Finding the passion

Born in the most populous city in China and then moving to central North Carolina at age four, Shaofu Zhang came to UNCW with a strong interest in film studies. At the very start of his freshman year in 2002, Zhang's desire to become successful was acknowledged by faculty and students alike. It was his continued ambition that led him to one of his biggest accomplishments-a Student Academy Award.

The Student Academy Awards is a national student film competition put on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the same organization that awards the Oscars. It honors outstanding student filmmakers from across the country and internationally with awards in five categories: alternative, animation, documentary, foreign and narrative. Zhang is the first UNCW graduate to receive the prestigious honor.

UNCW associate professor Eric Patterson heard the outstanding news during a conference at Sony Pictures Imageworks where Zhang works as an animator. Zhang and his two colleagues, Lisa Allen and Bernardo Warman, received a gold medal in the 38th Student Academy Award in the animation category for the short film Dragonboy.

The making of Dragonboy, a short collaborative thesis, was a long process that often consisted of 16 hour workdays, seven days a week, for the three students. It took nine months to write and re-write the script, develop the storyboard and create the visual component of the film-one and a half years from start to finish.

"The last couple of months of Dragonboy I couldn't tell reality from sleep" Zhang said. "We realized from the very beginning that if we want to do this we needed to aim high."

"It was a rough time but I'm very grateful to my teammates," said Zhang. "We all pulled together and kept going until the bitter end."

During his time at UNCW Zhang was heavily involved with the Flicker Film Society becoming the publisher of the organization's magazine and perfecting his skills with graphic design and visual effects. The society also gave him hands-on experience directing and producing different productions.

"Zhang seemed ahead of his time as far as skills and ambitions. He knew where he was going and he had a plan to achieve his dreams," said Terry Linehan, who taught him Introduction to Screenwriting.

After graduating in 2006 with a degree in film production and a minor in journalism, Zhang worked at Screen Gems Studio in Wilmington for a year before deciding he wanted to continue his education in film.

"I grew an interest in visual effects which started as a hobby where I learned the aspects of the crazy special effects that go into films," he said.

If he wanted to learn more Zhang realized it was time to move forward in his life, so he set out to San Francisco, to pursue his interest in animation and character effects. He received his Masters Fine Arts degree in 3D animation at the Academy of Art University which is where he began the production on Dragonboy.

Today, Zhang is working on an animated feature film at Imageworks, creating the physical and acting performance of a character in the film.

Shaofu said the film studies program at UNCW laid the foundation that he constantly uses during his job today. Everything from cinematography to pacing and rhythm and all the things in between were invaluable to him in graduate school at the Academy of Art University and now at Imageworks. The opportunity to direct his own films at UNCW, supported his drive and confidence to create Dragonboy.

"I will say though, that like anything else in life, what you put into it is what you get out of the program," Zhang said. "A lot of what it comes down is simply love of what you do and having that passion to push through the hard times."

He remembered doing 16- to 18-hour shooting days for short film productions and then turning around and spending all night in the editing room at UNCW because it was just so much fun making movies.

His advice for students: "Find the passion that will keep you going and never let it go."



Click to watch Dragonboy


"Dragonboy is a film about a school play - the story of a princess, a dragon and a knight that plays like a classic fairy tale with a modern, ironic twist. The boy playing the dragon is actually in love with the girl playing the princess. The knight, who in the classic version would come to the princess' rescue, is actually a bully. These detours from the formulaic make Dragonboy an intriguing metastory, because the drama is played out within the play itself. In the end, the bully is vanquished and love is found, all in just over four minutes of precisely choreographed and meticulously animated action."
- Academy of the Art University


dragonboyartists.jpgShaofu Zhang

dragonboy academy award.jpgListen to the Student Academy Awards acceptance speech