Animation Students Bring General Sam Houston To Life
Nov. 30, 2017
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti
Story by Teddi Cliett
One single second of animation takes around 20 hours of work to create, according to Sam Houston State University Assistant Professor of Art Melissa Glasscock.
For most, that’s equivalent to standing at the bottom of Mount Everest and looking up. But over the summer, SHSU art majors Lee Contreras and Oranda Dillard grabbed their tools and put in long hours to create “Sam Houston: A Texas Hero,” a five-and-a-half minute animated short film that recently won “Best Animated Film” at the West Texas Film Festival.
The film, which highlights the major moments in Sam Houston’s life, was produced entirely by Glasscock, Contreras and Dillard, thanks to an SHSU FAST Grant. As part of the Eureka Center, FAST grants are specifically designed for a small group of students to work closely with a professor to construct original research or creative work.
“We stayed on campus for 10 weeks working on this animation,” Contreras said. “Glasscock basically directed us, told us what it needed to be about, and the time frame we needed to do it in.”
When deciding what the animation should be about, Glasscock had simple criteria: she wanted a subject that was fun to animate and beneficial to the community. After she found out from a fellow professor that children typically don’t take a history class until at least fifth grade, she knew sharing the story of a local Texas hero was a promising direction.
“I thought, what a great story: we have the museum here, and his former homes are here for us to look at,” Glasscock said. “Then not only do we get to make an animation, but after it goes through the film festival circuit, we could give it to the elementary schools and they can learn something about history, even though they’re not in a history class.”
Since Contreras and Dillard had the task of making a film about a historical figure, they made sure to make even the smallest of details as accurate as possible.
Throughout the creation process, they conducted research at the library, where they read children’s books that summarized Texas history in a digestible way, and the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, where they spoke with the museum curator to ensure their character designs were factual.
“We were trying to be as historically accurate as possible, so looking at certain things like their clothing and looking very closely at the weapons, his house, his store, his jaguar vest and even just comparing heights to people in real life was important,” Glasscock said. “The girls did a really good job of researching because it was very close to being spot on. I know Lee at one point was researching Santa Anna and she was debating if he had a mustache or not in that short time period – so they were very specific, even down to the facial hair.”
While the film highlights significant parts of Sam Houston’s life, like his time living with the Cherokee Indians and fighting for Texas’ independence, Contreras and Dillard said there is much more to the man than most people know.
“We learned so much about him,” Contreras said. “We had to pick the most major points, but there were so many interesting stories that if we had more time to research or more time in the film to show these things, we would have loved to show them.”
Stories such as Sam Houston’s many adventures, his request to be paid in one of three C’s (cash, corn for his horses, or calico fabric), or the time he once beat a man who accused him of cheating the Cherokees, and then refused to pay the court fine with Frances Scott Key beside him as his lawyer.
For the majority of the film, the two students split the workload according to their strengths – Dillard focused on the character detail and Contreras created the background. Their ability to complement each other’s talents was part of the reason their professor selected them to bring this project to life.
“They animated a five-and-a-half minute short film in 10 weeks, which is a lot of work because normally one second of animation takes 20 hours of work,” Glasscock said. “We went with a more simple form of animation just to be able to fit it all in, but they had to work really hard every single day, so if you don’t have that tenacity or that drive to do a project like that, it’s really easy to fail.”
Now that their animation is in film festival cycle, it’s becoming more clear that they did everything but fail. In the past few weeks, their film has taken home one “Best Animated Film” trophy, and is in the running for similar awards across the country.
In addition to accepting their award, the students also participated in a 30-minute workshop, where they shared their animation techniques and strategies with aspiring high school artists.
“I tried to give tips that I would have wanted to hear as a high-schooler, like about character design and what to pay attention to when you’re doing storyboards and stuff,” Dillard said, adding that she hopes young people everywhere can find the validity in the art of animation.
“I like making something out of nothing,” Dillard said. “If I have something in my mind, I can make it move. I think that is a really interesting aspect. Animation is unfortunately played off as something for children, but children aren’t the ones doing the animating.”
After “Sam Houston: A Texas Hero” has completed its film festival cycle, the SHSU Department of Art will make it available to the public.
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