Student-animated film takes 1st place, state championship

Members of the Eagle Production Group reflect on work in their award winning animated film “Lift”


Kelley Henderson

Wearing their first place medals, seniors Eliana Hamilton, Giovanni Spampinato, Micheal Soler, freshman Rocco Spampinato and adviser Micheal Logan stand as they are honored for their animated film’s placement. Their film “Lift” competed in the UIL Academic Young Filmmakers Championship and received first place in the 6A Traditional Animation category. “I fully anticipate that this animation will be recognized at high school film festivals across the nation and maybe the world,” Logan said. “I am extremely proud of all of the hard work by this (senior student) trio in my class, along with Rocco, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Eagle Production Group members hold their breath as they wait at the awards ceremony of the UIL Academic Young Filmmakers Championship. The “6A Traditional Animation” category comes. They hear third place, then second. Next these words flow through the auditorium: “In first place – and state champion for 6A Traditional Animation – the award goes to the film ‘Lift.'”

Cheers from EPG follow as team members jump out of their seats to go claim the award. Senior Eliana Hamilton directed the three-minute film, which seniors Giovanni Spampinato and Micheal Soler animated. Freshman Rocco Spampinato created background and environmental art. The team traveled to the University of Texas at Austin to have their film evaluated at the state competition Feb. 22, the same date as the award ceremony.

Made by senior Giovanni Spampinato, is the poster for Eagle Production Group’s film, “Lift.” The film was directed by senior Eliana Hamilton and animated by Spaminato and senior Michael Soler. “I like doing a lot of the stuff that we do, but since animation is one of my other hobbies, that kind of became a favorite for me,” Spampinato said. “Because I kind of want to pursue art in the future, and so this helped me a lot to learn more about it.” (Giovanni Spampinato)

“I think we were pretty confident that we were going to make it to state, but once we got to state, it was like a whole different level of competition,” Hamilton said. “I was so stressed leading up to it. I was shaking for two and a half hours before they announced it.”

6A Traditional Animation entries were shown from 6 p.m. until 8:15 p.m. UIL released awards shortly after, starting at 8:30 p.m.

“We didn’t expect any win,” Soler said. “We were like, ‘oh, maybe we’ll get second or third, but first?’ So I was like, ‘I’m not going to yell.’ But, then when the film came on, Eliana and I, we yelled so loud.”

EPG adviser Micheal Logan has taught the three seniors in previous years, allowing him to get to know their strengths.

“I’ve had Gio, Michael and Eliana in my class for a few years, and I knew they were all very talented artists,” Logan said. “When we got back from a big film festival in New York in October, I wanted them to do something really cool before they graduated. I also knew Eliana is a good leader, so I put her in charge of directing the film. Michael and Gio had some experience animating reels on social media, so I knew they could animate longer things.”

Spampinato has taken one of Logan’s classes since his sophomore year, with Hamilton and Soler joining their junior years.

“I’ve known Mr. Logan for around two to three years,” Spampinato said. “So, it’s been a lot of fun – I wish I could do more.

I joined EPG when I was a junior, but I used to come and visit the class whenever I was a sophomore because I had friends in the class. So that’s why I decided to join. I loved the kids that were in it. It’s super fun. So, I joined, junior year, (and I have) been doing it for two years now, and I love it.

— senior director, Eliana Hamilton

The film needed to be completed and submitted Jan. 18, giving the team a hard deadline.

“It was blood, sweat and tears,” Spampinato said. “We worked on it for two and a half months.”

Because of the short period of time the team had to work on the film, many hours went into the production over the winter break.

“We just started drawing away (for) grueling hours,” Soler said. “There were a lot of times when I just didn’t have the motivation to work on it, so I’d take some off days, and then other days, I would just like load out hours – like, you know, seven hours on a single day – just like working on different scenes.”

The production group has submitted films to UIL film competitions in the past, but has not submitted many into animation categories.

“Initially, the purpose was to get a submission for animation for UIL,” Logan said. “We often don’t have any films to submit because I don’t really teach animation. I saw this as an opportunity to have another entry. However, it turned out so good that I fully anticipate that this animation will be recognized at high school film festivals across the nation – and maybe the world.”

According to Soler, the story proposed one of the first challenges.

“This was such an unconventional way of starting a story,” Soler said. “Basically, Gio and I, we drew up a storyboard without making the script first. So we were like, ‘we have the story in our heads, we just don’t know how to really write it.'”

In addition to being the director, Hamilton wrote the script of the film, taking ideas from initial storyboards.

“I had to change some stuff,” Hamilton said, “But basically, I took their storyboard that they came up with, and then I wrote a script based off of that, and then we made the animation.”

Soler and Spampinato helped with the writing, too.

“We thought it was a little too bland at the start, and we wanted more pizzazz in our movie,” Spampinato said. “So, we thought, ‘why not just do a zombie apocalypse, underground?'”

Animations submitted to the UIL Young Filmmakers competition could be no shorter than 30 seconds and no longer than three minutes.

“So, they had to cut some things out,” Logan said. “And, (they needed to) figure out how to make the story as coherent and meaningful as possible.”

Spampinato and Soler had drawn numerous frames for the film.

“So, we went a little overboard when we were animating,” Spampinato said. “It was supposed to be a three-minute film, but we made it like six.”

I absolutely love my job, and there are so many things that cause that. I love getting to know the kids. I often have students for three years in a row, so that gives us a lot of time together. I love that kids who often don’t feel like they have a place to belong come to find my classroom – a safe, comfortable place. I feel like my classroom is a place where everyone, including me, can be ourselves and enjoy life and learning.

— EPG adviser, Micheal Logan

The team plans to submit a full length version of “Lift” to the All American High School Film Festival, which happens in New York every October.

“So we’re going to lengthen it, like pat it out a little, and add all of our deleted scenes in there – and then submit it to that competition,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully, we can go global.”

An animation technique used throughout the production of the film, was rotoscoping.

“Rotoscoping is just recording yourself,” Spampinato said, “then importing the video onto the software and just drawing over each frame.”

Soler and Spampinato took time to record themselves, creating references for actions that needed to be animated.

“Gio and I, we took a day to just record ourselves doing these actions,” Soler said. “Like we were running at the camera and stuff.”

Since animation continues to not be taught as much in film classes, the team had limited knowledge of the required skills to start – yet created a film that placed at state.

“I’m pretty proud of us,” Spampinato said. “Even though we didn’t know a lot, we still got a bunch done, and I’m proud of that.”

Soler said the team found satisfaction with the completion of scenes.

“Animating, it’s really tough, but it’s super satisfying,” Soler said. “Like when we completed scenes we were like, ‘That’s good.’ I love that.”

All three of the seniors intend to apply skills used on this project to their future.

“This was more of a hobby for me,” Spampinato said. “And the reason why we did so good was because me and Michael are both artists, and we tend to be more into that than actual film. I kind of want to pursue art in the future, and so this helped me a lot to learn more about it.”

Spampinato and Soler used animating as a way to combine art and film.

“I see film-making as a very fun hobby because the main focus for the both of us is just pursuing art,” Soler said. “So, we got to combine both of our favorite things. We’re still in a creative field, like we’re both doing film and art in the same genre, animation.”

Hamilton used her artistic abilities in a different way, applying them to her role as a writer and director.

“I’m also an artist, but my favorite part about film making is actually script writing and also editing,” Hamilton said. “Editing takes so much time, but I really liked seeing it all come together, like the final product. So I like more of the technical side of it. That’s why I’m the director for this film, I really like managing things and putting it all together and watching it work.”

The team for “Lift” put in many hours of planning, writing, and animating in a short period of time, with all of their work paying off, receiving the title of “State Champions.”

“This is, hands down, the best animated film to ever come out of Prosper High School,” Logan said. “It may hold that title for a long time.”