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'And The Oscar Goes To...' Ringling College Alumni Part Of Hollywood's Biggest Night

Framed movie posters hang on a wall
Framed movie posters featuring the work of Ringling College alumni adorn the halls at the school in Sarasota. Cathy Carter/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

The movie industry’s marquee celebration happens on Sunday and there’s a good chance former students from Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art & Design will be a part of the team behind some of the award-winning films.

Since 2002, the Academy Awards have presented an Oscar for Best Animated Feature and each year since, at least one of the nominated films in that category has included the work of Ringling alumni. This year, 25 former students from the school's Computer Animation program worked on three of the five nominees for animation’s top prize.

Those films include Toy Story 4, The Missing Link, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

Last year, more than 50 Ringling alumni worked on Oscar nominated films such as Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Additionally, this year the Sarasota college has former students that worked on other nominated films like Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

A photo of a man sitting at a desk. Movie posters are hung behind his desk.
Paul Downs is a former student and instructor at Ringling. His graphic novel series Urban Legendz was released in 2019 and is currently being developed for TV/film. Cathy Carter/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

Paul Downs, a Ringling alum and instructor at the college, says the reason why hundreds of students find success after graduating has everything to do with their rigorous education.

"To perform at that level, they have to have a deep understanding of character, body mechanics, facial expressions, just every aspect of the human being,” he said. “That's what they're putting into every one of those characters so that when a shot plays, it's a hundred percent believable that that thing exists.”

Downs, who earned a B.F.A. in Computer Animation from the college, says students are taught that computer animation is equal parts science and art.

"What sets it apart from a lot of other places is that it’s focused on story so heavily,” he said. “So we're creating filmmakers here. They are learning not only how to draw the figure and how to capture movement, but also that it’s always about how to best serve the story and how to observe what's around them.”

Freshman in the program start with a foundation and spend a lot of their time drawing. As sophomores and juniors, they work more in the computer labs and then, in senior year, the entire class is devoted to making their own film.  

Female student at computer
Ringling students like sophomore Olivia Coucci log many hours at Ringling's Computer Animation lab. Cathy Carter/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

“And it's at that point that students find a lot of success because they understand the whole pipeline,” said Downs, whose animation credits include the Ice Age franchise and the Oscar-nominated 2017 film, Ferdinand. “They create shorts that go onto the https://vimeo.com/rcadcomputeranimation" target="_blank">internet and they get millions of views. In the past eight years, I'd say we have over 20, maybe 30 films that have over 30 million views on YouTube.

“It's giving students opportunities where production companies and studios will see them online and then contact them and say, ‘We'd love to adapt this to TV or we would love to option this property and try to develop it as a film or as a studio short.’ It's happened multiple times in the past few years.”

And students pick up other honors too. 19 alumni of Ringling College of Art & Design have won individual Oscars in the annual Student Academy Awards.

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