Alek Vacura: “Without Arms” Q&A

Last week, we posted Alek Vacura’s elegant short film, “Without Arms,” created for his MFA thesis at Pratt Institute. Alek was nice enough to answer a few questions for us about his background and the film:

The narrative for “Without Arms” is elegantly simple. Where did the idea come from?

The idea for Without Arms came to me as I was falling asleep one night. I think some of the best ideas come when you’re not consciously trying to create them. I have always had a fascination with statues, and studied marble sculpture in Italy a few years earlier, so it seemed fitting that my thesis would head in that direction.

“Without Arms” was created for your MFA Thesis at Pratt Institute. What made you decide to go to graduate school?

I received my Bachelors in illustration from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. I always knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I wasn’t sure that illustration was going to be enough for me. I wanted my images to move and have more depth, so I took a storyboarding class at VCU. After that I knew I wanted to get into 3D animation. So I decided to pursue a Masters in CG, even though I had no undergrad experience.

How did you decide on Pratt?

Once I decided on a Masters in 3D animation I started applying to multiple colleges. But because I had never touched a 3D program before, most schools were not willing to accept me. Pratt however caters to students like me that are going into the Digital Arts MFA program with little to no 3D experience. They offer intense introductory courses to learn the basics, which was perfect for me. I also decided on Pratt because of its reputation as one of the best art schools in the United States and because of its location in NYC.

Would you recommend Pratt to others?

Pratt has great faculty and very talented students. I had a great time there and would recommend it.

According to your Vimeo project page, “Without Arms” took three semesters to complete, two of which were completed while at The Mill. How did that arrangement work?

At the start of my second semester at Pratt, a string of lucky events granted me an invitation to tour the Mill office on August 8th, 2008. After showing them my work in progress they offered me an opportunity to complete my thesis at their facility. Once I started working at the Mill my thesis only took me 8 months to complete. Being surrounded by such talented professionals everyday motivated me to work extremely hard. 080808 is the luckiest day in the Chinese culture — it’s triple prosperity. I feel like luck was definitely on my side. I still feel like the luckiest guy in the world for being given that opportunity.

What was the most technically challenging aspect of the film?

Honestly, every aspect was a giant challenge. Before my thesis, I had only worked on class exercises and small projects. I had never worked on a project of this scale. One of the trickiest parts was the animation. The hardest part was making it subtle, which meant re-animating each shot dozens of times.

I feel like this thesis was the biggest learning experience of my life. I just kept reminding myself of something that Ed Catmull said at SIGGRAPH: “If everything is going according to plan, you’re not learning anything.”

What are you up to now?

I have been freelancing full-time as a 3D generalist at The Mill in New York City since January.