In 2010, USV embarked on a bold new direction with the development of The Offering, the first Project X animated feature. The goal was to engage students in the entire production process, from concept, to character development, to design of the environment, objects, animations, and sound- all textured, lit and rendered at studio quality levels. It was produced with no dialog, so it could attract audiences around the world. This approach yielded not only awards from film festivals and portfolio pieces for students but established a comprehensive view of production pipelines for students, whether they participated in a Project X feature or not.
In the past 6 weeks, years after its introduction, the Internet has taken note. Before then (The Offering was uploaded to YouTube in 2012), it received fewer views than other Project X pieces. That behavior changed dramatically once the YouTube recommendation engine started to display it as a “suggested video”, appearing alongside or after other videos.
The enormity of this change cannot be understated. Traffic from India, in particular, started to show up in the user comments. Questions arose about the authenticity of the work and comments were made about the execution. Further investigation reveals how many people have now watched the piece in its entirety (over 90% of viewers from the US Virgin Islands, Sierra Leone, the British Virgin Islands, and the Cook Islands), using what devices (66% on smartphones, 25% on computers, 6% on tablets and the remaining on TVs and game consoles) and from what locations (India 44%, United States 14%, Thailand and Malaysia 3% each and the UK 2%). While it was not the intended distribution channel at the outset of the project, YouTube has changed the way animations are discovered and shared. And, the more than 200 comments reveal important nuances that underscore the importance both of historical research and technical execution.
Professor Reid Winfrey served as an Executive Producer on the project. “The Offering was our first real attempt at a professional studio project. The story was written by professor Michael Huber. The sound also came from USV. Lilly Vogelsang was the project manager and probably one of the students most responsible for making the project work.”
Lilly studied Mechanical Engineering and earned her B.S. at UC Davis before she enrolled in USV’s Digital Art and Animation program. She says, via LinkedIn, “After completing my Engineering degree, I wanted to pursue my passion for art and animation. I studied 3D modeling, texturing, and compositing. I have a passion for painting, and I love to sculpt as well. Bringing it all together in technology enables artists to express themselves in new media.” Lilly went on to become Product Manager at Toon Boom Animation and then to the “mind-blowing” special effects team at Atomic Fiction, which boasts work on such notable works as Deadpool, Game of Thrones and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The idea for a six-armed dancing character took shape through the efforts of both faculty and students. “A couple of us provided some anatomical ideas about a skeleton for a six-armed human, but it was the student modelers, animators, practical sculptors and riggers who really did the heavy lifting,” said Reid Winfrey. “The overarching goal was to create something indistinguishable from what a large professional studio could create. I recall showing this to faculty from a few other colleges and they didn’t believe that it was student work!”
Reid notes that Evan Clover was the Lead Animator on the project and is continuing his work at Double Negative, whose special effects credits include Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, and Justice League. He said, “Quite a few of the many students who worked to make The Offering are doing quite well, even if they graduated before it was finished or were involved at the tail end, putting on the finishing touches.” As a portfolio piece, projects like this have lasting value as graduates continue to pursue new opportunities that continue to surface for such talent.
One student who came in when the story and most of the assets were already locked down and nearly everyone that had started the project had either already graduated or otherwise departed was Josh USV. He says, “My role was largely a mad dash for the finish line, doing whatever was necessary to complete the film before the deadline, and as such was largely to put the finishing touches on work that had been begun by other students.” This “master of all trades” role he continues now at Blur Studio, which boasts clients such as Apple, Electronic Arts, Netflix and Lucas Arts.
Comments from viewers range from a focus on technical proficiency (“I laughed when Shiva broke a sweat! Very good animation and story too!”) to historical accuracy (“One more textbook case of Hinduphobic narrative making its roads in popular culture”). Whether viewers find it “fascinating” or “slightly creepy”, the students who researched, designed and produced The Offering have made a lasting impact with their extraordinary work.