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President and Founder Paula Wallace Talks SCAD’s 45 Year Legacy and AnimationFest 2023

In the 45 years since 71 students made up the university’s first class, ‘Starship SCAD’ has grown to four locations, over 100 degree programs, more than 17,000 current students and 60,000 alumni, with more than 2,200 alone in the School of Animation and Motion… and a brand-new Midtown Atlanta expansion that includes a 700-seat theater, SCADshow, that will host the festival, running September 28-30.

45 years after 71 intrepid students first boarded what President and Founder Paula Wallace lovingly refers to as “Starship SCAD” in 1978, the Savannah College of Art and Design now boasts three locations in the U.S. and Europe (and a fourth online, through SCADnow), more than 100 degree programs, and 74,000 students and alumni—growing in number every year.

“Not to mention the thousands of communities and families strengthened by SCAD's success, and countless companies and brands launched by SCAD Bees,” notes Wallace. “The mind reels at how far we've flown: endless goodness and invention brought to the world across four and a half decades. My heart overflows with gratitude! I have the best job in the galaxy, surrounded by so many SCAD stars.”

As it has since the beginning, SCAD continues to set the pace in the creative professions, filling the ranks of entrepreneurial leadership for some of today's best and brightest industries—from animation and film to architecture and fashion. SCAD now enrolls more than 17,600 Bees, including 2,243 in the School of Animation and Motion.

This also marks a major year for SCAD Atlanta; a massive expansion in Midtown with building FORTY FIVE (named for the university’s anniversary year) includes a state of the art, 700-seat theater called SCADshow where this weeks’ SCAD AnimationFest will take place from Thursday, September 28 through Saturday, September 30.

The three-day festival will host sessions with executives and creatives from Netflix, Gearbox, Cartoon Network Studios, FOX, Viva Kids, Animal Repair Shop, Crafty Apes, Artie, and FuseFX, as well as SCAD faculty and alumni at the forefront of animation, motion media design and visual effects. This year, SCAD AnimationFest’s program expands to include gaming and virtual production.

Full details on this year’s AnimationFest schedule can be found here. And here’s a trailer showcasing the event along with some of the best of SCAD’s student work:

“We're kind of a big deal,” says Wallace referring to the festival and the university as a whole. “At this year's Academy Awards, 144 SCAD alumni and students were recognized for their work on 18 of this year’s best pictures, including 22 alumni who shared in the Oscar glow for Best Visual Effects winner Avatar: The Way of Water and 15 alumni who worked on Best Animated Feature winner Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, not to mention the 104 other alumni from animation, sequential art, visual effects, illustration, production design, game design, and more who contributed their talents to other Oscar nominated films.”

SCADshow will be the heartbeat and hub for myriad signature SCAD events, from SCADstyle and industry screenings to special performances open to all of Atlanta. And with Georgia at the very epicenter of the global animation boom, one of the top five states in the U.S. for animators and multimedia artists, where media and entertainment generate $14 billion for the state every year and employ 40,000 people—including thousands of SCAD grads—it fits that AnimationFest should serve as the theater’s coming-out party.

“FORTY FIVE is a stunner—sleek, cool, a magnificent marvel, a campus unto itself, a five-star resort for our Bees,” says Wallace. “It's a glamorous, glorious wonderland of a complex, from the top-flight maker spaces on the ground floor to the treetop vistas of student residences and the to-die-for rooftop pool. The fitness center alone outshines any luxury hotel I've seen. There’s a chic café, amazing classrooms, study rooms with killer skyline views, and curated SCAD art everywhere. We can’t wait for everyone to see it at the festival.”

SCAD’s animation degree program continues to be the university's largest program, with 85 credit hours in color theory, life drawing, storyboarding, foundations of story, writing, research, and more, including a required Business Core. The major’s dynamic and innovative curriculum prepares advanced students for SCAD Animation Studios, where they work with professors like Chris Gallagher (veteran of Moana, Zootopia, Frozen, Tangled, and others) to create films to wow audiences on the festival circuit, like the studio’s first animated short Bearly and its latest, The Last Dungeon, debuting this week at AnimationFest.

“Stay tuned,” says Wallace. “We're also building an incredible first season of shows!”

She continues, “SCAD animation students get the best of all worlds—the most comprehensive foundational education in creative higher ed, immediately followed by a chosen specialization within the animation major, from technical direction and character animation to compositing, rigging, and more. And the learning resources hardly stop there.”

At SCADpro, the university's animation students partner with their classmates from across majors to create real products and services in real-time for real clients, from Google and Deloitte to WWE. At SCADamp, aspiring animators learn to pitch their best ideas, connect with colleagues and clients in professional work environments, and visualize and communicate their concepts and stories.

“All these resources add up, which is why our more than 6,200 SCAD animation alumni are living their best lives while working on so many Oscar-winning films,” says Wallace. "SCAD, like animation, never stops evolving. We anticipate trends and make moves while others are looking backward.”

At last year’s AnimationFest, SCAD Atlanta unveiled their new LED Volume, standing at 40 feet wide, 20 feet deep, 18 feet high, and comprised of almost 600 LED panels. SCAD students are now creating commercials, films, and experimental VR projects on the Volume; SCAD is the only university in the world with two LED volumes, the first having opened at Savannah Film Studios in 2021. SCAD’s LED volumes are also the largest at any academic institution in the United States.

The well-researched, intentional evolution of SCAD degree programs is one reason SCAD enrollment continues to rise.

“Where others cling to tradition, SCAD invents the future,” says Wallace. “I want our Bees to master the same tech they'll need to use in their professions. Then there's Unreal Engine, the ultimate animation tool for creating realistic 3D worlds. SCAD migrated to Unreal before the pack because our professors and leaders saw where the industry was headed. Unreal is now the standard for all aspects of production.”

The president continues, “Our size is a benefit to outpacing tech developments, too. With so many SCAD grads killing it in the industry, we have many eyes and ears for early alerts. Our Bees always fly back to the Hive with new intel. Take the legendary Oscar-winning Steve LaVietes (B.F.A., computer art, 1996), lead software engineer at Pixar. During the pandemic, Steve benevolently granted all SCAD students access to his groundbreaking, award winning, industry-changing Katana software—absolutely free.”

LaVietes will be presented with the SCAD45 Award at this year's AnimationFest. Wallace notes it will be one of highest honors of her career to present the alumnus with this award.

Reflecting on the years gone by, and the promising years ahead for SCAD, Wallace says she finds it hard to believe this ever-growing legacy began as a tiny startup in a quiet Southern town.

“How could I have predicted that we would grow into the most comprehensive design university in the world—with animation as our largest major?” says Wallace. “Our grads are contributing their talents to every major animated feature on every screen of every size. SCAD is everywhere!”

To purchase a pass to the 2023 SCAD AnimationFest, go to the festival website here

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at