For 2015 animation graduate Taha Neyestani, figure drawing wasn’t just an important skill he needed to master on the road to becoming a successful artist. It was his passion. So when it came time to nail down the subject of his final year thesis film, Neyestani found it natural to recreate the world he loved most.
The result is Neyestani’s celebrated short film ed about a figure drawing model who truly comes to life when he steps on the stage. (A still from the film appears above.) “I remember my first figure drawing class – the atmosphere and the passion of teacher Mark Thurman,” recalls Neyestani. “I instantly fell in love with the craft and it became a highlight of my time at Sheridan.”
Clearly, he was able to translate this passion to the screen, as ed has received the animation industry’s top honour: the 2016 Annie Award for Best Student Film. Neyestani’s film is one of two by recent Sheridan graduates to land Annie Award nominations in the Best Student Film category. Melody Wang’s film The Casebook of Nips & Porkington was also up for the prize. In addition, the film Mother by 10 Sheridan animation students earned an Annie nomination for Best Student Film. What’s more, Neyestani and Wang (2015) appeared on TIFF’s list of Top Ten Student Films of 2015, with Wang landing the award for best film.
The subject of Neyestani’s film is well-known to many current and former students. Edward Czuchnicki has been posing for animation students for the better part of 15 years. “Ed was an inspirational figure for me along with other models,” says Neyestani. “He puts a great deal of research into his work to recreate images from iconic sculpture. I felt like we had our own renaissance figure posing for us. If you draw Ed, you definitely don’t forget the experience.”
Czuchnicki, who collaborated with Neyestani on the film, was flattered to be its subject. “It’s an honour to be singled out.” (Ed is married to Sheridan’s Model Coordinator, Joanne Gajeczki).
But ed is not really about him, explains Czuchnicki. “It’s about the magic of possibilities that exist on the model’s stand and the artist’s pad; it’s about the magic of storytelling.”
This message of art as a vital and powerful force is what makes ed so extraordinary, says Sheridan professor Chris Walsh, who mentored Neyestani throughout the making of his film. “Ed looks beyond the usual themes explored by most student films and examines something more universal.The film is receiving recognition because it’s not afraid to say something important with confidence, and to do it in a beautiful way. Hopefully it inspires more young filmmakers to say something strong.”
Canada was like a rebirth for me. I needed the opportunity and freedom to flourish as an artist.
Although Neyestani grew up among artists who often dealt with important themes – his father and uncle were both political cartoonists – he did not initially set out to become an animator. Born in Tehran, Iran, Neyestani discovered his interest in art and animation after taking a general multimedia course in Malaysia. Upon immigrating to Canada with his family in 2010, he enrolled in Sheridan’s animation program. Neyestani believes his new environment played a big role in his development as an artist. “Canada was like a rebirth for me. I needed the opportunity and freedom to flourish that my native country couldn’t provide.”
Regardless of where they call home, artists must remain committed to creating works in their own personal voice, Neyestani says. “The process of making films is long and challenging, so it is easy to give up if you aren’t fully invested in the project.”
Neyestani’s commitment to his art caught the eye of Toronto animation studio House of Cool which hired him upon graduation. He works as a storyboard artist with former classmate Melody Wang.
House of Cool’s president and owner, Ricardo Curtis, also a Sheridan animation alumnus, explains why he snapped up the 2015 graduates. “Taha and Melody show a level of maturity for the industry and a passion for the art form that is rare in young talent. Adds illustration graduate Kate Moo King-Curtis, development producer at House of Cool: “They are proof that you can still be forward-thinking by drawing from a classical skill set to tell contemporary stories.”