By Madeleine Mulford |
November 21, 2022

From a young age, Isabella Moreno, Delaney Kreidler and Casey Mueller have dreamed of telling impossible stories through moving pictures. Today, all three students are launching their careers at UCF’s nationally ranked character animation program.

Growing up in Orlando, Mueller and Kreidler were close friends. The pair got their start in middle school making short animations using Flipnote Hatena on the Nintendo DS and taking inspiration from the latest cartoons and video games.

For Mueller, animation means telling visual stories that can’t be described in words.

“In middle school and high school, Delaney and I grew up appreciating animation together and discussing it a lot. I absolutely love telling stories visually and environmentally,” Mueller said. “For me, animation is the best way to tell a story, because a lot of the stories I’m interested in telling involve fantastical and otherworldly things can’t be easily recreated through live action.”

Moreno’s aspiration to become an animator was inspired by her belief in the transformative power of art.

“Animation represents the impossible. As a child, seeing something that captures what can only exist in your imagination is remarkable,” Moreno said. “As an animator, being able to continue that legacy forward for future generations is just awesome.”

In their junior year of high school, the three students’ shared dreams led them to cross paths at a turning point in their futures: The Pre-College Animation Summer Intensive held by The Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology and Entertainment (CREATE) at UCF.

The program is a rigorous, two-week, full-day course in college-level instruction held at UCF for highschoolers anywhere in the United States. There, aspiring young animators refine their skills in animation, life-drawing, digital media and sound design.

When Moreno learned about the program, she jumped at the opportunity to get a head start in learning animation. She and her mom drove up from their home in south Florida and stayed in a hotel near UCF for the length of the program.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and my mom really supported that,” Moreno says. “The pre-college animation intensive solidified my desire to work in animation and gave me a hands-on understanding of the process. While working with Maya and 3D modeling, I thought, this is challenging, but I’m glad I can prepare myself now.”

Instructors for the Pre-College Animation Intensive include UCF professors with industry experience and character animation graduate students. Moreno, Kreidler and Mueller note being especially inspired by UCF animation faculty lecturer Jo Anne Adams, who previously worked as an animator for Disney.

The instructors, Kreidler says, are why she chose to launch her animation career at UCF.

“I was just amazed by everything she’s done and all this knowledge she had. That was why I wanted to go to UCF, so I could take classes with her,” Kreidler said.

After attending the pre-college program, Moreno says she felt more prepared to enter UCF’s character animation program.

“It really set the foundation for what to expect in the character animation program. Now that I’ve been accepted, of course there have been learning curves, but having already established connections with faculty in the program made things feel less intimidating,” Moreno said.

Moreno, Mueller and Kreidler became friends during the pre-college intensive, and kept in touch throughout their first two years at UCF while preparing their portfolios to apply for the character animation program. Faculty then graded their portfolios based on a strict rubric and accepted all three students into the program.

Stella Sung, director of CREATE, says the Pre-College Animation Intensive helps students get acquainted with UCF’s rigorous animation programs and prepares them for a successful portfolio review.

“We only take in about 30 students, and in the past couple of years, we’ve had over 100 students apply. And those are students from all over the country, not just locally, so it’s a competitive program,” Sung says. “What I was really amazed and happy to see was that three of the students that we kind of recruited from our intensive now are now entering into the character animation program.”

UCF CREATE hosts the Pre-College Animation Intensive every summer. But this year, Sung found that seats were quickly filled by students applying from across the nation.

“This year, when we opened the Pre-College Animation Intensive to start recruiting, we found that students were responding like crazy. We had students applying from California, New York, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and all parts of Florida,” Sung says. “What we realized was that, indeed, students really enjoy getting to know animation. And we also discovered that students are not just seeing animation as cartoons, but as the moving image, an art form that can be applied to so many different fields.”

Moreno, Mueller and Kreidler’s post-graduation plans reflect the many different directions students can pursue in the field of character animation. Moreno hopes to bring her creative visions to life working in visual development, concept art and character designs for pre-production. Kreidler sees herself animating for a small animation studio or independent video game company. Mueller’s interests lie in 3D animation and hopes to pursue visual storytelling in film or video games.

For students looking to join UCF’s character animation program, Moreno offers some advice.

“Learn how to work collaboratively with people who have different opinions from you, and learn how to take critique, because that’s a huge thing in our program,” Moreno says. “I would recommend just putting yourself out there connecting with other artists, meeting people in the program and asking as many questions as possible.”

The Emerging Media BFA, Character Animation track is a two-year, full-time series of consecutive semesters designed to prepare a cohort of students for careers such as animators, story artists, visual development artists, lighting artists, technical artists, effects artists, modelers, riggers, or texture artists in the animation industry by emulating the professional production studio. Students learn all aspects of the production process, from story creation to film completion, while working as part of a team.