Animation majors Sabrina Crockton, Aimee Ham and Willow Machado’s award-winning film “A Seal Story” features cute and cuddly aquatic mammals as well as an important message about protecting the planet.
Namely, “If you see a wild animal, don’t touch it,” says Ham.
It’s an easy way to be proactive about environmental conservation, a topic about which all three students are passionate.
“This is a big planet. It is big and it’s overwhelming, but there are little things that each of us can do,” Ham says. “Not disturbing the wildlife when we see it, not littering, the little, tiny everyday things make an impact if enough people do them.”
Crockton, Ham and Machado communicate all of this in “A Seal Story.” Clocking in at 3 minutes and 8 seconds, the short film is part documentary and part narrative with a focus on seals and humans' interaction with them. It follows a young pup who comes to shore to rest after swimming with its pod. Then, eerie music plays as one of the biggest dangers to the sleeping seal pup approaches: humans with cell phones.
Into the wild
The trio officially began work on the film in spring 2021 for their junior animation seminar, but Machado dreamed up the idea months before after multiple trips to observe seals at the New England Aquarium, which they note is the only animal that can be viewed without purchasing a ticket (an important detail for a thrifty college student). Before the semester began, Machado contacted wildlife rehabilitation centers throughout the United States and Canada to learn about seals. This research provided the framework they needed for the story.
The three friends pitched their concept on day one of class and started working from their respective homes, as they were studying remotely due to Covid-19.
“The biggest accomplishment of this film is that we did this during a remote semester,” says Machado.
The past two years have been challenging for the animators. Alternating between group projects freshmen and junior years and solo projects sophomore and senior years, our Animation students complete four short films, at least two minutes in length, during their undergraduate careers.
A few members of the “Seal Story” team allude to challenges in their freshmen group projects, followed by more trials when, in the middle of working on their films sophomore year, the pandemic began.
“We went on spring break that extended for a week and then never ended. Aimee had to scrap her entire film. I got so burned out I didn’t even know if I wanted to draw,” says Crockton.
“A Seal Story,” however, “felt like a redemption arc,” she says.
‘Emotionally available for bubbles’
The three divided their duties and were in constant communication, keeping ahead of schedule despite several personal challenges that ranged from moving to major surgery. They also checked in on each other’s mental health regularly.
While the team animated the film’s underwater scenes, Ham remembers a message from Machado that asked, “Are you emotionally available for bubbles?” Her reply: “I’m always emotionally available for bubbles.
“We were having as chill of a time as possible.”