College project leads to Student Academy Award

Lindsey St. Pierre, a Baton Rouge Magnet High School graduate, won a gold medal Student Academy Award earlier this month for her film, Dia de los Muertos. St. Pierre is a May graduate of the computer-animation program at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla.

Quvenzhané Wallis, the Houma actress who received an Academy Award nomination this year for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild, presented the award to St. Pierre and her co-filmmakers, Ashley Graham and Kate Reynolds, during the 40th Student Academy Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills.

“Honestly, we weren’t expecting to get gold,” St. Pierre said from Salinas, Calif. “We were all sitting in our chairs thinking, ‘Did this really happen?’ It was so exciting. It’s such a great honor.”

Dia de los Muertos, a touching, beautifully rendered short film about a girl who visits her mother’s grave during Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday, is St. Pierre and her collaborators’ senior thesis film.

St. Pierre chose to work in a team with Graham and Reynolds rather than do a film on her own.

“Most people would do single-person projects,” she said of Ringling students.

“But every once in a while there would be a team project and it would be much more impressive than most of the other films.”

St. Pierre, Graham and Reynolds devoted the second semester of their junior year to finding an idea for their film and building a story from the idea. Their senior year was all about developing art and making the film.

The three-minute-long Dia de los Muertos is rich with music, dance and brilliant color. There’s no dialogue and the filmmakers worked from a storyboard rather than a script.

“We might write a short, seven-sentence treatment at the beginning, just to say, ‘OK, this is the basic flow of our story,’ ” St. Pierre explained. “But then we move immediately to the visuals and ask ourselves, ‘How can we show it, so that everybody understands?’

“In animation, you’re telling your story purely through pictures,” she added. “That also makes it more universal. People from all over the world can see our film and, hopefully, understand it. But if the film relied on speech, we’d be more limited. And with the Internet being such a prevailing thing, we wanted to put our film out there and share it with everybody.”

The Dia de los Muertos team plans to make its film available for viewing soon. Updates will be posted at the movie’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DiaDeLosMuertosfilm.

St. Pierre, 21, grew up during computer animation’s swift rise to domination of the field of animation. Pixar Animation Studios set the bar high with 1995’s Toy Story. More Pixar hits followed, including A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monster’s, Inc., and Finding Nemo. Other major studios joined the computer-animation bandwagon.

“I was more interested in computer animation than most normal people,” St. Pierre recalled. “I critiqued the movies. I knew what studios were making which films. Other people were like, ‘What are you talking about, Lindsey?’ ”

Ed Barnes, a former art teacher at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, let St. Pierre know that studying art at a college level was a possibility for her as well as pursuing a career in computer animation.

“I didn’t know that art colleges existed before that,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have found Ringling without his direction. I said, ‘OK, why don’t I do that?’ It combines a lot of the things I love, including art. And I was really into science and physics and math. You deal with a lot of that stuff when you’re working with computers. So I thought computer animation would be fun.”

Barnes, now at Port Allen Middle School, isn’t surprised that St. Pierre won a Student Academy Award.

“I know what’s she’s capable of doing,” he said. “I am very honored and proud.”

St. Pierre had no experience in computer animation prior to Ringling. The school accepted her on the strength of her drawing portfolio.

Being a computer-animation major at Ringling was fun as well as an enormous amount of work.

“They warn you,” she said. “They say, ‘This is not an easy program. You’ll have no free time.’ All the seniors tell you the same thing. They’re like, ‘We have no lives, but we’re making a movie.’

“I did love it and I’m so happy with our film. So it was worth it.”

With her newly won Student Academy Award freshly added to her résumé, St. Pierre is looking for work in the film industry.