A team of students from Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg received the top prize for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project at the 21st annual Visual Effects Society’s awards event honoring excellence in VFX and animation. The students won the prize for their work on the short film “A Calling. From the Desert. To the Sea.” Autodesk is a sponsor of this particular award.
The VFX students of today are the professional filmmakers of tomorrow. Schools around the globe are nurturing this budding talent, teaching them the skills required to step into the professional world. Often, these educational institutions require students to create final film projects prior to graduation, and the work is quite impressive.
To recognize these amazing student productions, Autodesk has been a longtime sponsor of the Visual Effects Society’s award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project, recognizing excellence by up-and-coming filmmakers. This year’s 21st annual VES Awards marks the 16th consecutive time the company has bestowed this honor on students. At the 2023 event, a group of students from Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg received this award for their animated short film “A Calling. From the Desert. To the Sea,” which depicts the escape and journey of two sisters and features stunning creature effects.
Autodesk’s Dara Treseder, chief marketing officer, presented the award.
“A Calling. From the Desert. To the Sea” is a beautifully crafted short film that follows two young sisters, Ahlam and Yasmin, who defy the set boundaries and customs of their father. They escape their plight to embark on a desert journey, aiming for a more hopeful future, as they head toward a mystical sea. First, though, they must face an enemy from within. Plagued by nightmares, the younger sister is haunted by a terrifying desert monster every step of the way. Symbolic of an enemy that lies within, the monster emerges from her dreams, crashing down desert cliffs to torment her, but the duo ultimately breaks free from the creature to reach a glistening horizon.
The film was written and directed by Murad Abu Eisheh. Students of the Animationsinstitut created the visual effects for the short film.
VFX Supervisor Mario Bertsch guided a team of 30 artists in delivering 28 visual effects shots for the film over the course of two years, with Lennard Fricke and Max Pollmann providing VFX production. Creature and animation lead Till Sander-Titgemeyer, compositing lead Lukas Löffler, and rigging technical director Lukas Kapp worked in close collaboration with Bertsch, Fricke, and Pollmann, as well as technical director Pascal Schober, to produce the film’s stunning desert landscapes and harrowing photoreal creature.
It took the group more than two years to design the computer-animated creature, the ghoul, for which the team drew inspiration from the anatomy of humans, ostriches, caimans, and dinosaurs. In addition, the students simulated the monster’s hair, spit, and muscles. A VFX breakdown of the film can be found here.
The team deployed a host of technologies to bring the film to life, including Autodesk Maya for animation and rigging, Arnold for rendering, ShotGrid to keep production on track, and RV for shot review.
Eisheh is no stranger to accolades, having won the 2021 Student Academy Award—Gold in the International Narrative category for “Tala’vision.” “In this film, I wanted to create a mix of reality and fantasy that usually only exists in a child’s imagination. In doing so, I wanted to deal with my own experiences growing up in a society that tries to control your choices and free will from a young age,” the writer/director said.
The excitement at the Filmakademie in Ludwigsburg is understandably high. Professor Juri Stanossek, senior lecturer for visual effects at the Animationsinstitut, said, “The VES Award is highly deserved. Congratulations to a great team that stands out for its excellent synergy, diligence, and talent.”
The Visual Effects Society (VES) is an association of over 4,000 experts from the visual effects industry. The VES Awards are considered the most important award in the VFX sector after the Oscars. It recognizes excellence in all aspects of animation and visual effects.
Filmakademie is a regular competitor for the VES student award, with a short film from the school often appearing as a finalist for the prize. The win for “A Calling. From the Desert. To the Sea” is the 10th production with the direct involvement of the Animationsinstitut that has now won a VES Award. The previous win for the school’s students was at the 18th annual competition for “The Beauty.”
“On behalf of the entire animation and VFX team who worked on the film, we’re thrilled to receive the VES student award, especially given the caliber of work presented by each of the nominees,” said Fricke. “It’s a huge honor for our crew, who worked tirelessly on this project, as well as Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, the university we represent. We had a blast working on the film as a team and learning together, and we can’t wait to see what new opportunities it unlocks as we advance our careers.”
Other nominees vying for this year’s student award include “Boom” (Romain Augier, Charles Di Cicco, Gabriel Augerai, and Laurie Pereira De Figueiredo), Ecole des Nouvelles Images; “Macula” (Hady Abou Ghazale, Lothaire Rialhe, Marta Rodriguez-Noriega Nava, and Jules Machicot), ArtFX; and “Maronii” (Maxime Guitet, Dimitri Allonneau, Lucas Plata, and Ngoc Mai Nguyen), ArtFX.
“We’re in awe of this next generation of visual effects artists, excited to support them on their journeys to define the future of the industry, and grateful to the Visual Effects Society for recognizing their immense talent,” said Treseder. “On behalf of Autodesk, I’d like to congratulate all the nominees and the team behind “A Calling. From the Desert. To the Sea” on their win. We look forward to their continued work bringing stories to life in ways that move, inspire, and challenge us all.”