionate about your craft. It takes many, many hours to learn the technical artistry of computer animation. To really stand out and improve your skill set, it takes a lot of dedication. For future filmmakers, learn as much about storytelling as you can. Filmmakers tell stories with their art to inspire others, and most importantly connect with an audience. Of course, make sure you have good people behind you and network all you can.

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