CSULB professor's 24-hour student animation contest celebrates 20 years

Published October 24, 2022

Aubry Mintz knows from experience that if you get students together and have them work on a project in a very limited amount of time, they can achieve great things. 

Mintz, a professor of animation in the College of the Arts, is founder of the 24 Hours Animation Contest, which has grown from a class challenge to an international sensation that has involved a grand total of more than 10,000 students from 150 schools in 20 countries. 

This year’s competition - its 20th year - occurred from 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15. Out of 1,500 participants and 300 teams from 17 countries, seven CSULB teams competed, operating in different classrooms in the Fine Arts 4 building.  

One Beach team, Keyframe Coffee Break, won second place overall, while another, The Doodlers, won fourth place.  

Mintz says the inspiration for this contest came in 2002 when he challenged students at another college to work through the night with him. Five lasted until morning, and they all watched the sunrise together.  

“They were really jazzed about it, and I saw that they produced more work in that period of time than they had all semester,” said Mintz, who had recently come from the animation industry at the time and was rather new to teaching. “I discovered that part of this teaching thing is finding initiatives that will motivate (students) outside of class assignments.” 

In the 24 Hours Animation Contest, students gather in groups of five to complete a 30-second animated film in just 24 hours. The theme is given by Mintz at the beginning. This year’s theme: “What the future might look like 100 years from now.” 

Professor Aubrey Mintz sitting in a chair in his office
Professor Aubry Mintz finds students around the world are motivated to create animation in a timed setting.

In the latest contest, college students – and some high school kids too – brainstormed and worked on paper, computers and tablets, using Toon Boom’s Harmony, TVPaint and the Adobe Creative Suite, including Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects and Character Animator. They brought in cots or sleeping bags and took turns working and sleeping. They had to post their animations on YouTube and make sure everything worked before deadline.  

“It was hectic. A little stressful,” said Christina Hall, a fourth-year illustration/pre-production student. “I think it helped a lot, giving me insight on what to expect in the industry. It helped as far as team building – being able to learn how to adapt my style to other people and listen to everybody else when they have ideas.” 

Meghan Edwards, a fourth-year student in illustration/animation, said she learned about teamwork and even about herself as a person. 

“We were under such a time crunch, we didn’t have time to dilly-dally,” she said. “I felt like I took on kind of a more directorial role. I was making sure that everything was getting done. We had two people who did the brunt of the animation – it’s interesting how people just fell into these roles. Yes, it was tiring. But there was a certain level of adrenaline. It was intense, but it was worth it.”  

Winners split $8,700 in cash prizes, and received other cool prizes (software, swag bags, drawing tablets, books) donated by leading animation and computer companies. Participants were encouraged to film themselves and create a behind-the-scenes video, and one of those videos was awarded a prize as well. 

Students who have competed in the 24 Hours Animation Contest have gone on to work for major animation studios after graduating, such as Pixar, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon, Walt Disney Animation, Netflix Animation and Sony Pictures Animation. 

“It had such a big impact on me,” said Nathan Palm ‘15, who’s now a character designer for a Fox show called “House Broken.” He has served as a judge for the past two years. 

“Artists in general tend to be a little more reclusive and solitary,” Palm said. “Animation is the ultimate group project. (The contest) cracked me open as far as what I could physically push myself to do …. It taught me about working in a group. Teamwork is at the heart of animation.” 

“It’s amazing how some of this parallels the real world of animation,” said Ryan Stapleton ‘10, who participated twice in the 24 Hours Animation Contest and won once. He’s now a storyboard artist for the TBS show, “American Dad.”  

“You have to work to the wire to get to some of those deadlines done. Deadline is what keeps us moving forward and keeps us moving. And you’re also working a lot with others.”  

Mintz said he’s surprised by the exponential growth of the contest, but he’s also gratified by how many people it has reached.  

“It brings together educators around the world; it spotlights animation programs that we’ve never heard of before,” said the professor who has taught animation at CSULB since 2007. “There’s a school from Thailand, from Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa. We’re community building, and we didn’t even realize it.”   

But what he’s most proud of is the impact it has on students, including his own.  

“People have fun, even though it’s hard work, and they’re exhausted. They push their limits, and they figure out something about themselves: what their body does, after so many hours of not sleeping; what they’re able to produce in a short amount of time with those tight limitations.

“It’s group dynamics, and it’s creativity under pressure.” 

 Up next: A closer look at The Beach's two award-winning teams