In the fall of 2007 a small group of animation students at the Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee worked to design characters and develop a story about a young boy struggling to move his cart around a roadblock. This was a simple story that grew larger than the tenure of most students working on it. After the narrative led to a 20 minute animatic, the edits brought it down to ten minutes. The following summer, more classmates joined the original students to finish developing the story, create assets for the production, and start animating the film. At the end of this last school year, they finished a five-year journey taken on as an animation program. The result is the twelve minute short animated film Rock in the Road.
The scope of the project grew as the team became interested in telling a longer form story. But as students who started it graduated, and other projects were begun, finishing the short became its own rock in the road. However, professors and students persevered, realizing the completion of the film would benefit everyone who was involved. A small, dedicated crew worked on it between other projects to finish the film at the end of the 2012 school year.
Emphasis is placed on developing talent at the School of Visual Art & Design, Southern Adventist University for the purpose of benefiting others through service. Character animation students are encouraged to tell narrative stories that reflect truths and concepts that focus on external means of change. Under the guidance of Disney veteran Hendel Butoy, instruction is focused on collaborative production where a studio-like environment is established during the third and fourth years of study.
Melissa Caldwell is a graduating senior, focusing on simulation and rigging. She just completed a two-month internship at Disney Animation Studios in California. Melissa did almost all of the simulation, tech animation, caching, and scene assembly for the 120 shots in Rock in the Road. She comped the shots in NUKE and also oversaw the rigging for two other short films in production.
Daniel Cooper was a recent graduate of the program and is teaching the freshman animation courses this year. Daniel took over creative direction on Rock in the Road in 2010 and wrote and performed the score. He was instrumental in the animated short Danger Planet, and recently directed and completed animation on Gone Bananas.
Aaron Adams is graduate of the program turned instructor, then department coordinator, Aaron was instrumental in the growth and refinement of the animation program. Aaron has the artistic chops and the technical skill to back it up. After completing graduate work in animation at Savannah College of Art and Design, he coordinated production on Rock in the Road until he accepted a position at Disney Animation Studios in California.
As a student at Southern Adventist University, Zach Gray shared his passion for animation with administration who in turn supported the formation of the animation program. After helping start the program, he completed graduate work in animation at Savannah College of Art and Design. He directed a live action feature, and then took over coordinating production on Rock in the Road after Aaron Adams transitioned to Disney.
Hendel Butoy is a well-known animator, returning to the Adventist University in 2003, when the standards of quality in story and animation took an exponential leap. He studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts before accepting a position as an animator and director at the Walt Disney Company in 1979. He was employed at Disney for more than 20 years, working on such films as Fantasia 2000, Rescuers Down Under, and The Fox and the Hound.
Jesse Rademacher returned to teach rigging and production classes after working at ILM, Visual Concepts, and Raven Software. He’d previously graduated from Southern Adventist University then completed graduate work at Savannah College of Art and Design.
The story is based on a fable the crew found called the Stone in the Road. While there are a lot of different versions, basically the king put a stone in the road. Sometimes it was a small stone and sometimes it was a big stone. There was either money underneath the stone and when someone finally moved the stone, the King said, “Hey, here’s your reward. Take this money!”, or the king was hiding in the bushes and when someone moved the rock, he sprung out “Surprise! You are the winner!” That was the original telling, and there was a greater value than money in the boy’s character. And what did the king really want? Did he want just one person or did he want to change the hearts of the kingdom? So the Aaron changed it in that way, as well as making the rock two stories tall.
“I didn’t want it to be a little idea,” noted Aaron. “We needed a big idea to get the creative engine going.”
The School of Visual Art and Design at Southern Adventist University is inspired by a studio model. For the first two years, its instruction, for the last two years it changes to production. “If we’re going to take that seriously, we’d better be doing something that is going to stretch us,” explains Zach. “What that meant at the time was doing something epic – really long, and much more complicated than what we had attempted in the past. It became epic, via the emotional spectacle that they presented rather than a grand scale. Without everyone living through that experience, it’s almost impossible to understand.”