Baylor A&S students receive unique opportunity to learn from professional filmmakers in Japanese animation camp

Three Baylor students were the only Americans to attend a recent prestigious animation camp in Japan: (L to R) Esther Tong, James Ellis and Adam Howell

Three Baylor undergraduates traveled to Niigata, Japan, in March 2024 to participate in the Niigata Animation Camp, described as “a cutting-edge development program tailored for aspiring young directors, staff and students in the realm of international animation.” Niigata is a coastal city of 780,000 which has been billed as “the animation capital of Japan.”

According to the Niigata Daily Paper of March 30, 2024, the Camp was held in conjunction with the six-day Second Niigata International Animation Film Festival (NIAFF), allowing the 40 young attendees selected from around the world to be nurtured by viewing films and attending lectures and master classes presented by noted animation professionals.

The three Baylor students who attended the 2024 version of the Camp were: Esther Tong, a junior language and linguistics major; James Ellis, a junior film and digital media major; and Adam Howell, a sophomore film and digital media major.

At Baylor, Tong and Howell are enrolled in an elementary Japanese language course in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Yuko Prefume, senior lecturer in Japanese, said that a professional colleague of hers at the Niigata University of Health and Welfare paved the way for the three Baylor students to be invited and become the only American students taking part in this year’s Camp.

“I am happy for Baylor students to have had this special opportunity,” Prefume said. “I hope to be able to continue this relationship with the Niigata International Animation Film Festival and send more students from Baylor in the future.”

Baylor’s Department of Film & Digital Media provided some of the financial support needed to send the students to Japan.

“Film & Digital Media was glad to provide support for these student filmmakers to attend the camp,” said Chris Hansen, chair and professor of film & digital media. “This was a great chance for them to learn more about their craft while immersed in an incredible cultural experience.”

At the Camp and the NIAFF, each of the Baylor students had opportunities to attend screenings of animated films, as well as attend master classes and talk one-on-one with the accomplished animators who acted as instructors.

Esther Tong said that she and other students in the Animation Camp were able to watch as many movies as they wanted free of charge.

“It was truly an exciting experience, and my only regret is that there was not enough time to view every film featured,” Tong said. “On one of the last nights, we were given a special opportunity to sit in groups with directors from the film competition and discuss their films. My group of students talked with Diego Herguera, the producer of the real life inspired Sultana’s Dream. He told us the struggles of creating a breakout indie animation, and how their film was created simultaneously in five different languages across multiple countries.”

James Ellis enjoyed the opportunity the Camp gave him to meet and engage with other film and animation students from around the globe.

“It was very fun and inspiring to be able to see everyone’s work and to receive helpful critiques and skills to improve my own art in the process,” Ellis said. “Some of the most important skills and advice I learned include processes such as creating proper character reference sheets and turnarounds for animation, as well as a helpful trick involving making accurate background settings using a 3D layout software taught to us by Sébastien Laudenbach and Chiara Malta in one of our first master classes. It was very amazing to be able to have met with these various animation and film professionals, and it was even better to experience the various films in person instead of just viewing them online.”

Adam Howell said the lessons he learned by attending several master classes taught by experienced animators were invaluable.

“My favorite of these guests was Micheal Fukashima, who gave a master class on our identity as young filmmakers. We as filmmakers have a responsibility to portray our unique outlook and culture accurately, and not conform to the standard Pixar or Hollywood way of telling a story. We were encouraged to tell stories in as unique a manner as possible and experiment with visuals and plot,” Howell said. “I feel tremendously honored to have been chosen [to attend the Camp]. My passion for filmmaking has grown, and I was able to gain a new perspective that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had stayed in Texas.”



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