CalArt’s grads enjoy artistic and box office success

MOANA is a 16-year-old who sails out on a daring mission to save her people. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker Photo ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Graduates of California Academy of the Arts (CalArts) have enjoyed great artistic success, which has translated into another metric that defines Hollywood: box office numbers.

Last year, the cumulative revenue of films directed by graduates of CalArts’ character and experimental animation programs surpassed $40 billion, the Valencia school reports.

CalArts tracked the worldwide box office receipts of films going back to 1985’s “Better Off Dead,” directed by Savage Steve Holland, which earned $10 million. More recently, blockbusters including “Minions,” co-directed by Kyle Balda, and “Frozen,” co-directed by Chris Buck, each brought in more than a billion dollars each.

CalArt alumni directed some of last year’s most successful live-action and animated films. “Finding Dory,” co-directed by alumnus Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane, was the second-highest grossing movie of 2016 with a worldwide total of $1.15 billion.

“Zootopia” ranked number three for the year at $1.02 billion. “Moana,” which is still in theaters, was number 15 with $510.9 million in worldwide grosses.

Character animation includes classical animation, using animated actors to tell a narrative experience, said Maija Burnett, director of the school’s character animation program. Work by students in Experimental Animation is closer to fine art — students draw, use characters and tell narrative stories, and are encouraged to explore different, new or unusual  expressive techniques and approaches.

“How to build a narrative structure remains the heart of what we do,” she said, as that skill will always be in demand no matter how technology evolves.

These days, in-demand technical skills include several related to computer graphics: CG rigging and modelling, and “look dev,” the art of digitally rendering the real world realistically enough to make audiences forget they’re watching animation.

CalArts’ grads have won nine Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, and if “Zootopia” or “Moana” win that Oscar on Feb.26, that number climbs to 10.

Since the best animated feature category was established in 2001, Oscar-winning films by CalArts directors include “Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Up,” “Inside Out,” “Brave,” “Frozen,” and “Big Hero 6.”

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