Behind the Scenes: The Journey of Producing and Directing a Short Student Film

Behind the Scenes: The Journey of Producing and Directing a Short Student Film

Follow the journey of Dana Ortega and Diego Salas, producer and director of "3 AM", Film of the Year Runner Up in the Rookie Awards 2022. They share their experience, skills gained from ESCENA Escuela de Animación, and advice for aspiring digital artists.

In this article, we follow the journey of Dana Ortega and Diego Salas, the Producer and Director of the short film "3 AM", which was the Film of the Year runner up in the 2D Animation Category, Rookie Awards 2022.  as they discuss their experience entering The Rookie Awards and the challenges they faced in creating their film. The post also delves into the skills they developed during their studies at ESCENA Escuela de Animación and how those skills have been useful on their journey in pursuing a creative career. Finally, they offer advice to other students looking to enter the Rookie Awards, and pursuing a career in the creative industry.

Why did you enter The Rookie Awards and what were you hoping to achieve?

Dana: We entered The Rookie Awards because we wanted to give more visibility to our short film. I’ve been following The Rookies on Instagram for a long time and the works they share are awesome.

We didn’t really expect to win anything, it was like, why not do it? 3 AM was made by a group of friends and I do think our collaborators are very talented artists and we wanted to also give them the spotlight, recognize the hard work done in a year and a half with this short film.

Diego: Escena told us about The Rookie Awards and at the time it felt like a distant and elusive dream. When we finished our short film we decided to participate. We wanted to showcase our skills and our classmates' abilities as well. It was a dream to be recognized as one of the best and to be able to set an example.

How did you organise yourself to get your entry done on time?

Dana: The truth is that we have incredible support from the school, Escena, and they were the ones who supported us from day one to check all the requirements and deadlines.

Diego: It was all thanks to the Producer, Dana, and her management of times and deadlines. She helped me land the ideas and discuss the path of action. We already had our short film finished by the time we made our entry, so between the both of us we decided what to show and upload.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

Dana: The biggest challenge I had to face was dealing with a team that was eager to join the industry. So even though they were excited about our short film, we had to ask them to pause their excitement and focus on the short. How do you do that when you’re also so thrilled about starting to work in the industry you’ve dreamed about for so long?!

Diego: During the making of our short film, managing the team and everything that comes with it. We made the entire short film during the pandemic, so communication was an issue, meeting the deadlines and giving feedback to our artists was more difficult; power went out, internet was off, people weren’t answering. The audio was done 3 times, so that was another thing. It was crazy, but really fulfilling.

What was your favourite aspect of the project?

Dana: This is a difficult question. To be honest when we started “3 AM” I was most excited about working with my classmates and friends as if it was a real studio, but because of COVID we had to do everything remotely, although I think it went really well.

Another thing that I was really excited about was the colour correction, but because of work I wasn’t able to go. However, seeing our short film finished and just as Diego and I imagined, was an incredible and unique feeling.

Diego: I think it was learning a bit of every step of the pipeline, and how things are handled from a director and producer's point of view.

As an artist, sometimes you can’t imagine what the management and production team go through, the stress, the important decisions, the deadlines. Now I’m more aware of it all.

What advice do you have for other students looking to enter this year?

Dana: That no matter how insecure you can be about your project, it’s worth it. Being part of a contest like The Rookie Awards, and even more so, being a finalist, is worth it. Sooo, I’m going to quote one of my favorite illustrators, @suupergirl: “Do it, and if it’s scary, do it with fear”.

Diego: To take the chance and give the best of themselves to their possibilities. Sometimes we want to conquer the world and that is not easy, just enjoy and learn from the process.

What would you tell others about pursuing a creative career?

Dana: That it is completely worth it and to not get carried away by the comments of people who say it is not worth it… Don’t let anyone mess up your dreams.

Diego: As Mac Miller says, follow your dreams. It may be a bit hard, because it isn’t that easy to be receptive to feedback. Just take what works for you and don’t stop there, there’s still a world to discover.

Tell us more about the skills you have developed during your studies and why you think they'll be useful on your journey?

Dana: One of my dreams was to become a finisher or VFX artist, but I ended up taking on the role of producer for our short film, which wasn't what I had initially expected. As for my experience at Escena, I have no complaints about what I learned. However, you can't really learn how to be a producer solely in a classroom setting. While it was helpful to understand every step of the production process, learning how to organize, schedule, and adapt to changes on a project is something that can only be learned through hands-on experience.

Diego: I learned a lot about communication, how to ask for things, and how to be a teamplayer. As the director of a graduation short film, managing a team and live up to their requirements. I learned a lot about 3D, animation, softwares, but moreover, to be able to give constructive feedback with a strong foundation of knowledge behind me. Now that I’m working on other projects, it has helped me a lot.

What is the most valuable lesson learned at Escena?

Dana: Wow, where to start, I learned a lot at Escena, both professionally and personally. When I started studying I thought I was the best and that I was going to be the next artist that Disney would discover, but as soon as I enrolled I saw how talented the artists there are. I understood that I had to work harder to achieve my dreams.

Diego: Save every 5 minutes!! Just kidding, to be honest it has taught me a lot during these 4 years. Not only about art, but to be consistent, criticise my work and think out of the box.

What would you say to students looking to start there?

Dana: It is a very demanding school, but don’t forget to have a life on the side, because I suffered a little from being so involved in my studies. Just remember what Hannah Montana taught us, “Life’s a climb but, the view is great!”.

Diego: Not to be hard on themselves, you are going to school to learn, it doesn’t matter if your line isn’t perfect on the first try, or if your drawing isn’t the prettiest, there are no mistakes.

What opportunities have presented themselves to you after entering The Rookie Awards?

Dana: There were more contests and festivals. Even the opportunity to watch and present our short film at the Cineteca Nacional.

Personally, achieving the recognition [for our entry in The Rookie Awards] is a small step to understanding that I can do anything.

Diego: Well, the project has reached other festivals ever since, and more people have been able to watch it. It is also my introduction letter at work, and it has opened  the doors of some studios at which I have applied.

What are your next steps?

Dana: I am currently working at Huevocartoon Studios as a production coordinator and I would love to collaborate again with all my friends on a project.

Diego : Right now I am a background artist in a series, and I do hope to become an episode director sometime. I do see myself in the long run in the animation industry.

Follow Dana's Journey here, and reach out to Diego here!

Learn more about studying at ESCENA Escuela de Animación here.