Shane Acker
Emru Townsend · September 29, 2005 | If there was ever a stereotype that needed debunking, it's of the student film as an over-earnest, naïve, derivative, hastily completed mess—or, in the worst-case scenario, all four. In short, an exercise in masochism for the audience. But while I've seen (and, I admit, created) some work that fits that description, the past few years have seen an increase in student films displaying an astonishing level of professionalism.

One such film is 9, which is both impressive and paradoxical. At just under eleven minutes it's uncommonly long for a student animated film, but it doesn't feel like it. Its post-apocalyptic setting, in which rag dolls scavenge for survival while pursued by a monstrous, ramshackle cat-creature, is detailed enough to allow your eyes to explore, but doesn't feel cluttered or overdone. And its mute characters have distinctive and clear body language, displaying the skill of an animator at ease with and in command of his craft.

And that's where 9 creator Shane Acker is, like his film, impressive and paradoxical. During his Meet the Artist presentation at this year's SIGGRAPH (where 9 won Best of Show in the Computer Animation Festival), his demeanour was assured and confident, and his explanation of his influences and production processes indicated a well-developed and methodical approach to his work. His level of analysis and craft was unlike that of most student animators I know. But then, most student animators I know don't have his level of dedication. It took four and a half years for Acker to create 9, though he can be excused for a bit of a delay; during that time he worked at various animation houses, including a stint as a character animator on Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—a job he got when he used, among other things, clips from the unfinished 9 for his demo reel.

Here's the paradox: While it seems obvious that Shane Acker was born to animate, he casually mentioned during his presentation that he fell into animation almost by accident. When we later sat down for this interview in the Computer Animation Festival office, I had to ask: "Where do you come from?" What I really meant was, "What planet are you from?" Because wherever it is, I want to live there.
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