Animation Students Get Real Movie Experience During Reel FX Internship
Two UT Dallas students recently worked alongside career animators through an internship program with Reel FX Animation Studios.
The Dallas-based company reached out to Phillip Hall, assistant professor in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC), seeking students capable and deserving of a chance to work on one of Reel FX’s contracted projects. Sweetening the deal further, the selected interns would work as junior animators alongside professionals.
After some deliberation, Hall returned with two names: Michaela Gulasy and Chris Pohl, both seniors in arts and technology who graduated in May.
“They earned it through their persistence and tenacity, as well as their skill,” Hall said. “Plus, they’re just good people — fun to be around, kind and helpful.”
Both Hall and assistant professor Sean McComber regularly evaluate their students by the same level of criticism they can expect beyond the classroom. Pohl and Gulasy flourished under those conditions.
McComber pitched the project to the students — background animating for the film Sherlock Gnomes. Despite the relatively short notice and scant details, both of them eagerly accepted.
In addition to the studio’s proximity to her house, Gulasy knew Reel FX’s reputation for launching careers at studios such as Disney and Pixar.
“I had always wanted my first position to be at Reel FX,” Gulasy said.
Both students’ interviews included a review of their portfolios and a tour of the animation wing of the Reel FX studio.
“I was prepared for the worst and expecting to be grilled,” Pohl said. “But they were very friendly.”
They received the good news the following day.
Pohl and Gulasy worked six weeks, with time allotted to focus on finals. As background artists, they were in charge of animating parts of large sets and crowd scenes, which would later be stitched together to create a cohesive whole.
They were given their own desks and workspaces beside full-time employees. After their first day learning the daily workflow, they were trusted to independently complete their assigned work.
“The hardest job in the beginning was learning Linux so that I could log on to my computer,” Gulasy said. “It was just so exciting getting paid to animate — something I normally do for fun.”
“It was just so exciting getting paid to animate — something I normally do for fun.”
The students almost immediately felt like part of the Reel FX team. They said they were never treated as if they were in the way, and communication was clear, friendly and helpful. In fact, the team would often invite them to lunch and dinner after work.
“They got to know us as people, not just animators or employees. It was like being part of a big family,” Pohl said.
The entire team buckled down during the last two weeks of the internship as deadlines approached rapidly. Pohl and Gulasy said they didn’t mind the pace. In fact, the animation directors made sure the work environment remained comfortable, providing lunch and dinner for everyone feeling the crunch.
“The last couple of weeks I got my two favorite things: free food and animation,” Gulasy said.
ATEC offers classes primarily meant to simulate the production pipeline students can expect in real studios that, while accurate, could not compare to the immediate feedback, the atmosphere or the camaraderie of the internship.
There were tears, hugs and fond farewells as Pohl’s and Gulasy’s first industry experience ended, but there also was a resolve within them both.
“Working there solidified my goals of being an animator,” Gulasy said.
Back in the classroom, Pohl’s appreciation grew for the different types and roles his animation courses offered. He credits his time at Reel FX for helping him find his place within it.
“I learned that background animation might not speak to me as much as other fields, but I still had a lot of fun,” Pohl said. “This experience made me realize how important my education had been so far.”
Hall said the students returned to classes with two things very few of their peers could tout: a legitimate movie credit in their portfolios and professional relationships in a line of work where networking is key.
“Wherever they end up after graduating, they are definitely ready,” Hall said.
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