SVA in L.A.: Students Spend Spring Break Networking in Hollywood
March 22, 2017 by Emma Drew
A group of people wearing name tags, standing in front of a "Walt Disney Animated Studios" sign.
A group of people posed in front of a Walt Disney Animation Studios sign.

Sixteen BFA Film and BFA Animation students spent their Spring Break living the Los Angeles life, soaking up the sun and hitting the Hollywood lots as part of this year’s installment of SVA in L.A.: The Film & Animation Behind the Scenes Series. Students took the week to meet with successful industry producers, composers, editors and animators, including several SVA alumni. Available through SVA Destinations, the trip was led and organized by BFA Film and BFA Animation director of operations, Sal Petrosino.

“Four years ago our Executive Vice President, Anthony Rhodes, asked me to put together a program in L.A. with a goal of having our students meet top shelf film and animation artists who would share not only their creative process, but their own personal journeys,” Petrosino explained. That mix of professional advice and individual perspective characterized this year’s trip.

A group of friends posing for a picture. A group of coworkers in front of a building.
Students with Patrizia von Brandenstein (center).

The week kicked off with a visit to historic Hollywood studio The Lot and a tour with Academy Award-winning production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein. Later, producer Randall Emmett (BFA 1994 Film and Video), who mostly recently worked on Martin Scorsese’s Silence, spoke candidly with students about his journey from SVA student to one of the most active producers in Hollywood. He gave tips on how students should prepare themselves if they are planning to start their careers in L.A. and encouraged them to contact him once they arrive. Emmet also took the students to an editing studio nearby where they met with director Kevin Connolly (star of Entourage) and editor Jim Flynn as they were in post-production on the new feature, The Life and Death of John Gotti.

A group of people smiling and posing for a picture.

The group’s second Oscar-winner (for Pixar’s UP) was film composer Michael Giacchino (BFA 1990 Film and Video), who scored last year’s Star Wars: Rouge One and frequently works with J.J. Abrams. Giacchino screened clips from some of his films and discussed his creative process, and introduced the students to Kirk Thatcher, a long-time Jim Henson and Muppet collaborator. A tour of world-renowned special effects company The Frame Store wowed everyone—“to say they came away inspired would not suffice,” said Petrosino—as students met with leads about their work on films like Gravity and Dr. Strange.

Group of peoples are taking photograph.
Students with Mark Ulano.

The week nearly over but still jam-packed, students attended a panel at the American Cinematographers Clubhouse, before zipping over to Disney Animation Studios to visit with animator Alex Kuperschmidt (BFA 1982 Animation) and editor Jesse Averna (BFA 2008 Film and Video). Kuperschmidt talked about his work on some of the most memorable Disney characters in his 30-year career with the studio. That evening, the group met with their third Academy Award-winning artist, Mark Ulano (1975 Film and Video), who won for sound recording for Titanic. Ulano discussed his artistic approach and described how he was able to record sound under very challenging circumstances, as with Titanic, and in the case of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful 8, working outside in minus 9 degrees.

A group picture of people outside Gate 12 of the Warner Brothers Studios facilities.

The last day of the program was spent at Warner Bros. Animation, where Jeff Mednikow (BFA 2005 Animation) recounted his time at SVA and told his story of how he achieved his position at the studio; the students also met a number of animation artists, who shared what they were currently working on.

Students responded strongly to each of the stops, impressed by the caliber of work on display and the encouraging attitudes that greeted them. “This trip was not only a highlight of my time at SVA, but it will forever be a life-shaping journey that I will hold onto throughout my entire lifetime,” said current BFA Animation student Jake Kaplan. “I feel reinvigorated and utterly inspired to join forces with the successful alumni we met with during our time in L.A.”

The program strives to make tangible the possibilities of hard work and honed talent, and puts a face on the ever-daunting prospect of life-after-school. “For many students, their path to the professional world can seem far off in the distance and maybe not realistic,” said Petrosino. “Meeting these artists let’s them know that what they aspire to is possible.”

For more information about SVA Destinations, click here.