Empty corridors, abandoned studios and unused work spaces. In the middle of March everything happened very quickly. Like other universities in the country, Animationsinstitut had to close down to prevent the spread of the corona virus.
This affected many students in the middle of their project work. "It was quite a shock. Animationsinstitut was suddenly closed," recalls Justus Schmidt. Shortly before, the student of the Technical Directing diploma course had just celebrated the premiere of his semester project Face your deer! with his team and numerous guests in Studio 1. Apart from the queasy feeling of how widespread the virus might have been at that time and how much it might affect the region, Justus and the other students were faced with the anxious question of how to continue their studies.
"We reacted as quickly as possible," remember the study coordinators Constanze Buehner and Claudia Liepert. In order to be able to prepare the online semester, the start of the summer term was postponed to April 20. It was necessary to establish a technical infrastructure so that the institute's servers could also be accessed from outside. Analogous to the real rooms at the institute, online zoom rooms were set up so that the seminars and workshops could take place as planned. From now on, the weekly meetings of the classes as well as the project supervision including one-on-one interviews were also conducted via video chats. "We did not want to leave the students alone under any circumstances," emphasizes Head of Production Anna Matacz.
We are considering more of these online formats in the future, Corona or not.Constanze Buehner, Study Coordination
"We have managed to carry out almost all of our teaching despite the shut down," says Anna Matacz. "We have even had seminars by guest lecturers from abroad that might not have existed otherwise, simply because they were easier to conduct online without travel expenses." For example, a workshop was held with VFX director Jan Phillip Cramer, who works in Canada and is known for his work on Marvel's Avengers series. "Therefore we are considering that there will be more of these online formats in the future, Corona or not," says Constanze Buehner.
"The online program at the Animation Institute was really great," confirms Clara Deitmar. She is studying Interactive Media with a focus on Transmedia/Games Directing. During the semester, she was mainly occupied with the concept of a game, "I got great input from the zoom seminars and meetings."
Given the circumstance, Clara thinks that Animationsinstitut organised the studies well, nonetheless the situation was anything but ideal for her. Especially the spatial separation from the institute was problematic. Clara had already commuted to Ludwigsburg from Strasbourg, where she lived with her boyfriend in a shared apartment. During the corona semester she had to give up her room in Ludwigsburg. "I found it bad that the border between France and Germany was closed. Ludwigsburg was suddenly far away," the games designer recalls.
In particular she lacked contact with the other students. Developing a game is always teamwork. Therefore, it was essential for her to meet other students outside the official zoom seminars in order to exchange information about projects and private matters. "We virtually continued the breaks virtually", says Clara with a smile, "but of course it's not the same as live".
Jiayan Chen, a fourth-year student of Animation/Effects Producing, felt a similar situation. She is currently working as a producer at the Filmakademie, supervising four projects at the same time. Her job of ensuring that processes are appropriate and that the individual teams are organized and coordinated is a challenge in times of online meetings. "Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to simply look over the shoulders of other students at Animationsinstitut on the computer and see what they are doing," says Jiayan. Her days are therefore full of online meetings with the individual project groups in addition to the seminars and workshops of the curriculum. That works too, but it is much more complicated.
"Despite everything, we try to maintain social events among students," emphasizes the producer. For example, before Corona there was a sports group at Animationsinstitut. "We still meet to do sports together. Now via Zoom."
But Jiayan also had to deal with some real problems caused by the crisis. For example, there were delays in the 3D diploma project Neoshin - an animated film series that is also a music album of a real band. Neoshin takes place in a dystopian future in which people are increasingly taking refuge in a virtual reality. A virus of all things plays a central role in the plot of Neoshin. Although most of the scenes had already been shot, further shots were planned using a new technique that replaces a green screen with an LED wall. This technology should be available at the Filmakademie from summer on, but due to the crisis the construction had to be postponed. In order to stay within the project schedule, the recordings are now taking place in a studio in Mannheim. This also increased the costs. "Fortunately, with the help of the institute we were able to organize additional funds for our budget," explains Jiayan.
The director of Neoshin, Sebastian Selg, worked intensively on his project from home during the corona semester. "I must admit that I don't think the situation is that bad," says Sebastian. He's been working on the films for about ten hours a day anyway, so it's not bad that he can be at work practically straight from bed. The exchange with his team and the project supervisors from Animationsinstitut online also works very well for him.
The fact that he was able to occupy himself so intensively with Neoshin is also due to another consequence of the crisis. Sebastian actually worked as a freelance cameraman while he was studying. Among other things he would have shot this year's Summer Breeze Festival, which was cancelled because of Corona. "Since I have a small business, I at least got immediate help from the country. So it didn't hit me that hard. But I know fellow students who lost their student jobs as employees and couldn't do that."
The study coordination at Animationsinstitut therefore always tries to inform the students about funding opportunities or current developments, for example regarding the Bafög regulations. It is also ensured that the project work of the students can continue without any difficulties. Students who do not have suitable equipment at home could continue to use the Institute's rooms with a special permit, subject to strict hygiene rules.
Technical directing student Justus Schmidt also has such an approval. He is doing essential programming work for the diploma project of director Bea Hoeller, who is currently finishing her animation film Klimax on-site with a special permit as well. As there are currently only three people allowed in one room at Animationsinstitut, Justus can now concentrate on his work, but he still misses the usual hustle and bustle at the institute. "Events on campus like a spontaneous barbecue on the meadow simply don't exist this year," he regrets.
The coming winter semester will also have to take place under corona conditions at Animationsinstitut. Nevertheless, as far as the current hygiene regulations allow, steps towards normality are planned. The online formats, which have proven their worth, will continue to be available, but face-to-face courses are also on the programme again. For example, so-called "wanderlectures" are offered, in which lecturers hold open air seminars and workshops. "We definitely want to bring the students back to the institute within the bounds of our possibilities," emphasizes Andreas Hykade, director of Animationsinstitut.