Mind Your Business: 'Star Wars' by Students

Mark Simon celebrates the 10th anniversary of DAVE School.

Han Solo from DAVE School's award-winning animated short Star Wars: The Solo Adventures. Images courtesy of DAVE School.

Star Wars Celebration V was the mecca for sci-fi (not to be confused with SyFy, which is ridiculous) in Orlando this past summer. But for the students of DAVE School (Digital Animation & Visual Effects School) the Star Wars event was a great beginning to their career.

DAVE School, based on the backlot at Universal Studios Orlando, is the brain child of Jeff and Anne Scheetz. Their one-year curriculum takes students from beginners to proficient CG animators and VFX artists. Their placement record and success at the convention is proof.

The school has grown from a trailer on the backlot to filling an entire sound stage and office complex at Universal Studios Orlando. They celebrated their 10-year anniversary at the same time they moved into their new facilities with a new Mocap system and cyc on their own large sound stage.

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Jeff's background started in Los Angeles. "I was a visual effects supervisor, and then an animation producer, at Foundation Imaging. We went from 20 employees to over 200 in less than a year. I hired most of those people and made observations about what was not being taught in schools. That was the inspiration to start our school."

Anne adds, "When we first started we wanted the students to develop their own demo reel during the final quarter. But we learned that isn't what they will do in the industry, so now in the last quarter we have them focus on a job as part of a crew on a short film just like a real job. We bring in outside writers and directors and musicians and let the students concentrate on using their new CG and compositing skills."

Their first complete short was based on a toy created by New York toy studio Art Asylum titled PsychoPump. (www.DAVEschool.com/movies/psychopump/).

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their move into a new studio and office facility at
Universal Studios Orlando.

Another project the school did with Art Asylum was based on another line of toys called Specidemons. That started because Specidemons was pitched at Foundation Imaging while Jeff was producing there, and he always thought the idea sounded cool. "I ran into the owner, Digger, years later and finally produced Specidemons." (www.DAVEschool.com/movies/specidemons.)

Full disclosure, I wrote, boarded and voice directed Specidemons. Jeff and I sat down with the toys and determined the good guys and bad guys, gave them personalities and I went off and wrote the script. Like many of the DAVE School shorts, this one combined live action with animation.

Some of their student projects have also been commercial successes. "Art Asylum also has a line of blocky action figures called MiniMates," adds Jeff. "Originally we made a fan film of their Batman MiniMates, Batman: New Times. (www.DAVEschool.com/movies/batman/) We never had the rights from DC do anything but a fan film. But, the short was seen by Marvel Comics and they allowed us to make an X-Men MiniMates short as a school project. (www.DAVEschool.com/movies/xmen/) That DVD was packaged with four MiniMate X-Men characters and sold in retail stores."

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DAVE School productions have also often used name voice talent in their productions. "Using name voice talent really started with the Batman MiniMates short," says Anne.

"Dick Van Dyke uses the same software [<LightWave>] we do and he called Tech Support and asked a lot of questions," adds Jeff. "When we started the Batman project, someone at NewTek offered up Dick's participation. That was awesome, but we didn't think Dick Van Dyke would play Batman, but he would be perfect as Commissioner Gordon. Then we didn't want a movie that starred Nobody, Nobody and Dick Van Dyke."

Jeff continues, "So then we thought, who would be a great Batman? It didn't take a long time before we thought Adam West (the original 1960s live-action Batman actor). At the time we didn't realize that Mark Hamill had been doing the voice of the animated Joker for the past 10 years, so we were thrilled to ask him to reprise his role (and a few others on later productions). We rounded off our cast with Courtney Thorne-Smith from According to Jim as Catwoman."

The idea to do a 3-D Star Wars fan film came up when Jeff and Anne heard about Star Wars Celebration V coming to Orlando. There was a competition on Atom Films to make a Lucasfilm approved fan film. They also wanted to participate with a booth containing a 3-D projector at Star Wars Celebration. That allowed the school to showcase their latest stereoscopic work and generate more interest in the school.

Anne adds, "Over the last year we've added 3-D stereoscopic to our curriculum. We hired a stereographer, Daniel Smith, who has worked with Robert Rodriguez as an instructor and he co-directed our Star Wars: The Solo Adventures film with Jeff."

"In New Hope in the Cantina, Greedo was going to take Han back to Jabba because Han dropped Jabbas shipment. So, we wanted answer the question of what was in that shipment and the story behind it," says Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Jeff.

Star Wars: The Solo Adventures fan film produced by DAVE School students.

The Solo Adventures can be seen online at the Dave School.

The students and the school should be very proud of their work. The DAVE School production won Best Animated Feature at Star Wars Celebration V.

"Of the 27 students who worked on the film, over 20 of them were hired after graduation and are already working in the industry. So that's the biggest sign of success we could ask for," concludes Smith.

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director/producer. His animation is online at www.FunnyToons.tv. He is also the co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com. He has pitched and landed over 25 deals for his own projects. He is currently turning the hit comic strips B.C. and Wizard of Id into animated properties.

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